How I Gave Great Gifts Yet Bought Nothing New

by Katy on May 28, 2008 · 5 comments

When I started doing The Compact, (international movement to buy nothing new) back in January 2007, I worried about what I would do for gift giving. It’s one thing to replace shiny new packaged goods with secondhand items for yourself, but it’s entirely different when it’s for your father-in-law. Surprisingly, it was pretty much a non-issue. Frankly, I think I actually gave better gifts last year as a result.

The key to the rockin’ cool gifts that I gave last year (and continue to give) is to plan ahead. If you’re buying new, it’s no big deal to hit the mall the day before someone’s birthday. Chances are you’ll find an acceptable gift that matches the recipient without too much strife. Remove “the mall” and replace with “garage sale” and the odds change. A trip to a thrift store will most likely give forth that perfect something for that perfect someone. Oops, wrong person though. That’s why you have to buy gifts way in advance.

I do buy presents for people all year long. I keep a list in the back of my engagement calendar of what I’ve found for whom and it keeps me nice and organized. Not only am I giving great gifts, but I’m spending a mere fraction of what I would have normally spent.

Here are just a few examples of gifts I gave to family members last year:

  • Two Helen and Scott Nearing books for my eco-farmer sister. ($6)
  • Vintage Fiestaware pulled from my cupboard for my dish-collecting father. (free)
  • Large bag of nice Goodwill yarn for my crochet/knit-crazy other sister. ($4)
  • Star Wars toy, Star Wars book, craft kit for my son’s 10th birthday. ($6)
  • Perfect REI brand messenger bag for my brother-in-law. (eight dollars)
  • Used Goodwill silver frame with pix of the boys for my father-in-law. ($3)
  • Brand new looking, in-the-box telescope for my 12 year old. ($10)
  • Assortment of high end Euro-style toys and games for my niece and nephew.

By staying organized and keeping a continual eye out for gifts, I am able to give terrific presents while spending an almost embarrassingly small amount of money. 

What secondhand gifts have you given? let me know in the COMMENTS section.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”



{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexis Ahrens May 30, 2008 at 7:59 pm

Brilliant, Katy! That’s a great approach.

I’ve been experimenting with the emotional challenge of not giving gifts much at all this past year. It’s interesting how when we let go of the expectation of pleasing someone and the worry over what they’ll think of us, it’s really not such a big deal. We told our friends and family that for Christmas, we weren’t doing gifts, but would love to spend some special time together. That equaled dinner with family, and a fun, potluck cookie baking party with my girlfriends.

My husband and I have made joint donations to as our gifts to one another for the past two years. I don’t miss the gifts at all. The pressure around the holidays is nil for us!

As we enter the realm of toddler birthday parties, this will challenge us in new ways. Will I be able to resist the self-inflicted pressure of looking good to less-close friends and give a used gift, or none at all? We’ll see.


Jessica Wolk-Stanley June 5, 2008 at 8:15 pm

Hi Katy,

As the “crochet/knit crazy” sister, I’d like to add the idea of making presents for people. It’s especially earth-friendly when you make things out of something normally thrown out.

As you know, I’ve been making shopping bags and purses out of plastic bags as presents for friends and family. I’ve also discovered crocheting small stuffed animals out of recycled and second-hand yarn. It’s fun and cheap! Though now my kids think of me as a walking toy store.


Coral Clarke September 20, 2023 at 6:35 pm

Love the idea of consumable gifts, I have been decluttering for the last few years( the small space life!) and need to NOT add anything that’s inessential! I’m having a little difficulty with crafty friends who remain convinced I need just ONE more ceramic mug, rug, tote bag, whatever. Has anyone found a solution to this? I tried suggesting NO gifts, but people weren’t on board with that, I tried suggesting donations to my favourite charities, gifts of service (mending, , altering, IT stuff,handyman, transport ( I’m car-less) or shared experiences, but I still get THINGS! I hate to donate them to others, especially since some will be expected to appear on walls or in use! Help!


JuleS September 15, 2008 at 6:20 am

Hi Katy:

Love your idea and glad to see you’re promoting it. I’ve shopped thrift stores almost exclusively for years.

We have a large family so we do a pull-a-name gift exchange for one person, then buy stocking stuffers for everyone else. We usually put a limit of $100 on the “main” giftee and the stocking stuffers, a few dollars.

This year, though, I suggested an opposite challenge: who can buy the cleverest/most unique/most suitable/LEAST expensive gift for their receipient. Since I’m a thrift storaholic, it will be no problem for me to fnd the perfect something as soon as I know who my giftee is. The rest of the family knows of my thriftiness and liked my idea, so we’re trying it. It should be an interesting Christmas!


Coral Clarke September 20, 2023 at 6:38 pm

Brilliant idea!


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