Gifts I Gave for the Holidays // 2019

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

I already made a gift guide for you all to get inspiration from, but I also wanted to share what I gave this year.


I gave a plethora of gifts on my list; things like experiences, utilizing my skills, thrifted gifts, new but sustainable, and so forth.


I am going to also list who I got the item for so you know what age range and type of person these gifts are suited for. Also, I will include how we made it if we made it and why the gift is sustainable (if applicable, I'm not perfect as you will see).


I honestly did not plan these gifts and they were all very last minute. But, I tried to make them as sustainable as possible and meaningful to each person. I have never been a fan of just buying someone junk because you feel obligated to get them a gift.


If you struggled this year, try to make 2020 your year of shopping more consciously; for the planet and for the recipient of the gift.


For my mom:


We spent some time editing our photos really nicely for a house-warming/Christmas gift for my mom. We thrifted the frames, cleaned the glass, and painted any scuffs we saw, and there ya have it! A lovely, unique Christmas gift.

(Photo details: top left, Daniel, Khao Yai National Park, Thailand; bottom left, Daniel, Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan; large middle, Daniel, sea glass beach, Okinawa, Japan; bottom middle, Daniel, Zanpa Beach, Okinawa, Japan; right, Emma, Chiang Mai, Thailand)


This is so much more unique and special than buying a cheesy piece of wall art. We took these ourselves and handpicked them for my mom. We get to showcase our skills and every part of this gift was sustainably made except the photo paper (we printed them at a local library though to save on emissions from shipping them to us).


For my younger sister (15):



My sister loves problem-solving. I had no idea what to get her for Christmas, but I found this awesome little metal (yay!) puzzle at the thrift store; double sustainable!



Another cute thing I thrifted for my sister was this teeny tiny Mickey Mouse puzzle. Mickey Mouse is very special to my family and I thought the novelty of this puzzle being so tiny was a lot of fun.


And lastly for my sister is a Green Spirits gift card. I figured she would want some clothing but I didn't want to pick something she wouldn't like. So I chose a gift card that way she could pick it out herself. And the best part is that this is a sustainable and ethically sourced brand!


I sent her gifts with my mom's gifts and sent them some Japanese candies as well (including all their gifts in one box saves on space that can be occupied by other boxes).


I also included a simple gift to one of my brothers which was an extra Air Force shirt we had that we thought he would like.


For my older sister:



I got her some local, handmade earrings. The best part (other than that this was supporting a small, local business) is that they use sea glass in them. Sea glass is basically ocean litter so this is a great sustainable gift I found.


For my nieces (1-2 yrs):



Another locally made item. This unique-to-Okinawa book was made by a pair of military wives here. It has colors and numbers and unique parts of Japan in it. I also got them the books and flashcards shown below. My sister specifically asked for no toys this year so I was inspired to get them some things to help them learn to read, speak, write, and just help them learn in general.



I found the books and flashcards thrifted. I chose these ones because they are good for sensory development or because they help teach letters, numbers, and objects.



I also sent my sister and nieces some Japanese candies and snacks for them to enjoy.


For my mother-in-law and her husband:



We got them two gifts. The first part was photos. Daniel and I are amateur photographers and they hadn't had photos done since their wedding! So, what a great way for us to utilize our skills (for free!) to give a sustainable gift that they will cherish forever.


The other part of their gift was experience-based. We wanted to do something very unique, so we found a local artisan on Okinawa and we did a glass blowing experience! I will go more in-depth about the whole experience in another post, but the short story is: we got to pick our style, color, size, and other add ons (none of us chose the add ons, we went with the cheapest options). The staff helped prepare the glass, but we got to blow and roll it into the shape we wanted. We all made slightly different cups.



It was so much fun for all four of us. Dan and I would love to go back and take more people for the gift of experience. Plus, you also get a very unique homemade cup you can use forever!


For my dad and brother:


My dad travels a lot for business, and I know how hard it can be when traveling to avoid waste. So, I'm helping him out because I got him a reusable water bottle and reusable, packable cutlery.


I got both objects off of amazon. (Click here to shop the water bottle and the cutlery set.) The cutlery set comes with spoon, fork, knife, chopsticks, straw, and straw cleaner. Both options come in a variety of colors to pick from, perfect for everyone!



I'll admit, I probably could have chosen better brands, but it was a time crunch. Though one thing I did to save emissions was sending these packages straight to their house so they didn't have to come all the way to Okinawa and then all the way back to the US.



These items are also both made out of stainless steel and not plastic (except for minimal pieces of them) and can be reused infinitely, especially when well taken care of.


For my sister-in-law:


If you follow me on Instagram, you have probably seen a similar thing I've made before. She loved the original wreath I made for someone else but gave me the idea to add red, white, and blue. So, I cut an old uniform, some old jeans, an old shirt, and some canvas material I had, tied them in knots around a wreath form (found second hand) and made it into a stars and stripes pattern. Now she has something to remember us by.


The best part is, all the materials were just clothing we no longer used and probably wasn't suitable for donation. Win-win all around!


Of course, I also added some Japanese candies for her and her husband as well as sent some other things back home to pass out to the rest of the family to avoid sending multiple packages.


For my husband:


We usually don't get each other much for holidays, birthdays, etc. Instead, we choose an experience, a trip, or something else we both want. For example, this year we have been getting into running, so we both got (used) Garmin fitness bands. But, we decided to still do stockings and small gifts for each other.


The first gift I got was the only brand new item I purchased for someone that also isn't sustainably or locally made. Here's your proof that I am not perfect, though I do really try. This is basically cards against humanity, but Air Force edition. We've been wanting to play for a while now, so now we can with all our Air Force buddies.



I also got him this photo framed. This is his favorite photo he's taken (see details above), so I thrifted a frame, printed the photo, and there's an easy gift he will really love. So, this one broke the stocking rule, but I couldn't help it.


When I was out with my friends a few weeks ago, we went to a vegan cafe. I saw this locally made, vegan chocolate and couldn't pass it up. Everyone loves goodies on Christmas and it is so hard to find vegan snacks and candies here so I couldn't pass it up. Plus, look at all those qualifications! it even comes in recyclable packaging. I am probably going to be more excited about this gift than he is.



The last gift I got for him was his favorite sauce from a Japanese Curry House, Coco's. He is borderline obsessed with this sauce and when I saw I could buy it locally, I stopped by two days before Christmas and picked it up super last minute. I'm glad I did though because it ended up being his favorite gift!


Gifts I got for friends:


A friend of ours just rescued a cat and needed some toys. So, I made some! I also made some for the cats we just rescued. Cats are easily occupied. They don't require much attention and will play with just about anything. So I turned some old yarn, sticks, and beads into toys.











The same friend has also been very interested in going vegan but didn't know where to start. I had an old vegan cookbook that I no longer used, so I re-gifted it to her. This way I prevented waste and didn't have to buy a brand new book.



For another friend, though it's not vegan, I gifted a crockpot cookbook. She is very busy and just needs easy meals to come home to. This book we no longer used (for obvious reason) was another great second-hand, zero-waste gift that will get some more use out of it.



Giving the gift of kindness:


- Fostered cats for a friend while she went back home to the states (and paid for vet bills)

- Let a friend stay with us for a few days before he moves back to the states

- Baked cookies and passed them out to the gate guards working on Christmas day

- Worked a double shift in my churches nursery to give the other workers a break


I hope this gives you some inspiration for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other celebrations to come. Some things were thrifted, second-hand from us, homemade, experiences, utilizing our skills, or just gifts that were new but will get lots of use out of them and/or help the recipient also reduce their waste.


You don't have to gift anyone anything fancy. You don't have to go in debt for Christmas. You can easily make things yourself, re-gift and re-home things you already have, and cheaply find unique and meaning gifts second-hand. You can even just do nice things for others, go out to a nice dinner, or take a weekend trip.


I hope this inspires you on your minimalist and sustainable living journey. Happy holidays :)


- Emma

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