More and Less // 5 Guidelines for Creating Sustainable Wedding Registries

Products from  Thankful Registry

Products from Thankful Registry

More and Less is a monthly column that explores sustainability and conscious consumption when planning a wedding and also building a life with someone.

There are two sides of sustainability and registries to consider: there’s the creation of the registry by the couple getting married, and there’s navigating the registry as a wedding guest.

I’m committed to consuming consciously from independent and ethical brands, and personally, I want to own as few objects as possible — what I do have I want to be beautiful and functional and last a good, long time. It goes without saying that I am not perfect, but in case you’ve missed my other disclaimers, I’ll just say again that I try very hard to live mindful of my ecological footprint, but I also mess up all the time through lack of effort, through there sometimes being no clear good path, and also through not knowing the effects of my actions and inactions.

A good moment to pause and consider our purchasing patterns is before making a registry because often they represent a big chunk of anticipated purchases. Although there are some voices calling for abolishing the practice of registries altogether given the fact that more and more couples are living together before the wedding, if it’s something you want to embrace I think it can be a sweet way of building a life with help from people you care about. As with favors and other gifts it’s important to remember there is no one right way for any of it to happen.

There are some guiding principles, though, that can help when it comes to building a registry that is environmentally aware, and there are some ways to approach a registry as a guest, too, that we’ll come to in a moment. I certainly can’t offer some form of a starting template (my own registry would consist of eight gray plates), but I did come up with several questions that might be helpful to orient you as you navigate your own way.

Will you use it for a long time?

Is it an object constructed to last? Is it timeless in a way that you will be happy to look at it in your home for decades? These are somewhat questions of personal taste, but it’s generally safer to err on the side of simplicity, and when registering for sets of things like glasses or dishes, choose straight-forward designs that you could also find matches (or at least near-matches) to one day if one ever broke.

Will you use it regularly?

The New York Times reporter Julia Moskin quoted Laurie Colwin in her own “Wedding Registries Dos and Don’ts” concerning kitchen tools, insisting "There is no point at all in anything that does only one job." We used to have a juicer I was given by an aunt who didn’t want it. We soon discovered what she discovered: it was a bulky, clanking, hard-to-clean ordeal that created a massive amount of vegetable pulp we didn’t have any immediate use for. It mostly sat on a bottom shelf (becoming extra annoying to use because it would accumulate dust and require cleaning before use, as well as after). On the other hand, the espresso machine some friends joined forces to buy my partner and the blender my parents gave me are used nearly every single day we’re at home. Think about what your life is actually like — not the theoretical green juice-filled paradise you wish you lived in. In my research, I found ice cream makers were an oddly common phenomenon in this category.

Would you save up or set aside your own money eventually to bring that object home?

I think this might be the most useful guiding question because it gut checks the ease with which registries can be created. I find those portable scanners used to create box-store registries sneaky — they’re designed to facilitate easy consumption. It also helps couples who are already living together before the wedding to parse whether “upgrades” are a priority.

Where do the gifts originate?

There are now so many online registries that allow you to select gifts from a range of different companies, which allows you to source from independent businesses. Catalyst’s partner Thankful Registry is a great online registry portal that allows you to register with any online retailer. You pay a one-time $30 fee, and from there you can create a registry that includes items from anywhere online, so you can include a diversity of small businesses making things in an ethical manner. Erin Boyle of Reading my Tea Leaves has a round-up that includes Thankful along with some other good options.

Would something non-object oriented serve you better?

Many of the online registry portals allow you to tactfully request honeymoon travel or down-payment money in lieu of physical presents. There is also the option of raising money for a cause that you both believe in.

As gift givers, we can also take initiative. When faced with a registry and a budget keep in mind whether the object you’re purchasing really will be useful or is likely to end up in a back drawer somewhere. My sister was just telling me about a friend of hers that was attending a wedding where the only gift left on the registry in their price range was a bicycle mounted wine bottle carrier (definitely an object that can only do one task). If you know others who are attending the same wedding you can go in on a larger item together. Although it’s generally safer to buy from the registry there are many consumable alternatives that don’t add unwanted clutter to the couple’s life that could make lovely gifts, and support small agriculture, like a CSA share (or a note from the farm saying they can join next season if they’re going to be very busy post-wedding), a gift certificate to a local restaurant, or a wine subscription.

Again, there’s no one right answer. If you are requesting objects, stay mindful of their origins and how they would fit into your life. I’ll leave you with a quote from Boyle’s book, Simple Matters, which I recommend as a resource for simpler and more environmentally friendly living. She has a thoughtful chapter on wedding registries, the guiding principle of which is to register only for those things that will be useful for a lifetime and that you will use often (and don’t register for something you already own that works perfectly well). As she concludes, “More than anything else, I think that one of the sweetest gestures each of us can make when embarking on a new marriage is to fill a registry with things made to survive evolutions of style and trends and the chaos of ensuing decades. Indeed, it’s the same hope that we have for our marriages themselves.”


Rebecca Perea-Kane is a writer and designer based in Charlottesville, Virginia. She spends her time working on her jewelry line, Thicket, traipsing through the woods with her dog, Arthur, practicing yoga, and writing poetry. She works as the production manager for Mi Ossa, a jewelry and leather goods company.