How to Accept Gifts that are Terrible for the Environment

by - Monday, December 11, 2017

HUGE DISCLAIMER! READ THIS FIRST! This post is not to suggest that I live in absolute terror or disgust of the gifts any family member (including you, family member reading this) has given me. In fact, I never mention anyone here for good reason- no one has ever gifted our family anything I was offended enough by to remember. Also worth saying, the last few gifts I have asked for on behalf of my kids have been plastic, charactered, and a huge hit. I wrote this because I see the same question come up a million times this time of year- "what do I do about this gift that goes completely against what I believe?" I thought I had a good answer (be grateful, give it time to grow on you, and if you as a vegan really can't find use for the meat plate, give it away). Though I understand the emotion of getting a gift that feels counter to what you believe, this post is in no way a particular indictment from my personal life. My goodness. 

So, you have made some real changes, and people are starting to notice. You are trying to cut down on stuff in your home. Or you want to stop using plastic, as you are concerned what it is leeching. Or you absolutely don't want any more Made in China toys as part of your kids collection.

So obviously everyone will keep this in mind for Christmas, right?

Yeah, not so much. This problem (people not respecting your lifestyle with their gifts) comes up over and over again.

I have noticed this anxiety on all of my environmentalist, minimalist, and zero waste groups. It doesn't matter how many times you ask for museum memberships or date nights or any other kind of experience gift, somebody is still going to buy you a fleece blanket from Walmart. Or a large collection of Melissa and Doug nonsense. Or a collectors set of Star Trek Christmas wreaths.

Someone is going to buy you something (often many things) that explicitly contradicts what you are trying to turn away from.


Now, we all have gotten gifts that we weren't excited about. It's just part of life that some people's perceptions don't line up with our actual wants and needs. But now this can create genuine stress, and here's why:

It works against what you are trying to do with your whole life. Your goal is a new approach to stuff that goes against the mainstream and hopefully chips away at the constant surge of nonsense. Those goals matter deeply to you. They have to, because it is easier to not do them.

It's also stressful because it feels like something that should feel like an act of love and feels like a slap in the face instead.


People aren't just perplexed by you wanting less or wanting things that do good. They are offended by it. It makes them feel defensive about their own choices. Or they don't take it seriously. Or it is far enough out of their norm that even their efforts at "trying" feel like nails on a chalkboard.

If you have kids, it can be even more stressful, because it puts you in conflict with your kid. For example, if you are trying to live a minimalist life, you may not want a bunch of screens, or fiddly toys with 100 parts, or yet another stuffed animal collection. But once that gift has been opened, you either have to roll with it or be the bad guy, and that sucks.

I get it- I have been there. I am so outspoken about this stuff, which only makes me that much more annoying to my family members (and I was pretty annoying before). That being said, I have seen serious frustration about this is usually rooted in something deeper (larger patterns in relationships), so if this more than a little upsetting to you, my help probably isn't enough.

So these are the steps I think work best when faced with a meat plate the year you became a vegan.


1. Smile and Say Thank You



Maybe that person meant it as a dig or maybe they are totally oblivious that this is not what you are about. Either way, no reaction other than gratitude is appropriate or useful.

No one has to get you a gift, and even if that may be preferable to you, they feel like they made an effort, and it is healthy and positive to acknowledge that effort. Gifts at their best are a love language so the only response worth having is gratitude and love.

If they meant to set you off, don't give them the pleasure. If they just don't get you, it's ok. Millions of women for years have smiled and accepted Bath and Bodyworks gifts that scream "hey, you could be anyone to me." So no snide remarks, or rolled eyes, or even meaningful cross the room face making. Just smile and say thank you.

Side note- Do NOT mention the environment at all unless they bring it up first. Terrible plastic gift? The only response is thank you. If they bring up plastic, you can talk about it, but only if you can do so gently. No one has ever had their mind changed by feeling attacked.


2. Go for a Walk, Take a Deep Breath, Take an Imaginary Phone Call


If you have an emotional reaction to the gift and need to vent, then wait until it makes sense, and take your moment away. Vent away. Send someone who gets you a really sassy text about it. If this is about something deeper, then handling those emotions will probably take more time and effort, but you can at least give yourself enough time to collect yourself. Whatever you need to do so that you can come back in and smile (and maybe mean it, because it is just stuff).

Just remember, you are on this path because you realized material possessions aren't worth the stress on your life or stress on the environment.  So don't give these gifts more power than they deserve. Smile and go eat another cookie.


3. Take a Minute and Write a Card


Your instinct may be to toss the eco-obnoxious gift immediately. But it never hurt anyone to let the sting wear off a bit. Obviously, if you want to return it, you may have less time, but you might be surprised that the gift is actually good? Or you might hear of someone who needs exactly what you have got.

One way to really reconsider? Write a thank you card. This old school tradition is also an opportunity to reflect on the thought, effort, and money that went into the gift that is bugging you. So try it, and see how you feel.

This big Capitalist machine creates a constant sense of urgency, because people make poorer decisions when they are under that time crunch. It goes the other way too. With a little time, you might come up with the perfect thing to do with said gift whether that be in your home or elsewhere.

This is especially true for gifts for kids. If you give it a second, it will be pretty clear whether it's a battle worth having or not.

4. If it Really Doesn't Grow on You, Get Rid of It


Once a gift is given, it's yours and you can do what you want with it. That's the truth of adulthood, and we all abide by it. Give the gift a little time, because it may be plenty useful. If not, offer it in your local Buy Nothing Group. Donate it to Goodwill. Return it to the store. Don't throw it away, because someone will love it. But that person doesn't have to be you.

This rules change if you have a kid and the gift is for them. Since the gift is FOR them, you only have so much control. The older they get, the less control you have, and that is a GOOD thing. Their relationship with the gifter is independent of you and you want lots of people around you to love that tiny person. Because a community around them is one of the best gifts you can give them. So don't try to break up a bond just because it doesn't suit you.

Plus, being too heavy-handed only creates the resentment that will fuel their future plastic binges. Be a hard ass about something else- we need them using reusable bags as adults.

So, even if you hate it, if they love it, it's a keep. Sorry, friend.

That being said, not every gift is going to be a homerun. They usually get a lot of presents at once. Even if you slow the roll out, some will inevitably float to the top of the pack. If that toy isn't one of the ones getting lots of use, regift it. Keep things in their packaging until they ask to get it out. If it isn't great for the environment and your kid doesn't use it, there's your answer.

5. Be Honest... Later

If you are worried about creating the expectation that you just love seasonal candy dish photo gifts, you can always throw a hint in or mention another gift that you really loved. They love buying clothes? Tell them about how much you love secondhand. Etc. If you think the person doesn't know what you care about, tell them.

Just stay positive, because no one owes you a gift. And again, the person who knows damn well and is meaning to push your buttons is only waiting for your negative feedback. Never give them the pleasure.

But what if said person walks in and notices that said object is gone? Where is your personalized plate covered in inspirational quotes? Where is the giant little tikes car I bought for your 700 square feet apartment? The answer is to assess the person and be as truthful and kind as you can ("We are really trying to cut down on plastic in our home" "A neighbor really needed it, and it felt so good to help them" " I appreciated the thought but...").

 If they are blunt enough to ask the question, they need to be able to take the answer. I have had these conversations, and they are awkward, but I never just toss gifts for my kids without at least giving them a try. If not and all else fails, say it broke. Or you lent it to someone and haven't got it back.


how do you react when you receive gifts that are bad for the environment?


How to Accept Eco-Terrible Gifts

Ok, these are my simple answers to this pretty complicated question. What do you do when someone gifts you something truly terrible? Say something then or wait it out?

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