Excess. It’s a word we hear a lot around the holidays. Excessive eating. Excessive spending. Excessive baking. Excessive waste. By some estimates, Americans throw out 25 percent more trash in the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than we do during any other time of the year. Excess makes the holiday season fun, but it can also cause holiday stress … not to mention leave a heavy dent in the environment. If you’re already cringing over the post-holiday trash piles to come, it may be time to cut back just a wee bit. But can you really stop the holiday train after it’s left the North Pole station? Oh, just wait…
If you’ve been scratching your head, wondering what to buy for people on your list, now is the time to give yourself a break. Guessing at gifts is a recipe for loading up the landfill, as yet another well-meant candle or body lotion is quietly dropped in the wastebasket by its recipient. If you want to cut both your stress level and the growing mound of trash, consider asking your family to throw everyone’s name in a hat this year. Each member can pick just one other person to buy for, reducing the number of “maybe they’ll like it, maybe not” gifts you have to find. Not a fan of picking recipients out of a hat? Suggest that everyone put together wish lists on Amazon. They may not get everything they want this year, but the chances that they’ll receive something they actually need will skyrocket, and you won’t have to worry about the item you order landing in the wastebasket. Or you can opt out of “things” entirely! Take a page out of a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology and give your friends and family “experiences” in place of physical gifts this year. The study’s researchers found that people are actually happier receiving “experiential” gifts, and they think they’re a better use of money, too.
If you’re headed to the mall this year, grab your reusable bags, then pick up that phone and dial a friend before you head out. Carpooling has long been touted as an earth-friendly way to get around, and the science backs up the theory. Even better, when you shop with a friend, you’re turning one of the holiday season’s biggest stressors into an opportunity for healthy socializing and self care. Shopping online will cut your drive out of the equation, but you’ll need to factor in the delivery truck’s gas and emissions. That said, if you’re given the option to have packages shipped to you as they’re ready or all at once, choose option number two. Mother Nature will appreciate it!
Gift wrap tends to pile up around the tree on Christmas morning, only to be shoved in a trash bag and taken out to the curb since the dye, lamination, and thinness renders much of it unfit for recycling. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Old newspapers—especially the comics—make for fun, retro wrapping that can be recycled after every package has been ripped open. Add some pretty ribbon (also reusable!) or bakery string to tie the look together. Oddly-shaped presents that don’t lend themselves to paper wrapping can be placed in reusable bags for the gift recipient to use again and and again. Or you can try your hand at Japanese Furoshiki fabric wrapping this year to really wow your friends (and recycle that old fabric you have lying around).
Emails, social media, and even texting can be an easy way to make contact with friends and family this time of year, and it can take a load off your shoulder while saving a few trees. Sure, you have friends and family who expect that photo card every year, and you can still send those. Even cutting your list in half by taking advantage of digital means of connecting does its part for the environment. Just make sure the cards you do buy are printed on recycled paper. As for the cards you receive, don’t trash them at the end of the season! The fronts of traditional cards can be reused by crafters, so ask your local senior center or art and pre-school teachers if they could use a pile. Take any photo cards and stash them in an album—they’ll be fun to look back at in years to come.