Navigating The Holidays As A Conscious Consumer

If you’ve drastically changed your own shopping habits, Christmas might look a little bit different for you this year. You might struggle with knowing how to handle gift-giving, talking to family about not purchasing another set of Target pajamas for you, or just simply participating at all in the more consumeristic side of the holiday season. Let's talk about tips for navigating the holiday season while still holding on to your values! 



An understandable roadblock that conscious consumers face when trying to purchase only-ethical presents for family is cost. Fairly made gifts are admittedly often more expensive than conventional products. This time of year, many ethical brands have great sales or discounts, so check to see what is being offered by the brands you’re interested in. Shop with the mantra “buy less, buy better” in mind!

Aside from sales, even shoppers with the smallest of budgets can manage to shop ethically as long as they embrace the idea that they need not only gift brand-new ethically made items! If your budget is limited, instead of feeling the pressure to buy new: 

Regift something: know your audience with this one. Though regifting shouldn’t be a taboo, some people won’t take to it well. However, if you have an item that you don’t use, but you know that someone else in your life would love and appreciate, give it a try!

Thrift something: gently-used books, old records, beautiful vintage accessories, and more: it’s easy to find unique and meaningful gifts secondhand! Just be sure that the items are in good condition.

Make something: handmade gifts are so special and personal. They can also be near-zero waste and easy on the wallet. Try stirring up some gourmet coffee syrups for a coffee-loving sibling, making a simple stuffed animal for a child, or artistically framing some old family photos for a parent.   

Give an experience. Gifts are a lovely gesture and have their own sentiment attached to them… but nothing can replace making memories with the people you love. Give back to the people in your life who are special to you by planning a special time centered around togetherness- sledding with nieces and nephews, spending an afternoon in the kitchen cooking an old family recipe with your parents, or planning an afternoon for cousins to reconnect over lunch.

Another roadblock in purchasing gifts from more ethical sources during the holiday season: It can be hard to track down specific items from your loved one’s wish lists that are ethically made. Use a tool like the DoneGood browser extension to make your search easier: the extension will simply run in the background while you browse products online as you normally would, and automatically show you ethical, mission-driven alternatives (from hundreds of ethical companies) for big name companies when you search for products on Google or Amazon or go to a big name company’s website.


If you’re boycotting fast fashion, trying to spend money only on ethically made products, or even eschewing gift-giving altogether, you might find yourself the “odd one out” and family gatherings or dubbed the wet blanket of the holiday’s festivities.

Most of us will spend Christmas around at least a few people who don’t “get” the conscious consumer lifestyle we’ve chosen. Stand firm. Be bold but gentle when talking about your own personal choices and why you've made them. However, Christmas might not be the best time to lecture friends and family about sweatshops or human trafficking! Choose your battles. Remember that everyone is on their own journey. Chances are, you probably haven't had the same ethical guidelines that you have today throughout your entire life. Think back to a year or three years or ten years ago when you were still living/consuming in a conventional way, and refrain from passing judgement. 



Here's another holiday bummer:  what if you provide your family with a list of needed/wanted items (all fair trade and ethical, of course), but they end up purchasing a similar, non-ethically made product instead? This especially applies to older members of the extended family who might not be comfortable with shopping online. 

Be strategic about which family members you share what with. If you know for certain that a specific family member won't purchase an item ethically, don't send that item to them on your with list- give them some easier options to choose from. 

Ask for a donation to be made in your name to an organization you care about. If you think your family members will prefer something a bit more tangible, many organizations have lovely gift guides where you can donate money toward a goal/object: a sheep for a refugee family, a month of therapy for a sex trafficking survivor. Check out: 

Heshima Kenya
Preemptive Love Coalition
International Justice Mission

Ask for something special to be made for you in lieu of a gift from a big box store. Maybe your grandma knits: ask her for a scarf in your favorite color. Maybe your mom makes the BEST jam or hot fudge sauce: ask for a supply to be wrapped up under the tree. Chances are, your family members will be touched that you appreciate their hobbies and talents and happy to oblige! 

Make things easy: ask for a gift card from Fair+Simple that you'll be able to redeem for any number of beautiful and ethically made goods.

Many conscious parents struggle with the holidays because they don't feel as though their family respects their wishes to keep kid-gifts to a minimum. Try using the "Something you want, Something you need, Something to wear, Something to read" strategy. Implement this formula for the gifts that you purchase for your kids, and explain to family members that you'd like them to do the same. Sure, the kids will probably still get more gifts than they need, but at least 3/4 of them will be practical/needed items rather than a plethora of light-up toys. Alternately, encourage relatives to donate/invest! One of my family members asks extended family members to purchase smaller and simpler gifts for her kids, and to gift money toward their education funds in lieu of more excessive gifting. You could also have family members donate to a cause in your child's name and recruit them to help you teach your kids about giving vs. receiving. 


The holiday season is a marvelous time to practice contentment and moderation. You'll avoid getting caught up in the marketing/buying frenzy and stay much more calm and grounded if you plan for a slower Christmas filled with good memories, rest, and celebration.

Don't feel pressured to make decisions that aren’t in line with your values and lifestyle. If you can't afford the gift that someone wants, don't screw up your budget to buy it. Don't over-extend yourself to be the "hostess with the mostest". Don't buy decorations and stuff for your home that you don't need just to impress relatives over the holidays. Simply give the ones you love the gift of yourself- present, joyful, and happy. 

Happy Holidays! 

Hannah Maria