I just read a great post by Amber at Strocel.com on how to keep the holidays green. Like Amber, I’ve been reflecting lately on the environmental impact of Christmas. Even without citing any particular stats on the subject, with a quick reflection it’s easy to conclude that the environmental toll of the holidays must be astronomical. Consider all the packaging from the gifts we buy, the gift wrap and the holiday cards, the travel and even the particular kinds of foods we feast upon (such as shrimp, from which the environmental toll is sickening).
I dashed into the mall recently to run some errands and was very quickly overwhelmed with all of the noise, the crowds, and the loud messages to BUY, BUY, BUY! Once upon a time I worked in a building adjacent to the Eaton Centre in Toronto, which meant that I actually walked through the mall up to three times a day (to and from the subway and then a stroll during lunch.) As I’ve recently mentioned, this lifestyle is in stark contrast to the one I currently enjoy in the small town of Guelph, where the public library, farmer’s market, yoga studio and other necessities are a stone’s through from my home. So walking into a mall and being bombarded with consumerist messages has now become an uncommon and unnerving activity.
Revisiting a bustling mall makes me think about the environmental impact of holiday shopping but it also makes me think about human resources that are eaten up by excessive shopping. (And I say “excessive” because I am in no way an extremist, as you all know.) On this blog, a message I hear repeatedly from my readers is how important friends, families and pets are to our happiness and well-being. Spending time with the people we care about is obviously a crucial component to our happiness and, without a doubt, the best frugal luxury there is. In a busy world, time with others, and time alone, has become a valuable commodity. Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend less time shopping and more time just being?
In Amber’s post, she asks, “What green holiday traditions are you adopting?” Well, I have a few strategies to reduce environmental and financial costs, and make the holidays more meaningful and special to me:
1. Doin’ it DIY. I love making homemade gifts and homemade cards. There is nothing quite like crafting something that is tailor-made and perfectly suited to the recipient. Seeing them actually use or consume the gift offers a particular thrill.
Speaking of homemade gifts, I just re-read my post from December 22, 2009, Reflections on a Christmas Budget, and the main message still hits home:
For me, when it comes to gift giving, the difference between being frugal and being cheap is an important one. Being cheap means you are only concerned with the price-tag and not concerned with how the gift makes the person feel. But a frugal gift is one that is rich with sentiment.
Being frugal is about living consciously. It is about learning to recognize and rejoice in the bounty within which we already live. It’s about using all means at our disposal – time, energy, creativity, love – and not just money, to accomplish our goals, including helping others.
What is our purpose of giving a gift? If it is to show love and gratitude, and if it is given with the intention of making someone’s life a little brighter, does it really have to be attached with a high price tag?
A lot of my readers made homemade gifts last year, scaled back, and found ways to simplify their holidays. I loved Kate’s idea of doing a family activity for each night of Hanukkah instead of giving the children gifts. I also loved reader Catherine’s comment, which brought tears to my eyes, as it represented the true meaning of gift giving:
I think my most favourite gift this year was one I couriered to my 78 year old aunt in Toronto. I did up a box of all sorts of goodies and one was my grandmother’s nut hermit cookie recipe along with ziplock bags with all the varying ingredients in it – she’ll just have to add the milk and eggs. I ground fresh cinnamon and cloves and grated fresh nutmeg. The ’surprise’ was the black English walnuts from our two trees in the backyard. In the Fall of 2007 I picked them off the ground and took the green shell off. I washed them (they stain terribly!) and they had been drying in our basement since. It took me THREE HOURS to get 1 cup of walnuts for the cookies. Very tedious work. Well you may ask why I did this? I got the response I so desired. My aunt called to say the taste of those walnuts took her back to when she was a little girl visiting her aunt’s farm. She was thrilled to bits. So, of everything I did for others this Christmas, I think that one is my favourite.
2. Innovative Packaging. Gifts become instantly more environmentally friendly when you package them yourself, especially when you use what you’ve already got around the house – think reusable glass mason jars, wire or wicker baskets, vintage tins, or – my favourite – “repurposed junk”. (Remember the tea box I made? You can find a tutorial I wrote on how to do it at Organizing Junkie.)
*once a tea box, now a gift box*
2. Thrift. I must admit, I owe a lot to Shopping GoLightly at The Thrifty Chicks. This woman has opened my eyes to a whole new world. And although I know that I’m preaching to the converted, I must just reiterate that thrift stores are not just full of fondue sets, massaging foot baths and harlequin romance novels. You can find great vintage pieces for collectors, one-of-a-kind items and plenty of brand spanking new in-the-box items, sometimes with the tags still on. You get to decide whether your favourite part of thrifting is that it is environmentally friendly, saving you gobs of money, supporting local charities, or providing you with the thrill of the hunt.
*a vintage find for my table – pretty, embroidered napkins*
Shopping GoLightly also reminds us that to be known and understood is the true gift – in this post, Ms. GoLightly responds to a comment I made on her blog, and reminds me (and all of us) that a gift, whether homemade, thrifted, or bought retail, means the most when it is meant to enhance a person’s authentic self:
The act of taking time to truly listen to me, observe me and truly know me is, in essence the gift, not necessarily the object. That’s the part that sets tears in my eyes. To feel, in this wide world, there is someone who has taken the time to truly know me and wants me to continue on as myself and not be swayed.
*life in the beach, last December; expectations for a different kind of year ahead*
3. Practice Gratitude. I’ve written a lot about it during the past 15 months. But it’s important. It’s been a tough year – for me, and for a lot of people. I know I’m not the only one who expected this year to play out differently than it has. But gratitude brings me back to where I want to be: feeling blessed in an abundant life. The ability, I believe, to feel joy in the moment – during the holidays or anytime – is to feel grateful for what we have. When I focus on that, I feel more able to fully give myself, and give compassion, undivided attention, and love, to other people in my life. I feel more able to forgive others who may have hurt me (intentionally or unintentionally) and to forgive myself, for mistakes I’ve made. To feel compassionate, grateful, and full of forgiveness – well, whether we are living on a tight budget or have all the money in the world, there’s no better state of mind for the holidays.