Monday, December 9, 2013

Seven Steps to a Nothing New Christmas

From the bean of Green Bean.

I embarked on this holiday season as a bit of a scrooge.  Even though we've tried to limit buying for years, our house still bursts at the seams with stuff.  I still spend hours every week cleaning stuff, organizing stuff, decluttering stuff and so on.

As we dragged down boxes of holiday decorations and I began, once again, arranging stuff, I wanted to scream: NO MORE STUFF!

It's not just my family and its not just Christmas.  The world just does not need any new stuff.  Our forests, oceans and skies are depleted yet our landfills are full.  Instead of busting down doors for the newest gadget, we need to learn to reuse what we, collectively, have.

Enter my Seven Steps to Nothing New Christmas.

1) Switch to a White Elephant Gift Exchange: Five years ago, my extended family moved from drawing names to a White Elephant exchange.  The rules are simple.  You can give something you already own or you can spend up to $15 on something new (almost always consumables).  This switch has ignited our family from ho hum holidays to laughter and tears.  No one dares skip a holiday gathering for fear of missing out on the event.  The trash talking starts as early as September: "Ohhh, wait until you see what we're going to give this year."  "I hope no one saved that hideous clown picture from last year."  The exchange, itself, is a raucous event with pictures taken, gifts snatched and memories made.

Here are the kids last year, starting their own White Elephant exchange.

2) Shop Your Closest and Save Your Clutter:  I declutter on a regular basis but before I list items on Freecycle or haul them to the local thrift store, I cull out the nicer items - things that are new or nearly so, high quality vintage or handmade goods and so on.  For instance, a good friend very much wants a marble rolling pin.  I have one that I've been meaning to let go.  Gift match made in heaven!

3) Shop Second Hand: Whether looking to reduce one's footprint or sustain one's bank account, giving used gifts is officially "in".  Antique stores are a classy route but thrift and consignment stores are, in my opinion, totally legit.  Many items are new, in the package, or like new.  Don't forget garage sales, eBay and Amazon (used books) as well.  Beyond scoring some really sweet finds, it is important to support second hand retail outlets.  Our town just lost a treasured antique mall due to increased rents.  If the demand was higher for pre-loved goods, we might have more space in our landfill.

My niece's gift: a book she requested from a library sale (brand new condition), a thrifted lunch box to wrap it in and a fox coin purse handmade from scraps.

4) Make Your Own Gifts: I've been busy knitting for my kids and their cousins, all with yarn that has been clogging up my closet.  It's a win win because I'm decluttering while creating meaningful items for people I can about.  As onerous as this sounds, I've opted for small and simple - picking quick knits rather than projects that take months to put together.

Here is my answer to the "Collect Them All" little plastic toys that my kids always want.  Each of these stuffies only took a couple of hours to knit. I made them all from scraps and they fit perfectly inside a repurposed egg carton.  

5) A Garden of Gifts: If you, like me, are a gardener, your yard is a shopping mall full of gifts.  While the flowers are mostly gone by now, I do still have some citrus, greens and herbs - any of which would make a lovely hostess gift.  With more planning, I could also be giving propagated plants and collected seeds - not only unique gifts but ones that encourage planting of natives or heirlooms in a world badly in need of biodiversity.

6) Can You Can Can?:  If yes, you can give some of summer's canned goods.  Jams, preserves, jellies and pickles are all special gifts and can be combined with garden gifts in a second hand basket for teachers, co-workers, friends.  If you bake, a loaf of pumpkin bread or persimmon tea cake or such would also be a wonderful addition.

7) Couponing for Good:  Finally, give future favors. Personally (hint hint!), I would adore coupons for babysitting, a cooked meal, cookies of the month, cut flowers from your garden in the summer.  You get the hint - or at least I hope you do.

Here are more thoughts on how to give used items as gifts.

So far, my nothing new Christmas is going exceedingly well.  Consumables aside (because what is wrong with farmers' market olive oil and honey!), I'll probably only end up with a couple of new new gifts . . . and I'm feeling a whole lot less scroogey.


Eco Yogini said...

i love these ideas and have officially managed to convince the hubby's brother and wife NOT to exchange gifts this year. Exchanging gift cards to restaurants is just silly.

robbie @ going green mama said...

I love these ideas! I do give seed packets to some of my gardening friends! Personally I love it more when the kids do the designs on the packaging as well.

Green Bean said...

@Eco-Yogini - My family did that too pre-White Elephant. Every one would pick a name. $50 limit. It basically ended up being a swap of $50 gift cards. Lame!

@Robbie - I'm so glad to hear that you've done it in the past. This is my first year of giving seed packets. I'll have to have the kids decorate the packets. Great idea!

sustainablemum said...

What great ideas! Might be more difficult to get the extended family on side.....

Green Bean said...

@sustainablemum - Yes, extended family is much more difficult. We were able to switch to white elephant by playing up economics and fun. Good luck!

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

This post is inspirational. I wish I had done this. Wish my family lived close enough to do a white elephant. I have so many things I could use... Luckily, my family is very low-key. No gifts except with my parents. We stopped even drawing names amongst the sibs years ago and the cousins don't do anything either (although I'd like to make and mail cards -- but haven't managed to do it any year yet). My husband's family -- well, that's another story.

Lisa said...

My family likes to do something together around the holidays as part of our gift. It's nice to not have to find space for more stuff and make great memories.

Thanks for linking up with the Green Holiday Link Up.

Mindful Momma said...

Wow - I admire you for going the white elephant route. Not sure I could do that.
Those knit animals are adorable BTW!

Carissa Bonham said...

What a great idea! Because the last thing anyone in my house needs is more stuff!

Betsy Escandon said...

Ha! This post is from last year and I STILL love it -- it was that cute lunch tin (which I admired a year ago) that tipped me off. I would pay you to make those little knit cuties in the egg carton for my kiddies. For reals. How much??? Do I sense an Etsy store in the making?

Lynn Hasselberger said...

Love these ideas!

Sara Vartanian said...

These are great ideas! I've been to a party where we did a white elephant exchange and it was so much fun!

Mandy said...

Fun and freeing!


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