Sustainable Gift Giving: More connections, less stuff

Illustration showing gifts of Kiss tickets, homemade dessert, thrift-store finds, coupon for free babysitting.

50 gift ideas to reduce your environmental impact and increase connectivity

People are finding creative ways to reduce wrapping waste when giving gifts. However, you’ll get bigger environmental benefit when the gifts themselves minimize social and environmental impacts.

The manufacturing and production of new items—whether clothing, electronics, toys, etc.—is resource and energy-intensive, greatly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether we’re celebrating together or at a distance, it’s possible to share love and build community through experiences and lower-impact gifts. Consider these sustainable alternatives the next time you celebrate an important life event or holiday, and want to show you care.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations look really different. As you explore these options, remember to follow safety guidelines and be flexible with plans to ensure you, your family, and your friends are safe and well.


Virtual Options

Multi picture collage of a blue and green map with red lines, man near bemidji sign, woman flexing her arm, and a child and woman holding paper certificates.

  1. 5k walk or run, on the same day but in different locations. Coordinate an outdoor challenge, like a 5k walk/run, for family and friends around the country (or world!). Create an online form to register, along with a group page to post updates, share photos, and announce race times. You can also host a video call after the event to share stories, watch a slideshow of participant pictures, and toast everyone completing the challenge.
  2. Cook together, on video. Drop off or mail a package with all the ingredients for a meal. At dinner time, connect via video call and cook together in your two kitchens. Adults leading big kids through a simple recipe works well too.
  3. Donate to a non-profit. Make a donation to your friend’s favorite non-profit in their name. You can make a plan to volunteer together in the future.
  4. Make-along. Send supplies for a craft or family tradition. Host a short “how to” video call, if needed. A week or two later, host another video call or outdoor gathering and have everyone show their work.
  5. Video call background images. Curate a small set of pictures from special places and memories. Include a how-to-use sheet.
  6. Virtual book club. Plan and host a monthly book club for your family or a group of friends on a video call. Come up with discussion questions, activities, and share snack and drink recipes that fit the book theme.
  7. Virtual community ed class. Sign up for an online community ed class—learn a new craft, discuss a new topic, or try a new activity together.
  8. Virtual movie night. There are both free and paid services that let you watch a movie at same time with someone on another computer, plus chat and laugh as you watch. Just search “watch movies together” for some reviews and blogs about what’s out there. Make some online movie night “tickets” and coordinate logistics for the night.

Man and child sit on chairs near water near a green tent with a tree branch hanging above them.

Activities and Events

  1. Camping trip. Escape to a state park or national forest for the weekend.
  2. Cooking classes. Learn new techniques and recipes together. You can find everything from 'how to make good coffee' to international meals.
  3. Day out with kids. Let the kids pick a fun activity they want to do with grandparents or extended family and give it to them as a gift.
  4. Escape room. Visit an escape room and work together to find the clues and solve the mystery.
  5. Geocaching. Explore, find, and log geocaches at The world's largest treasure hunt.
  6. Ice skating or sledding "party." Pack a thermos of hot cocoa, some snacks, and a blanket for a winter picnic at your local rink or sledding hill. Make fancy invitations and wrap them up for gift-giving time.
  7. Individual lessons. Cover the cost or help facilitate the gift of learning -- from music, to photography, to sewing, to car repairs, to dancing. See if you can find a family member or an elderly member of your community who might enjoy passing on the skill at a lower or no cost.
  8. Jar of activities. Fill a jar with little notes, each listing an activity to do together. Examples include experiences like bike ride, canoe, cross country skiing, see a movie, and go to a park. What could be better?
  9. Lunch date. Give an “I owe you” to a fun breakfast or lunch place, and plan to make it one-on-one date so they have your full attention (as opposed to both kids or multiple friends sharing a lunch date).
  10. Movie night packages. Wrap up a picture of the movie cover (stream online later) and add snacks! Families can wrap up a different movie for each kid and let each child “host” the movie night.
  11. Outdoor winter party. Stay active and enjoy the Minnesota winters. Menu: Mugs of soup with thick, warm slices of bread on top. This is easy to eat standing and wearing mittens! Some yard games work well in the cold and snow too: Kubb, bocce ball, bean bag toss.
  12. Paddle Share. Schedule a day to use a canoe rental option for day trips on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
  13. Studio time. Pay for a couple hours of studio time for the musician in your family.
  14. Treasure hunt. Create an afternoon of discovery, or if you are giving a material gift, make the giving itself a fun experience. Wrap up the first clue and go on a treasure hunt to find the gift.
  15. Volunteer together. Plan a time to make a difference together. There are in-person and from-home volunteer activities available. Check out Doing Good Together for family-friendly ideas.
  16. Winery/brewery/distillery tour. Tour the operations at a local facility, and try some samples with 21+ group members.


  1. Breakfast treat of the month. Once a month for a year, make sweet bread, muffins, or coffee cake, and bring it to a grandparent or extended family member.
  2. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Give or share a CSA box to support local farmers and enjoy fresh, healthy produce.
  3. Dog treats. Bake some tasty treats for your pet-owning friends.
  4. Doorknob dinners. Drop off dinner for another household once a week for a month, or plan a dinner exchange where you alternate every other week. Use designated, reusable food storage containers that move back and forth between homes.  
  5. Picnic date. Plan a romantic picnic outing, and spend the afternoon outside and away from screens/devices.

Gift Cards, Memberships, and Tickets

Woman with black face mask looks at picture in a gold frame that is hung on a blue wall with other pictures with gold frames.

  1. Family Passes. Give passes to fun locations like amusement parks, aquariums, zoos, and more!
  2. Fitness-focused memberships. Support a loved one’s fitness goals with a yoga membership, rock climbing/bouldering membership, cycling membership, etc.
  3. Gift cards for unique winter activities. Break up the winter days with activities as a group, for someone to do alone, or to schedule with a guide:
    a.    Dog sledding
    b.    Fat biking
    c.    Ice fishing
  4. Gift cards for a massage/spa day. Help relieve some stress by encouraging your partner to take some time to be pampered.
  5. Local sharing library membership. Give the gift of access over ownership. There are several great tool and toy library options in the Twin Cities, and you can also search for these types of libraries in other cities and states.
  6. Metro Transit passes. Save money on gas, take the bus or train.
  7. Minnesota State Parks gift card. Use it for a Minnesota State Parks Permit, camping and overnight getaways; or canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, cross-country ski, snowshoe, and/or snowtube rentals.
  8. Museum memberships. Gift some knowledge with a few Minnesota favorites:
    a.   Minnesota Historical Society
    b.   Minnesota Children’s Museum
    c.    Minnesota Science Museum
    d.   Bell Museum of Natural History
    e.   Bakken Museum
  9. News or magazine subscription. Purchase a subscription that highlights a new or relevant interest.
  10. Nice Ride. Give a bike sharing membership, and test it out together.
  11. Restaurant gift cards. For a twist, give several, smaller gift cards to different restaurants, instead of one large gift card.
  12. Season Tickets. Share season tickets to the theater or orchestra. You can also donate to local groups and theaters if they aren’t currently hosting events or selling future performance tickets. Here are a few ideas:
    a.   Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
    b.   Children’s Theatre Company
    c.    Guthrie Theater
    d.    History Theatre
    e.   Jungle Theatre
    f.    Minnesota Orchestra
    g.   Mixed Blood Theatre
    h.   The Duluth Playhouse

Sustainable Stuff

Older person's hands hold dark green yarn and knitting needles with a basket of yarn in the background.

  1. Hand-me-downs. Gather a collection of hand-me-down clothes or toys that are still in good condition to share.
  2. Handmade. Knit a scarf, paint a picture, make a quilt, or make a candle.
  3. Jar of love. Fill a jar with little notes, each listing a special memory or something you admire/love about the person receiving the jar. On a down day, these kinds of messages mean a lot.
  4. Memory book. Make a photo book online or make a homemade book by printing and cutting out pictures and writing captions.

Thoughtful Actions

  1. A nap or getting to sleep in. Give someone the chance to take a break and get some rest - parents of young children will appreciate this one.
  2. Customized coupons. Make your own coupons for kids, parents, older adults, and friends. Fun examples of coupons include:
    a.    Good for one chore-free day
    b.    Good for one breakfast in bed
    c.    Good for one night of backyard camping
    d.    Good for one friend/family game night
    e.    Good for one pizza night
    f.     Good for one afternoon of laundry
    g.    Good for one foot massage
  3. Date-night passport. Create a passport of twelve date-night plans, and let your partner choose one every month of the year.
  4. House cleaning service. Offer to help with cleaning for your grandparents or an older friend/neighbor, or explore professional services.
  5. Repair something. If you have the repair skills or know a local business that does, fix someone’s favorite boots, tune up someone’s bicycle, tailor a jacket that no longer fits, or repaint someone’s bookshelf.