Published on november 30, 2020

The Sustainable Holiday Gift Guide: 10 Return-Proof Ways to Gift Mindfully

written by Team thredUP

Did you know? 145M unwanted gifts are given each year, most of which are clothes, and over a billion pounds of returned gifts end up in the trash! As much as we love the holiday season, we’re not into the sheer amount of waste it creates. This year is especially challenging since some of us have to celebrate from afar! No stress though, there are plenty of ways to gift mindfully and sustainably. To help you tackle that shopping list, read on for some return-proof, eco-friendly, and safe holiday gift ideas that your family (and the planet) will love!

1. Gift Thrift



For fashion lovers, you can’t beat gifting secondhand. 1 in 2 shoppers say they’re happy to receive or gift thrift, so why not join the movement? It’s the best way to give someone their dream designer handbag without breaking the bank. Plus, you’ll be giving an item a second life. The best part about thrifting is that you can find all the right brands and styles, so you can save time and find everything you need in one place (we have over 35,000 brands!).

If your giftee isn’t too keen on secondhand gifts, you can always gift brand new tags-still-on items at secondhand prices. It’s just like new but better. Just be sure to place your order by December 8 to get it in time for Christmas! 

Eco bonus points, our packaging is totally recyclable and reusable. There’s nothing better than opening up that polka-dotted package and seeing what treasure lies inside.

2. Send a Gift Card

Gifting for a huge family can seem daunting, especially if there are some people you don’t know that well or if you’re shopping for a hard-to-please person. Don’t try to guess what they want, there’s a high chance your present might get returned or tossed! If you must give a gift, send them a gift card instead so they can get what they actually want. Plenty of companies offer stylish gift cards and e-gift cards alongside customized messages so you won’t lose that personal element of gifting. 

ICYMI, thredUP has super cute gift cards too! Give the gift of thrift this year. It’s the perfect last-minute gift for the fashionistas in your family. With over 35,000 brands to shop, they’re sure to find something they’ll love.

3. Gift Eco-Friendly Clothing Brands

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If you must buy new, lower your impact by shopping brands with a sustainable mission. Brands like Patagonia, Everlane, Reformation, and Amour Vert, offer amazing gifts that have a lower impact on the planet. Check out our comprehensive guide for the top 25 sustainable brands for everything from casual and activewear, to elevated contemporary and luxe offerings.

4. Gift a Sustainable Starter Kit

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Consider getting gifts that will help your loved ones live a greener life. Get a reusable thermos for the coffee or tea lover, or a reusable water bottle (we hear Hydro Flasks always go over well) for someone who wants to stay hydrated and sustainable. Get the cook in your life reusable storage pouches like Stasher, or reusable beeswax wraps for keeping things fresh.

For the athleisure fan, help them shed fewer microplastics in the wash by gifting them a microfibre-catching washbag like Guppyfriend, Cora Ball, or Girlfriend Collective’s Microfibre Filter.

If you’re shopping for someone who is just dipping their toe into living sustainably, a kit or a subscription box can help them on their journey. We love brands like Blueland and Grove Collaborative for natural household and personal care essentials, or you can follow these tips for building a super easy sustainable starter kit.

5. Make Your Own Gift

A handmade gift is timeless (and affordable). Baked goodies (gingerbread fudge, anyone?) presented in a mason jar make a great present the whole family can enjoy. For the knit lover, a hand-knitted beanie or a chunky knit blanket will send them over the moon. For the spa lover, give them the luxury treatment with a DIY citrus sugar scrub or a homemade bubble bath gift set. You can find sooo many super easy DIY holiday gifting ideas here.

6. Gift a Cookbook

Many people are choosing to cook at home now more than ever. Some of us are totally lost in the kitchen, but sometimes all it takes is a physical cookbook to start cooking outside of your comfort zone. Check out these simple and sustainable cookbooks that make the perfect gift for those wanting to experiment with plant-based recipes and whole-food cooking.

7. Gift an At-Home Activity

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Staying connected to the people you love but can’t physically be with is more difficult than ever this year. Gifting your loved ones something to do at home is a great way to show you care. For the author of the friend group, the book of 300 Writing Prompts will give them endless things to write about. For the more artistically-inclined, an art set is the perfect gift. You can also never go wrong by sending a board game, puzzle, or book in the mail!

8. Gift a Cozy Night In

Make your loved ones feel as comfortable as possible with a cozy night starter kit. You really can’t go wrong with a super soft sustainably-made blanket and a Book of the Month or streaming service subscription.

9. Gift a Plant

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Yep, the greenest gift of all: a plant. They don’t just look good, they make you feel good too! Indoor plants are known to reduce stress and sickness, increase productivity, and absorb toxins in the air. Plus, it’s pretty satisfying to watch something you’ve cared for flourish. Just make sure your giftee is ready for a plant (we don’t want any holiday casualties).

10. Gift a Sentimental Memory

During the holidays, we’re missing our loved ones more than ever. Frame your favorite picture together along with a handwritten note to remind your giftee you’re always thinking of them. Be sure to include a bouquet of flowers to help them feel connected to nature while staying inside. 

Gifting mindfully this season? Share your sustainable holiday gift ideas below!