For gifts, give what sustains

The Got Your Bags? booth is busy at the Big Pine and Lower Keys Art Fair.
The Got Your Bags? booth is busy at the Big Pine and Lower Keys Art Fair.

I cannot believe its December already. And like most people this time of year, I have to make holiday gift decisions for friends and family.

My husband and I are pretty low key about giving each other gifts. We have a small house and it can easily look cluttered. Over the years, my husband has trained me to follow a simple rule: If something comes into the house, something else must leave.

We have reduced the amount of stuff we accumulate. When it makes sense, we reuse what we can. So gifts for us come primarily in the form of an experience, like a trip or something essential and less romantic, like a set of sockets.

My family members live in different parts of the world so the easy option is online ordering of something they can enjoy like food or something unusual and sustainable.

One year I sponsored a goat for a family in Mongolia under my cousin's name. She and her family thought it was pretty cool that they had "bought" a goat. More importantly, that goat would provide sustenance to a farmer and his family for many years.

Every year I have an informal holiday bake-off with a neighbor where we give each other gifts from our kitchens. She is a very good baker and always wins but that doesn't stop me poring over recipes and trying something different. My goodies are gluten-free and last year's offering included almond and cranberry dark chocolate bark. Delicious.

A friend of mine bakes cookies for her friends and packages them in holiday red reusable containers with a note saying, "Please use this container to carry your to-go items in," hoping she can encourage her friends to do just that.

She was delighted when a friend told her that whenever he sees that red container, he is reminded of her and he does take it into a local restaurant to carry any to-go food and there is one less Styrofoam container to dispose of.

Over Thanksgiving weekend I attended the Big Pine and Lower Keys Arts Fair. I like to find items made by local crafts people. I scooped up some beautifully packaged, fragrant homemade soaps from You'll Love It on Sugarloaf Key and some unusual marinades from the Garden Craft Shop, a cottage food operation. All of these items will be gifts for friends.

The primary reason I was at the arts fair was to help with a program called Got Your Bags? Florida Keys. The mission is to discourage using single-use plastic bags, reduce marine debris and litter, and encourage shoppers to use reusable bags.

The residential campaign kicked off that weekend when people pledged to reduce their plastic-bag use in return for a free reusable bag. Bag sponsors include Save-A-Turtle, Monroe County Solid Waste, The Nature Conservancy,, Waste Management Inc., First State Bank and Another Real Estate Co. Other organizations can join in.

It was a successful launch generating lots of interest. They will be at various events throughout Big Pine Key over the next few months where people can come by the booth to sign their pledge and get a bag. See

I am happy to note that the soap and marinade items I purchased were bagged in paper bags. Several Big Pine Key retailers are participating in Got Your Bags?, so this holiday season, please consider taking your reusable bags to the store or you may be asked: "Got your bags?"

Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four Rs -- reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (composting). She can be reached at