Columnist Johanna Neumann: Buy less, give more 

  • Johanna Neumann FILE PHOTO

Thursday, December 08, 2022

As we worked to get our home ready to host Thanksgiving, my husband had a reckoning with our accumulated stuff, and it prompted me to think about giving differently this holiday season.

In the culling of our tech box, we unearthed a 13-year-old iPad from the era when we were still dazzled by novel touch-screen technology and also charging cables for cell phones long since discarded. Although I posted some of it on a local ‘Buy Nothing’ group web page, inevitably most of it landed in Staples’ ‘electronics recycling’ shopping cart.

According to a recent article in Business Insider, consumers worldwide cast off a record 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019, a jump of 21% in five years. The United Nations projects that the number of discarded products with a battery or plug will almost double by 2030.

It’s not just the tech box. From the closets to the bookshelves to the pile of CDs to the toy bins in the basement, I feel the crush of stuff in every corner of my house.

I’m not alone. More than one in three Americans has so much stuff that they feel the need to rent and fill a storage unit.

As we look ahead to the season of giving, why in the world would we want to load our homes and the homes of those we love with even more stuff?

We don’t have to. This holiday season, each of us has the opportunity to redefine — and dare I say, improve on — what giving means.

Despite what the pervasive advertisements pushing Black Friday sales tell us, we can give meaningful gifts without adding to the clothes our loved ones already don’t wear or the electronic gizmos and novelty items that too often disappear into a corner of a home only to be culled later in an agonizing and time-consuming process.

MASSPIRG Education Fund’s advocates put together 10 ideas for holiday gifts that highlight presents that people in your life will use and appreciate, and, in some cases, will help create new memories.

An added benefit is that their suggestions are better for the environment than buying more stuff that your loved ones will use a handful of times.


Instead of buying each other clothing or toys, consider focusing on activities your loved one can appreciate for the experience — whether on their own, or with you or others. By giving an experience, you may find that you spend a lot more quality time together, rather than just giving stuff.

A few years ago we gave my nieces a ticket on the “Museum of Science Express.” We rented a minivan and drove to Boston, rode the T, romped at the museum, had Chinese food and then caught a surprise fireworks display on the Boston Common. It’s an experience we all still remember.

Repaired gifts

It’s likely that plenty of things around your family’s and friends’ homes that they once loved are now collecting dust because they broke or need maintenance. What better way to bring some holiday joy than to give the gift of new life to old, beloved stuff.

Pre-loved gifts

Gifting pre-loved items is a wonderful way to show how much you love the recipient and the earth. Make use of what has already been created. These items — everything from clothing to home goods to tools — are less expensive or sometimes even free.

The cast-iron frame of our favorite garden bench is made of castaways that my sister and brother-in-law scooped up from the Wellfleet transfer station many years ago and gifted us for Christmas.


Most of us have that thing we’ve always wanted to try. Maybe we thought about learning to cook some new meals, or how to tango or get our dog to stop jumping up on people. If someone enrolled us in a class and paid for it, and maybe offered to go with us too, that would be our chance to step out and try something new.

Chores or tasks

How about giving the gifts of time and safety? You can help someone you love with yard work, or interior painting, or driving them to appointments. There are a host of services and manual labor we can offer as gifts to those we care about.

Some of these gift ideas may take a bit more effort, but you may find you enjoy giving them as much as the recipient enjoys getting them.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and look forward to the season of giving gifts to family and friends, now is a good time to embrace a new way of thinking about what giving means.

Johanna Neumann, of Amherst, has spent the past two decades working to protect our air, water and open spaces, defend consumers in the marketplace and advance a more sustainable economy and democratic society. She can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.