Sustainable Gift Ideas

Sustainable Gift Ideas

5 minute read

If you follow Senza Tempo on Twitter or Instagram, you know how we frequently focus on utility as the ultimate sign of sustainability. It’s not about using the right adjectives, but how and where an item is made, how it’s used and how long it will last — actions not adjectives. When it comes to shopping more sustainability for others this holiday season, thinking about how your gift will be used can help you make naturally more sustainable choices.

Sustainability is about resource scarcity — thus, the most sustainable way to shop is to buy things that can be utilized so as to fully realize the resources that went into creating the product. Here are our suggestions on how to shop more sustainably this holiday season: 

Buy things that people need. If you don’t know what that is, ask.

Giving a gift for the sake of a gift isn’t necessarily generous, but wasteful. How many times have we all received a present that we didn’t want/need/like only to throw it out or re-gift it? Far too many. If you want to give a gift and aren’t sure what people need simply ask. In uncertain economic times, this can be especially valuable and appreciated. 

Cookies or tea in attractive tins. 

Last year a meme went around the internet about the disappointment of opening a Royal Dansk tin hoping for cookies, but finding a sewing kit instead — a practice so common even the New York Times wrote about it. The cookie tin pictured below was a gift I bought for my mom on Spring Break my senior year of college. It became a sewing kit that she eventually passed off to me. The tin is 25 years old and every time I use it I think about that trip. The tea tin reminds me of my first years living in Boston after I finished my undergraduate studies. Buying teas and soaps from Crabtree & Evelyn was how I treated myself on a tight budget. Buying something reusable is not only practical from a sustainability perspective, but thoughtful especially if you can find one that commemorates a special time in someone's life. Some of my favorites are Kusmi, Harney & Sons and Fortnuman & Mason.

Food — bonus points if it comes in a reusable container. 

Whether it’s spices, snacks or a gift certificate to someone’s favorite restaurant, food is a great gift that will always be used. One of my aunts always buys me a gift basket of wine, cheese, crackers and other goodies for Christmas. As someone who likes to host holiday cocktail hours, this gift is always appreciated and used on the days when I didn’t have extra time to prepare or when people unexpectedly drop by. Some think gift cards are impersonal, but putting the card in a vintage tea or coffee cup, or saucer plate that they can use to organize things adds a thoughtful touch. Etsy and eBay are great places to find single vintage items.

Candles — in collectable jars. 

I still have my travel candle tins from Henri Bendel from many years ago, which have become more special now that the company is out of business. I keep pens in the julep cup from the Julep Candle Company. Like cookie and tea tins, leftover candle jars or tins can be repurposed in the same way. The home organization business is a multi million (billion?) dollar industry, but instead of buying special containers for q-tips and cotton balls, buy a few candles from the same company to create that uniformity. Here are some tips on how to clean and upcycle candle jars.


When it comes to books, there's something for everyone these days, not only your typical bookworm. Whether it's a cookbook, coffee table or travel book, your local bookstore has an option for everyone on your list.

Shopping sustainably is really about fully utilizing the resources extracted to make the product. Not fully utilizing something is a form of waste that is simply overlooked in the broader sustainability conversation. Thinking about the utility and longevity of what you buy is simply the best way to shop more sustainably. Shopping from smaller, locally made brands is a way to naturally lower your carbon footprint. Think about it like this: each item traveled fewer miles and every purchase has a larger impact on the company and the local economy. 

Shop small, shop local, shop thoughtfully and you'll naturally shop more sustainably.

Gifts with re-usable containers.


Books for sassy women.

Sustainable and Reusable Gift Wrap Ideas

  • Use a scarf, linen napkin, tea towel or placemat to wrap the present. Vintage maps are another clever way to wrap presents (many can be found on eBay) that is another way to personalize a gift. 
  • Instead of ribbons, use elastic ribbon that could be repurposed into hair ties and hair bands. 
  • Reuse old baskets or bags. If you need to have filler, use tea or hand towels instead of filler that will just be thrown out. 
  • If you are one that likes to decorate your packages with more than ribbons, try using fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme.

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