Skip the White Elephant – Meaningful, Sustainable Gift-Giving

White Elephant gift exchanges are popular at many holiday parties. Giving impractical gifts that people don’t know what to do with can be a source of humor. For instance, a season 2 episode of the sitcom “The Office” featured a series of escalating events surrounding what they referred to as a “Yankee Swap.”

The Office

The name “White Elephant” stems from the (likely untrue) legend that the King of Siam (Thailand) would gift white elephants to punish courtiers who displeased him. While the elephants were beautiful and sacred, the cost of upkeep was enough to bankrupt the recipient – but how could they decline such a remarkable gift from the king?

The reality is, however, that many of us already have more stuff than we need or even more than we can use. The continued popularity of Marie Kondo and other organizational experts guiding people to minimize and to focus on what’s most important in life seems to indicate that gag gifts are indeed often a burden.

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying up

The Life-changing Manga of Tidying up

A fleeting moment of fun eventually leads to items being re-gifted, donated, or discarded. And while someone at a charity shop might just want that bathroom mini-golf set enough to buy it, the truth is, it’s probably going to be in a landfill sooner rather than later.

You may already be aware that the United States is the most wasteful nation in the world and the problem is getting worse. Frankly, there is no solution that doesn’t involve reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Throwaway Nation


So rather than contributing to the problem, how can we combat it during the season of giving?

Here are some ideas!

1. Check out what’s happening at HCPL branches near you!

A lot of branches are hosting crafting programs that will guide you from start to finish and provide you with materials to make something special for your loved ones. We have crafting programs for different age groups and interests all year, so visit and see what we’ve got going on!

2. Stash Projects:

If you’re already a crafty person, you probably have a stash of materials you can use to make stuff. Instead of buying something new, look through what you already have. Try to recall how excited you were when you originally bought it. You may find things you’ve forgotten about that would help you craft perfect gifts for your loved ones. We’ve got numerous books that will help you channel your creativity and make the most of what you already have.

Stash Happy

Take Two Fat Quarters

One Skein Crochet

The Spoonflower Quick-sew Project Book

3. DIY with Versatile Materials:

Even if you don't have a stash, crafting with items that have multiple uses (such as essential and fragrance oils, paper, or yarn and thread) can be a great way to make unique gifts for each person on your holiday shopping list without worrying you won't have use for them later on.

Homemade Perfume

Master Recipes from the Herbal Apothecary

Soap making

The Unofficial Book of Handmade Cricut Crafts

4. Upcycle It!

Upcycling is the process of taking something and transforming it into something new. Maybe you plan to make more use of your library card and feel it's time to say goodbye to some books on your shelf and turn them into a beautiful paper gift, or perhaps you're ready to take your child's old t-shirts and make a unique wall-hanging or quilt.

Creative Book Art

The T-shirt Quilt Book

Jeans and a T-Shirt

DIY T-shirt Crafts

5. Tasty Treats:

Just about everyone loves the gift of food. With ingredients you may already have in your pantry, you can create some awesome treats for family and friends that will be far more delightful than a gag gift. You can even craft some recipe cards to include along with the items you make. I’ve even included a book that will help you make dog treats, the perfect gift for animal lovers in your life.

Food Gift Love

Have Yourself A Homemade Christmas

Gifts From the Modern Pantry

Healthy Homemade Dog Treats

6. Charitable Giving:

Lastly, one of the best gifts you can give is a charitable donation in someone’s name or in memory of someone they loved. Why not forego spending that $20 on a joke gift and make that contribution to something that really matters to them?

Give A Little

I hope you found these gift ideas inspiring. Remember: A gift from the heart makes the biggest impact.