Being a Caring “Consumer”, Giver, and Receiver of Gifts

‘Tis the season when we are encouraged or expected to participate in mad shopping frenzies, buying products that are mostly toxic and usually generate vast quantities of waste to boot. On some level, I believe most people know that this isn’t working out so well for anyone, but it’s hard to know why it’s so hard for people to show love in ways that don’t involve disposable packaging and toxic materials that are advertised as being cool or trendy. Or maybe it’s the advertising that has something to do with it?

Thankfully, we do have available a plethora of alternative ways to show our love to friends and families, and the trendiness factor is growing. There are ways that are kinder, gentler, more personal, and usually much more appreciated

more love

I’d like to share some ideas and resources that I have found helpful. Some are newer while others have been around for years but are still very relevant now, if not more so.

I hope you find something that not only inspires you, but also makes your life easier and allows you to become more attuned to your own gifts and needs, as well as those of others.

While not directed at people with MCS/ES, Joshua Becker at  Becoming Minimalist has a lot of great articles “designed to inspire others to pursue their greatest passions by owning fewer possessions”. These insights highlight the benefits of voluntary simplicity, and for some of us, reassure us that we can live without a lot of things we used to take for granted while struggling  to survive with what is often at first involuntary simplicity, while we seek out what else is needed on our journey to better health.

Developing MCS/ES quite often means having to give up many of the belongings we used to take for granted, or thought to be necessary. Often they can’t be replaced because there are no safe substitutes available!

In some cases, the chemicals things are made with off-gas enough pollutants into our air for too long to make them useful . In other cases, contact with synthetics or  residues in clothing and furniture can trigger severe fibromyalgia flares and other disabling symptoms. Finding truly non-toxic products and materials can be really, really challenging. Learning to embrace simplicity when it’s forced on us can be helpful.

Giving gifts to people with MCS/ES can sometimes be challenging, especially when the “sensitivities” are severe. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for friends and family members to just give up and ignore the person with MCS/ES and not give any gifts at all, because it isn’t as easy to find something “safe” for them, as it is to find “stuff” for other people! Yet there are many ways to give to people with MCS/ES and others who wish to live a less toxic life. Some ideas are gift cards, research (tracking down safer alternatives), and offers of services (like shopping or returning things that weren’t safe, or paying for a safe dentist or alternative medical practitioner). Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The Story of Stuff Project has some great videos about the way we make, use, and throw away Stuff. Annie Leonard, who released the first video years ago, wrote this article “How to Be More than a Mindful Consumer“, describing her journey and insights  for “yes! Magazine”s series The Human Cost of Stuff.

The Center for a New American Dream has created a new kind of gift registry that is worth exploring: We can share what we need, what we love, what we need help doing! They list numerous ideas we may not have even thought possible!

Through SoKind, you can register for gifts of time, experience, and skill, as well as traditional material gifts and secondhand items. The registry is entirely customizable, so the possibilities are endless!

There are Buy Nothing groups sprouting up all over the world, where things and services are offered and received for free. I’ve been able to ask for and receive help when I’ve needed someone to pick things up for me. I’ve even received a few useful items (some Irises for the garden, and a few other things that fragrance residues can be safely removed from) and group members have even delivered them!

I’ve also been able to find new homes for some of my milk kefir grains when they’ve grown more abundantly than I can use, and a few objects I was ready to part with have found new homes too.

It’s also a great way (well, the only way) for me to be able to get to know some of the people in this community that I live in now, but can’t get out to see or otherwise meet with. It’s a way I finally feel like I am a part of the local community too.

Quite a few people I have met this way have to avoid perfumes and have kids with allergies and sensitivities. A new kefir friend and I have just started up a new online group to support each other and future generations in making and accessing healthier choices!

Check out the Buy Nothing Project. There may be a group in your area too.

The Science Of Simplicity: Why Successful People Wear The Same Thing Every Day

“This is all related to the concept of decision fatigue. This is a real psychological condition in which a person’s productivity suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.

Simply put, by stressing over things like what to eat or wear every day, people become less efficient at work.”

Yet, we might all consider simplifying our lives a bit more by reducing the amount of time we spend thinking about pointless aspects of our day. In the process, one might find that they are significantly less stressed, more productive and more fulfilled.

Life is complicated enough, don’t allow the little things to dictate your happiness. Simplify, simplify.”

So it turns out that my shortage of safe clothing is actually a good thing!

Whether or not we are looking for gifts for others or for something for ourselves, there are many ways we can reduce the less desirable short and long term impacts we have on each other and on this finite planet we all rely upon to provide us with clean air, clean water, and nourishing food.

Here are some still relevant ideas I adapted many years ago from  a list I originally found in a book called “The Circle of Simplicity”.

The Alternative Shopping List: Becoming a Caring Consumer


Can you grow it or make it yourself?

If not, then consider the following:


1. Do I really need this? Is there anything I can use instead?

Here’s where the joys of ingenuity come in. It’s fun to find  substitutes. For instance, do you really need a nightgown  or pajamas when a big shirt will do as well?


2. How will this item affect the quality of my life?

Will it help me engage in life more fully, like sheet music or gardening supplies or a swim suit? Or will it just make me more passive – like an extra TV?


3. Is the cost of the item worth the amount of time it takes to earn the money to buy it?

This is the question suggested by Dominguez and Robin in Your Money or Your Life.  For instance,
How many hours do you have to work to buy your daily espressos?
Is it worth it?
You may say yes, but at least you’ve thought about it.


4. Could you buy it used? Borrow it? Rent it? Share the purchase with someone else?

Does your area have a tool-share?
Does your area have a free-cycle group?
Can you get around by bicycle?
Annual transit passes are available in many cities.
Buying used can save up to thousands of dollars.
Can you buy it with someone else and share it?
Can you get along without one and rent one when you need it?
Can you use one of the car-share services (auto-share, zip-car, etc)?


5. Where should you buy it? Consider these possibilities:

A small, locally owned business that keeps your money circulating in the
A business you value, one that adds life to the community – like an
independent bookstore
A business that contributes to the community, perhaps by donating to a
A business that treats its employees well
A cooperative or worker-owned business, particularly one where you can be
a member and  have input


6. How will this purchase affect the environment?

Does it contain toxic petrochemical ingredients like fragrances, that other people also have to breathe in when you use them?
Is it biodegradable?
(compare your personal care, laundry, soaps and cleaning agents )
What were the environmental impacts during the creation and transportation of the item?
Did it pollute the air or water then?
Does it affect the air or water during use or disposal?
Are safer alternatives available?
Can it be recycled or repaired?  ( Avoid single use items and dispose of things properly)
Will it use up resources to maintain?  ( a hand mower uses up much fewer resources than does an electric or gas powered one )
Is it over-packaged? Packaging pollutes, uses up resources, and swells our landfills.  (If you can’t avoid it, try leaving the packaging with the store. )
Can you buy it in bulk and avoid packaging altogether?
How far do you have to drive to buy it?
Is it worth your time and your gas to drive a long distance to save a few cents?
Where is it made? How much energy was used to import it?
Think of the energy costs to ship that pineapple from Hawaii.
Do you really need a pineapple?
When you do purchase something not made here, try to buy from countries where regulations on environmental and social damage are stronger than ours.


7. How were the people who made it treated?

Were they paid poorly or well?
Was their health put at risk from pesticides or other working conditions?
Were local jobs lost so corporations could make bigger profits?
Remind yourself that the more we consume things made more cheaply elsewhere, the less likely corporations are to make high- quality things here.
Look into things that are certified FairTrade. Along with gift items which are available  in some smaller local specialty shops, coffees, teas, chocolates, and bananas are  everyday items that are readily available organic and fair trade. Whole communities benefit from these (and the extra few cents we pay).

Are there things you have started doing differently that have had a bigger, more positive impact on your life than you expected?

Have the changes become a way of life for you?

They have for me. I started making changes before developing severe MCS/ES, and since then, have learned how to appreciate the reasons for,  and how to make even more changes. In these small ways, I am thankful to be able to offer just a little bit back to our mother earth, and to be able to look after her just a little bit more by being more mindful of the impact my actions and activities have, in hopes that future generations will have a livable planet too…

6 responses to “Being a Caring “Consumer”, Giver, and Receiver of Gifts

  1. I’m a recovered shopaholic, and this is perhaps the most difficult question: 1. Do I really need this? The answer is usually “no.” :-)

  2. Lovely reflections ♡ could be a Christmas prayer for us all ♡♡♡

  3. Beautiful sentiments. There was a group of us that for years exchanged gifts. Then we decided to take the money and donate it to charity instead. I’ve never missed whatever presents I didn’t get. <3

  4. Pingback: Holiday Canaries | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.