Last Minute Gift Ideas for Conscious Consumers
More than 30 last-minute gift ideas for last-minute shoppers who want to avoid throwaway presents and buy consciously this holiday season — regardless of budget! The key? Gift experiences, not things.
[Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that I make a small commission if you make a purchase, at no extra cost to you.]
Christmas is just around the corner, and if you’re anything like me, you still haven’t got all your gifts sorted out. Every year, I have an idea of what I want to get for my closest friends and relatives. Every year, I promise myself I’m going to start the shopping months in advance. And every year, I find myself frantically navigating through the busiest shopping centres the weekend before Christmas. Sometimes even on Christmas Eve!
Here’s the thing about last-minute shopping. Unless you are absolutely certain of what you’re getting and where, you can often end up settling for impulse purchases. You get caught up in the panic of not having a gift wrapped and ready, and pick the first item off a shelf just to tick it off your list. This usually ends up being a bath set or a scarf, right?
Now don’t get me wrong, they might love it and use it every single day.
Or, it might lie in the back of their closet: a waste of space and a waste of your money. Not to mention the consequences on the environment! Besides, how many body washes does a person really need?
Christmas is a time of increased consumption — bad news for our wallets and for the planet.
Americans alone spend around $15.2 billion on unwanted gifts each year. A figure this high indicates a severe need to shift the culture of gifting. But apart from the money itself, think of the impact on our planet: all the wrapping paper thrown in the bin (227,000 miles of it in Britain alone!), the plastic packaging found on most gift sets, the ethical atrocities of fast fashion production.
With people all over the world becoming more aware and curious about sustainability efforts, wasteful over-consumption is increasingly questioned. But the Christmas season is a tricky time: gifts are just part of the deal. So what should a conscious consumer do?
The gift of experiences
I recently touched on this in my Paris weekend guide, but I’ll mention it again. I’m incredibly picky and consciously trying to adopt a more minimal and sustainable lifestyle. This means I’m incredibly hard to shop for (or so I’ve heard!) — so I’m often on the receiving end of unwanted gifts. It may sound ungrateful, and I know it’s really the thought that counts. But with 61% of Americans admitting to receiving unwanted gifts, at least I know I’m not alone!
While I enjoy thoughtful, gleefully anticipated presents as much as the next person, I’ve come to realise that experience gifts bring me far more joy.
For instance, I love gifts that allow me to travel and explore new places, or check off items on my bucket list. Last year, Aidan and I went to Brussels for a weekend to see Hozier in concert on my birthday. And as my Christmas present last year, Aidan got us both tickets to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London — a lifetime dream of mine. The memories we’ve made on these trips will stay with us forever.
And the best part? Experience gifts like trips and travel vouchers don’t clutter up my space and make me feel guilty. Instead, I cherish them for life.
With this in mind, let’s get into my last minute (more) conscious gift guide — rooted in the magic of experiences.
Conscious Christmas gifting
Like many of you, I’ve been trying to be a more conscious consumer this holiday season. I want to minimise my use of plastic and fast fashion consumption as much as possible. I’ve pledged to no longer buy throwaway gifts that will go unused and unloved. I’m definitely far from perfect, and I’m no authority on sustainability — but I thought I’d share a few of my tips for gift shopping this Christmas season nonetheless. This one’s for all of you last minute shoppers out there!
1. Travel, Trips & Adventures
This is by far my favourite kind of gift to receive. It gives the recipient something to look forward to, and usually comes gift wrapped with the promise of shared quality time and warm, fuzzy memories. Plus, it gives both of you a chance to let your creativity flow while putting the plan in motion! Here are some ideas:
⭑ A road trip ticket
This one works for most budgets (provided at least one of you can drive) and is quite flexible in terms of dates and times. You can print a ticket template to make it official, and even include a map to get them excited for the trip. If you don’t drive, why not book some flexible train tickets for a future trip together?
⭑ A city break or holiday
Budget-wise, this one can get quite pricy. If you have the cash and want to really impress someone special, why not book a trip abroad together? For example, Lastminute.com often has great deals on flight and hotel packages. And if you’re both fans of surprises, why not try the service Srprs.me? They provide city break packages to destination unknown, based on a few of your key preferences. They do all the work — you simply show up at the airport!
From our Christmas trip to Amsterdam last winter
⭑ A staycation
A more budget-friendly alternative to the above. Perfect for a partner, especially if you don’t yet live together. Staying in a local hotel or Airbnb is sure to expose you to the beauty of your own city. Make it extra special by renting a tiny house, a glamping spot, a houseboat, a castle or a sleek minimalist house — the possibilities are endless! You can read my guide to feeling like you’re on holiday in your own city here.
⭑ A flight voucher
If you know someone who travels a lot, but you don’t quite know their itinerary, this is a gift they’re sure to appreciate. I’ve gotten a flight gift voucher for a good friend of mine in the past, and it went down a treat. Almost every airline offers them!
⭑ A trip to a local adventure centre, theme park or zoo
Why not book a day out to do something completely out of the ordinary? You can check out websites like Groupon for the wildest local experiences at discounted prices. You could treat your friend or loved one to indoor skydiving, an escape room, an aqua park, a local theme park or a day at a trampoline centre. Maybe even a helicopter or hot air balloon ride if you’re feeling bougie!
⭑ Tickets to a museum or exhibition. Or an annual pass!
One of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten was a pair of tickets to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London. Being a huge Harry Potter fan, it was incredibly close to my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for months!
Tickets to Hogwarts — the best experience gift I’ve ever gotten
2. Subscriptions and memberships
I don’t think anybody likes paying for monthly or annual subscriptions. There are loads of apps and services that I would love to use, but don’t want to fork out a down payment or see the money disappear from my account every month. I’m definitely not the only one. Why not treat someone to a subscription or membership they’ll love this Christmas? Here are some examples:
⭑ Pay for a course or class that they’ve been wanting to take
You could make it a shared experience: take a local cooking or painting class together. To make this entirely budget friendly, why not get a Skillshare membership (use my link for a free two week trial!) and take some classes together in a hobby you’ve both been meaning to pursue? Skillshare is an online learning community with a vast library of classes and courses that will appeal to just about anyone: with classes ranging from fiction writing, tech, photography and photo editing to calligraphy and digital art, there’s something for everybody. Why not try it out for FREE for two weeks — you won’t regret it!
⭑ Pay for their favourite streaming service
Whether it be a music site like Spotify, Tidal or Deezer, or a film and TV one like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, they’re bound to appreciate a gift card for a few months’ service. Most of them offer gift vouchers, too!
⭑ Give them the gift of books they really want, without the clutter
Gifting books can be difficult, especially if you aren’t sure which titles your loved one already has in their collection. If you’re pressed for time and short on ideas, why not switch things up by gifting them an Audible or Kindle subscription?
Better yet, you could get a gift voucher for their favourite independent bookstore instead.
⭑ Buy them the magazine subscription they’ve been eyeing
This could be pricy or affordable. I recently got a great deal on a New Yorker subscription — 12 weeks for around €10, including a free tote bag! Getting someone a subscription to their favourite magazine will give them the fuzzy feelings of receiving post, as well as provide reading content for months!
⭑ Get them a software licence that will upgrade their work or creative pursuits
Software can be incredibly expensive, especially if your friend is only starting out in their business or hobby. For the photographer in your life, you could get an Adobe Creative Cloud Photographer package. For the artist, you might consider getting a Photoshop or Procreate licence. Opening up the realm of creativity is one of the most precious gifts you can give.
⭑ Pay for their fitness membership or favourite fitness app
Whether it be a gift voucher for a local yoga studio, a Classpass gift card that can be redeemed for their classes of choice, or (my favourite) a subscription to Shreddy, an app that provides you with a customised workout guide and meal plan, there’s lots of ways to treat the active people in your life.
⭑ Get them a mindfulness app subscription
Meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm have hugely positive reviews and provide calm and relaxation to thousands of people around the world — but they can be a bit pricy to try for yourself. If someone you know has been going through a hectic time, you could consider treating them to it.
⭑ Treat them to an unlimited movie pass or a unique film experience
Many cinema chains, such as Cineworld, offer seasonal unlimited passes for the biggest movie fanatics. If someone you know is always at the movies, why not sponsor their favourite hobby? You could throw in a few bags of popcorn as well — they’ll need them! If you’d like something a little more affordable, why not treat them to a premium movie experience? For example, there’s a local cinema near me that is styled like a 1920s jazz bar. You can have cocktails while you watch classic and contemporary movies, and the seats are actually lounge chairs! Pure bliss.
3. Experiences they won’t forget
Personally, I’m not someone who treats themselves to experiences on a regular basis. I don’t go for manicures or get my hair done very often. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at a fancy restaurant. But every once in a while, it’s lovely to have a treat-yourself kind of experience. It can make you feel refreshed and boost your confidence, make you believe that you are worth it. If someone you know and love has been in need of some pampering, why not treat them to one of these experiences?
⭑ A homemade coupon book full of favours and treats
This can be a highly personal gift — just depends what you want to include as a coupon! Giving a loved one “vouchers” for experiences you both can share, or favours that would help them out in the future, is bound to put a smile on their face. It’s also highly cost-effective, and can be done completely for free!
⭑ A wellness voucher
Instead of buying another forgettable bath set that they’ll probably never use, why not get them a gift card to use at their favourite hair or nail salon? You could also plan a trip to the spa or book them in for a facial, mud bath or massage. Again, Groupon is a great one to scout out here — there’s bound to be an offer on whatever you choose!
⭑ Treat them to dinner at a fancy restaurant
Go casual, or go all out and book a table at a local hotspot. You can make memories together over a fine tasting menu or a humble pizza — the choice is yours!
⭑ Plan a memorable evening together
Whether it’s a movie night kit or an afternoon making pasta from scratch, wrap up a few essential items into a hamper and prepare to make memories together.
⭑ Book in a professional photography session
This can be a special gift for a partner or for your whole family. It ensures a fun day, getting out of your comfort zone and capturing memories on camera. They’ll treasure the pictures for life! Plus, you get to support a local photographer’s work while you’re at it.
⭑ Take them to a gig or a show at the theatre
Tickets to a play, comedy show, ballet performance or concert are one way of showing the recipient that you appreciate their taste and look forward to more shared experiences together.
4. Reusable, lifetime or sustainably sourced items
If you really want to get a physical gift, and still have a little bit of time to go out and buy one, how about choosing something environmentally conscious this holiday season? For example, buying vintage or reusable items will minimise your environmental impact. You could get:
⭑ A quality reusable item
Something they’ll use on a daily basis, such as a KeepCup or reusable water bottle in their favourite colour.
⭑ A second-hand treasure they’ll cherish for years.
Depop, Vestiaire Collective, and your local second-hand shops are great places to find unique vintage or designer pieces for a fraction of the price. You’ll be getting something that is high quality, and offering it a second life while avoiding the ethical consequences of fast fashion.
⭑ Houseplants that they’ll actually love (and keep alive)
A quality houseplant is a fantastic gift for someone with a green thumb — maybe not for someone who kills every plant in sight, though! Go to your local garden centre and pick out something that will match their space.
⭑ A gift card contribution toward an heirloom
If you know someone who’s saving up for a special event or occasion, why not make a contribution to their savings fund? For example, the incredible Irish heirloom jewellery brand Chupi (famous for their grey diamond engagement rings and wonderful Instagram storytelling) offer beautiful gift coins instead of standard gift vouchers. These can go toward wedding bands or a piece of jewellery that can be passed on for generations to come.
⭑ Handmade bath products with proceeds going to charity
I tried so hard to keep bath products out of this gift guide — it’s the biggest cliché there is! But in the end, I have to make an exception for Lush. I’ve received many Lush bath bombs and gift sets over the years and they’ve never once gone unused or unappreciated. To change things up a little, why not get a Charity Pot — a signature body lotion with all proceeds going to charities.
And speaking of charities…
5. Christmas charity campaigns
Christmas is the season of giving, so this guide wouldn’t be complete without a section featuring some of the great initiatives you can donate to on behalf of your chosen recipient. Most charities run Christmas campaigns, so it’s worth Googling the ones closest to your friend or loved one’s heart. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Plant a tree in their name. For instance, Woodland Trust has a fantastic virtual gift offer called ‘Trees for Bees.’
Sponsor an animal in the local zoo — bonus points if it’s an endangered species or the recipient’s favourite animal!
Make a donation in their name to a local women’s shelter, soup kitchen or homelessness shelter
Support Oxfam’s Christmas campaign, where you can sponsor the purchase of chickens, goats, cooking appliances and more.
Support a local GoFundMe in their name.
There are plenty of local charity gift options, too — these are just a few options. Donating to charitable organisations is certainly one of the most positive contributions we all can make this Christmas.
Wrapping it up (get it?)
Before I wrap up, I want to stress one point. Whatever you do, try not to buy throwaway gifts just for the sake of it. If you’re really stuck and don’t know the recipient well enough, you can go for something edible. That way, it’s unlikely to end up at the back of their wardrobe, never to be used, never to be seen again.
So there you have it! I hope this post gave you a few gift ideas — if not for Christmas, then for any other special occasion. There are hundreds more ways to get creative and treat your loved ones without contributing too much to holiday over-consumption.
Is there anything on my list that you would really love to get this Christmas?
Let me know if you try any of these gift ideas out in the comments or over on Instagram — let’s spread the conscious gifting cheer!