Thrift Week — Gift Giving

by Katy on January 19, 2010 · 19 comments

I know that the last thing people want to be thinking about in mid-January is gift giving, but it’s actually the perfect time to put thought and attention towards how we show our generosity to those we love.

I addressed the issue of gift giving during Thrift Week last year, but wanted to bring the subject up for discussion again. I do feel strongly that gift giving and The Compact, (buy nothing new) are not mutually exclusive, and actually dovetail quite nicely.

Although The Compact allows for experiential purchases such as theater tickets, as well as consumables, I usually forgo these rather pricey options and go the route of thrift store presents. The downside of buying all second hand gifts is that your last minute shopping options are slim, and you have to start your shopping earlier than traditional shoppers. But, anything that’s bought new can be found used. Anything.

The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook Group had a question today from Lacey, who wrote that she was:

“Looking for tips on gift giving while doing The Compact.”

And I thought I would open her question up to my greatest resource, you guys.

What advice do you have for Lacey? Should she try and find second hand versions of what she normally gives, or should she try making homemade gifts? Should she decrease the number of gifts that she gives or maybe try gifts of services like babysitting or an afternoon of decluttering. (My dream gift.) Please share your ideas with Lacey and the rest of the Non-Consumer Advocate community in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

I received no compensation in exchange for this column. Images from Bring Back Thrift Week.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda January 19, 2010 at 4:33 am

I am doing a combination of making items and buying “vintage” items. If you are not crafty, start shopping early at Goodwill, Salvation Army, Consignment stores, Yard Sales, Antique Stores, etc. I think you will find great gifts for everyone on your list.

For my few close friends, I will be making meals for them to put in the freezer for a very busy night. I was thinking of something like a chicken pot pie.

Last year I painted my mother’s kitchen and dining area for her birthday. She loved it! I will probably do something like this again this year for her.


Diana January 19, 2010 at 6:27 am

Of course I prefer making or buying gifts from a second hand store. My family has ‘everything’ they need. Buying more stuff for them seemed ridiculous. Since I am a thrift person I figured they wouldn’t mind my “experiment” in finding the best gift made or second hand.
Last year I knitted most of my gifts. My father-in-law reciprocated buy making me a berry picker out of a discarded plastic water jug. He even labeled it “Diana’s very berry picker”. It is the best gift he has ever given me. He knows I am a olympic style blackberry picker and his gift is perfect for my marathon sessions in the bush.
This year I want to craft christmas gifts out of clothing that has been considered discarded. Making a stuffed animal out of an old sweater or stitching the front of a t-shirt to cover a stain or patching some old jeans. Making christmas ornaments out of old necklaces….
The idea repurpose, reuse, rethink!


Eleanor January 19, 2010 at 8:32 am

The LAST gift I want is MORE STUFF! I would be thrilled if gift givers would give me a gift card to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods!


Happy Mum January 19, 2010 at 8:52 am

A present that I like to give and to receive is a donation to a charity — choose one meaningful to the gift-recipient.


Rebecca January 19, 2010 at 9:39 am

It depends on whom the gift is for. My mom requested one of my vegan dishes to go in the freezer, and my dad wanted oatmeal raisin cookies. For my kids teachers and therapists, plus my husbands immediate coworkers, I made applebutter and granola from scratch. I made the applebutter when apples were in season and canned it, so that was made ahead. Plus, I can make almost 60 gifts for less than 100$, including the wrapping. For the kids in the family, I do use thrift stores a lot, but I make a point of going to at least two different stores at least every week. I have a list on my cell that has who I need gifts for birthdays and christmas, and what I think they could use, and then I add what I found for them. That way I can reference it when I am out and find a great “find”. For older kids I like to find recipes for ‘make your own’ items, package up the ingredients, and give that as a gift. Then the kids have the fun experience of making something, and then playing with it. My koolaid playdough is often requested, kids love seeing it turn colors and have a fruity smell.


Lisa January 19, 2010 at 10:12 am

I read today on that about 200 Borders bookstores will (gasp) be throwing away perfectly good, new books when they close down. There was also a recent story on their site that told about Walmart and another clothing retail store slashing then discarding new clothing. With so much joblessness, poverty, and need going on right now, it’s a shame that they’re choosing to destroy goods rather than donate them. I know that this doesn’t exactly follow the topic (or maybe it does if you could latch onto some of this free stuff!) but Katy, I couldn’t get the contact button to work for me. Anyhoo….I’ve shared what I wanted to share. I just did it with all your readers.


Klara Le Vine January 20, 2010 at 9:17 am


I am so glad you posted this to everyone – it’s unbelievable. I know there’s a lot of waste, but this shocks me. Reminds me of farmers burning their crops because no one around to pick – or because not worth selling. What is this world coming to??


Hiptobeme January 19, 2010 at 11:44 am

I actually did a few thrift store gifts this year for Christmas and was told they were both thoughtful and unique. Another idea is to give something of yours which was once special to you but you have grown out of or are just storing for sentimental value. I gave a framed print of Jim Morrison, which hung on the wall throughout all of my teenage years, to my rock and roll seventeen yr. old cousin for her birthday, along with a book on the doors found at the thrift store. I hope she likes them. I also wrote her a note about how I was a doors fan when I was her age (still am) and that I was passing on my love to her.


Queen Lucia January 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I agree with Eleanor – not only do I have enough stuff, but most people I know do,too. And we’re all (mostly) able to buy just about anything we need, so I don’t like contributing to the “stuff” unless I know for sure it’s wanted. One thing my daughter and I did last year was give gift certificates to each set of grandparents for baking – they chose what (based on a list) and when. They loved it – I would also love something like that!


Amy January 19, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I will happily purchase something to be a gift if it jumps out at me at the thrift store, but I would never go thrift-shopping specifically for gifts. The former is great fun, the latter is too much like work.

I also agree that most people have too much stuff, whether it’s new or used. Experiential or consumable gifts are much better. For anyone with small kids, two matinee movie tickets plus a few hours of babysitting is The. best. gift. ever.


Jay January 19, 2010 at 3:46 pm

So many vintage-inspired items are en vogue right now at places like Anthropologie. Everyone I know is thrilled to receive an authentic version of something that a few years ago would have been considered too old-fashioned to be cool.

Plus, with the everything-is-disposable mindset that so many people have, you don’t have to hunt very hard to find thrifted items that are in immaculate condition. And when I buy gifts second hand, I’m able to get cashmere cardigans and other fancy presents for people that I otherwise never would be able to afford.

You can also find great tutorials online for re-purposing materials that you can buy second hand. Wool sweaters can be felted and made into beautiful hand warmers, bags, or hats. I get all my fabric for sewing projects from second-hand linens. The patterns on some of the older sheets are gorgeous, and the fabric is so soft when it gets older.

Sometimes I worry that people will think I’m tacky for giving them used gifts, but no one’s ever seemed to mind.


Marianne January 19, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I have done a couple of things as I enter my second year of the compact.
-look on craigslist or freecycle for brand new items. I have asked for new items off freecycle and received wonderful unused things for baby shower gifts etc.
-shop the consignment/thrift stores. here i have also found brand new items with tags still on them at half the price or less.
-look on your local radio stations website for half price E deals. they often offer gift certificates to local restaurants and stores at half price or less. This year i gave my mom dance lessons ($100 value), for $15 and my brothers family a trip for 4 to an indoor water park with overnight hotel stay for $120 ($240 value).


Angela January 19, 2010 at 5:32 pm

I joined The Compact a little over a year ago, and was most concerned about gifts. I’m happy to tell Lacey that I had no problem whatsoever finding gifts for all occasions and all ages last year. It did take a bit more time and thought. I did a combination of experience gifts, handmade gifts, consumables, thrifted, and even regifts.

A few examples: Hawaiian shirt from Goodwill for my husband, Bauer pottery from antique store for friend who collects it, simple beaded bracelets (made by me!) for my husband, niece, and good friend, lots of consumables – I made cookies, jam, egg nog, granola, trail mix, and pumpkin bread at the holidays. “Used like new” books for several people, a “regift” of a knitted beanie cap for my 8-year-old niece which was her favorite gift, charity gift of 2 ducks for a needy family in the Phillipines (for my mom), framed photo of my dad and I walking on the beach when I was about 8 (almost 40 years ago!). One of my favorite gifts I received was a gift card for Trader Joe’s because I’ll use it for a good bottle of wine and treats we wouldn’t usually splurge on. My other favorite is membership to a local museum. Chocolate is also good. Beer or wine. Collectibles on ebay.

If you have more money than time, experiential gifts like concert or play tickets or treating for lunch are my favorites.


HeatherS January 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Encouraged by reading this post this morning, I popped into my local Goodwill this morning and found 3 devotional books for a friends’ birthday next week for 50 cents each! They look like they have never been read and just came off the shelves of any other bookstore. I know she will love them and when done always passes them to her Mom to read also. I was going to head to the store and buy something new but am glad I stopped at Goodwill instead!


Cindy January 19, 2010 at 7:01 pm

My sister and I have experimented with the Compact for the past couple of years. As I understand it, one purpose of the Compact is an awareness of how much we consume. The problem with gift-giving is that not everyone understands where you are coming from. My advice – don’t sweat it. If you can make a gift or find a used item the person would enjoy and appreciate, then go for it. If they expect something shiny and new, then that’s okay, too. Do what you can where you can.

I will tell you that the best present I ever bought new is one that is going to keep on giving for a lifetime -a Birthday Book. I bought it on Amazon new but here’s the trick – it’s a journal (so no reason you couldn’t pick up a blank book at a second-hand shop). I wrote my sister a birthday note and sent her the book. On my birthday, she’ll write something to me and send it back to me. On her birthday, I’ll do it again – and so on and so on. I wish we had thought of this years ago; I can’t wait to go back and read the older entries as we grow old together!


namastemama January 19, 2010 at 7:36 pm

We found a new easy bake oven at Goodwill for a child’s birthday. I’ve been making gifts for family for several Christmas’s now. Hot cocoa, soap, bath salts, flavored vodka, jam and tomato sauce, pickled green tomatoes. I finally talked my mom into getting us a zoo membership or science center membership. One year my bro-in-law got us tickets to some shows. This year I want to go on a family vacation instead of stuff. Key West in December… oh yeah.


Michelle January 20, 2010 at 7:09 am

For Christmas, I gave some local relatives a gift certificate for dinner for two, delivered to their home. The first one is being redeemed on Monday, and I plan to make a lasagna.


magdalena January 20, 2010 at 7:14 am

There is a television fueled expectation rampant in American culture that every birthday, every holiday, every anniversary and graduation has to be an Event. I simply can’t meet those expectations! It has led to hard feelings in the family at times. (I think it still does, they just don’t tell me anymore.) Sometimes the best”gift” is a heartfelt, positive letter of appreciation and congratulations, celebrating the relationship. I wish I got more of those!


Queen Lucia January 20, 2010 at 12:17 pm

These are all great ideas and I want them all! 🙂

Magdalena, I agree with you completely. As the mother of an 8-year old girl, we are deep in the clutches of the “birthday party mafia.” I don’t wish to deny any child a memorable birthday, but the amount of work and party-clutter that seems to be a given is just outrageous to me. And watching kids tear through 20 presents in record breaking time, barely seeing them, let along acknowledging them, is tough. The fact that it’s an “event” seems to outweigh anything that’s actually happening at it.


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