I love the holiday season. The excitement of my children, the lights, the parties, the music, the merriment; I could go on and on. What I don’t typically love is the excess, particularly when it is of a kind that is damaging to the environment. Thinking back on post-Christmas Day garbage bags filled with wrap and plastic packaging makes me want to put my name on the top of the naughty list. This year I am vowing to do better, and have come up with some simple ideas to have a holiday season that is filled with more joy and less trash.
Tip #1: Use Natural Decorations.
One of the easiest ways to green up your holidays is to deck your halls with natural materials. Start by checking out what you’ve got in your yard. Cuttings of foliage can be arranged in a variety of ways for a stunning effect. If you live in a space without a yard at your disposal, opt for natural wreaths, swag, garlands, and flowers such as the ever-popular poinsettias, paper whites, and amaryllis. Natural ornaments made with dried citrus, cinnamon sticks, pinecones and such look and smell lovely, and can be a fun project for kids. Check out this post from last holiday season for more ideas on decorating with mother nature’s bounty.
Tip #2: Hunt for Second Hand Treasures.
Searching for some holiday décor that you can’t find in mother nature? Hit up your local antique stores, thrift shops, or estate sales. The quality of goods has rapidly decreased over the years, now trending toward cheap, plastic, mass-produced items made overseas. See Elizabeth’s living room nook below – the gate pieces, stool, mid-century lamp, apothocary jar, mercury glass and silver tray are all vintage or resale shop items. Shopping for holiday treasures second hand not only means the quality of the items you buy will likely be much better, you are checking off one of the pillars of sustainability with reuse!
Tip #3: Buy a Real Tree.
I know, people love artificial trees because they last forever, but therein lies the problem. Artificial trees are made mostly of plastic and typically manufactured oversees, resulting in a huge carbon footprint. If you already have one, keep it as long as you can manage (unfortunately they do start to wear over the years and lose their luster). I know the idea of buying a real tree is not a perfect solution. Try and purchase your tree from a local lot, better yet a local tree farm. And at the end of the season, find one of the many programs where trees can be dropped off and then turned into mulch. Local municipalities often have programs where you can simply leave your (undecorated) tree curbside for pick-up. Lastly, you can be a true holiday hero and buy a live tree, then plant outdoors after the holidays.
Tip #4: Light Wisely.
First and foremost, use LED lights, which typically use 5-times less energy than old-school bulbs, on your home and tree. LED lighting is also less of a fire hazard since they don’t emit heat. If you’re holding onto your old bulbs because you aren’t wanting to throw them out (bravo!), there are in fact recycling programs. Next, purchase a timer for your lights so they are only on when you are home (or awake) and can appreciate them.
Tip #5: Shorten the Gift List.
Like so many of us with large extended families, gift buying can be a nightmare. If you are purchasing something for everyone on that long list, it’s time to simplify things. An easy solution is to draw names using an online source (we’ve used this one in the past and it worked well). The upside, aside from eliminating several gifts from you list, is that when you are only buying one gift you can get something of higher quality, that will hopefully last the recipient longer. My husband is one of four adult children in his family. After everyone started having kids the gift purchasing got out of hand. Eventually we all agreed to just get the kids gifts (the adults are all adult enough to prefer less stress and hassle to another present)!
Tip #6: Shop Local, better yet, Locally Made.
Yes, I too fall prey to the ease of online shopping. But whenever possible I try to shop local. Imagine a world where all the mom and pops that add character, charm, and personability to our towns are replaced by boxes thrown on our doorstep. Shopping local is great for the environment too, because it lessens the carbon footprint associated with shipping, such as packaging and delivery costs. Even better if you decline a bag at your local store, or bring your own. If you really want to knock it out of the park, buy something locally made!
Tip #7: Embrace Minimalist Gift Buying.
As discussed in this recent article, minimalist gift buying is a great way to give your loved one something they want without adding baggage to their life. Four strategies to embrace minimalist gift buying include:
- Upgrades: Replace a worn version of something your loved one already has, or buy them a nicer version of something they already use or need.
- Acts of Service: Lighten your loved one’s load by doing something for them they typically take on themselves. Ideas include car washing, house cleaning, lawn mowing, or, and this one can’t be understated, watching small children!
- Experiences: Like acts of service, experience gifts eliminate having to buy more stuff. Consider the things your loved one enjoys and buy them an experience gift that falls suit. If the experience is a hit with the recipient, simply repeat or renew it each holiday season.
- Subscriptions: There are no shortage of subscription services out there. The key is to be thoughtful and hone in on something your loved one will definitely use and love.
Tip #8: Avoid Buying Glossy or Metallic Wrap.
Glossy or metallic wrapping goods typically can’t be recycled, thus ending up in the garbage bag of doom. Instead, opt for paper (and cards) made of recycled materials, or reusable gift bags. I save up the funnies from newspapers throughout the year to wrap stocking stuffers and birthday gifts. Brown butcher paper is recyclable and can be dolled up with cute kitchen twine and natural winter greenery.
Tip #9: Use Real Dishware.
Holidays are simply not the time to phone it in with disposable dishes and drinkware (although I’d argue that these days there is never a good time). Yes, I know dishes are a pain, but rather than leaving them for the next day, simply wash and dry them as a group after dinner. When the kids hear that dessert won’t be served until dinner is cleaned up, they may even offer to help! If you are a guest at someone’s home, a great showing of gratitude toward your hosts is to initiate dish washing during the pre-dessert break. And, major PSA here, this should not be exclusively left to the women in the group. My face gets a little hot even thinking about this dated scenario; onward and upwards my friends!
Tip #10: Have (compostable) To-Go Boxes.
I have rarely hosted a party when there wasn’t an abundance of leftovers at the end of the event. And since you will not want to eat turkey, or ham, or pumpkin pie for a week, have some compostable to-go boxes to send home with your guests at the end of the night. It will create less food waste for you, and hopefully save your guest a trip to the store for dinner the next day.
Tip #11: Employ Large-Scale Vessels.
Having a large gathering? Consider buying beverages in bulk. I’m not talking about large, single-serving Costco-style pallets, but rather suggest you unearth your growlers from years past and fill them up with local beers, ciders, and even wine. Just think, one growler is the equivalent of about 6 bottles of beer, not to mention the bonus of visiting a tasting room or brewery is getting to test the product before you decide! Buying your beverages growler-style creates less cost for the seller buy eliminating labels and bottles, which is often passed on the customer with lower price points. Finally, add some kitsch to your caboodle and revisit the punch bowl! Because really, what says party more than a punch bowl? Nothing. Nothing, my friends.
Ready to get your green on? Consider employing some of my 11 tips this holiday season. There is no reason your holidays can’t be both magical, and kind to the earth.
Feature photo by Natalia Klenova