10 Creative Ways to Replace Yet Another Retail Birthday Gift


We recently gathered once again for a gal’s night out, something me and my friends do to honor one another when our big day bites us in the ass (I mean elates us) each year. It’s all warm and buzzy, the serious sipping of full figured red wine, the grazing of small sumptuous Spanish plates, the embarrassingly intimate inebriated birthday toasts counting the ways we count. And the climax hasn’t changed since you were ten, the oozing dessert all aglow and the presenting of pretty packages that will transmogrify into long overdue thank you notes.


While the loot does indeed get much better as we get older (did I mention the jewelry?), there is nothing I need to acquire to feel more blessed. I cherish the handcrafted cards my children make each birthday, but beyond that, I feel guilty about accumulating more stuff. If you feel the same, why not consider other options? Don’t feel pretentious suggesting to your friends that they honor you with an eco alternative. The following options take the cake!

1. OptNow Gift Cards

Instead of the Nordstrom gift cards my friends love to gift as group gifts, the OptNow option is used to support a mission to end global poverty.

2. Pack up Party

You’ve wanted to clean out the cupboards and closets for months and pack up what you don’t use to donate to a shelter or other needy recipient. Invite the group over (even a couple pals can make it a party) and have a ball rummaging and packing up your junk.


3. Take a Hike

On one of my “milestone” birthdays, I decided to do a hike rather than a chichi dinner or costly trip. It was free, amazing exercise (just ask Kendra Wilkinson) and an ideal way to reconnect with wildlife and our natural surroundings. The greatest team building gift of all: No cell phones.

4. Board Public Transit to the Farmer’s Market

You and your epicurean pals or kids can shop for locally grown, organic produce and eat some for your b-day lunch. It’s an ideal way for ladies who lunch to munch responsibly while celebrating you and supporting community growers. But don’t drive if you have access to a bus, bike or train and of course, take a basket or reusable bags.

5. Renewable Energy Sponsorships

Ditch the new laptop purchase, and instead ask for a sponsorship from the start-up company, Powered Green. It sponsors new wind turbines that make enough clean and green energy to power your old computer for seven years. Each laptop credit covers 690 kilowatt-hours of certified wind energy and stops 1030 pounds of CO2 for $16. For $28, you can buy a desktop sponsorship for 1300 kilowatt-hours of certified wind energy, ceasing 1900 pounds of emissions. Each sponsorship comes with a decal for your computer, showing off your commitment to the planet. Way to grow!

6. Group Food Bank Volunteering


My 11-year-old’s friend held her party this year at the San Francisco Food Bank where guests donned protective plastic gloves and spend a couple of hours sorting can goods and packing them up for the needy throughout the city. Why limit this to kids? It is a great idea for grown ups, too, and a way to still have fun dishing and laughing while you work, all for a great cause: Feeding hungry neighbors. Now, that’s a gift. Oh, and guests can also donate money while they are visiting.

7. Say it with Darkness

Don’t say it with diamonds. Instead, make it lights out, candles in. Let her or him create a candlelit ambiance – beeswax naturally – to show how you glow, even when adding another year to the time clock. Spend the day without any electronics if possible and then flicker away at night. Spread out on a blanket if you like and recite poetry instead of watching the tube. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou beside me, singing in the wilderness. . .It’s all so very friendly.

8. Scrap It


Scrapping is in big time – no, not just the recycled steel – but also scrap books as gifts lovingly assembled using existing materials by your friends and family. You can re-purpose an old photo book to create a personal masterpiece. It is the best gift I have ever received – one large book from friends on a big birthday and a small, beautiful pink one from my daughters on a Mother’s Day.

9. Gifts from the Garden


If eco is a return to purity and simplicity, then an ideal green birthday gift would be staying home and enjoying the fruits and veggies of your husband or best friend’s labors. There is nothing like cut flowers from the garden (give it up for lilacs and dahlias) and a nurturing soup of fresh picked veggies made and grown by someone who adores you.

10. Adopt a Furry Child


Come on, a new best friend from your old best friends? It’s a win-win situation. There are too many unwanted and neglected dogs and cats waiting for homes and the SPCA can connect you to a loving shelter pet on your birthday or any day. Tip: As I found out, some gifts snore a lot louder than others!

Images: AlphaTangoBravo,Luanne Bradley, SPCA, Polkadot Creations, Aldon;  San Francisco Food Bank

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.