Shopping Our Values When Gifting (And Always)

Whenever any of the gifting holidays roll around, I exist with one foot in the world of reverence of the reason and another in the world of resistance to the commodification of it all. Growing up I remember my favorite holidays being the ones where exchanging gifts wasn’t a part of the tradition, but rather were celebrated by gathering over a meal or quality time spent with family and friends resting, cooking, and communing. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy giving or receiving gifts (the opposite is true, really!), but rather that I welcomed the collective break from hyper consumption and incessant marketing of big sales.

That said though, I experience great joy in gifting others. More specifically, I experience joy in gifting others well by doing so thoughtfully and unrushed. Unfortunately that’s not the general message of gifting seasons. Rather, it’s often a last-minute buy now before you miss out and it’s too late.

The past couple years have only exacerbated an on-going imbalance of wealth distribution (thanks capitalism) with many small businesses closing their doors and mega corporations like Amazon making billions more. Every purchase we make is affirming the actions and choices of the business we’re buying from and how they produce their product (which includes the wellbeing of the people who work for them, the quality of their work environment, the quality of their pay, the resources they use, the materials they source). To choose to buy a certain thing from a certain source over a multitude of choices out there is to say, “I advocate for this! More of this, please!”

So who are you advocating for?

In other words, what are your values and how do you shop them?

Getting clear: Questions to ask yourself

Do you value a circular wealth system? Which I’m defining here as: someone buys from a small business which then uses that money to have their family’s needs met and also buys from another small business who then does the same. For example, I buy a thoughtful gift from Hina Luna who then uses that money to buy groceries from her friend who owns the local market in town who then uses that money to buy that new shirt they needed from a small independent designer in California…

Do you value goods that have a story? Meaning maybe you know where it was made, the name of the person who made it, the inspiration behind the design, where the materials were sourced. It makes me feel good when someone compliments, say, a pair of earrings I’m wearing and I‘m given the opportunity to share who made them and gush momentarily about why I love them!

Do you value safe working conditions and fair compensation for workers and responsible and ethical production processes?

Do you value businesses/people who contribute some of their profits towards organizations and campaigns that you also support?

Do you value keeping money within your local community so that your neighbors may live well and thrive, which in turn creates a healthy community for you too?

If you answered yes to any of these reflection questions then the way to live by these values (when making purchases) is to buy from small businesses and purchase goods that are handmade by well-compensated people. Another part that is equally important (because we may not do it perfectly one hundred percent of the time, and that’s ok) is to get informed on who you are buying from — be it Amazon or any other big box — including how they treat their workers, their impact on the environment, whom or what resources they might be exploiting, and who and what they donate to. Once you have the answers, the next thing to ask is — to quote Uncle Walter Rittenow that you know, do you care?

And I suspect that you do, a whole lot, but perhaps you feel stuck by lack of time or money, or just really don’t know where to begin. I am confident that there exists many wonderful small businesses out there that can accommodate a small budget and ones with delightful treasures ready to ship (you can count Hina Luna as one!). To wean off of the ultra-convenience of Amazon and the like is a commitment to those values above that you said yes to. It’s an action item towards creating the world you want to live in.

 

But how?

The best words of guidance for sticking to our values when shopping for gifts (or anything, for that matter) is to do our best to plan ahead.

I keep a running list of good gift ideas in my phone which I add to anytime I come across something unique and thoughtful in a shop or online. That way, I have a stash of inspiration for when a birthday or special occasion comes around.

Give yourself time. It’s hard to make good choices under pressure. Buying small also requires a little extra patience as some items may be made to order or there’s only a small team getting orders out and so shipping takes a few extra days. Planning ahead also gives you time to set aside the money needed to make the purchase so you don’t feel stressed about spending more than is sustainable for you.

Understand the true cost. Quality isn’t cheap, generally speaking, nor should it be. When materials are sourced ethically and when the people producing are compensated fairly you can expect to pay more than you would at the big box store. But you can feel at ease knowing that by paying the true cost, resources and people are not being exploited in the process. This goes for shipping too. Some big businesses can afford to eat the costs of shipping to offer it to consumers for free, but small businesses should not be expected to meet the same demand. Relatively speaking, considering the efforts it takes to get a package from one place to another, shipping is pretty affordable.

Buy less. The classic reminder of quality over quantity. But it’s true. Especially in the context of gifting, I find one really thoughtful fifty-dollar thing to be more special than five ten-dollar things. While the temptation may be there in the big stores to get “more bang for your buck”, the really special handmade thing will likely make a bigger impact.

Be forgiving with yourself but don’t lose sight of your commitment to your values. There’s a quote by Zero Waste Chef Anne-Marie Bonneau that goes something like, “We don't need a handful of people doing it perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” There is always the option to make better buying choices and also sometimes we may fall flat due to an unexpected immediate need or accessibility in the moment. And that’s okay. The intention is to weave our commitments to our values into our lives, make adjustments the best we can in the moment, plan ahead when able, and forgive ourselves when we don’t do it perfectly.

A couple quick recommendations for where to shop your values

A have a long mental list of my favorite makers and artisans and I often share some of them in my Instagram stories or in seasonal gift guide blogs. If you’re seeking a recommendation, feel free to connect with me and I may be able to share a good one (and you know I’ll relish the opportunity to gush about why I love them so!)

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