Together for tomorrow


The festive season gift guide with a difference

by | Dec 10, 2020

It’s been two years since our last sustainable (anti-)gift guide was published, so we thought it well overdue to give it a refresh. This year it may be more important than ever, as COVID-19 has threatened the survival of our favourite small brands, led to reduced funding for local charities, and disrupted our ability to travel to gather with our loved ones. This festive season, spare a thought for those carrying the worst of the burden of the pandemic, and give responsibly to help us all come out the other side. 

We’ll be honest with you – this may be the first gifting guide that doesn’t encourage you to buy anything  – at least not as a first, second, third or even fourth resort. So if you’re just here for our pick of this festive season’s best stocking stuffers and present goodies, scroll down to the last section.

But first, let’s talk about ‘stuff’ and how we probably don’t need any more of it. Many of you will be familiar with minimalism and decluttering, as it’s trended in and out of fashion over the past few decades, the most recent iteration being with the KonMari method which swept the globe a few years back (“does your stuff spark joy?”) and more recent lockdown-induced spring cleaning sprees. But, these movements can often focus on existing clutter or our own consumption patterns (fairly, since we do have control here) but less so on how we consume on behalf of others.

Most of us, if not everyone, enjoy receiving gifts, but when was the last time you tried to dictate how you receive them? Do you still make a Christmas list? Maybe you pledged your birthday to charity? Ever made a gift registry? How about dropping hints to your significant other? Do you just ask for cash or vouchers? Perhaps you buy yourself gifts? Even the most conscientious consumers may struggle to uphold their values and hard-fought sustainable homes or wardrobes in the face of a well-meaning aunt or a clueless spouse.

Similarly, when gift-giving yourself, have you ever done a last minute frantic shop or delved the depths of your present drawer for an often unsuitable item (usually a re-gifted piece if my experience is anything to go by)? Settled for a lesser thing that you know may not be the best reflection of your love, friendship or tolerance but that you give since you feel obliged to?

The returns queues after the festive season are perhaps the strongest indicators that the best intentions don’t always bear out in practice (and often, online returns don’t actually end up back on the shelves, but in the landfill). I’m sure I’m not alone in having convincingly swooned and preened over gifts, knowing full well that they’ll soon be relegated to the back of a cupboard, be re-gifted, or taken to a customer services department.

Yet we persist, feeling obliged to hand over and receive tangible representations of our affection in a never-ending cycle of STUFF. This is obviously highly unsustainable, as more and more materials are used to make more and more products, without any real gratification or satisfaction and sheer over-saturation increasingly devalues what we do use and love. Without descending into a criticism of capitalism or commercialism (as you’ve likely heard it before), we’re breaking the habit and suggesting some more sustainable alternatives for you to make smart gifting choices this festive season.

In descending order of decluttering….

Don’t gift at all 

For the brave and extremely persuasive: If you can get the buy-in from your loved ones, try going without presents this festive season. Warning: we cannot be held responsible for crying children or strained Christmas lunches – we will admit these habits may be hard to unlearn.

Don’t gift directly

Many charities offer “Gift Donations” where you can make a donation in someone else’s name and give a bit back in the process. Some will even issue a certificate or card with the details of the donation, to give you something to hand over on the day. This way, your gift does good in the world and you can feel good in the knowledge that the festive spirit extends a bit further. In this year of shutdowns and closures, many charities are really struggling with meeting their funding needs, and would be incredibly grateful for the support. We’ve offered some recommendations at the bottom of this article. 


Rather than giving someone another ‘thing’, why not gift them an experience that they can use. Although COVID has taken some options off the table, it has also led to a proliferation of online opportunities around the world! Cooking classes, yoga lessons, virtual safari’s – the options are endless and it can also be a gift that keeps on giving. If you’re particularly talented or well-connected, you could even trade exchange with friends to save money. See below for some ideas.


As a keen baker and crafter, I was a pro at the DIY gift throughout my skint student days. Saving money and giving a homemade, heartfelt special treat? Double bonus! Think homemade jams, biscuits or bath salts (separately), a bunch of flowers from your garden, or even a personal drawing or poem. And there’s nothing wrong with an old-school mixtape (although maybe in the form of a Spotify playlist in 2020). Check out Pinterest for some easy DIY gift ideas, especially ones you can send through the post!


If you must shop, go second-hand. Books, clothes, accessories, knick knacks, kitchenware… Milnerton Market can be a Christmas Fare with the right mindset. Think creatively: a second hand picture frame + a beautiful postcard could = a fresh new artwork. Tacky ceramic cats + a coat of spray paint + an air plant = millennial kitsch chic.


Finally, if you must buy new – buy consciously. Shop local, shop sustainable, shop mindfully (do you definitely know that your sister-in-law will love the decorative plates you’ve picked? Would a voucher maybe be a safer bet?). See the end of the article for some recommendations. 

Family gifting alternatives

Another way to make your gifting more sustainable is to reduce the number of gifts in your family, friend or work group. Try to introduce a Secret Santa or White Elephant system, which can be fun. By reducing the sheer number of gifts to be bought, this can also mean you can afford to spend a bit more on a single gift, which can make for a better quality or more suitable present. Often, a maximum and minimum price range is set. In this way, everyone gets one gift, and hopefully something they will love. 

But what about the children?

We know that trying to convince an eight-year-old that they should be satisfied on Christmas morning with a ‘Tree Planted in their Name’ may be impossible, and that children may be more emotional and volatile than adults in wanting the “It” toy and wanting it NOW. In order to not raise the next generation on instant gratification and mindless consumerism, here are some options to give consciously to kids this year:

  • The Four Gift concept has gained popularity on Facebook and Pinterest lately and usually revolves around ‘balanced’ and limited gifting that satisfies both kids and parents. Versions include: “Something they want, something they need, something they’ll wear, something they’ll read” or “Something cool, Something for school, Something they’ll wear, Something they’ll share”
  • I’m going to give books a special mention here, because I think a lot of the world’s troubles could be fixed with more reading and literacy. I’m particularly fond of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (there’s also a follow-up, a version for boys, a mixed gender one, and an interactive journal). Children’s books are often affordable, easy to get second-hand and don’t clutter up a bedroom like forgotten toys can. And if you don’t know the child’s reading level or preferences, a book voucher can be a great empowering tool for a young child to choose their own.
  • If the child is too young for object permanence or self-awareness, don’t fool yourself: you’re buying a gift for the parent’s benefit. Ask them what they’d like or need for the child or go ahead and buy that tree in their name, the two-year old won’t know the difference anyway. 
  • If you’re determined to buy something new, consult this list of sustainable children’s shops.

A note on wrapping

As a rule of thumb, if it’s shiny and glittery, it’s likely not recyclable. While it’s easy to magpie on cute wrapping and giant bows, it ultimately just makes for more colourful landfills. Skip the wrapping this year and rather go for upcycled options (newspaper, colourful scarves, random fabric, scrap paper) or get creative with a recyclable option. You can get big rolls of uncoated brown or white butchers paper for cheap from packaging or art supply stores – then you (or any kids you have around) can get creative with potato stamps, handwriting or water colours, then dig into that cupboard of ribbons and strings that we all seem to have, throw on some fresh or dried flowers or a small keepsake. Voila! As with Julie Andrews, “brown paper packages tied up with string” can indeed be “a few of [your] favourite things!”


Indirect or charity giving

These gifts have multiple benefits – by purchasing them, you support a worthwhile charity after a difficult year, do good for the earth/community/children/animals and mean one fewer gift of stuff making its way into the world! Well done!

  • Earlier this year, twyg contributor Emma and some colleagues compiled an extensive list of South African organisations working for structural change – the full list with details and contact information can be found here.
  • Local Community Action Networks (CAN): Help support your local community – just Google/Facebook search your suburb and “CAN” for details.
  • Solidarity Fund: The rapid response to mobilise in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health, humanitarian and social consequences. See here. 
  • Food Forward SA: Redistributing surplus food to starving communities. See here. 
  • Greenpop: Gift a Tree to be planted in Reforestation projects in Southern Africa. See here. 
  • Femme Projects: Donate to advance intersectional education on sex, sexuality and gender. See here
  • The Beach Co-op: Support cleaning up our beaches and oceans. See here. 
  • Dress for Success: Help empower women (re)entering the workforce. See here.  
  • Adopt a Cot: at TLC Care Home for vulnerable children. See here.  
  • EarthChild Project: Sponsor a child to attend either yoga or environmental awareness classes. See here. 
  • Triangle Project:  Fight back against trans- and homophobia. See here. 
  • Smile Foundation: Give a child the gift of a smile. See here. 
  • You can also see this Given or Gain for countless worthwhile campaigns and initiatives



  • Most yoga and exercise studios allow you to buy class vouchers or ‘passes’ and many are offering online classes at the moment
  • Or you could make your ‘own’ vouchers for a home cooked meal, shoulder massage, beach walk, babysitting etc;
  • Botanical Society Membership offers free entry to SANBI National Botanical Gardens countrywide (+ lots of other benefits) and makes for great outdoor social distance friendly excursions! 
  • A Wild Card grants one year’s unlimited entry to 80 plus National Parks, Reserves and Resorts around Southern Africa 
  • Check out the ‘tourist’ adventure offerings in your city – sometimes it’s fun to rediscover your hometown with a fresh perspective. Paragliding over Signal Hill anyone?Museum entries are also a great opportunity to learn (and if you take them) a lovely time spent together;
  • Theatre and show Tickets (especially at smaller independent theatres) are also a fun and memorable night out. Many venues are slowly reopening, or offering online performances. Help support the arts!
  • Many comedy venues have shows restarting. Check out Cape Town Comedy Club or Goliath Comedy Club (JHB).

Cape Town/Western Cape



Buying New

  • Fabricate (Cape Town) offers an incredible selection of locally made jewellery, homeware and gifting.
  • The Watershed at the V&A Waterfront (Cape Town) is a good place to pick up a variety of products (but steer clear of the fast fashion in the main mall.)
  • Also check out Faithful to Nature and other SA online department stores for their offerings.
  • Support local clothing brands and stores.
  • Buy South African art and crafts.


  • We will be publishing “buying new” gift guide next week 
  • image: Kyle Head / Unsplash 
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