Simplify the Holidays: 12 Days, 12 Ways

We should all be prepared by now, but it seems every year the holidays can catch us off guard with endless piles of stuff. I’m not referring to the welcome stuff, either, such as gingersnaps, pine-scented wreaths and crackling candle wicks. I’m talking about the associated piles of ripped-up holiday paper, empty food containers, giant bags full of raked leaves, and plastic tinsel scraps that just won’t seem to disappear. These stuffs—the landfill-clogging wastes that surround the holidays—can really weigh down an otherwise festive spirit.

Thankfully, there are ways to celebrate that are both easy on yourself and the planet. Here are 12 great ways to make your Yuletide season bright, beautiful and benign.

1. Seek out gifts that are minimally packaged, don’t require batteries, are recyclable and locally made.

2. When buying gifts, ask yourself if the potential recipient really needs the item and where it will go when it’s thrown away. There may be an easy way to win your loved one’s heart through their stomach. Food gifts are almost always a hit. Find inspiration by reading Homemade Holiday Food Gifts

3. Give gifts that won’t produce waste: concert tickets, museum or gym memberships, or charitable donations.

4. Save wrapping paper and ribbon to use again. Even mismatched scraps can make a fun wrapping collage.

5. Wrap gifts in newspaper, which is recyclable, or fabric, which is reusable. Old scarves and men’s ties make excellent ribbons.

6. Buy or make reusable gift bags.

7. Download Gift Exemption Vouchers from In return for letting recipients off the gift-giving hook, agree to spend time together.

8. Make wreaths and swags from items in your own backyard (evergreen branches, pinecones, nuts, holly). While you’re at it, make all your decorations.

9. Instead of hosting a lavish dinner, invite friends and family for brunch or dessert.

10. Send cards to only half your list. Finish the task next year. Or, for family members spread far and wide, plan your cards to arrive near the day you know the whole family will be together. That way a single group card is sufficient. (Better yet, send e-cards.)

11. When buying presents online, avoid overnight delivery. Using ground delivery is probably the single biggest thing you can do to lessen the impact of online shopping. Combine orders, and have gifts sent to your workplace, where UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service are probably already stopping by.

12. Replace energy-thirsty incandescent string lights with ultra-efficient LEDs. The LEDs use a fraction of the energy and last 10 times longer, meaning fewer light strands make it to the dump. More more in Efficient Holiday Lighting.

And finally, I urge you to read Bill McKibben’s Hundred Dollar Holiday. I aim for this goal—spending only $100 on Christmas—every year. I’ve yet to make it, but it sure is fun to try. If you take on even a few of these 12 Ways this year, you’re on the right track to reducing waste and simplifying the season. Happy holidays!

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Photo from Fotolia


Freya H.
Freya H3 years ago

I have gotten sick and tired of both crass consumerism and in-your-face religious bugnuts this year. Nowadays my family give to charity in each other's names. We pick one worthy group and give symbolic animal adoptions or gifts of livestock or other means to get people out of poverty. I don't need any more stuff! The best things in life are free - and they ain't things.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

awesome ideas

Richard T.
Richard T5 years ago

thank you!

Kate S.
Kate S5 years ago

I've used bottoms of paper bags by cutting them a little taller than the desired length needed (fold the top down a little to avoid paper cut and it looks cuter) ..then shred the rest of the bag and use as the filling/buffer. All depending on what you're "wrapping" up... but tie a cute ribbon around the folded area if you need to secure it. My family comes to expect that sort of recycled-savvy look from my household now.

Dan and Tina Partlow
Daniel Partlow5 years ago

Some great ideas, thanks!

tanya w.
Tanya W5 years ago

I like to reuse ribbon and paper.

Gita Sasi Dharan
Gita Sasi Dharan5 years ago

Thank you.

Anna M.
A M5 years ago

These are great ideas! I always try to save wrapping paper. You can also use pages torn out of fashion catalogs or old magazines with interesting pictures to wrap small items!

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

thank you

Elsie Hovav
Elsie Hovav5 years ago