27 Ways to Beat the Supply Chain Slump and Give the Greatest Holiday Gifts Ever

You’ll never again gift a store-bought candle

By Katie O'Reilly

November 26, 2021


Photo by yio/iStock

This Black Friday, we may be forced to rethink America’s great shopping addiction. 

Most of us are well aware that the global supply chain crisis has led to raw-material shortages and shipping delays. Experts predict these snarls won’t let up until next year or beyond. This could be a taste of what’s to come: Climate disasters are sure to impact how we produce, source, and ship the materials used to make food items, cellphones, cars, toys, and all manner of popular holiday gifts. The time is nigh for a shift in our collective consumerist habits. 

Unfortunately, the pandemic fundamentally altered the way many of us shop—digital sales ballooned in 2020, creating a glut of padded mailers, shrink wrap, and, well, stuff—an alarming amount of which is ultimately destined for the landfill. Currently, less than 14 percent of the nearly 86 million tons of plastic packaging produced globally each year is recycled. 

The good news: Holiday magic isn’t contingent on a well-greased Amazon Prime account, nor transit via multiple far-flung shipping containers. Most of us don’t need or want more stuff anyway. While problematic in countless ways, a supply chain kerfuffle on a global scale may be just the catalyst we need to think outside the box—and outside the 'Zon. 

Make 2021 the year of the DIY, experiential, and/or treasure-hunted used gift. These heartfelt items carry bona fides for both recipient and gifter. For one, you’ll save plenty of cash. For another, making something with your own hands, or finding the most meaningful thrifted treasure, is bound to release happiness hormones—hardly a benefit to reap when mindlessly ordering up another Instant Pot or video game console.

Give the gift of a warm meal. Home-cooked food says “I care about you” so much more than store-bought items like generic candles, socks, or picture frames, says Meaghan Thomas, co-owner of Pinch Spice Market. “Whether it’s something like a casserole or a pie left on their doorstep, or a holiday card with a coupon for a meal at a time of their choosing, you’re pouring heart and care into the gift, and recipients feel that.”

Here’s a holiday gift for outdoors lovers that won’t be impacted by the global supply chain: a digital version of the America the Beautiful Pass ($80), which grants recipients (plus three accompanying adults aged 16 and older) free entry into 2,000+ federal recreation areas (including all 63 national parks) for a year. Even if your giftee already has a pass, they can use your present to renew their own once it expires. And you can feel good about the fact that proceeds from pass sales are used to fund public lands. In the same vein, REI offers an Annual Northwest Forest Pass ($30), good for entry into all US Forest Service–managed forests in Washington and Oregon for a year. Trust us, these kinds of gifts truly inspire adventures.

Here’s another digital slam dunk for the happy (and about to become happier) campers on your list: The Dyrt Pro ($36). The premium offering available from camping app The Dyrt (free to download from Apple and Google Play App Stores), this service helps camping enthusiasts plan road trips, find free campsites on public lands, and use the app even while offline, and it grants access to more than 4 million user-generated campground reviews and tips. 

'Tis the season to get crafty—which is more feasible than it probably was the last time you busted out the scissors and glue, as we now live in the Age of Instructional YouTube. If you’ve got extra cotton rope hanging around the house, Anthony Martin, CEO and founder of Choice Mutual, says to go online to learn how to make macramé hangers for houseplant lovers. “Make more if you get the hang of it—it’ll save you a ton of money buying expensive gifts.” Hawk also recommends looking into how to upcycle wine corks into ornaments and adds that gifting homemade food items is one of the most festive ways to beat the supply chain slump. “As long as you can find basic baking ingredients, you’re good to gift gingerbread cookies, festive jams and marmalades, and traditional Christmas puddings,” Hawk says. “Even better? Come up with creative recipes using what you already have in reserve. You’ll be surprised with just how far some ingenuity and a bit of risk-taking in the kitchen will get you.” 

Even better? Craft an uber-personalized item. Cobble a loved one’s old T-shirts into a quilt (those who don’t sew can use iron glue), or create a coupon book of activities and favors custom-tailored to your recipient. Lifestyle and fashion blogger Maria Juvakka loves to make personalized photo candles. “All you need is a tall white candle, clear packing tape, and a few laser-printed photos,” she says. “Once you have photos laser-printed from the local copy shop and any printed-out quotes you want to include, cover them with tape and soak them in water for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, peel off the paper, dry the photo, and stick it to the side of a candle.”

Not an artiste or craftsperson yourself? You can still get around the supply chain meltdown and give the gift of one-of-a-kind art. It gives you a great excuse to check out local galleries and art shows, and your purchases will help sustain your community’s artists. You can even commission personalized pieces for friends and family members (though if you decide to go that route, be sure to order well ahead of time to give the artist time to create it).

Who doesn’t love tea, coffee, and/or cider? Most of us have some variety packs of tea and coffee festering in our pantries (after all, we tend to only use the flavors we like best) that we can bundle into unused mugs (let’s be honest; most of us have a cupboard-full of them but only use one or two). This tip comes care of Ian Sells, CEO of RebateKey, who also plans to give out homemade fire cider; i.e., the folk remedy/health tonic used for decades to protect against colds and flus and ease sinus congestion. “There are tons of recipes out there, the ingredients are easy to find, and it’s always great to master your own flavor—experimenting with content ratio or adding a different spice for a new kick,” he says. “Get nice bottles and label them for the holidays.”

Create a collection of positive affirmations. Certified stress management coach Stephen Light recommends gathering some paper and markers to create a personalized “self-care kit” for loved ones. For every day of 2022, write down an affirmation (these can be as simple as “I am loved” or “I am worthy” or hyper-specific to your loved one’s experiences and goals, such as “I am attracting the work that is right for me” for someone going through a career change). “The idea is to write from the heart and reinforce their inherent self-worth,” says Light, who further recommends “releasing your inner artist” by decorating each page and personalizing every corner of the booklet “so the recipient feels even more seen and loved.” 

Similarly, you could create a stack of “just in case” letters for a loved one. This idea comes from writer Emily Appelbaum, who recommends penning a series of sincere letters for different situations and marking them accordingly: “Read this when you’re feeling gloomy” or “Read this when you have something to celebrate.” Applebaum says, “This is a present loved by everyone. It doesn’t require expensive things, but it does require time and effort.”

Familiarity can be a great (and comforting!) gift. Kyle MacDonald from Force by Mojio likes to pay for subscriptions to services the recipient already digs, like Netflix or Spotify. “There’s often pressure for gift-giving to be all about novelty, but sticking with what’s familiar ensures the gift will be enjoyed and used.” If COVID rates stay low, MacDonald adds that a good old-fashioned cookie swap can always serve as a replacement for a traditional gift exchange at a family or office party. Victoria Cornell, founder of Motherhood Life Balance, likes to bake a few different types of cookies and mix them up in giftable cookie jars. “I also include a recipe card so they can make a favorite cookie for themselves.” Cornell also recommends finding old frames you no longer use and regifting the frame with a picture you know a friend or family member would love.

Make a donation in a loved one’s name to a cause they’re passionate about. The holiday season is as good a time as ever to consider setting aside fancy gadgets and other goodies and instead giving the gift of your support to an organization that matters—those on the front lines of civil liberties, women’s rights, LGBTQ causes, immigrants, and of course, the climate and environment. Better yet, you could let your loved ones be strategic about their own causes and give the gift of a gift card to Pennyloafer. They’ll not only be able to learn about all sorts of different organizations involved in their cause but also spread their support among multiple organizations and work with others to affect collective impact around select causes (like fighting the climate crisis or mental health).

Throw loved ones a unique experience—a virtual experience. Kevin Burke of Extension PR recommends the following offerings from Squarespace entrepreneurs: 

  • Pilates by Amanda: Virtual pilates classes taught by celebrity trainer Amanda Kassar (whose clients include Sofia Richie and Whitney Port). 
  • The Strology: Astrologer Kirah Tabourn offers unique, one-on-one astrology readings, webinars, and workshops via Zoom.
  • We Met at Acme: Lindsey Metz of the popular podcast We Met at Acme sells custom matchmaking services and personal dating app profile consultations.
  • Orange Glou: Virtual wine tastings and subscriptions selected by sommelier Doreen Winkler, including tasting notes, vinification info, and recommended food pairings.
  • Duett Interiors: This residential design firm offers an e-design package to spruce up one’s home via virtual stylings, curated personal shopping lists, and organization tips.

In a similar vein, PR pro Christina Gregor points to the virtual gift of Singdaptive, which she describes as “kind of like Masterclass for singers/performers—used by beginners, Broadway professionals, choristers, singer/songwriters, and more.” This instructional singing video service allows users to record their own singing and receive direct feedback from a vocal coach and comes in two subscription packages: Singdaptive Standard ($25/month), which provides one-on-one asynchronous coaching, hand-picked lessons and exercises, and access to more than 350 on-demand lessons, and Singdaptive Premium ($99/month), which provides additional customizable learning and unlimited exchanges with instructors. In any case, it sounds pretty ideal for that family member who can’t stop singing in the shower.

Kids can be particularly tough to gift during times of supply unrest. For young’uns, I’ve long referred to Wired’s 2011 list of the greatest toys of all time (which, spoiler alert, includes cardboard boxes and tubes, sticks, and dirt) because seriously, can you recall ever having access to a cardboard box and not having a total blast? For slightly older kids, a less free (but very financially empowering) option lies in the fee-free app and debit card from Till Financial, which is designed to help kids and teens develop real-world-applicable money skills. It’s the gift that keeps giving—for you too! Because kids can use the app to indicate they’re saving for a new skateboard, car, trip, etc., moving forward, family and friends can contribute directly to their goals.

For the kid who just has to open something new (to them), check out online toy trading groups and Facebook Buy Nothing exchanges. Parents and grandparents would also be wise to look into Sierra’s guide to buying a good used bike. Oh, and secondhand bookstores too!

Don’t worry, you can even gift techies during times of supply chain collapse. Check out Plug, an online retailer of the latest certified preowned tech devices, offering up to 70 percent off other retailers’ prices for devices such as iPhones, Androids, iPads, Apple Watches, Macs, AirPods, Beats, and more. All used devices are hand-cleaned, sanitized, and inspected for functionality, and they come with free two-day shipping (overnight options are available too), as well as a 12-month warranty and 30-day money-back guarantee. Considering the UN reports that global e-waste volumes grew by 21 percent between 2014 and 2019, it’s a gift that treads lightly, helps to reduce e-waste, and takes a bite out of planned obsolescence.