How does one stay sustainable while also keeping their sanity during the holiday season? With capitalism ramped way up this time of year, shouting at us all to buy buy buy, it can be tough to make sustainability a priority when our culture is very used to over indulging, over spending, and over consumption. For me, it began with a couple of small shifts in my mindset. When I begin my holiday plans, from decor to entertaining to gift giving, I start with these two mantras; People over products and cozy over commercial. Once you make connecting with people the goal, not focusing on the gifting process, finding ways to have an eco-friendly holiday season is much easier.
✦ Decor ✦
Let's start with the ubiquitous Christmas tree. The frisson that comes from picking out ornaments with your partner, the piles of gift-wrapped promises under a tree, and letting your little ones turn on the tree lights for the first time, doesn't have to be sacrificed for being eco-conscious. Thanks to Pinterest, there is no shortage of chic Christmas tree alternative ideas.
Some pieces include versions made from wood beads and dowels and a simple wall hanging from branches and twine.
If you're the type that pines for those real green needles and spruce scent, consider purchasing a native potted plant that can be used year after year in your home or planted in the ground afterward. Living in the the San Fransisco to Carmel area of California gets you access to Rent A Living Christmas Tree. They have a simple, practical alternative to a traditional cut tree. They will deliver a live potted tree to you and then pick it up after the holiday to be kept potted for the next year or planted in the ground.
Making your home feel like the holidays doesn't have to come with a ton of waste if you decorate with all-natural elements. These can be anything from pine cones and dried flowers to branches and shells, whatever is natural to your community. Make the hunt for the perfect elements a special occasion with the family or neighbors by taking a nature walk through your neighborhood or local park to see what you can gather.
It's also really simple to make your own dried orange garland! Just slice them up, press out the juice, and bake at 200º for four hours, flipping them half way through.
Alternatively, you could support local, small florists and artisans that offer items like these beautiful dried flower wreaths from Native Poppy, a woman-owned Solana Beach florist.
I love to welcome the chillier weather around the holidays as an opportunity to warm up the home with seasonal throw pillows, blankets, and candles. Adding a few of these items can instantly invoke any holiday by infusing the colors associated with it.
When looking for one central place to purchase from small makers and business owners, Etsy is always a fantastic source of handmade holiday decor for the home. Red, black, and green paper Kwanzaa garlands, all-natural and fragrance-free beeswax candles for your Menorah and Christmas table scapes, and handmade piñatas for Las Posadas, Etsy is one of my favorite places to gather all the goodies.
Suppose you're anything like me and have no time to DIY every holiday decoration (I'm looking at you, my two toddlers). Then thrift stores should be added to your ‘must-visit’ checklist. Hunting for thrift store finds like pretty but mismatched plates, unique table coverings, and vintage ornaments are my favorite ways to stay eco-conscious and original during these months.
For those who need more hours (or patience) to search through second-hand shops, there are excellent companies to rent festive table scapes, throw pillows, and Christmas decor. These are great options for planning an eco-friendly celebration. This is a neat option to be unique in your yuletide look but don't want to buy a million new plates and cloth napkins for one day. If you're looking for some inspiration, Catalog Atelier is an event rental company located in Oceanside, CA offering an inspiring collection of tabletop and event rentals.
Catalog Atelier tablescapes
✦ Gift Giving ✦
Knowing which special thing will bring a smile to a loved one's face is one of my greatest joys. One way to stay true to the spirit of sustainability when gift-giving is by only giving handmade, vintage, or second-hand items. I love finding that perfect vintage art book for my daughter, a miniature painting for my friend who is obsessed with art, and the perfect statement ring for my sister.
While every gift idea doesn't have to be vintage or handmade, if you do buy something brand new, try to find gifts made with recycled or natural materials that come in biodegradable packaging. The best way to do this is by supporting small, local shops specializing in these goods. When thinking about how to set the table for holiday gatherings, I instantly gravitate to Thread Spun for its beautiful curation of sustainable kitchen and table items. They have done a great job gathering environmentally conscious, fair trade, and woman-owned goods in one place.
A Thread Spun tablescape of ethically made goods
The understated pieces are the perfect companion for more glitzy holiday decorations but will also take you into any season elegantly. Keep them in mind for a sustainable hostess gift, as well.
Ditch the themed fuzzy socks and battery-operated plastic toys and use that pool of money to get something bigger and better for everyone. It will make your holiday shopping less stressful with fewer things to buy; plus, it allows you to splurge on something special everyone will love—a piece of artwork or new camping gear for a family trip or an event like a concert.
Gifting experiences is a great way to reduce your holiday carbon footprint. When you gift a ticket to an event or book a pottery class for two, you get the bonus of spending time with that person.
For the children in your life, a booklet of gift certificates filled with thoughtful activities like 'mom takes you out to the beach, with ice cream afterward' is a great way to instill at an early age the joy of time spent together over material things.
I love gift wrapping. It's a great way to add that finishing touch to your carefully curated gifting. Who doesn't love seeing a pile of cheerfully embellished packages on display? But think about it: How often have you thrown away rolls of wrapping paper after using them just once? So many types of traditional wrapping paper aren't recyclable either. If you want to be more eco-friendly this holiday season, using cloth totes or fabric to wrap is a charming option. Furoshiki is a Japanese art form dedicated solely to using textiles to wrap or transport items. Topping them off with natural accents like dried flowers or herb bundles personalizes each package.
This 6 pack of reusable fabric wrapping is from Donegood.com a b-corp company dedicated to fair trade goods.
✦ Gatherings ✦
What would the holidays be without all of our favorite foods, popular traditions, and traditions that are special just to us? (Does anyone else's great-aunt have a raisin pie recipe??) With Americans throwing away approximately 25% more food during the holiday season, it's vital to be more eco-conscious when planning our holiday meals.
Going meat-free is a great way to lessen this holiday season's environmental impact. If a vegetarian spread is not met with joy and glee by your family; when deciding where to purchase the brisket this year or the chicken for Gumbo Yaya, consider going to a local farmers market or ordering from a specialty farm.
Companies like Mary's Organic is dedicated to raising livestock ethically, in open pastures and free-roaming. Their heritage birds have NO genetic changes from the wild ones native to the Americas. There you can find organic heritage ducks, chickens, turkeys, and geese to grace your table.
For all the other deliciousness of sides, desserts, and more, your local farmers market is a great way to be environmentally conscious. Reach out to Stehly Farms in San Diego for their organic CSA produce box.
This app Seasonal Food, quickly tells you what produce is in season in your state in any given month, making seasonal cooking a breeze all year round.
When it comes to grocery store staples, shopping in the bulk section or at stores like Re_Grocery in Los Angeles is a great way to reduce wasteful packaging. Always opt for glass, aluminum, or paper items instead of plastic in traditional stores, and remember your reusable bags! When planning your holiday spread, use this handy meal-planning calculator from Food & Wine to see precisely how much you need to purchase for each course. This is a simple tool to aid in doing your part to reduce the over 70 billion pounds of food waste Americans toss out each year.
Hosting a ‘making' party is a great way to combine entertaining and DIY holiday gifts. Gather friends and family to have a 'cookie and candle' night. Make batches of delicious homemade cookie dough and pour essential oil-scented candles into found containers. You not only get to spend time with the people you love, everyone walks away with handmade Christmas presents.
Host a holiday 'gift sip and swap' to upcycle unused items. Sip on some champagne while you trade that wool sweater you got from grandma last year that wasn't your color for that vase your neighbor is so over but that your mother-in-law will swoon over.
Lastly, while friends and family make the holidays so significant, air travel accounts for approximately 8% of yearly carbon emissions. A sizable portion of that is due to increased traveling during the holidays. If you can see loved ones at another time of year, it is something to look into before booking that plane ticket. If traveling to see family is a non-starter, consider doing a little research to determine what kind of environmental impact your trip will likely have. If you're going far away, check the percentage of potential carbon emissions from flying. Knowing these stats can help you make a more informed decision—and possibly look into options like train travel instead or offsetting your footprint with Terrapass.
The key to reducing holiday waste is to get in the habit of putting as much thought and care into your holiday giving as any other aspect of your life. A little effort goes a long way and will reduce waste while deepening human connections, making your holiday season more enjoyable, simpler, and less stressful. Once you've taken steps to reduce your holiday excess, continue carrying these habits with you throughout the year. It will get easier; before you know it, they are an integral part of your lifestyle.