How not to Gift Garbage this Christmas

If we’re completely honest with ourselves, Christmas – like all the other holidays nowadays – has become half about being with loved ones, and half about having to buy them something they may or may not like (never mind need or use).

A requirement that has a good part of the population frantically trawling the internet or – shudder – a packed shopping centre, desperately searching for that perfect item; their stress levels rising the closer Christmas gets until finally they’re forced to come to terms with the fact it’s Christmas Eve and the only thing they’ve found is a game of darts that will end up forgotten in the garage. So, the game and a pair of socks it’ll be for everyone.

But what if we managed to escape the trap this year?

2020 has shone a spotlight on “little acts of kindness”, and how important it is to check in on our loved ones, and, of course, we’re not suggesting you ignore the idea of gift-giving altogether. Just that you re-frame the concept. What if, instead of hit-and-miss “things” that are more likely to get shoved in a drawer than see next Christmas, your gifts this year came in completely different packaging? What if you managed to buck the consumerist trend while also giving the most thoughtful gifts your loved ones have ever received?

We’ve got some suggestions that might just hit the spot.

Give the Gift of a Full Stomach

One gift that always goes down well is food, right? Anything from a simple box of chocolates to a nice bottle of wine gets a good nod of approval all round, not to mention the joy it’ll bring those who receive it. With the added benefit that food and wine won’t take up drawer space for the rest of the year, because every drop or crumb will most likely have disappeared by New Year. But you could take the idea one step further.

Food Hampers

Companies often give food hampers at Christmas, and who doesn’t enjoy the fancy cheeses and gourmet crackers you’d never buy yourself? But we’re sure you’d be lying if you said you really enjoyed every item and didn’t try to palm off at least a quarter of it on family members over the holiday period.

So, what if you took the concept and ran with it? Putting together a gourmet food hamper for loved ones who enjoy the finer things in life, and making sure each item is carefully matched to their tastes? You could even have a theme – “picnic in the park” with colourful biscuits and cold pies, or “cheese and wine” with chutneys and wines you know they like, and aren’t merely the most expensive on the shelf?

And the cherry on the cake (whether proverbial or real) could be you supporting local commerce with your hamper, choosing local businesses as your suppliers for that extra feel-good Christmas feeling.

Care Packages

The food hamper’s less fancy but more personal cousin, a care package could really hit the spot this Christmas. Far away from home, or have family members you know will be missing their home comforts? A care package with all their favourite Christmas treats could be the best present they receive, as, more than food and stocking fillers, you’ll be bringing them the warmth and memories of Christmases past in one fell swoop.

Locally sourced Baked Goods

Now, departing from the idea of an entire box or hamper, and focussing on a singular perfect item… Who doesn’t love unique baked goods made with love by a local? With the added benefit of you not having to slave away in the kitchen, and the guarantee that the product will be exquisite! From brownies to cake, even some trutas (haven’t tried those yet? Hit a local market and enjoy one for us) or sweet snacks or bonbons from further afield like Brazilian brigadeiros (made with a dash of port?), baked goods are both a thoughtful and delicious gift.

Give something long-lasting and sentimental


Who doesn’t love being reminded of all the best times they’ve had? Whether you opt for one photo in a nice frame or an entire book of memories, something this thoughtful could never go down badly and will immediately find its way into a recipient’s heart. Just make sure you don’t overdo it and give them something that will take up a lot of room or that they’ll feel pressured to display, maybe even opting for something digital but just as meaningful. A video you’ve put together of all your best times? A digital photo frame? Or even the gift of a photoshoot for the two of you, if that’s your kind of thing.

Something you’ve made yourself

No, we couldn’t go through an entire gift guide without talking about hand-made presents, and one that is close to our hearts is the Advent Calendar.
A thoughtful creation of your own with something for every day, leading to Christmas day. This could range from sweets, drawings or even simple but endearing messages from you to the person you created it for. Who knows you could share memories of moments you spent together? One each day. That will definitely warm their heart during the colder December nights.

If you would like to give something hand-made but aren’t that artistically inclined, however, check out the next idea!

We have two words for you: Flower baskets.

Lots of people have developed a new love for gardening this year, but this gift isn’t necessarily for the green-fingered (though you might need to get your hands a bit dirty yourself). Bunches of flowers are pretty, but after a day or two, they become waste, like all the rest. Lots of people like potted plants, but it’s hard to know what might be to someone’s taste plant-wise, and even harder to tell if they’ll give their leafy present the care and attention it deserves…

This gift is equally dependent on your gardening skills, and those of the person you’re giving this gift, but if neither are anything to shout about, make it simple. Picture this: a collection of succulents arranged beautifully in a hanging basket or outdoor planter. Low maintenance, long-lasting and gorgeous!

Garden centres often stock rows and rows of succulents here in the Algarve (our lack of rain making them a popular choice all-round), so you’ll be sure to find something to match their tastes – do you think they’ll like a Mexican-feel mini desert-scape? A spiky green mini cabbage-patch arrangement? Or a stunning collection of Madagascan mini flowers you’d never think needed so little watering? Your options are endless, thoughtful and environmentally friendly. We’re finding it hard to top that!

Give experiences

Now, our options so far have all been physical gifts, for those who recognise the importance of not gifting garbage but can’t quite drag themselves away from the idea of giving something they’ve had to wrap up at Christmas. The next options, while equally (or even more!) thoughtful, will have to be given somewhat differently. Maybe you can write a card with a “voucher” for “you time”? Give them clues in the shape of pictures? Or just tell them they’ll be busy for a specific afternoon/day/weekend of your choice, without revealing any other details?

An experience as a gift ticks all the (minimalist or otherwise) boxes, showing a person how much you care about them. Sure, you could book for them to do something they love, but if you can make it something you can both do together, we think you’ll have a winner! Time spent together demonstrates how much you enjoy their company and choosing whichever specific activity you select shows how well you know them and their tastes, winning you all sorts of points!

So here are some ideas of experiences you might like to gift your loved ones:

• Give them a price/item limit and take them to a shop/shopping area you both love. You’ll both have a great time, and they’ll end up with items they really want or need, without anyone feeling like they’ve sold out.
• Book tickets to an event (Covid permitting), from a music concert to a football game or trying something new – like a yoga class?! It’ll be more fun just because the two of you go together, and is sure to be a memorable experience.
• This one’s a bit more extravagant, but you could take them on a mini-break for any budget! A weekend in Paris? A couple of nights in Lisbon? Or closing your eyes and pointing to a map to find out where you’ll be going? The possibilities for this idea are endless and will give you both something to look forward to, once the pandemic has blown over a bit!
• Or simply book an “us day” where you spend the entire day together, doing spontaneous things you love. A lie-in? Brunch? A last-minute road trip? For those of you out there who aren’t into all the planning, this may just be a solution for you. Simple yet thoughtful!

Make a donation in their name

Last, but certainly not least, for the person that has it all, doesn’t have a spare minute and whose dietary requirements you just can’t keep up with, a win-win is always making a donation to a charity in their name. A couple of years ago it was all the range to give a family in Africa a goat on a person’s behalf. And that’s not a terrible idea! However, while this is a memorable way of donating, we can’t help but consider the implications of such a specific donation (whether the family can afford it, if the goats are well-treated, the disparity created between families gifted goats, or not), and have concluded that it may not be our go-to option. See how far you can get with that extra bit more thought!

Is your loved one particularly concerned about climate change? Global schooling? Gender disparity? Deforestation? Endangered species? Could you choose a charity you trust and make a donation to a cause that will really strike a chord with the person you’re thinking of?

If we all do our bit, think of the change we’ll be a part of!

Now, there’s no way you’ve made it this far through our post without coming across one or two ideas that have struck your fancy as alternatives to “gifting garbage”, so now you have no excuse! Spread the word, spread the love, but please, for all of our sakes, stop spreading garbage!!

Anabela CEO of CORE Architects
Anabela Macieira
Core Architects — CEO and Founder