Decorating before Thanksgiving feels sacrilegious.
But we’re in the middle of a pandemic and near the end of a heck of a year. I’m learning to appreciate the little joys each day brings.
Like yesterday. While putting up my indoor Christmas decorations I glanced over at my window and it started to snow.
So I blasted Nat King Cole’s Christmas album and went to work decorating my living room for the holidays. It was joyful moment. And one I really needed.
This year, I tried to opt for sustainable decorations.
I don’t own many Christmas decorations to begin with, so it was fun finding thrifted items and making some holiday diys.
This post is aimed at giving some suggestions for people who want to make their home feel cozy for the holidays, but are hoping to choose some more sustainable options.
But for folks who are huge decorators and have spent years and many dollars investing in holiday decorations, you may still enjoy this post!
Many Christmas decorations don’t last that long, meaning you’ll likely have to replace a few things here and there. That’s where this post comes in 🙂
FACTS ABOUT WASTE + THE HOLIDAYS
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s blog, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, U.S. household waste increases by more than 25%. Holiday food waste including shopping bags, bows and ribbons, packaging, and wrapping paper contribute an additional 1 million tons a week to landfills.
That’s a lot of waste.
And some of it can be prevented. Think back to wrapping presents. Most wrapping paper is not recyclable because it’s made from a mixture of plastic and paper.
Again, that’s a lot of waste.
When it comes to wrapping presents, here’s what I do…
GIFT WRAP ALTERNATIVE IDEAS
Pinterest is saturated with gift wrapping ideas. And many of them are more sustainable alternatives. I also have a whole blog post dedicated to sustainable gift wrap. Check it out here.
But here’s a few suggestions…
I recently bought a large roll of white kraft paper. This year, nearly all of my gifts are going to be wrapped in that white kraft paper because it’s what I currently have and it will work just fine!
I also have loads of twine in a natural color, a black color and a white and gold color. That’s what I’ll be using as my bows this year, again, because that’s what I have.
Using up what you have a the most sustainable thing you can do. If you have left over wrapping paper – use it up! If you have a bunch of “Happy Birthday” wrapping paper, consider using it inside out!
If you have a bunch of bags, use them!
Other options lots of people have on hand? Tissue paper, newspaper, construction paper, kraft paper, or go paperless and don’t wrap your gifts (though that seriously takes so much of the fun out of it lol).
Consider using natural elements like twine and burlap. Instead of a bow, maybe go outside and cut off some pieces of a pine tree or bush to add a pretty element.
For tape, use up your tape! If you need more, consider using paper tape. I found mine off Amazon, though I’d recommend finding one from a small supplier if possible. Here’s a shop on Etsy that sells paper tape! Or, try wrapping your present without using tape. I did that for nearly all of my gifts last year and it worked out fine! Or, just use the dang tape. 🙂
I’ll say it again because it bears repeating…
Before buying more Christmas decorations, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I need it?
Does it need replaced or do I just want a few more?
- Is this item cute for the moment?
Will I likely only enjoy this item for a year or two and then want to pitch it?
- Can I fix it?
Is this an item I can easily glue together or have fixed?
- What’s the most sustainable option for this item?
Does one come in wood, metal, glass, or a material that is sturdy and will hold up?
USE WHAT YOU HAVE
I already owned some Christmas ornaments that were given to me and made by family members. Obviously, rather than going out and buying new ones, I have these perfectly good – and extra precious – ornaments for my tree!
This little guy is an elf I painted last year with my family. It can be difficult to find elves and Santa decorations that are racially/ethnically diverse. Sometimes making your own gives you that opportunity.
My family also got me these holiday hand towels/napkins. I currently have the hand towels hanging on my oven door, and the napkins on set out on my kitchen table.
UPCYCLE/DIY YOUR DECORATIONS
To dress up my tree, I wanted to use something I already had on hand. So I found some stale, off-brand Cheerios and some twine and made a little garland for my tree.
It didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would, and it was relaxing.
I think it turned out pretty good! If you have pets, just beware… they may want to nibble on these bad boys.
I also made a wreath using a French horn from the thrift store, some greens, twine and burlap.
I think it turned out pretty decent!
Kick it out school with some dried out citrus as ornaments!
Check out my post here for directions. Essentially, you cook them on 200 for 4-6 hours or until they look dried out but not too crispy.
USE NATURAL OPTIONS
I walked around my neighborhood, searching for fallen pine and pinecones! I found a bunch and then also cut some stems that look like pine off from a bush outside of my house.
Now, these likely won’t stay fresh for an entire month. They’ll probably stay looking green and fresh for 1-2 weeks, meaning you may have to go out and grab some more branches. (If that’s a bummer for you, consider buying some faux pine branches second hand! Thrift stores usually carry a bunch around the holidays.)
But if you soak your stems in some water for a few minutes each day or every few days, it’ll help keep them fresher, longer! Check out this person’s blog post about ways to keep greens fresh!
Greens + twinkle lights = serious Christmas vibes. (I don’t have a mantle, so this shelf is acting as a mantle for these stockings I was gifted a few years back.)
USE ECO-FRIENDLY LIGHTS
I already have a bunch of twinkle lights, but I also bought two packs of LED lights, too. And I’m glad I did! After I set up everything and took photos, one of my strings of lights went out. So I need to switch them out with some of my new LED ones.
LED lights are typically the way to go. They last a long time and emit less energy. While they tend to be a few dollars more expensive than traditional lights, they pay off in the end.
Only downer, they are a bit brighter and look somewhat different than traditional string lights. I personally don’t like the look as much, as they have a cooler tone rather than a warmer tone. I like warm much better 🙂 But it’s no deal breaker for me!
TURN OFF YOUR LIGHTS!
Don’t keep your lights on during the day. Instead, put them on in the evening and consider turning your outdoor lights off before bed. If you have a timer for your indoor and outdoor lights, that’s even better!
I don’t own any ethically or sustainably produced Christmas decorations. But there are plenty of places to buy them! Check out Ten Thousand Villages and Made Trade for some fair trade options. 🙂 For low-waste options, check out Earth Hero. And for some unique finds from a B-Corp, check out Uncommon Goods.
(My blog post here has my sustainable gift guide, too!)
THE GREAT DEBATE: FAKE OR REAL TREE?
This is a controversial topic among environmentalists and zero-wasters. Whichever side you fall, you’re likely a staunch believer.
Here’s my thought….
They both have pros and cons!
- They last for years and years if well-kept.
- You can buy them second-hand.
- They only produce waste at the end of their life.
- They’re made from plastic.
- When they do eventually need replaced, it’s nearly impossible to recycle fake Christmas trees. Therefore, they add a lot of arguably unnecessary waste to landfills.
- Nostalgia/family tradition to buy or cut down your own tree.
- Can be considered zero waste if properly disposed.
- That pine tree smell!
- Most people don’t properly dispose of their tree.
- Trees can’t break down naturally in a landfill, so throwing them in the trash isn’t helpful.
OK so then what?
I say, go with whichever you prefer! They both have great pros.
If you expect to keep using your fake tree for several years – go fake! If you can properly dispose of your real tree – go real!
HOW TO PROPERLY DISPOSE OF YOUR REAL TREE
In western Pennsylvania, this link gives you different locations where you can drop off your tree for recycling. The best options are to drop them off at a recycling facility that SAYS they recycle Christmas trees. Or, some municipalities will host Christmas tree recycling/shredding events once during the holidays. Contact with your local municipality and waste management location for details.
As for what I do….
I don’t opt for either one. I buy a potted little pine tree every year. For the last two years, I bought a Norfolk pine. I really loved it! However, it was often lopsided and it annoyed me.
This year, I went to Lowe’s and found a miniature tree in a red pot. Once it gets warmer outside, I can plant it in the ground. Or, I can keep in indoors until it grows too big to tame. And during that time, I’ll have a Christmas tree every year – saving money and time! And, it’s a real tree!
I understand a small tree isn’t as fun for children, and you can’t exactly put Christmas presents under a little tree. (Though you sort of can, just not the same result as a traditional tree).
But for smaller children, they can be helpful because you can keep them on a table/higher up so little ones don’t knock the tree over.
No matter what you choose, remember that it’s the season of new life, forgiveness and growth. May we give each other grace in more ways than by merely forgiving someone for putting their Christmas decorations up too early – or keeping them up too long, for that matter.
May 2021 bring us MUCH more peace than 2020. And may we all remember that we have much more in common than we think we do.
Grace and peace to you all, my friends! Happy Holidays.