Braving the Op Shop Present

So, we have two birthday parties in the next few days – Mr 4 and Ms 6.

For a while I toyed with giving experiences like a voucher for flip out or the cinemas but I figured it was time to get brave and give some op shop presents.

Giving an op shop present to another child (I’m more than happy to do it with my own kids!) has been the most daunting thing to do (although probably giving no present when no such direction has been received from the parents would be more daunting). It is just an unknown what other parent’s attitudes are to second-hand goods. They could range from being really happy to be making less impact on the planet to a bit perturbed that we are giving their child used things. So, I’ve tried my very best to put together some quality op shop presents.

This morning my own Mr 3 and I hit the Resource Recovery Op Shop at Bellambi Lane and then went on to explore the Salvos Store at Woonona.


For Mr 4 we picked out the following gifts:

  • Size 4 Ben 10 t-shirt (no marks or tears)
  • Peppa’s Circus book (practically new)
  • Iron Man
  • Hot Wheels Flip Car

For Ms 6 we picked out the following gifts:

  • Size 7 sequined owl t-shirt (no marks or tears)
  • Inside Out book (very good condition)
  • Fairies Book (the fairy equivalent of Where’s Wally)
  • Set of Babushka Dolls (only 3 in the set but otherwise good condition

We wrapped each of the gifts up using the shirt as “wrapping paper” and a ribbon to secure it and added a gift card that we printed off and our present tag explaining our sustainable gift. On the back of the tag I wrote some information about the op shops we got the gifts from and that we hope the presents will be enjoyed and the recycled again when they’re no longer needed.



Plastic avoided?  – No – Iron Man and the Hot Wheels car are plastic and so are the sequins on the owl t-shirt – but bonus points that they are reused plastic.

Excessive presents avoided – probably not – I kind of compensated for giving second-hand by throwing a few extra things in there

Biodegradable – the books and the t-shirts were

Second Hand – all the way 🙂



Rainbow Fairy Magic

IMG_20180630_152931_HDRMy daughter turned 6 the other day and so it was time to throw our hat in the ring for another birthday party. We were happy to host a small party for her as she has just started school this year and we were keen to foster her growing friendships. She’s a fan of the Rainbow Magic Fairy books so we decided to have a Rainbow Magic Fairy theme, but we were still keen to discourage the traditional culture of gift giving at kids parties and to have a party where getting together and having fun was the real gift to her.

Our spiel on the invitation was not as long as last time … ” It is truly not necessary to bring a gift …(the most sustainable gift is no gift) – just come along and enjoy yourself. If you really wish to bring a gift you might like to consider making something with your child … (she loves cookies!), picking a bunch of flowers, buying something from an op shop (Rainbow Magic Fairy books are a winner!), or giving an experience rather than a traditional present (e.g. a homemade invitation for a play date or similar)” and we referred parents to this blog if they wanted to get more information.

So 9 of her classmates were invited along to our house. When the invitations went out we were thrilled to get feedback from many of the parents that they were really happy to think about different options for presents and to get their kids involved with the project. No one came empty handed but the gifts they brought were thoughtful and sustainable and really involved their children.

My daughter received the beautiful pansies pictured here potted in a tin can wrapped in a scrap of fabric with fairy statues bought from the local op shop. She recieved a hand-made book mark and home made vouchers to go along on some different outings with her friends. She received a basket of cookies and a jar of personalised cookie ingredients attractively labelled so that she was all set to make her own batch of cookies and a little machine to make your own beads out of recycled paper. The cards she received were just beautiful. Most were hand made and full of the joy of little people. On the present front I’d call it a success.

When we first started planning the party my daughter was keen to have party bags. Again – they’re a staple of most kids birthday parties. But I wasn’t keen on the idea. Traditionally party bags are plastic with lots of plastic wrapped sweets and plastic toys that soon end up in landfill. I toyed with giving unwrapped lollies in paper bags as an option but I wanted to challenge the idea that a birthday party is all about bringing a gift and then receiving one back again at the end. I wanted to bring out the joy of just being together. So I convinced my daughter that we would do two activities at the party instead – every guest could decorate their own pair of fairy wings and everyone would make “fairy dust” together. So in the lead up to the party we sewed each guest a pair of wings that they were able to decorate and personalise all together and at the party we measured out ingredients and mixed up sherbert (“fairy dust”) all together on the outside table (a messy but fun activity). I bought some little glass viles that I stuck fairy dust labels on for the kids to take some fairy dust home in (a compromise on the party bags). Both activities appeared to be a hit with the guests and the fairy dust was a suitable stand in for a party bag. All up it was a wonderful afternoon and I was so happy that the other parents embraced the idea of simple and sustainable presents.

And as for our own presents to our daughter we once again embraced “want, need, wear, read”. She got a set of “Netball Gems” books which I sourced second hand on e-bay (read). She had wanted a fairy dust necklace similar to one her friend had so I bought an empty vile necklace and filled it with bio-glitter and stuck a fairy dust label on it (similar to the ones I used for the sherbert fairy dust). So that was “want” ticked off. I kind of cheated a bit with “wear” and “need”. She really didn’t need anything  and as she has a passion for mermaids and wanted a mermaid swimming costume her “wear” was really another “want”. For her “need” I got her a crocheted mermaid tail blanket (certianly not needed but something I knew she would just love).


Plastic avoided?  – Yes 🙂 And the party was plastic free too (no disposable cups or plates and no balloons – we decorated with streamers) with most of the food cooked from scratch too.

Excessive presents avoided – She got more presented than she needed but each one was simple and sustainable.

Biodegradable – Presents were a combo of biodegradable, consumable, recyclable or experiences 🙂


A wonderful 6th birthday that I hope will pave the way for more sustainable parties 🙂

The 11th Birthday Party
11 Trees for a sustainable 11th

In March my son turned 11 and we decided to have a party with his school friends. It would be our first school-aged birthday party in our new era of sustainable gift-giving (we held a very low-key party for his brother when he turned 3). The issue with holding a party was that the norm is that your child gets a present from each guest. We really wanted to avoid this. But how can we control the presents others give? The reality is you can’t – the best you can do is encourage others – assure them it is fine not to give any present and give some tips about more sustainable options if they really wish to bring a gift.

Our invite was our key tool for doing this (so it ended up being rather long!). Here is the blurb we wrote about presents:

Gifts: This year we are trying to be more sustainable with the presents that we give to others and encouraging others to be more sustainable in the gifts they may choose to give members of our family and challenge the culture if gift-giving. You can read a bit more about what we are doing here

It is perfectly OK not to bring a present and just come and help Dom have a fun day on his birthday. If you really feel a need to give something one idea is to be creative and write Dom up a “voucher” for a nice experience with you in the future (bike ride, morning tea, going to a movie etc.) or to buy something second hand like a DVD from Vinnies. If you really feel that you want to get a more traditional present have a think about ways you can make it more sustainable (e.g. not too much plastic) or maybe group together with some other kids to get something Dom is keen on (cricket and the Sydney Thunder are pretty much a failsafe)

What was the result? Interestingly no one was brave enough, or felt comfortable enough, not to bring a present. But there were some lovely things that the kids came up with. One made him a doorstop for his room made from odd socks in the shape of a snowman filled with sand. Another donated 11 trees to be planted to a reforestation charity to mark his 11th birthday. There was a book and a few gift vouchers. No plastic toys 😊 (though the gift vouchers were small plastic cards).

We also gave the birthday boy some presents from the family (he is not keen to go to zero presents though he agreed to the wording of the invite). Once again, we went with the “want, need, wear, read” rule of thumb. He got a Sydney Thunder bat wrap (want – not great on the plastic front), a new bike (need – he had outgrown his old one and hopefully this one will last a lifetime – also it is Sydney Thunder Green 😉), a new hoodie (wear – he had outgrown his one from last year) and a book on cricket (read). We could have improved this by dedicating more time to the process and trying to source a second-hand bike, hoodie and book.


Plastic avoided?  – largely – the gift vouchers were plastic as was the bat wrap we gave the birthday boy.

Excessive presents avoided – yes in previous years he would have got a whole bunch of plastic toys from party guests and probably some from us that would soon break and go into landfill

Biodegradable – the books and the snowman were.

Bonus – a gift that gave twice – 11 trees were planted in honour of his birthday and some kids and parents thought creatively about the issue of sustainability and gift giving 😊

The Odd Sock Snowman


The Baby Q

IMG_20180209_142814This weekend we’ve been invited to a Baby Q (barbeque baby shower) for my partner’s nephew who’s wife is expecting their first baby. Lovely times for them!

I spoke to them a while ago to see if they were interested in having our old standard sized tula (soft structured baby carrier). I had kept the original box and had washed and stored it thinking we might try to sell it, but it will be wonderful to pass it on as a gift.

Often at baby showers there is an overwhelming amount of stuff given (and much of it plastic!). As new parents, we are also encouraged to believe there are a mountain of things we need for baby. Thankfully, many people, especially in our family, do hand things down from sibling to sibling and then on to other families when they’ve finished having kids. But it is certainly still another area where we need to think carefully about what we need, what would be helpful, and what is actually excessive. As new parents that can be  hard.

In working out this gift I once again faced the battle of whether the tula was “enough” to give. In monetary terms it certainly is. A second hand tula in good condition is probably worth $80 or more. Part of the whole exercise of keeping this blog though, and making myself accountable for the gifts that I give, is to forge new ways of thinking about gifts and challenging these ideas (but oh is it challenging to fight entrenched behavious and scoail attitudes!). In this case I ended up going with the fall back position I have adopted in my last few presents – adding on a book (or in this case two because they are both beautiful stories that I hope bub’s parents will enjoy reading and I couldn’t choose between them – yet another issue in our society which encourages consumerism – too much choice!). I went for board books as the rugged cardboard structure will mean that they last longer.



Second hand – partially – the tula is, the board books are new

Plastic free – largely – the tula has plastic buckles

Biodegradable – except for the plastic buckles

Experiences not gifts – no – this would be a challenge for a baby shower which in essence is about trying to get together the stuff you need for a first bub (but experiences would be a great way to go for a gift for a second or third bub  – massage for mum, voucher for swim lessons fro bub when they’re old enough, or send hope not flowers)

Excessive gifts – still working on that one. I am challenging myself to give less next present. On that front I have drafted some little business style present cards to place with future presents we give this year to explain the challenge we’re doing. I’m hoping this may help get around that awkwardness of giving a second hand or homemade present or other experience or a present that may feel like it is not “enough”. Feel free to use them in your own gifts if you want to play along.


Mr Eleven

img_20180121_153219.jpgMy son’s friend turned eleven a week or so ago and had a sleepover party for his birthday. This was the first time we needed to get a birthday present for a non-family member under our more sustainable present giving regime.

It was far more challenging than selecting a gift my youngest son’s birthday because, as a ten-year-old, he has had far more exposure to birthdays and has developed his own sense of what a (socially acceptable) present is. He has watched the War on Waste and has a sense of the huge problem of plastic. He understands that when a plastic toy breaks it is likely to go to landfill where it will remain forever. He has problems with accepting a minimalist approach to birthdays though and the idea of any reduction in the amount of presents one might give (or get!). He can only see the delight of toys and the more the better.

So, I tackled shopping for his best mate’s present as a plastic free challenge and not a minimalist one. No plastic toys allowed! We talked about the idea of experiences as gifts (I was thinking a trip to the movies or something) and he settled on a gift voucher for credits in an online game they both enjoy – Roblox. Thankfully the voucher turned out to be a cardboard one too and not the usual plastic gift card!

I would have been happy to leave the present shopping at just the voucher but my son was fighting the battle of thinking the voucher alone wasn’t “enough”. I think this is a battle that I will have to fight a lot this year as we try to change to more sustainable giving practices. Over time we have built up these ideas of what “acceptable” presents are and can easily feel like we are “under giving” in social situations but we all need to work to establish a “new normal” for sustainability. But for my older son, the move towards not just giving more environmentally conscious gifts, but giving less is going to be a gradual process – and I’ll be encouraging him along every step of the way. This time we ended up adding a book to go along with the gift card. I was happy it was a biodegradable gift when it comes to the end of its life, and I know his family is environmentally conscious and will pass the book onto others when he has outgrown it so it will have a second-hand life beyond the birthday boy.



Plastic avoided – yes

Biodegradable – yes

Experiences rather than things – partially – half way there

Excessive gifts avoided – working on it 😉

Mr Three

IMG_20171210_172505My son turned three just before Christmas so I decided to put the “want, need, wear, read” philosophy (you can read about it in this previous post) into action. I wanted a minimalist birthday that he would still be excited about. Currently he is really loving watching bits of the movie Cars and so I decided to try to get a few cars bits and pieces as he did not have any and it was something I knew excited him.

Want – As a three-year-old he has very random and fleeting ‘wants’ according to whatever he sees that day so rather than ask him what he wanted I took the “want” decision into my own hands. We are planning to build a large sandpit in the back yard so I thought we would buy him a Tonka Dump Truck to use in the sandpit. I chose a good quality truck that can withstand being left out in the weather with intentions that it can be passed on to other children to use when it’s useful life has finished with him.

Need – He didn’t really have any absolute needs but as he only had the one doona cover (a second-hand Thomas cover) I decided to buy a spare one then there will be one to have on hand if it gets soiled and I can’t wash it the same day. I searched a few charity shops and found a second-hand McQueen cover. I was a bit disappointed it no longer had the matching pillowcase with it but happy I got something I knew he would like that was also a more sustainable purchase.

Wear – He needed some more shorts as we are currently in the throes of toilet training and we need plenty of spare. I looked in a few charity shops to try and find size 3 clothes but I found that it is a lot harder shopping for kids in charity stores as there wasn’t really anything in his size. So, I decided to buy these new with the philosophy of handing them down to others when he has outgrown them. I bought him some Cars board shorts and a matching shirt.

Read – Being immersed in toilet training at time I bought two books that I thought would help our efforts. A Thomas the Tank Engine potty-training book and another one about a boy called “Henry”. When reading the Henry book, we always swapped the name to our son’s name instead to personalise it. Again, these were bought new as I could not find any second-hand options. I have since passed these books on to another family as he is no happily sitting on the toilet. I’m also happy with the purchase of books as when they reach the end of their useful life being passed around to kids who are toilet training they are biodegradable.

Overall, I was very happy. We also put our low impact approach into his birthday party. We just had had one preschool friend over along with his Nanna and Grandad and Aunt and Uncle. We had a vegetarian lunch and guests were asked not to bring presents (and they complied 😊!). The kids enjoyed some beautiful play together and to top the day off we went to the beach to build a sand castle. No balloons, no plastic party favours, no party bags. The family of his preschool friend who came along called it “the best kids party ever”. It was a simple day but still a lovely celebration.


Plastic avoided?  – largely – the Tonka Truck has plastic wheels

Excessive presents avoided – yes using the “want, need, wear, read” philosophy though it would certainly be possible to shift to fewer still or no presents we’re not at that stage yet.

Biodegradable – clothing, bed spread and books yes. Tonka Truck no but I’m hoping by purchasing a quality toy it will be used by many kids after my son.


Christmas Presence

present-1417611_1280When I first floated the idea of doing a blog about presents many of my friends agreed that it is imperative that we reduce gift giving. They’d all seen birthday parties where kids have been drowning in presents and felt a great sense of discomfort surrounding the unsustainable level of consumerism our birthday traditions have created. Christmas gift giving is no exception. Kids get presents not only from their mum and dad but often grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours and friends – they even get little presents from teachers at end of year preschool concerts etc. Adults also get a string of presents we don’t need. We often have a network of acquaintances (work colleagues etc) that we end up swapping gifts with because it is what we have always done. It is socially challenging to re-jig Christmas giving (it may be an agreement – “I won’t give you one if you won’t give me one” or showing you appreciate their presence in your life without presents) but they are conversations that need to be had.

Often the easiest place to start is in your own backyard. So, let’s start there. My extended family’s (my parents and my brothers and their children) Christmas gift giving tradition (since the current generation of kids arrived) has been that each child was bought a present by one of their Aunt and Uncles. We would rotate which nieces or nephews we bought for each year. It was a good tradition in that we did not buy presents for all our nieces and nephews, but the kids still had more than enough presents in what was given to them by their immediate families alone. Now they’re getting older (most of them are almost teenagers) it is also getting harder to buy for them. So, I felt that this year was the perfect time to suggest moving on to giving the gift of an experience rather than a “present”. I’ve suggested we pay for all the kids to go together (and some grown-ups) to an escape room. It is something I think they will all enjoy and also an opportunity to do something together as cousins. The cooperative nature of an escape room will hopefully also help strengthen their bonds as cousins.

On the other side of our family we don’t buy presents for nieces and nephews (though their grandparents buy them some presents until they’re high school age) Instead of a Kris Kringle arrangement that we used to have, a few years ago we started a tradition of giving each family unit in the extended family (my partners parents and brother and sisters and their children and grandchildren) something that we had really enjoyed or benefited from during the year. The idea was to share something that has really made a difference to us with family. So, we would buy 5 of the same present and give one to each family. Over the years we have shared some great things – yoghurt makers (which I still use today), the essential components to a good milkshake (caramel syrup and malt), a hand-made outdoor game called Kubb (which the kids love to get out on a picnic), and an introductory box to ‘Who Gives a Crap’ (that we have since subscribed to) are some highlights. It has been wonderful to pass on some great discoveries to others and to learn about new things ourselves. But as the family has grown and the next generation are joining in it has expanded to buying 7 of the one gift which is becoming unsustainable. There is also the issue that sometimes the gift you buy won’t be needed or as appreciated by other families as you have found it. So, in future years we’re looking at an arrangement of perhaps just buying one of something we have really benefitted from during the year and putting them all in the middle and each family getting a turn to pick something from the middle. People still get to share the knowledge of the things they’ve benefitted a lot from but the other families can choose their best match for a present and our consumption is lowered to one gift per family, not seven.

Moving even closer to home is our approach to giving in our immediate family – in particular giving to our own children. I’ve never felt like we were terribly excessive, but in the past few years I’ve wanted to reign it in a bit. Yet even though I feel the pull of social and environmental justice to give less, I also feel a pull that maybe my child will be disappointed with just three presents, or I feel a pull at the shops when I see a plastic toy that I know would bring a big smile to their face. At these times, I try and remember some other important things too. When I see the plastic Mack truck from Disney’s Cars in the shops and I feel the pang that my 3-year-old son would love it I also need to remember how wonderful it is that he is actively engaging his imagination pretending the wooden truck he already has is Mack. By giving more, I would also be taking something away. As George Monbiot writes we really must challenge entrenched habits and “stop trashing the planet to tell someone we care”. We must look beyond short-term pleasure to long term sustainability. And to do this we may have to re-jig our individual relationships with, and social norms around, gift giving.

For many people gift giving is an essential part of Christmas being a time of joy. A mountain of presents and spoiling their little ones is a big part of that. Gift-giving at Christmas doesn’t have to cease all together but we must find a more sustainable path. Many may worry that giving fewer gifts will mean less joy at Christmas time. This need not be the case. I think a good way to tackle this issue is to manage expectations. If you’ve always had a big Christmas in terms of presents, but you now want to scale that back, if your kids are old enough talk to them about sustainability and the real meaning of Christmas. Do what you can to build up Christmas as a time to fully engage with family and for it to be more about presence (and joyful experiences) than presents. Put your excess into building up experiences and doing things for others. For example, Dr Laura Markham of writes about giving kids “together” presents (experiences you will have with them) or “giving presents” (e.g. making things for others like biscuits or doing things for others like gardening). You can really roll out the red carpet on these things to get in the spirit of Christmas. You can make special invitations for your child with pictures detailing the experience you will have with them (e.g. a trip to the zoo or a day out to the city with a ride on a ferry and ice-cream). You can make special handmade cards to accompany biscuits for family members, or vouchers for the things that you will do for them (babysitting or yard work). Build up the joy involved in giving and sharing, not the more fleeting joy of consumption.

In terms of managing expectations of the amount of presents kids will get it may be helpful to have a framework to hang it off. My friend and fellow blogger Bushwalking Mama grew up with a simple expectation of what they would receive at Christmas time “Want, Need, Wear, Read”. The simple rhyme makes it easy to remember and it sets very clear expectations for kids around what they’ll receive at Christmas time. Each child will receive something they particularly wanted (which I think is a great way to keep the anticipation and surprise around Christmas that kids feed off), something they need (making Christmas more sustainable and not just about special presents), something to wear (perhaps a new outfit for the new year) and a good book to read over the summer (encouraging reading and opening kids up to new worlds is always wonderful). Just awesome in its philosophy and in its simplicity (thanks for sharing @bushwalking mama!).

What are your thoughts on making Christmas more sustainable in your family?

How can we emphasise presence over presents?