Wrapping Christmas Presents with Grandparents
Image by © Jose Luis Pelaez, Inc./CORBIS

By:  Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano, LuxEco Editorial Assistant for the Resplendent Repurposing series

If you have seniors on your holiday gift list, you may be struggling with what to buy them. The best, and greenest answer may be: Nothing. As in: no thing.

It’s the old story: What to get the person who has everything? Most older people have more junk than they’ll ever need – and are trying to get rid of it. Very often they’re downscaling, going from a multi-bedroom house to a smaller one, an apartment or into assisted living. The last thing they want is one more dust-catcher. So don’t buy them any, unless they’ve specifically requested it. (Ever wonder what percentage of landfill contents are made up of unwanted gifts? I’ll bet the number is staggering.)

So let’s start by talking about what NOT to buy.

THINGS NEVER TO BUY FOR AN OLDER PERSON: (unless specifically requested)

Candy. Very often they can’t chew it (dentures), shouldn’t eat it (weight issues, diabetes), or can’t digest it (diverticulitis and other conditions). I once helped a friend clean out the family home after her mother passed on. We found a pile of aged See’s candies, still in their gift-wrapped boxes, unopened. These had been given to her year after year with the best intentions and Mom had been too nice to say the once-savored treats were no longer welcome. (Some of the candy had turned green — and not in the good way we’re talking about.)

Cookbooks. Odds are, they already have too many. Again, the rule of thumb is: Don’t buy unless requested.

Cooking utensils or appliances. Exception: Ergonomic replacements for the old ones (see below). Otherwise, the candy rule applies.

Pets. Well, here’s something you should NEVER give ANYONE as a gift unless they’ve specifically requested it – and sometimes not even then. No, not even a goldfish. Think about it – you’re obligating someone to care for, feed and pay vet bills for a creature at a time in life when she may struggling to care for, feed and medicate herself. And if the person struggles with any degree of memory impairment, the pet – a living creature – will be at high risk for neglect. Just because you’ve decided that “Dad needs a dog or cat to keep him company” doesn’t make it true.

“Yes, Mary, you make some good points,” you may be saying. “But rich old Aunt Millie will write me out of her will if she doesn’t get something from me this year.” Well, that is a big problem! And now that I’ve hectored you about what NOT to buy, you’re completely at sea. So now let me suggest what TO buy (or do) for your beloved senior.

First, put yourself inside the head of an older person. Activities that you used to take for granted may have become too expensive, difficult or painful. Cooking every day is now a tiring chore – and your nutrition may be suffering as a result. (My grandmother’s taste of sense and smell declined drastically as she moved into her nineties — this affected her desire to eat quality food.) Standing for the time required to cook a meal makes your arthritic knees ache. You no longer drive very far, or at all. Your vision and hearing have declined. And your memory’s not what it used to be.

Ask yourself these questions:

What activity of daily living does the older person struggle with?

Does she have a limited, fixed income?

Is there something he really needs but can’t afford?

Will the item or service enhance her life  – or become a burden?

Is it something he’s expressed a wish for, but won’t or can’t buy for himself?

Of course, as a reader of this website, there’s one more question you’ve already asked yourself: How can I turn my gift green? So here goes:


  1. Food. As my parents aged, they really appreciated gifts of goodies (except candy). How about gift cards for luxury organic food items? Or go to your local Whole Foods or other organic market and make up your own gift basket of tasty, natural nibbleys. Such gifts can also be consciousness-raising for an older person, a gentle way to get them to eat more nutritious, additive and pesticide-free foods. And what could be greener than encouraging someone to eat more greens?
  2. Homemade scrapbooks and albums. Parents and grandparents love these. Make up a memory book of photos from your childhood, including pictures of your parents in their younger days. Include stories about the fun you had together. Have the grandkids make up their own scrapbook full of their artwork, plus plenty of pictures of themselves and their activities. Make it out of an old binder, fabric scraps and recycled gift wrap, and you’ve got yourself a grand, green gift that’s full of love.
  3. Help reduce their utility bill. The mortgage may be paid off, but this is one big expense that won’t go away. Offer to go around your senior’s home, changing old-fashioned lightbulbs for CFL’s, putting timers on appliances or thickening up the insulation. Put a timer on the sprinkler system to save water usage. Find other ways you can help them reduce their carbon footprint and their expenses.
  4. Bath and shower gel. It may sound like a generic, “who cares” gift, but older women love this stuff. Companies like Kiss My Face make natural, organic, and eco-friendly personal care products.
  5. E-readers. These cut down on gasoline-burning trips to the library or bookstore. Magazines can be accessed through them as well, saving trees — and clutter. Your senior can enlarge the print, too.
  6. A Netflix subscription — preferably a streaming one, for a smaller carbon footprint.
  7. Rechargeable batteries and a charger.
  8. Green stamps“Green” stamps. People over a certain age will remember the old Green and Blue Chip Stamps, given out by grocery stores and other merchants back in the day. You pasted them in books and when they were full, you brought them to a Redemption Center and turned them in for toasters and whatnot. Why not make up a cute little book of truly green Green Stamps  — out of recycled paper, of course — for instance: “This stamp is redeemable for three hours of closet organizing, gutter cleanout, or other household chore.” Make one or more of these “stamps” good for a trip to the local thrift store to donate the senior’s unwanted goods, and you’re helping both the senior and the Earth at the same time.

Other suggestions:

Ergonomic cooking utensils, gardening implements or other tools, such as those made by OXO Good Grips. From the OXO website: “OXO’s tools are created with the philosophy of Universal Design, which means they’re usable by the broadest spectrum of individuals — young and old, left- and right-handed and many with special needs.” I have several OXO utensils, and I can attest to their ease of use.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. These may not be fun, but they can and do save lives. And include with the gifts a pledge to annually change the batteries and recharge the extinguisher.

Everyday-life helpers such as: Reacher-grabber tools, sock pullers, jar openers, clarity-enhancing telephones, personal TV headphones and safe space heaters – the kind that turn off when tipped over. The Whatever Works catalog and the SeniorS SuperstoreS site are good sources for these items.

Gift cards for Target or other general-merchandise store.
Materials or tools for their favorite hobbies.

Digital picture frames, preloaded with pictures of your family.

I hope these suggestions will help you give the senior in your life a greener, more eco-friendly holiday — and keep your gift from joining the others on the Island of Misfit Gifts (otherwise known as the  landfill).


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