Alternative Holiday Shopping Ideas

Fabric gift wrap is environmentally friendly because it can be reused year after year. This time of year, there is one place you'll never find me: The mall.

I love the process of finding, buying, or making the perfect gifts for the people I love -- but I also like to know that my holiday budget (and my time!) is spent in the most good-for-the-planet ways possible. So, with the holiday season upon us, I thought I'd share some of my favorite alternative holiday shopping ideas that result in gifts that are personal, ethical, and make you feel good:

1. Shop at "fair trade" stores. Madison is lucky to have several venues that sell certified "fair trade" products -- stores like SERRV, Change Boutique, the Willy Street Co-op, and the Fair Trade Holiday Festival at the Monona Terrace. Places like these specialize in selling items that have been made in ethical ways, by workers who earned living wages.

2. Shop at local art and craft fairs. Our area is full of incredibly talented local artists and craftspeople who sell directly to consumers through arts and crafts festivals. One of my favorite's is coming up -- the Indie Craft Marketplace at Hilldale Shopping Mall. Check out the Isthmus for a list of several more throughout the month. Many of these fairs also act as fundraisers for good causes, like the Aldo Leopold Center's holiday bazaar, and MSCR's pottery sale.

3. Give "gently used" items. Shop for gifts at your favorite thrift store or consignment shop -- often you'll spot rare or unique finds that are hard to come by at larger chain stores. By browsing your favorite thrift shop every month or so throughout the year, you can keep an eye out for the best finds. Plus, resale shopping tends to be much, much less expensive. (Though remember you won't have a warranty on any item that you purchase used, so shop wisely!)

Personalize your holiday season by making handmade gifts. It's easier than you think!

4. Develop a crafting skill. Handmade gifts are special, no matter how imperfect they may be (and in my book, the imperfections are what set them apart from store-bought "stuff"!). Not everyone has a special, gift-ready hobby like knitting or sewing or painting. But it's surprisingly easy to start one. Craft projects like DIY candle-making or yarn wreaths or even these DIY wall coverings make excellent gifts you can be proud of -- and they don't require advanced skills. (For more ideas, check out this list of homemade holiday gift ideas from Apartment Therapy.)

5. Give time instead of stuffA friend and I have a birthday gifting tradition -- instead of giving each other actual stuff, we treat each other to birthday brunch. For the holidays, consider gifting time together -- a movie date, dinner at a favorite restaurant, a day hike all planned out. Or gift services -- like a free night of babysitting, computer lessons (if you're so inclined), a month of doing a particular chore your spouse hates. This is a particularly nice alternative when gift-giving to kids -- a special day-trip with a grandparent will likely be more memorable down the road than another plastic toy.

6. Use cloth instead of wrapping paper. Buy some holiday-themed fabric remnants and cloth ribbon at your nearest sewing shop -- presto, reusable fabric wrapping paper! No more litter-strewn floor and bulging trash bags on Christmas morning -- you can enjoy opening your presents while reducing all that unnecessary holiday waste.

7. Create new traditions that celebrate sustainability. In my family, we're each responsible for giving a gift to one other person (chosen in a random drawing). The rules? At least part of that gift must either be homemade or used, and the total amount spent cannot exceed $25. It forces us to get creative -- but with only one family member to shop for, we have the time to do so!

What are your alternative holiday shopping tips? If you have anything else to add to the list, we'd love to hear them.