The Holidays are a time of excess for many geeks across the world. We eat our weight in every food category imaginable, decorate our homes and offices with anything sparkly, and splash out to give our loved ones gifts we know they’ll adore (and ones we just guess with because dammit Frank you already buy everything you want so you’re going to have to deal with this gift voucher OKAY?)

With the buying of “things” however comes inherent problems. Our need to consume and the culture we’ve created around consumption doesn’t always work out well for our bank balances, our communities or our environment. An easy example is the simple impact that plastics are having on our wildlife and environment (like pollution, marine life and gross looking beaches), not to mention the worker exploitation that happens from the things we buy that are made in countries like China, India or Bangladesh.

“But it’s the Holidays! I want to be happy and not think about things that are depressing,” you say. And that’s totally fair enough. You don’t want to have to think about balancing social responsibility when you’re too busy psyching yourself up to cope with yet another year of Aunt Lucy’s attitude towards you.

But – there is a way to *not* contribute to these problems while making a positive difference. I’m gonna make it real easy for you. Here are 6 simple gifts you can give that make a world of difference for people all across the planet.

  1. Smart Geeks know that medicine has come a long way since the dark ages, and that vaccinations have allowed us to eradicate many diseases across the globe. You can donate to organisations like UNICEF and ensure that a child is protected against easily preventable illness, like measles, polio and tuberculosis. Donate in your loved ones’ name and tell them that their gift this year is saving lives. Visit UNICEF, here
  2. Toilet paper. If you’ve got someone in your life who has everything, I can guarantee the one thing they will run out of and need to buy eventually is toilet paper. Who Gives A Crap is an organisation that donates 50% of their profits to building toilets and improving sanitary conditions across third world countries. Why is this important? 2.3 billion people across the world don’t have access to a toilet. That’s roughly 40% of the global population and means that around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrheal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That’s almost 800 children per day, or one child every two minutes. Buying this 100% recycled toilet paper also does a great thing for the environment – it keeps trees in the ground for humans and animals to enjoy, and not on your butt.
  3. If you must buy something physical, consider shopping Fairtrade. It’s not just for chocolate or coffee, Fairtrade products can also include jewelry, clothing made from responsibly sourced cotton, you name it – you can (pretty much) buy it. Fairtrade products aim to pay workers a living wage and is trying to end the exploitation of workers who don’t earn a living wage. It’s not necessarily a completely ethical system, and has had its fair share of problems, but you may find something here that works for you.
  4. Plants! From potted flowers, herbs, cute cacti and indoor ferns – your choices are almost limitless. Unless your loved one has an appalling history of plant homicide, plants are a wonderful gift to give. According recent studies, “the change in urban environments because of development, associated with a rapid increase in chronic disease, is a global phenomenon in developed countries.” Think about getting a cute little plant for someone’s desk, a larger plant that could liven-up a hallway, a mini-planter full of fresh herbs for someone’s kitchen – you really can find something wonderful to gift. You could even make the pot it comes in delightfully geeky with some water-proof paint! Or, if you’re not creative, Etsy has geeky planters covered. Plants remove volatile compounds from the air, including ozone and carbon dioxide – so giving someone an indoor plant can help them improve their overall health. Which leads us to:
  5. Quality time – outside. Plan experiences with your loved ones and give these as gifts (yes, I’m being serious). Plan trips to local national parks, organise a special hike (gentle or crazy) where you pack the picnic and treat them to a wonderful walk and their favourite meal. Giving experiences with memories that last a life time are more precious than a trinket that will collect dust on a shelf and be forgotten about in a year. Nature therapy (shinrin-yoku) was first invented in Japan, though some people like to use the term Biophilia when describing healing time in nature. Basically, getting your butt outdoors for any period of time is a proven benefit – it lowers blood pressure and improves your mental health. You could even pair the gift of quality time outdoors with some geocaching and find some unique treasures! Use your imagination to find the best adventure for your loved ones – teddy bear picnic, gourmet degustation, tree-climbing, bird watching, nature photography, it really can be anything you want it to be.
  6. Good will/second hand finds. I’m not suggesting re-gifting something lame to your loved ones, but if you’re a bit handy with tools, you could hunt for a beautiful piece of furniture – like a side table, cabinet or coffee table – and give it new life. Sand it back, stain wood, paint, incorporate mosaic, get crafty with someone’s neglected or dumped items and make them beautiful again. You’re not only reducing waste and landfill, you’re giving a unique gift that you’ve made/rejuvenated. I’ve seen people take old Nintendo consoles that no longer work and turn them into fabulous coffee table art, found super ugly cabinets that with a bit of elbow-grease turned into perfect displays for board games. It might take effort but that’s exactly why gifts like these mean more.

Please note this post isn’t sponsored by any of the above businesses – I’m just keen to give you a chance to think differently when it comes to gift-giving this year. What’s something you’d like to gift a loved one that has a positive social and environmental impact? Leave a comment below and share your ideas!


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