The Anti-Consumerist Gift Guide: I Have No Gift to Bring, Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum

Kitty: <writes title>

Kitty: <pats self on back until wrist breaks>


As we discussed earlier this month, shopping for a holiday gift can be… well, sucky. As often as it’s fun, it’s stressful and financially draining.

But if you’ve been paying attention to our RADICAL SOCIAL JUSTICE WAR CRIES, you won’t be surprised to hear that we’re pretty conflicted about holiday gift-giving in general. Specifically, our gripe is with the hyped-up mass commercialization and the endless push to consume.

Tokens and gestures of kindness give us a seasonal thrill—I mean, we’re not totally dead inside! Merely partially! But when you hate consumerism, it can be really hard to participate in the good parts of the tradition without feeling like you’ve lost touch with your own values.

Anti-consumerism is a lake fed by many rivers. Mindless consumption is bad for people, bad for the planet, bad for your wallet, and rote and impersonal. Some people care a lot about one or two of those aspects more strongly than others. If only there were some kind of helpful Venn diagram that broke down anti-consumerist attitudes about gift giving…

Oh wait! Silly me, I’m a graphic designer! I’m paid to eat data and shit out Venn diagrams!

What makes you anti-consumerism?

Remember those four issues I just mentioned? Bad for people, bad for the planet, bad for your wallet, and bad for relationships? Those were the four main buckets of anti-consumerist attitudes I identified. Take a look.

Ta da! The AntiConsumerist Gift Guide

How can you give a gift that aligns with your personal anti-consumerism values?


Ethically conscious

“I feel weird spending money on sweaters and books when that money could alleviate real suffering. And I definitely don’t want to buy anything that exploits someone else.”

Good gift to give

Make donations in a recipient’s name to a charitable cause near and dear to their heart. And don’t be a dick about it—if it’s your super pro-life Aunt Rita, don’t donate to Planned Parenthood in her name like she’s Mike Pence. Choose something where your values do align.

If the recipient isn’t super into gifts, printing a certificate and putting it into a card is enough. If you know the recipient really wants stuff, find a charity that gives you swag in exchange for a donation (like a T-shirt or a calendar). You could also choose a charity that allows you to sponsor a specific person, place, project, or animal, and ensure that the gift recipient will get heartwarming updates about how this contribution mattered.

Further reading


Environmentally conscious

“I’m aware of the ways in which consumerism exploits the environment and drives needless waste. I don’t want to buy something that might end up in a landfill.”

Good gift to give

Find some awesome, local, in-season foodstuffs and give them as gifts. People gotta eat, so you know the gift won’t be wasted. You can even sneak delicious vegetarian or vegan options into the stocking of an obstinate carnivore! Because even meat eaters like Piggy and I know that daily, by-default meat consumption is driving climate change and habitat depletion at an alarming pace.

If the recipient really likes the artisanal cheese/almonds/pork belly/craft beer/whatever, they might pursue more of the same in the future. So you’re using this gift to directly and indirectly support sustainable agricultural and the slow food movement. That’s a win-win.

Further reading


Financially conscious

“I don’t have money to blow on holiday gifts. Even if I did, I am trying to be responsible with my money, and spending big on presents just doesn’t feel right.”

Good gift to give

Economists are so easy! If the only thing you care about is spending as little as possible, your options are endless. Literally any cheap or free item will do. I’m not going to make a gift guide for cheap queens. It already exists across a hundred websites. Shall I google that for you, hun?

Further reading


Interpersonally conscious

“I get why mindless consumerism is bad, but giving gifts is really important to me. It’s a thoughtful gesture that expresses my values and my feelings for that person.”

Good gift to give

Personalizers are another very easy category. You’re a pretty classic holiday shopper! You want the right gift for every person on your list, and you’ll buy and spend what you have to in order to get them all. You can just do that. Or, you can see if the other gifts listed on this guide appeal to you. If all things are equal, maybe you can make a more mindful choice.

Further reading


Environmentally and ethically conscious

“I don’t want to leave the planet a worse place than I found it. I research the products I buy very carefully to make sure the way they are made doesn’t conflict with my values.”

Good gift to give

You know how capitalism is supposed to lift all boats with its rising tide? And it kinda does, but in a messy, greedy way that drowns lots of people along the way? Mmhmm.

There’s been a boom of ethically-sourced clothing, shoes, jewelry, food, and beauty products in recent years. These brands go the extra mile to ensure that their workers are fairly paid and their materials are sustainably sourced. Anything along these lines is a great option for you to give to others.

Further reading


Environmentally and financially conscious

“My budget is very small, but I don’t see the value in giving people cheap crap they won’t use.”

Good gift to give

Give the gift of reusable items, especially those that could replace disposable items. Think hand towels, water bottles, cloth shopping bags, and travel mugs. There are lots of really cute, really useful items that aren’t hard on the budget. And yes, cuteness matters. It’s easier to remember to use those things if you already decide you like them.

If you have more time than money, consider a project like sewing reusable napkins. I’ve made more than a hundred of these babies in my lifetime, no joke, some as gifts and some for myself. They come together really easily and bitches go wild for ‘em.

Further reading


Financially and interpersonally conscious

“I literally have no money for gifts this year, but I’ll figure it out. If I have to go into debt, I will, because I fucking love my family/friends.”

Good gift to give

You know why I call you a “magi,” right? It’s because you’re willing to cut off your hair to give your husband a dope new chain for his pocket watch. It’s not a compliment! In your eagerness to give the “right” gift, you are prone to overextending yourself and making yourself miserable.

Consider making a gift of a service that reflects how well you know the recipient’s needs. For example: a good buddy of mine is currently working three jobs and finishing grad school. I have the money to buy her something cool, like a new video game or something… but when would she even play it? Instead I brought over several home cooked meals that she could keep in the freezer until she needs them. The hours I spent laboring over the meals were the true spirit of the gift: “I have free time, you don’t, so here, take some of mine.”

Further reading


Interpersonally and ethically conscious

“I want my gift to reflect my values, as well as the values of the person I’m buying it for. It’s a challenge to find the perfect gift, but I love it!”

Good gift to give

Y’all are, hands-down, the best at giving super thoughtful, highly customized gifts. I’m friends with a couple who give each other gifts that are so comically, cartoonishly romantic that they accidentally gave each other the same gift last year. (A vinyl recording of all the music from their wedding. I’m gagging on the gayness of it.)

Your challenge is to keep yourself in check. When you give highly meaningful gifts every single time, you can enter into a kind of gifting arms race. Set some limitations for yourself. If you give too extravagantly, you can unintentionally shame the person who’s handing you a box of homemade pretzel bark.

Mmm. Pretzel bark.

Further reading


Environmentally, ethically, and interpersonally conscious

“I could afford to buy gifts if I wanted to, but I hate the culture of mindless accumulation of stuff, and I don’t want to encourage it in myself or in others. Why do we have to buy each other things to show love and consideration?”

Good gift to give

Why indeed! My friend, I have the perfect idea for you.

Gift cards. Gift cards are the most efficient way of giving shy of cash. It allows the recipient the freedom to get what they already want or need.

If your ethical and environmental concerns are strong, my go-to suggestion is a Kiva gift card. The recipient can get the feeling of “shopping” by picking which individual or small group they’d like to support. And they get a lingering rewarding feeling from seeing updates, and eventually re-investing any monies returned. The Kiva card is a home run for compassionate people who hate mindless accumulation.

Further reading


Ethically, financially, and interpersonally conscious

“I love my friends and I love the world we live in. I want them to know how special I think they are, but my apartment has no furniture and I sleep on a Persian rug?”

Good gift to give

Affordable experiences are totally your jam.

If your work or school offers you free admission to museums or galleries, offer to take your giftee. Find a free play reading, jazz festival, or brewery tour. Walk around at a farmer’s market and pick out something affordable while you stroll. Plan a day trip to a beach or go for an easy hike. Traditionally child-centric entertainment venues like laser tag arenas, arcades, and indoor trampoline parks are amazing to go to as adults—and usually very cheap.

Further reading


Environmentally, financially, and interpersonally conscious

“I want the people in my life to know that I love them, but I hate going along with the crowd. I don’t like giving gifts just because society tells me it’s time to buy things.”

Good gift to give

You were born to make stuff. Some of my all-time favorite gifts are the ones that hang on my walls, sit on my desk, or go around my neck (meaning a necklace, not a garrote). If you already like to knit, bake, whittle, sing, paint, write, sculpt, crochet, fold, sew, compose, cook, arrange, or edit, there’s a way to wring top-quality gifts out of your passion.

If you have the sensibility but not the skills, you still have options. You can print and frame some of the recipient’s Instagram photos. Or you can find a low-skill tutorial and follow along. Make them a mixtape, if they are ancient and decrepit like me and still enjoy such things. Hell, Mr. Kitty was once given a custom-made YouTube poop for his birthday! You’d better believe it gets reposted every year.

And if you have no skills or time to make something yourself, troll Etsy for an affordable, useful trinket. You’ll be supporting independent artists and giving your giftee something totally unique.

Further reading


Environmentally, ethically, and financially conscious

“The tradition of holiday gift-giving is exclusionary and contributes to greater class stratification and worker exploitation. But Christ, I still need to give my dad something.”

Good gift to give

You want to eat the rich, not feed them. I get it!

This is probably the trickiest demographic. I see two avenues. In one, you spend no money, but find meaningful ways to show the people you love that you care about them.

The other option is to spend some money, but do it in a way that directly benefits the people that consumerism loves to crush. You can buy artwork made by prisoners, jewelry made by oppressed women, books written by radicals, T-shirts that fund the pursuit of reproductive freedom, magazine subscriptions that support trans visibility, food grown by independent farmers, and movie tickets to see films that amplify marginalized voices.

The only drawback is that some of these items are pricier than their big box store counterparts (for good reason). That’s why eschewing spending altogether is a totally valid alternative. Save your money and live to fight another day.

Further reading

And finally… the anti-consumerists

Environmentally, ethically, financially, and interpersonally conscious

“My love for my human family transcends gifts. Remove the wrapping paper-covered, plastic-wrapped formaldehyde dagger from the heart of the winter holidays. I want to give only that which is given freely on this and every other day: my fierce and lionlike love.”

You did it. You’re a true blue anti-consumerist.

As you ascend into the sky, all the unnecessary and unwanted presents float into the air after you. You take them with you into the dark and lonely void of Deep Heaven, where they can inflict no more harm.

Further reading

12 thoughts to “The Anti-Consumerist Gift Guide: I Have No Gift to Bring, Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum”

  1. Damn, y’all. This is a masterful list. I’m done with holiday shopping (thank goodness) but you bet your asses I’m bookmarking this for next year.

    Also this is the most beautiful Venn diagram shit I’ve ever seen!

  2. I think I might be the artist. For my husband’s niece I almost ordered a custom fairytale book for her. It’s where they draw her likeness into and as the heroine of the story. She and the new baby’s too young (all babies look the same) but that’s the plan in a few years 🙂

    I never heard of a magi before until now…

    1. It’s from an O Henry story called The Gift of the Magi! Wife sells her hair to afford a new pocket watch chain for her husband, husband sells his pocket watch to afford fancy hair pins for his wife. Possibly more famously adapted by Disney, depending on your age!

    2. One year, we recorded ourselves reading books for our niece, even included a bell for turning the page. My sister claimed it was her favorite gift.

        1. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I love this! All of it.
          Plus, epic laughs at ‘I am paid to eat data entry shit Venn diagrams’ :-))

          According to you Venn diagram I am somewhere between a Minimalist and an Artist (strong environmental, social leanings, but socially reluctant to go cold turkey and not give gifts at all). I have to tell you, I’ve never thought of myself as an artist before so I’m chuffed!
          This year I made soap for Christmas presents… which I am super pleased about ( it has to be made in advance so it has time to cure. I cannot believe I managed to be that organised !).

  3. I am totally the anti-consumerist. I am really excited this Christmas about the fact that I have to buy almost no gifts at all. The only things I’m buying are a craft book and gift certificates to a craft store for my nieces, and theatre tickets for my mom.

  4. I’m a magi. Last Christmas I went into debt buying gifts. Oh hell, who am I kidding? I went into debt (briefly) buying myself more clothes that I barely wear because I stay in running tights or sweats. I’m doing better this year. I got my mom’s gift from Craigslist, so I’m spending less and cutting waste. Go me!

  5. This is awesome! Super cool graphic and great descriptions.

    I think I’m somewhere between Bohemian and Artist. Which is kind of weird for a finance guy. I love to personalize gifts and I don’t like giving gifts that aren’t useful or practical…I guess that’s the anti-consumerist side of me.

  6. Haha love the list! def a minimalist here.. and yes I frequently gift kiva cards 😀 best thing is that if they’re not used in a year, the money is donated to kiva

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