Last-minute sustainable gift ideas that don't suck. Purple text with an image of a dried orange and cinnamon stick Christmas ornament, with a blurry tree and lights in the background.

Last-Minute Sustainable Holiday Gifts

There's no more conflicting and confusing (often infuriating) time for the eco-minded soul, than that of the holiday season. 

Excess waste, credit card debt, glorified overconsumption, online returns, and useless traditions galore!

Like many others, I have been tempted to simply give up on the "American Christmas" and just not participate - at least in the decorating and exchanging gifts part.

 Photo of someone struggling to carry an overflowing armful of Christmas gifts.

Despite my best efforts, no one seems to think I am serious when I say "don't get me anything."

It's almost like it's so deeply ingrained, that not buying gifts just... isn't a thing. So I eventually find out a gift is on the way, and rush to return the favor as if I had planned it all along.

However, it's still good to honor the better traditions of the season - like reconnecting with family and friends, and taking time to rest at the end of a long year - if you have the privilege of doing so.

But what can you do instead of rush ordering on Amazon on the very last day, or running to the mall or Walmart to pick up a pre-made gift set? ...should you find yourself in a similar predicament.


 1. First step - skip the fancy wrapping.

Any intermediate-level eco nerd knows that recycling isn't always the best option.

While some (not all!) wrapping paper is recyclable, it's still single use and wrapped in hard-to-recycle thin plastic film.

Then you get into the ribbons and bows and tags... it's a nightmare.

How many reusable tote bags have you bought because you've forgotten to bring your own, and either they didn't have disposable bags or you felt guilty for using them...?

Congratulations, you now have 537 new gift bags!

(Go ahead and stuff a few in your car while you're thinking about it. You're welcome.) Or, better yet in my opinion, get yourself one of our Foldable Totes to keep in your car or backpack!

 A moody photo of two gifts wrapped in brown paper, tied with string and some pieces of fir tree as decoration, beside some tea light candles.

If you must have the gift wrapped for some reason, this is a great use for that brown packing paper that's, thankfully, more widely used now than bubble wrap in packages. Pro tip - It can be ironed on the lowest setting. 


 A photo of cutely decorated gifts, tied in cloth instead of paper, with various pieces of greenery and natural decor like wood chips and cinnamon sticks scattered around.

Or - use some old sheets as a knot wrap! (You know, that top sheet you have in the closet because you only use the fitted sheet... no? Just me?)

Pro tip from a seamstress - instead of trying to cut a perfect square, start cutting the edge of the fabric about 1-2" and just rip it the rest of the way. It feels wrong at first, but it'll be straight! You can even rip smaller strips to use as "ribbon."


 Six jars of homemade jelly on a shelf, the lids are covered with a small piece of fabric and tied with string.

2. Shop local.

Seems obvious as the online-order deadlines come and go... and I don't mean the local Walmart, either. 

If you have year-round farmers markets, co-ops, flea markets, boutiques, or other places that stock local goods - check there for things like jams, jellies, candy, sauces, etc! 

A few unexpected places I've seen these products are gas stations and antique malls. Literally the day prior to writing this, we found a local hot sauce maker at the flea market and picked up a few bottles.

Where I live (Peach Country) it's not uncommon to be driving down a seemingly empty back road and find a roadside market or independent convenience store advertising local produce. Though the selection will vary seasonally - sadly no peaches this time of year. 

You're supporting a local farm, and giving actually-useful gifts that people may not buy for themselves otherwise.

The best part - canned/bottled goods will last for a long time, and the jars can be reused!

Other options for this, if you can find them on short notice, are locally-made soaps, candles, jewelry, or other handcrafts. 


 A photo of someone upcycling fun colorful socks into various sizes of cup and mug cozies. A chaklboard sign reads "lost socks, waste not."

3. The re-gift flip.

Re-gifting is a faux pas in some circles, but I think I found a way to get around it. (I'm sure I didn't invent this, but let's pretend like I did).

My definition of the "re-gift" here is a bit loose, it could be something you actually received as gift, or could be something you just already had, or found secondhand. Basically anything you didn't buy new, specifically for the purposes of this gifting occasion.

Now, this will require some level of craftiness, and will depend on the supplies and skills you already have. (It will defeat the purpose here to go out and buy a bunch of tools to make one gift).

The point is to have that handmade aspect, without doing the whole thing from scratch, because we ain't got time for that - and are trying to upcycle!

My initial idea was to "flip" old Christmas décor. If you don't have any, I'm sure your local thrift store does. 

So a Christmas-themed sign or picture could be re-painted to be, well, not Christmas-themed.

Statues and knick-knacks could also be re-done - ribbons swapped, pinecones removed, flowers added, etc. 

It's not exactly practical to give Christmas décor as a Christmas gift, since they can't use it until next year. And there's an over-abundance of the stuff out there in the universe, that'll eventually end up in the landfill...


Do you have a bag (i.e. somewhere in the aforementioned horde of reusable bags) that's plain and could use some embellishment, or personalization for your giftee?

I seem to attract gifts of purses. Sometimes not quite my style, or too big or small. One such purse is pretty small - like a clutch with a strap. I could remove the strap, add a card organizer, and boom, it's a wallet. (Though I couldn't use it with my personal choice of a fanny pack, maybe someone else is a big-purse-carrier and needs a bigger wallet?)


An overhead photo of someone at a table holding black and white family photographs, with a few scattered on the table.

Do you have unused picture frames? As I mentioned in last year's gift ideas post, we humans in the early 2020s don't seem to find physical portraits as important, since we have them on our phones. This is your permission to do some snooping and find a photo of your giftee (their family, their pets, etc) - or ask another friend or relative to send a photo.

Most frames you'll find laying around or at a thrift store just need some cleaning - make sure the glass is in-tact and the back hasn't been damaged by water. You may even be able to ask friends and neighbors if they have any to spare!

It's a good idea to get your frame first, before selecting a photo size. Normally if you were getting a photo or piece of art, you'd do it the other way around. But we're working with what we've got! 


A photo of various old antique style portraits, being arranged into an album.

A step above would be to create a photo album - or start one on someone's behalf. A real one, like a book. They still exist!

Lots of places like Walgreens, CVS, or office supply stores offer same-day printing. Some may even have a kiosk for you to upload photos and print immediately. (Though check the hours and turnaround time since they may be busier for the holidays). 

Small detail here - I was recently going through a LOT of old family photos, and was thankful that some had at least the year written on the back, along with the names of whoever was pictured. Your giftee's descendants will thank you in 50+ years. 

Just thought of an idea perhaps for next year - having someone's old physical family photos digitized? It's a tedious process that I think a lot of people want to do but never set aside the time.




Looking for a gift that's not last-minute, or want to be a bit more sustainable yourself? Check out our reusable bundle sets here!

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