A More Sustainable Christmas

Christmas tree in the corner


As we continue to learn more about sustainability, we make changes in our personal and business lives.  Our Christmas season was a great opportunity for us to lean into these efforts. We looked for ways to reduce waste and be more attentive the impact of our choices on the environment.

We don’t promise to be perfect. As a family and as a business, we know that we continue to make mistakes (You can read all about a bunch of them on a previous post here). We continue to hold onto less-than-sustainable practices because of convenience or traditions that are hard to break. However, we strongly believe that it’s important to make changes where we can and to make these changes incrementally so that we can maintain them rather than being a once-and-done effort.  Instead of focusing on a green holiday, I chose to think of small areas of changes for a more sustainable Christmas. I offer you the full story in hopes of inspiring you to make one small change in your current life and hold onto one idea for how you can have a more sustainable Christmas season next year.

Christmas tree in the corner

The Tree for a More Sustainable Christmas

I’ve read a lot of interesting posts this season about the Christmas trees. In fact, it seems to be a rather hot debate on whether it’s more sustainable to have a real tree or a fake one. I think answering this question is probably really complicated and dependent on quite a few factors– size of the tree, length of time it’s used, whether we’re talking about a pre-lit artificial tree or not, what type of real tree we’re considering, whether a real tree still has plantable roots or not. By no means am I an expert on measuring impact, so I won’t offer you advice other than to encourage you to think about what you have access to and which decisions make sense in your world.

I acknowledge there are more sustainable options.

Bugs & Critters are NOT my friends, so I don’t know that I can ever see myself with a real tree inside my house. I also have a black thumb. It breaks my heart because I want to be a gardener. But I’m not. I somehow had bamboo and cactuses that I couldn’t keep alive. I’m not the kind of person who should have a real tree. I wish I was! I love the idea of a living Christmas tree that can be planted outside after the season. Even with handy living Christmas tree guidelines like those provided by Michigan State University’s Extension program, I don’t think I’d be successful in keeping it alive long enough to plant! But if you don’t fail at houseplants, this may be an option for you! And even if you don’t have the space to plant a living Christmas tree on your property, you may live in a region that offers living Christmas Tree rentals, as discussed in Better Home & Gardens

I am sticking with the artificial.

For me, I am sticking with my artificial tree. But I am determined to use it for a good long time. I am not sure if I can touch my mom’s record of 30+ years and counting, but I intend to get good use out of this fake tree so as not to be wasteful. We are doing the same with our Christmas ornaments. I know my dear husband would prefer that our base layer of Christmas balls were not pink and lime green, but I purchased these before we were married and they’re in perfectly good working order! 

The Gifts for a More Sustainable Christmas

The most sustainable option is to skip the gifts and opt for experiences or just soaking up some family time. However, that’s not realistic in my family and we gave gifts to our family and friends this year, despite the recognition that we were not necessarily purchasing things based on NEED. We did, however, find other ways to make progress in this area.

Scaling Back

We have two toddler girls. It’s EASY to find fun and adorable things to wrap and place under the tree for them. And watching them tear through the packages and squeal over what is inside is truly a joyous event to witness! This year, however, we really scaled back. They have more toys than they could possibly need and we have a generous family that tends to shower them with material goodness on the holidays. That allowed us to focus on very intentional gifts that focused on age-appropriate development in fewer packages.  While there were moments when I was tempted to add to the shopping list or impulsively place something in my (virtual) shopping cart, I remained committed to keeping the gifts fewer. The kids didn’t notice. At all. My bank account thanked me, though! 

Second-Hand Gifts

We also decided to find some of the gift items for our daughters second-hand. We found some items for a reduced cost that were in great condition by shopping on our local marketplace. I found a HungSecond Hand Vtech Drums and Hippos Game for Our More Sustainable Christmasry Hungry Hippos game for 1/3 of the cost I was seeing in online stores. It didn’t come with a box, but my toddlers destroy boxes. I have no need for one! Let me tell you that the second-hand game is one of their favorite gifts this year. They don’t necessarily play by the rules, but they’ve been feeding those hungry hippos often! We also found a Vtech drum set listed online; I thought it was a real gamble to message the person selling it because it had been listed for 25 weeks. I learned the likely reason when I reached out; the set didn’t come with drum sticks. That might have been a deterrent for most, but finding some drum sticks to go with the toy was NOT an issue. Even with the additional cost of drum sticks, the drum set was less than half the cost of buying new. And we were able to extend the life of this toy and bring happy cacophonous banging drumming to our kiddos this Christmas. 

My kids weren’t the only recipients of second-hand presents this year, either. I used some thrift store finds as the base for my homemade gifts this year, too! But shhhh, they don’t even know it!  We need to normalize second-hand gifts so I don’t have to keep that on the down low. Or perhaps I should just tell the gift recipients that they were part of the efforts for our more sustainable Christmas! 

Reusable Gift Bags for Our More Sustainable Christmas

Wrapping for a More Sustainable Christmas

Not only does my family have an unhealthy relationship with gift-giving, but we also LOVE to present these gifts in over-the-top wrapping. I get that from BOTH sides of my family. I have some talented gift wrappers in my family. Their packages are more like works of art. The idea of shifting away from wrapping paper is not something that I can do in one quick change. But here is what I DID manage to accomplish this year: 

  1. It wasn’t the easiest choice for someone who LOVES wrapping, but I chose not to wrap several of my kids presents.  I wrapped some so that they could still enjoy tearing them open and we could enjoy watching them. But I also left the bigger items unwrapped under the tree. This cut down on our use of paper. AND cut down on the amount of time I had to spend wrapping gifts in the 11th hour. Win-win! 
  2. When wrapping gifts, I re-used boxes and bows. I always save the ones we receive and have them to reuse in the future. I will admit that I don’t always reuse them and still have opted for new boxes from time to time. This year, I didn’t use a single new box.
  3. Believe it or not, I did not open any new rolls of paper. I only used rolls that were already open in storage to wrap gifts. I usually wrap the gifts for each group of extended family members in their own set of coordinating papers. This year, I actually used up two rolls of paper to the end and did not tap into any of the new paper. 
  4. I did not do my traditional after-Christmas bolt to the store to buy more wrapping paper. Firstly, I realized this year when I was looking at my paper stash that I really don’t need more. Even if I DID use separate wrapping paper for each family, I wouldn’t need more next year at all. But since I am cutting down on paper and using it more wisely, I probably have wrapping paper to make it several years without buying anything at all.

When my ridiculous stash of wrapping paper is finally gone, my plan is to use recyclable kraft paper, fabric, or other alternative forms of wrapping gifts. But as you may know, the most sustainable option is to not purchase anything new. So I won’t be making this change until I’ve used up what I have on hand.

For the business, we only had one real commitment for the holiday season, which is really a commitment we hold through the year: Avoid plastic as a medium unless it’s upcycled.  And I am using upcycled in the sustainable sense of the word. Not sure what I mean? Read our previous article on the difference between upcycling and makeovers! In any case, it is incredibly tempting to jump on the band wagon and create personalized products from plastic material. It’s readily available and inexpensive! Therefore, we don’t buy new plastic products to use in our store. If it’s plastic, it’s upcycled from something found in a thrift store.

As you can see, we definitely made some changes and had successes with our efforts toward a more sustainable Christmas this year. We can’t wait to continue these efforts and add a few more changes next year! What changes did you make this year to make your own Christmas a bit more green? What could you do differently for next year? Let us know in the comments! 

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