The Green Gifting Dilemma

I must confess, I have never written a confession post. When I was invited to write for 5MFGG, I was eager to express more personal feelings about being green. As much as I love writing at teensygreen about eco-products, services, and activism that helps all of us, being eco is also simultaneously a deeply personal part of my life (as I know it’s probably yours if you’re reading this). That being said, I do have some ranting I’d like to “put out there” in a purely hypothetical, non-offensive manner.

My oldest daughter is turning six in October. I’m not ready to let go of birthday parties just yet, so we’re going to have a small gathering of some friends and family. The green problem I’m having isn’t with the invites, decorations or activities. It’s something I’ve always thought was beyond my control, much to my dismay. Did you guess yet? Yes, it’s the presents!

I’d like to think that my family and friends actually read teensygreen once in a while, and link what I write about passionately with how I live outside the computer. I know my mother-in-law does, because she is the “eco-mama” who writes great comments about many, many, many posts. Sometimes I’ll mention something I’ve written to a friend and I’ll hear, “Oh, really? I haven’t checked your site in a while”. My dad, who just graduated to email, and my mom, who just installed wireless high speed internet, aren’t even on my radar. No worries, I don’t take it personally.

I also don’t get preachy when it comes to being green (well, to those who don’t know me well, at least). If I’m asked about what my kids are into these days, I’ll usually bring up a cool new product I read about, or my latest Etsy obsession. But, when my younger daughter had her third birthday last March, the three plastic tea sets and four various plastic-y building block kits were not only redundant, but almost infuriating to me personally. Hello, I write a GREEN BLOG! I thought I was pretty obvious!

I’ve been wondering since then, how much of eco-gifting is my responsibility when it comes to my own kids, and how much of it should be left to the givers? I’d like to think that I take the time to buy age-appropriate and eco-quality gifts, without breaking the bank. To me, that’s been part of the journey of writing teensygreen and of living green. The challenge is then, how to I get that across to people who I see on a daily basis?

There are a wealth of great toys and products out there, both in big box stores and on-line, that are easy to find. You can even say buying online is greener than driving around to various stores, by supporting more “mom and pop” shops and saving gas in the process (the debate about packing and shipping is for another post altogether). I thought about totally keeping this to myself, but then I thought I’d be doing a disservice to my friends.

The happy medium (or, eco-experiment if you will) I came up with was to suggest on the invitation that party-goers bring a specific kind of gift, in this case, various art supplies. My daughter is really into art, and it’s going to be an art-themed party. This way, I have my say, and I can avoid an excess of princess/Hello Kitty/character of the moment swag she has no need for. If people choose to ignore my suggestion, that’s their business. If I choose to exchange their gift, that’s mine.

So, dear readers, as you make your green journey, I want to know how you handle managing your playroom when it’s beyond your control. Do you have rules about what family and friends can buy for your kids? How do you slip in suggestions without offending the givers? Or, will you end up doing what I think I’m doomed to – the present exchange when no one is looking?

Original 5 Minutes For Going Green post. You can read more from Stefani Newman and find the perfect present (and much, much more) at her blog teensygreen.

24 Responses to The Green Gifting Dilemma
  1. Donielle @ Raising Peanuts
    July 30, 2008 | 8:28 am

    With my son turning two next week, we’ve really just entered into this dilemma. It seems as if I just can’t keep the plastic out of our house! Even my husband wants to buy him a plastic train instead of a cool wooden one I found online! ugh! With family being the only ones buying him gifts right now I do find I recommend certain types of gifts and stress he already has such and such. With parties coming along in the next few years, I’ll definitely take your advice about theming the gifts. Great idea!

  2. onemotherslove
    July 30, 2008 | 2:26 pm

    For my son’s 4th bday in May, we requested books. Almost everyone complied, and about half of them found great used books for us at Half Price Books. Grandmas were worried about how he would react if he didn’t get any toys, but they brought books anyway. Interestingly enough, it was the other families with children who gave us the plastic stuff. For Christmas, I’m already planning on asking for art supplies for the kids. We’re giving my son (4) those recycled cardboard brick blocks (also happen to be made in the USA!) and my daughter (who’ll be 2 in Jan) is getting a recycled cardboard kitchen that I found plans to make myself on ETSY!!!

  3. Maddy
    July 30, 2008 | 6:26 pm

    Yah! Mind kind of site. I’ve been meaning to get around here [main issue is special needs] and now finally I’ve arrived.

    Being green [or trying to be] is my second ongoing campaign.

    Well done you.

  4. Maddy
    July 30, 2008 | 6:27 pm

    So how do I load the ‘button’ and ‘show my colours?’

  5. Sarah
    July 30, 2008 | 8:44 pm

    We recently we had a Revolutionary Birthday Tea for my just-turned 7 year old. In lieu of presents we asked for food donations for the “Patriot Troops” to be distributed local food bank. I tend on doing similar for the birthdays we have coming up in August and September.

  6. Maddy
    July 30, 2008 | 8:48 pm

    I still like the gifting of ‘farm’ animals / donations in lieu of a ‘real’ physical present.

    I also really enjoyed receiving presents from my brother in China wrapped in Chinese Newsprint.

    Now all I need is the ‘how to read Chinese 101’ book to go with it.

  7. One Mom
    July 30, 2008 | 8:53 pm

    This really is not a promo for my online store, but there are a lot of good ideas (free!) at for giving a greener birthday party…themes, activities…all sorts of ideas to help curb the cycle of birthday party excess. Check it out and let me know your ideas too!

  8. […] all! I’m still out of town, but wanted to tell you that my very first original post for the new site 5 Minutes for Going Green is up! I don’t want to give too much away, but if […]

  9. Shelly
    July 31, 2008 | 7:39 am

    I’m facing the same dilema: how do I not come off as rude by telling people what do buy my kids and not get stuck with tons of plastic junk? I like your idea. Great post!

  10. aimee
    July 31, 2008 | 8:03 am

    I honestly think in this day and age where many people are starting to really rethink their purchases, they appreciate it when we as parents give suggestions as to what gifts to give. It takes the “work” out when you say: “please bring your favorite…” instead of just leaving it wide open. It is then that I think people hit the dollar stores and pick up the cutest, cheap, non-green thing they can (with good intentions of course!)

  11. Robbie
    July 31, 2008 | 9:51 am

    We dealt with this a month or so back with my daughter’s birthday. People didn’t understand that she really wasn’t obsessed with Elmo or Dora and that she’d be happiest with art supplies, etc. (Read the link if you want the whole story.)

    And yes, we’re are swamped with little plastic kitchen things for her secondhand kitchen she got from her grandparents. (Because people knew she liked cooking, actually she prefers the real thing.)

    I think you have to reinforce the messages over and over. The friends attending the party didn’t understand, but my mother did – and my daughter loves her homemade art smock, art supplies and kid cookbooks she got from her Mama.

  12. justanothersahm
    July 31, 2008 | 11:26 pm

    I think your art theme party & gift suggestion was a great idea!
    We asked everyone who wished to purchase a gift for our son’s first birthday to bring a book that was special to them as a child to help grow his library. The response has been very positive so far…and for the granparents who are rebelling – a wish list full of ideas on Amazon or Kaboodle helps a lot!

  13. Sarah
    August 1, 2008 | 5:35 am

    I would appreciate an entry on green gift bag gifts. As a mom of gluten-free children I tire of bags of plastic trinkets with prepackage crackers and cookie treats. I realize that parents are trying to keep these bags inexpensive but there has to be better solutions.

  14. Monica (Healthy Green Moms)
    August 1, 2008 | 3:55 pm

    I so understand the dilemma of the green gifts. We knew we wanted to go with fewer toys in our home, and the ones we have, we would like to be made with green quality. We were totally unprepared for the massive arrival of plastic battery toy stations for our daughter within the first year of her life! Our loving family was not aware that we had this intention for the toys and so they came.
    This year, we will be asking that any gifts from family be simple non plastic battery free, and give suggestions of brands that we prefer that are safe and eco friendly.
    Birthday parties are soon in our future and I have no idea how I’ll handle this, except to say that I think it’ll be my responsibility to set guidelines.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  15. Jennifer (The Smart Mama)
    August 1, 2008 | 5:17 pm

    I think it is very difficult.

    We still invite the entire daycare class for my children’s birthday parties – and many of the parents aren’t that familiar with my outlook. So, when I asked “what does x want,” I give specific categories – wood toys, art supplies, craft supplies, gardening supplies, etc. – whatever is popular with my child. Or, I ask for movie tickets, aquarium passes, whatever.

    But my daughter is a pink princess, so we get overwhelmed with pink princess stuff and pony stuff. I return what I can, donate what I can’t, and let her keep a few favorites. When I gift, I try to give eco friendly – a gardening kit in a eco-friendly containers or art supplies usually – or movie tickets, aquarium passes, etc. But, of course, there are kids who only want Star Wars or whatever, and I have to admit I’ve bought that stuff too.

  16. Andrea
    August 2, 2008 | 8:26 pm

    I think that we can only do so much to encourage family and friends to buy eco-friendly gifts for our kids. One thing we did for our daughter was create an Amazon wish list for her. It is perfect because it helps give friends and family ideas for gifts. And now you can add any item to the list, even if it is not on Amazon. So you can even feed you etsy love through it too. :)

  17. Jenn (The Green Parent)
    August 3, 2008 | 4:02 pm

    This post is so timely for me as:
    1. My eldest will turn 6 in Oct
    2. I’ve been struggling with what to do about the gifting/ party dilema
    3. Even though I have a book and a website on GREEN PARENTING, my own mother continues to buy my kids every piece of cheap, plastic junk she comes across.

    I like the arts and crafts idea…my daughter is a big art fan as well. I was also thinking about making it a “book” party where guests are asked to bring books as gifts. Sure, it could still be a crappy book, but at least it’s a book!

  18. Green Gift Week | Go Green Living
    August 4, 2008 | 8:34 am

    […] starters, check out that post that teensygreen wrote by at 5 Minutes 4 Going Green on The Green Gifting Dilemma. It really hit home with me as my eldest will be six that October and I, too, am wondering how to […]

  19. Robbie (Going Green Mama)
    August 4, 2008 | 9:47 am

    Regarding the green gift bags, I avoided them completely. My daughter’s guests instead got a cool cup (the type you freeze to make cold) that they used that night and got to take home instead of junky little items in a plastic bag. Guess what? No one even noticed there was no gift bag.

  20. Julie
    August 5, 2008 | 12:15 am

    This is such a tough topic. We started out being pretty firm with our families about our expectations for no plastic toys, no battery-powered stuff, etc., so they are all pretty much on board now.

    But what do you do when your children get past the age when you can have a “no presents” birthday party? My children are both there now, so what I’ve been trying to do is make suggestions.

    For my daugther’s birthday party this spring, we did a dress-up theme and I suggested that folks get second-hand adult clothes. She got some hats, several purses, and some silk fair wings & skirt, and she was in heaven!

    Now my son’s birthday is coming up this fall and I’m trying to think of a theme that will discourage the plastic gifts.

    As for gift bags, a friend recently did some home-made coloring books & a big chunky crayon made of all different colors of crayon melted together. The kids loved it and didn’t miss the plastic trinkets one bit.

    Great post!

  21. Green Gift Week | Go Green Park
    August 6, 2008 | 4:11 am

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  22. Green Gift Week | The Green Parent
    October 27, 2008 | 10:35 am

    […] starters, check out this post that teensygreen wrote over at 5 Minutes 4 Going Green on The Green Gifting Dilemma. It really hit home with me as my eldest will be six this October and I, too, am wondering how to […]

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