Illustration by Louise Leong.
The necktie that you are thinking about getting your dad for the holidays will likely share the same fate as the electric razor you got him for Father’s Day.

Sooner or later, it will end up in a landfill.

It’s not your fault. We live in a culture that too often values itself based on the stuff that we own. Do we have the newest laptop? The coolest phone? The completely useless — though perhaps wildly entertaining — iPad? More than any other time of the year, the holiday season is too often about getting more stuff.

But as you rush from shop to shop, please put down the shirt you are thinking of giving your sister and ask yourself: Is this something she really needs?

The answer is probably no.

According to Stanford’s recycling center, in the short time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate around 25 million tons more waste than at any other time of the year. Even if your gift isn’t chucked out with last night’s pot roast, it might become obsolete by next year and “need” to be replaced.

This isn’t to say you have to give up gift-giving altogether. Instead, try to think of more practical or socially responsible gifts. Creativity, more than convenience, will give you the “wow factor” during the gift exchange, and you can sleep soundly knowing that it will be put to good use. Here are some suggestions:

Rather than reaching for the newest DVD, see if there is something that the people on your list actually need.

If the folks on your list have it all, then give them an alternative gift that will benefit others. Micro-financing can be a great way to help someone, and there are many sites that offer easy ways to get involved. Investing in Kiva could be a great way exercise your generosity this year. The site allows you to browse through the profiles of motivated entrepreneurs from the developing world and select who you’d like to help and how much to loan. For just $25, you can empower someone to change his or her life.

If you would rather make your social impact locally, visit the Homeless Garden Project gift shop on Pacific Avenue. The proceeds from gift sales go directly to the payroll of homeless trainees, so you are not only buying a gift, but also paying for a homeless person to learn valuable skills that will help him or her get off the street.

Finally, what your loved ones really want for the holidays might be you — not bursting out of a gigantic cake like a stripper at a bachelor party, but in the form of spending some quality time. Mom might be thrilled to be taken out to lunch, or maybe Dad would like to go fishing like when you were younger. Especially now that you spend so much time away from home, don’t be surprised if what your folks really want is some bonding.

So this holiday season, don’t be boring. Don’t make the annual trip to stores you think your family members like and wait to stumble upon the “perfect” gift. Surprise them with something more interesting.

You might find they are impressed you thought outside the box.