Zero-waste gift giving to me is a bit less about the amount of packaging that comes with the gift itself (though the best gifts often don't come with much) and more about the appreciation of the gift itself. If something is discarded or just becomes clutter...that is waste. A beautiful scarf knit by hand may be lovely and useful in theory, but if the recipient already has ten scarves or never wears scarves at all...it is waste. Careful thought must go into material gifts whether or not they involve packaging. Appreciation + usefulness of the gift is key.
I read this week about someone who gives each son/daughter one thing that they want, one thing that they need + one experience to share. I like this idea because the experience could be interpretted many different ways + for many different budgets. It could involve a new game or puzzle to play or do together...or it could involve a ballet or ball game...or it could even involve a roadtrip or a trip on a plane.
Traditions are fun, but they can evolve and morph as time goes by and family dynamics change. Expectations can be changed with conversations and input from everyone.
The holidays don't have to be the pinnacle of the year. Gifts are fun (+ often stressful), but the goal is to provide a little happy glow...not necessarily a fireworks display. This year, we have discussed that I am doing three gifts for each of the girls...a morning gift, a noon gift, and an evening gift. We do stockings too, so there will be three small, inexpensive gifts in each stocking as well.
Here are a few things that I think might be good gifts for teens depending on their interests:
-a piece of clothing they can use (introduce them to a cool, fair, indy brand), or the promise of a shopping trip together (with something specific in mind), including lunch/snack together
-a band t-shirt from a band they love (search the band's website for mercy or go vintage)
-a magazine subscription to a publication they like (bring finished issues along to dentist + doctor appointments to leave in the waiting rooms)
-gift cards to I-tunes, Target, or a favorite coffee shop (or give labeled cash to avoid the plastic)
-Klean Kanteen for avoiding plastic + paper cups +/or taking a favorite drink from home
-money for something they collect or love (the fun of searching for just the right one will be theirs)
-movie passes (either a movie date with you...or not)
-experiences like a yoga class, batting cage, museum, paint-a-plate, skydiving
-a special meal in a fancy (or not so fancy) restaurant
-gas card, or pay their cell phone bill for a month (I think teens should usually be paying for their own cell phones + gas (or at least be contributing), because then they will know what a gift this is)
-a favorite treat in triplicate...candy, smoothies, chips, Ben + Jerry's, salsa, etc. (maybe or maybe not totally zero-waste, but it's a rare treat...so your choice)
-a three month subscription to a fitness site that they already love
-something a bit luxurious to enhance an interest/hobby...like a beautiful journal + pen(s) for a writer, some gorgeous yarn for a knitter/crocheter, some new sheet music or accessory they've been hinting at for a musician, a new piece of equipment or gear for an athlete, a new lense or polaroid film for a photographer, a sketchbook + watercolors for an artist
-new bedding or a desk or lamp or a framed print, if they've been angling for a room update
-money toward a big ticket item that they are saving up for...a cell phone + plan, a car, + insurance + gas, a computer, a new instrument. (I personally think that it is very important for kids to make a personal investment in these larger items. The rewards of saving + planning ahead are too important to take away completely...but maybe contributing some money toward the goal is appropriate.)
-if you do stocking stuffers: bamboo toothbrush, deoderant, lotion, lipbalm (could be homemade or ingredients to make their own), a special treat or two (we always laughed when we unwrapped things like toothpaste + deodorant growing up, but were grateful not to have to spend our own money on them for a month or two!)
Links above give photo credit.