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A Year of Unnew Month 11: November

Memories don't end up in landfills, reconsider your perceptions of gift-giving this holiday season

This year I’m not buying any “new” gifts. Nothing wrapped in plastic, nothing packaged in boxes or stuffed with styrofoam peanuts, nothing pre-made from a store. Instead, I’ll be making gifts and gifting experiences.

And, sure, it’s one thing to say all of that—it’s another thing entirely to actually do it. There’s a perception that craft projects take too much time and energy, that finding the right piece of art or the perfect book to give is too tough, that we aren’t good enough to make gift-worthy things with our own hands. (Spoiler: Not so!)

But let’s take a step back for a second and remember why we give gifts during this time of year: we give because we want to show our love and/or appreciation for someone. We want to say something along the lines of: “Thank you for being in my life.” Gifts shouldn’t come from a sense of obligation; if they do, here’s an appeal to reconsider your motives and take a stand for what you truly believe in. To feel obliged to give a gift is to play into the consumerist narrative that has become so damaging to our planet, and to our wallets.

To want to give a gift is an invitation to celebrate your relationship with someone. Make it personal, make it fun, and make the opportunity count. Once you move beyond traditional gift ideas, creativity abounds—what a gift to yourself!

Re-think gift-giving as an adventure. Explore what supplies your local thrift stores have to offer. Think of gifts that keep on giving: art, experiences, self-care, food, UnNew Outdoor Gear, and more—many of which, in the ideas detailed below, take 30 minutes or less to prepare! And let go of the (*cough* capitalistic *cough*) idea of perfection; let people know they can pass on a book or vinyl to another person if it doesn’t groove with them; if they don’t like the meditation app you subscribed them to—guess what? That’s ok! You’ll get another chance to give a gift.

This UnNew holiday season, here’s my gift to you: Ideas for how you can minimize your environmental impact, save money, and indulge your creativity all the while celebrating those you love.

Experiential gifts

Memories, they don’t end up in landfills, do they? Give the gift of doing via an experience—whether or not you join them, you’ll be gifting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could be the spark of something new and great in their life.


  • Outdoor Education workshops- share the love of the outdoors with avalanche courses, backcountry 101, ski tuning wax and maintenance, bike maintenance, how to snowshoe, and more through organizations like Utah Avalanche CenterShe Jumps, and AIARE.

  • UnNew Outdoor Gear- Is your pal missing a piece of gear that’s preventing them from recreating outside? Check out Geartrade’s extensive offerings to see if you can equip and enable their next adventure.

  • Massage or spa gift certificate: Everyone deserves to take some “me time,” so why not support a local massage therapist or a local spa and give the gift of relaxation at the same time?

  • Gym membership or meditation app subscription: Maybe your gift-recipient is ready to try a new sport or activity that’ll enhance their physical and mental wellbeing but hasn’t yet taken the plunge; give them a day pass, membership, or app subscription to get them started on a potentially life-changing path.

  • An educational class: Has your gift recipient recently talked about a love for pottery, photography, cooking, home-brewing, or anything else that might require some background learning or coaching? Gift them a local or online class that’ll encourage them to investigate or pursue a new passion.

DIY upcycled gift ideas

Often making gifts or crafting projects can feel daunting if you don’t consider yourself “artsy” or “creative.” Forget the labels and the judgement, and throw out the idea that upcycling takes too much time—errands always seem to take more time than we want or allocate, so why not devote that time to your own creation anyway? The key is in preparation. Make sure you have all your materials before you begin, throw on some good music, and run with the idea that it’s the thought that counts.


  • Turn empty glass bottles into vases and art: Explore these 22 DIY ideas for upcycling old empty bottles, which include making lamps, vases, tumblers, candleholders, and more.

  • DIY Bath Bombs: In 15 minutes you’ll have a sweet-smelling, impressive gift made from ingredients you can get at the grocery store!

  • Reinvigorated Planters: Level-up terracotta pots with paint or use super glue and a lacquer layer to create a collage from magazine or newspaper clippings.

Food gifts

Just like buying bulk foods helps decrease packaging waste, making bulk art and food gifts does the same: use glass jars whenever possible so that your loved ones can re-use the container for future needs or gifts, too.


  • Crockpot Caramel Apple Butter: Throw a handful of ingredients (apples, caramels, and spices) into a slow-cooker/crockpot. Let them sit while you head outside to play; after a few hours, transfer the goods to mason jars, write a cute label/note, and whala!

  • Golden Honey Granola: Find an assortment of large jars at your local thrift shop and fill them with this delicious granola mix that’ll sustain everyone’s energy levels through the holidays. All you need is an oven, stovetop, large bowl, and airtight containers.

  • Food “coupons:” From paper and crafting scraps around your home, make “I owe you” dinner or coffee “coupons” for your gift-recipient to cash in whenever they’d like in the future. This gifts them quality time with you while also satisfying their belly.

Art gifts

Whether your gift recipient likes to enjoy their free time cozied up with books, listening to music, playing games with friends in a well-decorated living room, the idea that art can, indeed, live forever is what makes it so much fun to give. You don’t need to give the perfect piece of art if you preface it with the fact that they can re-gift the item to someone else who would appreciate it, too. *Wrapping pro tip: use old magazine pages, newspapers, or reuse old wrapping or tissue paper to wrap any physical items you’re planning to gift.*


  • Books! Does your gift recipient remind you of a novel character? Give them that book with a note explaining what you like about the character and why they strike a familiar chord. If gifting a novel feels challenging, try a book of poetry (and encourage your gift recipient to randomly flip open pages to read for inspiration. Some recent favorites: three-term poet laureate Joy Harjo’s Poet Warrior“a vivid, lyrical, and inspiring call for love and justice in this contemplation of her trailblazing life;” The Best American Poetry 2021, “a distinguished array of works both vast and beautiful;” and Home: 100 Poems edited by Christian Wiman, drawing together “one hundred evocative poems and prose fragments about home, exploring home’s deep theological, literary, philosophical, historical, political, and social dimensions.”

  • Vinyl record: If your recipient has a record player, encourage them to digitally detox with a record from a second-hand vinyl store. Better yet, bring the record over with some snacks for a listening session together.

  • Local art: Find an artist local to your gift recipient and support the vibrancy of their community with the purchase of a local piece of art. It’s a win-win: you’ll bolster their art scene and give something that could last a lifetime.

To read more about my Year of UnNew, see the October, September, August,  July, June, May, April, March, February, and January installments.


Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit


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