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VOL. 42 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 9, 2018

Holiday shoppers are thinking outside the box

Experiences replacing ‘stuff’ for younger consumers

By Kathy Carlson

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Only 46 days till Christmas! And, if anyone’s curious, the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza known as Black Friday is a mere two weeks away.

This year, people say they plan to spend, on average, $638 each for holiday gifts, according to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. They’ll also spend another $215 for holiday-related items such as food and decorations, plus another $100 or so on non-gift deals too good to pass up. It all adds up to anticipated holiday retail sales of over $717 billion, the NRF estimates.

Included in the average stats, however, are many folks, especially those in their 20s and 30s, who for a host of reasons say they’ll either spend less or spend differently.

They’re shifting from buying to making, reusing, repurposing. They’re more interested in doing than having. They’re motivated by religion, environmental concerns, a desire to be frugal and also simply seeing the holiday through a different lens.

“We’re seeing a culture shift as far as gift-giving is concerned,” says Erin Hendrickson, a registered dietitian and freelance writer with a website called minimalistrd.com. She sees an increasing “desire to have a purpose in giving.”

Experiences instead of stuff

“I think a lot of us have too much,” she continues. “Millennials place more value on experiences than things. That’s what we like to gift to others during the holidays.”

Hendrickson said her favorite experience-type gifts include travel and tickets to concerts and museums, allowing her to experience things she wouldn’t normally do.

Diana Andrew is sustainable classrooms manager with Urban Green Lab, a Nashville nonprofit and sustainable living organization. “A lot of what I’m seeing is about reusing materials (and giving) experiences” as gifts, rather than giving things, she says.

Most of her friends have similar views, she adds.

“We are in the phase of life where we’re maturing out of asking for a lot of material gifts and instead investing in homes, travel, or spending time together,” Andrew points out.

Since 2010, Turnip Green Creative Reuse has been helping people find new uses for materials that would have ended up in landfills. It’s currently based in East Nashville and accepts things that thrift stores usually don’t, items like the fabric-sample books that interior designers have on hand for their clients, said Leah Sherry, Turnip Green’s executive director.

Gimme gift cards

For the 12th consecutive year, the most popular items on wish lists are gift cards, requested by 60 percent of those surveyed, the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights report.

Most popular gift card categories:

-- Clothing and accessories, 53 percent,

-- Books/movies/music, 37 percent,

-- Electronics, 29 percent,

-- Home décor, 23 percent,

-- Jewelry, 22 percent,

-- Personal care or beauty items, 19 percent,

-- Sporting goods, 18 percent, and

-- Home improvement items, 17 percent.

During the first nine months of 2018, Turnip Green kept more than 74,000 pounds of materials out of the landfill and more than 13,000 people visited the creative reuse center, she notes. Many visitors are artists and teachers happy to work with the donated materials.

One year, Sherry says, Turnip Green received a truckload of fabric samples, all in squares of the same size and bound in books.

“I am so going to use these things for gift wrapping,” Sherry thought when she saw the fabric squares. She wrapped her sister’s holiday gift that year in one, and her sister reused the wrap to make something different.

As it turned out, the fabric that would have gone to the landfill was reused twice and its useful life extended. Others have turned the squares into clothing, bags and placemats.

People can visit Turnip Green’s open studio at “any time we’re open and pull as many materials as they want off the shelves,” Sherry said. They pay whatever they consider a fair price for the items that Turnip Green accepts, including traditional holiday wrapping paper and gift bags.

“Especially around Christmas time we see a lot of people coming back there wrapping gifts, making gifts and ornaments,” she said.

Turnip Green also is hosting an art show called Rock Paper Scissors that features items made from repurposed jewelry, paper and textiles. The show closes Sunday, Nov. 11.

“These are perfect for the holidays,” Sherry says. One artist, Kayla Burnett, made necklaces from things she found on the street, “materials saved from landfills and given a second life.”

There are many ways to give meaningful earth-friendly holiday gifts this year. Here are specific suggestions and sources for more information.

The gift of giving

Many people associate the holidays with charitable giving, and appreciate a gift to a nonprofit in their name. Both nonprofits and employers have embraced the idea of donations as gifts, and people are using social media to ask their friends to give to specific nonprofits instead of giving tangible gifts for special occasions.

For example, Facebook last year began allowing users to create fundraisers for their birthdays in which they ask friends to donate money to a charity or nonprofit. CNBC reported that Facebook had said in a post that more than $300 million had been raised for nonprofits in the first year of the fundraiser option.

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee offers a special gift card called the Giving Card that enables recipients to give the amount on the card to a charity of their choice. Ellen Lehman, the Community Foundation’s president, explains the cards can be printed in any quantity and can include customized artwork specified by the company or person buying the cards. Employers around town have given their employees Giving Cards over the holidays, she adds.

The card buyer chooses the value of each card and receives a tax deduction, but the person receiving the card gets to decide which 501(c) (3) nonprofit - anywhere in the United States - receives the money.

In 2014, the Community Foundation sold 5,752 cards and $110,545 was received by nonprofit recipients, she said. “In 2017 we sold almost 3,900 cards and $140,000 was received by nonprofit recipients.”

Symbolic gifts

“Although they are a tangible item, we have been encouraging people to purchase bamboo toothbrushes moving forward instead of plastic toothbrushes,” Brandi Prewitt, Tennessee Environmental Council, manager of development and communications at the Tennessee Environmental Council, writes in an email.

The handles of bamboo toothbrushes are biodegradable and compostable. If people are replacing toothbrushes every three to four months, switching to bamboo handles can keep a lot of plastic out of landfills, she notes.

For companies that are environmentally minded, Prewitt says, a great Christmas/ Chanukah idea would be to purchase bamboo toothbrushes in bulk, have them branded with their logo and give them out as gifts to employees. “It’s a great way to let people know that this alternative is out there and to give them something that they will actually need and use,” she said. Employees interested in giving bamboo toothbrushes can buy them from the Tennessee Environmental Council

The gift of time

Many families donate their time over the holidays instead of giving gifts, Hendrickson says. Some adopt another family in need. They’ll go shopping, buy things the other family needs and get to spend quality time as a family while doing something for families that are less fortunate.

She adds that Nashville is full of volunteer opportunities, and many are listed on the Hands On Nashville website, www.hon.org

More ideas for sustainable gifts

Still searching for gift ideas? Here are those that show up on many lists for sustainable and alternative holiday giving:

-- Food gifts - breads, cookies, homemade herb blends, for example

-- Original artwork, such as poems and photographs

-- Gifts made by local artisans

-- Gifts that help someone kick an unsustainable habit, such as a reusable grocery bag (Source: coolchoices.com)

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