The holidays don’t have to be about shopping. Let that simmer for a minute. It’s possible to coast through the season, spreading cheer and goodwill, expressing gratitude, celebrating abundance, connecting with loved ones near and far, and not get sucked up in the machine of over-consumption. Chances are, you have more stuff than you need, or a skill you can offer as a gift. Or maybe you’d rather make a donation or treat someone to an event. These gifts tend to be far more meaningful and valuable than the random gift-picking that takes place as holiday deadlines approach. Here are five shareable ways to celebrate the season while strengthening community, reusing goods and staying out of the mall.

Experience Gifts
How many of the holiday gifts that you received last year do you remember? What about five years ago? If you’re like me, it gets pretty hazy, indeed. But, the year that my parents got me a ticket to see Magic Johnson play basketball, I remember with a heart-warming clarity. I also have a crystal clear memory of the year that my mom took me to a production of Annie. While these both involved spending money on tickets, it’s certainly possible to give a no-cost or low-cost experiential gift: a winter hike, a day of sledding, a trip to the local museum, an ice skating or roller skating expedition, a community concert, a book reading, and so on. The point is that a shared experience offers something deeper and more memorable than a store-bought gift.

Everyone has something to offer. Whether it’s computer programming, car repair, proofreading, painting, baking, gardening, guitar lessons, childcare, accounting or art lessons, communities are made strong by the diversity of their members. If we were all accountants or painters, things wouldn’t work. Do you have some free time? Gift a friend or relative with childcare or help them clean their attic. Know something about bikes? Offer to teach a neighbor how to maintain theirs. Fancy numbers or words? Your accounting or writing know-how is of great value to someone who needs help with their books or an application. Get creative. Whether your offering is a one-time thing or the beginning of an organized skillshare, offering help when someone needs it is a great gift.

Toy Exchange
The rate at which kids outgrow their toys seems second only to the rate at which they outgrow their clothes. What’s hot today is at the bottom of the toy pile tomorrow, destined for an eventual trip to the thrift store or landfill. For a shareable holiday alternative to buying more toys, round up your friends with kids, have them all bring gently-used toys and books and host a toy exchange. The kids get new-to-them stuff, the parents have a good excuse to declutter, it’s a great way to make new connections and build community, and the kids see abundance and sharing in action.

Gift Circles
In his article, A Circle of Gifts, Charles Eisenstein says, “Because people in gift culture pass on their surplus rather than accumulating it, your good fortune is my good fortune…wealth circulates, gravitating toward the greatest need.” He’s describing the re-emerging art of gift economies and the power they have to build community. Gift circles, a simple way to explore the benefits of the gift economy, are popping up around the country. Inspired, in large part, by gift circle pioneer, Alpha Lo, the idea is that 10-20 people get together, take turns expressing needs they may have and gifts they can offer (skills, ideas, social connections, things, labor, recommendations, etc.). As a holiday event, this can help take the load off of what can be a stressful time, it’s a way to offer a meaningful gift and it’s a powerful tool for building community.

Donation Exchange
A great way to support your favorite cause, to remove shopping from the holiday equation, and to get to know your friends and family better is a donation exchange. The idea, as detailed by Shareable publisher Neal Gorenflo in his article, How I Avoided Holiday Shopping Through a Donation Exchange, is this: let your family know that, rather than presents, you’d like them to make a donation to one of your favorite causes. In return, they can make a donation to one of your favorite causes. Donation exchanges can be educational, a great way to share organizations that need support and a way to bond with family members.

If Shareable is among your favorite nonprofits, I encourage you to support their crowdfunding campaign today. They’re more than halfway to their goal of $10,000 and if they hit it, each dollar will be matched, 2-to-1, by the SHIFT Foundation. That means that if Shareable reaches its $10,000 goal, the SHIFT Foundation will add an additional $20,000. Please give what you can.

Cat Johnson


Cat Johnson | |

Cat Johnson is a content strategist and teacher helping community builders create strong brands. A longtime writer, marketing pro and coworking leader, Cat is the founder of Coworking Convos and