Friday, December 9, 2016

BLOG: 6 Tips for a Greener, Simpler Christmas

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. There's so much to enjoy. But it seems that the holidays often come with a lot of excess - too much food, too much stress, too many gifts to buy, too much to do, too much stuff, etc. How can we simplify?

Simplifying the holidays will not only benefit your sanity, but the environment. Here are six simple ways to simplify this holiday season and reduce the impact on the environment:

1. Scale back the holiday lights.
You don't need to outdo the neighbors extravagant display that's set to music. A simple wreath or lit garland add a nice touch to your home, and will take minutes instead of hours to put up. If a big display is your thing, use LED lights and save on energy use and put a few more dollars back in your pocket. Use a timer to set the on/off times to make sure they don't twinkle all night.

2. Gifts don't have to be "things." Give the gift of time, experiences, or a donation.
It's easy to get caught up in buying things for our loved ones during the holidays. But don't we all have enough stuff? Instead, think about meaningful alternatives. Give your spouse or kids a coupon book filled with fun things to do - a nature walk, trip to the park or library, baking cookies together, etc. Tickets to a favorite show, concert, or event; zoo or museum memberships; or a gift card for a massage are great alternatives to another tie or Christmas towel. Or consider a donation to the recipient's favorite charity (if they don't have a favorite, The Groundwater Foundation is a good one!).

3. Find alternatives to gift wrapping.
Reuse those gift bags and bows from last year. Gift bags are a snap to assemble and much easier than wrapping an oddly-shaped item. Encourage your gift recipients to reuse them for future gifts. If you like to wrap, look for wrapping paper made using recycled content. Avoid foil/metallic paper, as it's difficult to recycle. Upcycle paper you have around the house into one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Have the kids decorate old newspaper, scrap paper, paper grocery bags, or any other paper for a fun art project and quality time with you. Or channel your inner child and have fun yourself! 

4. Limit your travel plans.
This one is hard, as family is important during the holidays. But between all the shopping and visiting, parties and other activities, we drive more and burn more gas. Organize video chats to "see" family members. Consolidate your travel as much as possible, or just stay home in your pajamas and watch Christmas movies.

5. Make your holiday meal(s) low impact.
Buy local as much as possible. Skip disposable dinnerware and bring out the china and cloth napkins (this may go against the idea of simplifying - but enlist your guests' help and have a group dishwashing and drying session after the meal). Compost any food scraps. Send leftovers home with your guests, or keep them yourself and save yourself from cooking for a few days.

6. Slow down and enjoy the season!
Christmas comes but once a year. It's ok to say no to yet another holiday party or outing. It's ok to focus on the small things that make this time of year magical. Give yourself permission to just be this holiday season, and enjoy it.

It's a process to change our thinking about the holidays. Each year I try to simplify, but find myself falling into the trap of excess. I hope we can all focus on having a greener, simpler Christmas this year.

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