Holidays are a little different this year for a lot of reasons, mostly because we are not able to spend time with our families and friends in the same ways we usually do. What can look the same is this beautiful time of year being cheerful, generous and festive. With some small changes, that festivity can also have a minimal amount of plastic and trash ending up in a landfill. Since we’re able to slow down a little, maybe you have an extra couple of minutes to try one of these festive and fun swaps! We can’t settle the real vs. fake tree debate, or answer what kinds of lights are best, or whether you or your brother makes the best latkes—you’ll have to battle those out on your own. But we can say definitively that tinsel is OUT! For what’s IN, keep reading!
Shop Small, Shop Local
The big retailers have made their money this year (and then some). The little guys? They’re having a hard time. Keeping your holiday spending as local as possible will help you see more of your favorite makers and shops open for business next year! If your favorite haunts aren’t yet able to safely operate as usual, inquire about a gift certificate or delivery options.
Think With Your Heart
Everyone working, no matter where, is facing more risk this year. If you are able, please tip extra generously! Tipped wages are very low, and tipped workers often rely on tips to make up for this. You might also consider tipping or otherwise extending your generosity to the people who have brought us much of the normalcy we’ve so needed this year: your postal worker, your FedEx driver, your newspaper delivery person, your baker, the pizza delivery driver, the farm stand or Christmas tree seller, your Uber or Lyft driver--if it’s within your means to do so, make somebody’s day a little brighter and show your appreciation.
Where else is your heart needed? It’s all about community: reach out to your local Community Center, shelter, open pantry, outreach groups, or other cause-driven non-profit. They ALL need you more than ever!
Make a Change
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”—you’ve heard it before, and we know you can do it! There are so many easy swaps around holiday shopping and giving that help the planet--and lots are surprisingly trendy right now. Who cares if your mother-in-law doesn’t agree, right?
Here are five easy-as-pie swaps to get you started.
Gift What You Already Have
Second-hand shopping is trending big time! Not only is it the ultimate in environmentally friendly gift ideas, depending on where you shop you’re also supporting small businesses and/or community services. But the reason it’s trending is a classic tale: everything makes its comeback, and vintage style is hot right now! With more people enjoying a broader swatch of vintage eras, you might be surprised which things you packed away post-college might delight a niece, nephew, or anyone stylish person in your life. And it’s not just vintage fashion that’s in- vintage decor, memorabilia, collectibles, hobbies, and craft supplies are all hot! And sustainable gifts and reuse are always in style.
If your stash of old-school treasure isn’t a match for your gift list, you might consider joining your local “free and for sale” groups, or, if you’ve got one in your area, a local chapter of the Buy Nothing Project. You get your closet space back, and you make somebody's day. That’s a solid holiday win!
Skip the Wrapping Paper...
Shiny, sparkly paper is great to look at in the moment, but would you use it if you had to look at it in your home for the rest of your life? Probably not! Unfortunately, most wrapping paper and other shiny or glittery stuff is made with plastics, and will not break down. But it’s so easy to use something more eco friendly, we promise you won’t miss it. If a naked present hidden behind your back just doesn’t feel festive enough for you, you’ve still got plenty of cool options. If that gift is for us, we’re a-ok with a little gift-nudity!
Rolls of plain newsprint or brown kraft paper have their own minimalist aesthetic- or you can decorate them yourselves with stamps, paints, markers, you name it. Little-kid-art wrapping paper? How cute is that! Printed newspaper also works great, as do brown paper grocery sacks--just cut them open and flip them inside out for a blank canvas. Don’t have a cute stamper? There’s always the kindergarten classic of using cut fruits or veggies as a stamp: try a piece of citrus, an apple cut in half to reveal the star-shaped core, an okra, or the base of a bunch of celery. You can also cut a specific shape from a softer fruit, like an apple, or you can re-use a clean piece of styrofoam packaging or a foam food tray to cut or carve a stamp. If you can’t avoid these kinds of packaging, which happens, at least they can serve another purpose!
Instead of plastic ribbons, you might opt for a raffia or twine, a cotton or other natural fiber ribbon or string.
Got a stash of acceptably-intact wrapping paper that you’ve saved? Heck yeah re-use it! There’s some wrapping paper that’s been circulating through my family since the late 80’s--it’s been going around so long it’s become a sort of contest how long we can keep it going! Same goes for gift bags: those things can keep going until they literally come apart at the seams.
...Or Try a New Kind!
Eco-friendly options for wrapping paper certainly exist! These folks are making biodegradable wrapping paper that’s two-ply, with flower seeds embedded in the layers of paper. Not only will it break down, but it will grow something beautiful. There’s also Wrappily - who’s making 100% recyclable gift wrap and related accoutrements in classic, stylish designs.
Then there’s the Japanese tradition of “furoshiki” that swaps cloth in place of wrapping paper. Head to the sewing basket, clothes-to-donate bag that we know is in the trunk of your car, or the shelf of scarves you don’t wear and see if any work as a gift wrap. Maybe your gift becomes a two-part affair with the wrapping being as delightful, wearable, or functional as the item inside! Or maybe you start a new tradition in your family--some pretty fabrics, a little sewing know-how, and maybe some buttons, velcro, or other fasteners and voila, you’ve got a goof-proof, reusable fabric wrap.
Many people and places are now making fabric gift bags as well, which are designed to be used over and over. Any of these options can help level up your year-round gift-giving game to lean and green--apply a little creativity to any of them, and the sky's the limit!
Vintage goods a hit with your gift list but not your vintages? Shop second hand! So many vintage boutiques, consignment stores, and other eclectic retailers have poured their love and unique style into their storefronts, there is bound to be matching tastes close by. Etsy has also become a hot spot for vintage sellers, so if you’re looking for clothing, home goods, knick-knacks or that one particular California Raisin figurine, it’s a great site to start with. For the braver and web-savvy, eBay is also still a thing! Just be cautious, as it’s a huge marketplace.
Make It Meaningful
If we’re being honest, some of us already have everything we could want. Some of us are also trying to reduce the amount of “stuff” we buy, acquire, consume, or otherwise generate. If that sounds like anyone on your list, the gift of an experience might be the perfect answer: it requires no wrapping, it makes memories, and it’s endlessly customizable for all interests, ages, and budgets. Planning a picnic hike with favorite snacks and a beautiful view doesn’t have to cost much money at all--but the love that went into making it happen will definitely be felt by the recipient.
Consider a New Eco-Friendly Version of an Everyday Essential
Lots of us really and truly mean to switch from our default plastic version of something, and it just slips to the bottom of the to do list. But if someone gifted us any of these things we’ve been meaning to swap, you bet we’d be pumped! If you usually stuff stockings and the like with plastic essentials like bathroom products, kitchen utensils, stationery (is my mom the only person who does this?) etc, choose an eco version instead! Bamboo toothbrushes or utensils, toothpaste tablets, floss in refillable glass containers, a reusable straw set, seed papers, and plastic-free-packaged pampering items like lotions, butters, and soaps are all great switches to make. Who knows, maybe you’ll turn someone on to their new favorite brand that’s eco-friendly to boot!