The idea of simple gift giving always brings the Ingalls family Christmases in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books to mind. A peppermint stick (a rare treat), a new tin cup (so the girls wouldn't have to share one anymore), or a lovingly sewn rag doll (for a girl who had never had one before) brought such wonder + joy.
Many Westerners today have everything that they need...enough cups for everyone at the table to have their own...no shortage of toys...and candy more than once per year. Many of us just go to Target (or Amazon) when we want or need anything. There aren't too many needs left to fulfill with gifts. But we still enjoy giving holiday gifts.
A few gifting "categories" that speak to my zero-waste, simple, minimalist, environmentally considerate, plastic-free intentions ::
-something fair + lovely (want)
-something to do
-useful, lovely indulgence
I like reading about holiday gift giving formulas families use like ::
-need, want, wear, read
-gold (want), frankincense (something spiritual), myrrh (something for the body)
-want, need, experience to share
-a year of monthly experiences
I think drawing names or doing white elephant gift exchanges (maybe say that no one can purchase anything) are good/fun options for extended families. Maybe doing a big swap for the holidays would be fun...even little ones could gather a few toys + clothes to offer. This could be a great way to go home with only things one actually wants + to clear out some space (donate the leftovers) as the new year approaches. I also love the idea of everyone sharing names of favorite books, movies, music albums, restaurants, quotes, recipes, new discoveries, parks, etc. This is the stuff of the joy of life anyway, isn't it? A list could be compiled individually or collectively.
Let's try not to make gift giving about obligation. We have no obligation to enrich the economy...no obligation to amass debt...no mandate to compete with the most generous gift giver in our extended family...no reason to create someone else's idea of a picture perfect holiday. (There is still opportunity to return stuff + reimagine this holiday.) :)
Considering what gifts to give should be a joyful experience. It's an opportunity to share love + appreciation. We get to decide how that looks.
Washing clothes releases half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres into the ocean
every year, equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles. ~Ellen MacArthur Foundation (via)
Since modern plastic was first mass-produced, 8 billion tons have been manufactured.
And when it's thrown away, it doesn't just disappear. ~Christopher Joyce (via)
Holiday gift giving might be just a manageable area in which to engage ourselves in a little challenge. We've learned about the extreme reach plastic microfibers have...into oceans, fish + even our drinking water. We've seen the uncontainable nature of everlasting plastic packaging + products. Could we focus our consciousness with a plastic free gift giving challenge?
-Could we leave polyester out of our Christmas gift giving? That means no poly fleece tops, no polyester leggings, no acrylic faux fur slippers. How about an organic cotton flannel shirt or robe...a canvas tote bag or purse...cozy wool socks or slippers...?
-Could we eliminate plastic packaging? That means no plastic clamshell packaging to wrestle, no plastic film or shrink wrap. How about some homemade or local treats packed in glass or cotton bags...a special book or recycled paper notebook...package-free soap or small batch skin cream...?
-Could we bypass plastic bows + shiny paper + glossy gift bags? How about furoshiki...reusable bags...bento bags...left over muslin bags...reused packing paper + twine (tape can often just be omitted)...?
Leaving plastic packaging + fibers out of our gifts needn't be restricting. It might just shift our focus away from big box stores + onto independent makers or into our own creativity. Think paper, cotton, felt, wool, rubber, glass, wax, metal, wood, edibles, pages, natural dyes, scents, tastes, textures, cozy, breezy, warm, light, nourishing, useful, inspiring, educational, artful, creative, crafty, fun, pretty, vintage, reusable, experiences, adventure, anticipation...
Awareness is the key. Our society isn't currently constructed to promote plastic-free living, so it can be easy to just forget (especially in this most wonderful time of year). The above lovely photos (via links) hopefully offer a tiny bit of inspiration + a reminder that this needn't be too tough a challenge. Our beautiful world depends on us curbing our use of plastic. A beautiful, plastic-free holiday is possible!
Most of us know that we do not need boxes of stuff marked "holiday" in order to create a holiday atmosphere. The most natural (+ perhaps beautiful) holiday decorations do not need to be stored + are also quite zero-waste. Not only are these decoration festive, they are often tasty, aromatic, cozy, fun to make + recyclable/compostable.
A few simple, non-clutter holiday decorations ::
-a jar or two of red + white candy or cinnamon sticks
-oranges with leaves still attached
-dried orange slice, popcorn +/or cranberry garland
-a fresh green wreath or tree
-a beautiful branch or potted plant strung with snowflakes (made from sneaky junk mail)
-a tray of sage bundles, pretty crystals + candles
-meaningful scripture verses, poems or carols written
-cozy blankets + pillows
-found pine boughs tied together with twine
-a bowl of pinecones or pinecone garland
-received Christmas cards
-fairy lights (because they are lovely all year) :)
I mentioned last week that the decorations I really love for the holidays are lights + greenery. I'm happy that I figured this out early in the season, because now I have a plan.
I've decided to acknowledge + accept that simple does not necessarily mean free. I would like to indulge in a little live greenery...because it is compostable at the end of the season... it has less tendency to create visual clutter...it doesn't become stuff to store...and it is beautiful. This live greenery is not free (for me). I'm keeping my budget in check with my edited choices. I decided that I would like to purchase a small real tree + some greenery to make a simple wreath. These cost me $30. I'm accepting that these costs are part of the holiday experience that I'm giving my tribe as well, so the gift budget will respond appropriately (shrinking a bit). (A great way to gather a little free greenery is to pick up the fallen pieces around the fresh cut trees...or to gather them from an outdoor space where permitted. Another way is to use a hand-me-down faux tree...year after year. Both of these have worked for us in the past.) :)
Our holiday decorations this year will include ::
-tiny lights + fairly made brass bells added to our everyday front door wreath
-waxed candles all over the house + in the windows (operated by timers + rechargeable batteries)
-a small fresh tree in a steel bucket, decorated with lights + handmade clay stars made with the girls years ago
-a spruce scented candle for lighting
-a handmade fresh eucalyptus wreath (from the branches pictured)
-a handmade nativity
-handmade (by Julia) paper stars
-tinsel draped over windows
-an advent calendar that the girls + I stitched together years ago
-gifts under the tree (wrapped in reused brown paper + twine and starry baggu bags)
-vintage Christmas postcards I collected years ago, clipped onto some yarn garland-style
-hand-cut snowflakes in the windows (I often like to have these up in January/February)
Much of these decorations can be composted or recycled at the end of the holiday, + the rest will pack neatly into a couple of boxes for next year.
Here is where the decluttering part comes in. Right now is when the holiday decorations we no longer need...are useful to others. Our tribe doesn't have many decorations...but even so...I'm pulling them all out...unwrapping + considering each piece. Anything that we don't need is getting donated...pronto. (Faux Christmas trees can be listed on Craigslist or other local sharing site. Listing them for free will offer the greatest possibility of getting them reused + will share a little Christmas cheer as well.)
Each of us gets to choose how sentimental to be about saving + passing things on. As a girl, I loved pulling the same few decorations out of the boxes to decorate the tree each year. If my mom had saved all my childhood creations + offered them to me as a teenager, I definitely would have wanted to save them. I would have imagined pulling out the box with my children. The thing is that the reality of a situation like that would have turned out differently. My girls are not very sentimental in that way. Having pictures of them with their own creations + at the age they made them is enough (+ wonderful!). Not having to move + store mountains of decorations is nice too.
I say this only to remind us to think about who we are saving things for (for ourselves or for their future selves). If I had saved my childhood ornaments, I may have ended up picking a special one to keep. The rest would be a burden to pack + move + store. I've enjoyed choosing my own themes to decorate with + may have felt stuck or guilty if expected to hang all of my (or my husband's) childhood collected ornaments. On the other hand, if a family loves to pack that tree full of every ornament of the year every family member has collected...have a blast! It's just my hope that we don't have to feel obligated (+ choose not to place obligation in our sphere of influence), if there is no joy for anyone in that tradition. :)
One final note on those precious glittery, gluey, childhood ornaments :: no decluttering advice here...just a memory that I love. When one of our girls came home from kindergarten on her last day before Christmas break, I couldn't wait to see all of that bright, crafty goodness. Instead of a collection of popsicle stick frames + googly-eyed pinecones, she proudly produced one extremely long length of paper chain. She had just gotten so into making paper chain that she never visited any of the other craft stations! :)
What are your favorite simple Christmas decorations?
I think that the holidays turned from something of utter delight to something stressful around the time that I went from being a consumer of all the wonder (a girl) to a producer of it (a mama). I realize that often I find myself stressed out in the moments when I am most trying to make sure that everyone is happy...silly really. What would probably make all of us the most happy would be just enjoying all of the messy goodness that there is to be had...together.
This year, I am trying to shed the expectation of producing a jam packed season of joy for my tribe. I am trying to step away from what is expected...and trying to see this as something I'm creating outside of expectation.
What do we love most about the holidays? I'm "sending" out a postcard (sliding it under doors)...What are 2 things you love most about the holidays? What is one good memory of the holidays you have? What are 2 things you would like to do? 2 things you might like to get? 2 things you might like to eat/drink?
With those things in mind, I will be able to feel that I've made some happy (whether that gets communicated back to me or not). I will not treat these returned postcards as a to-do list, but I will joyfully consider the feedback. :)
My holiday favorites:
-hot, spicy drinks
-cozy movie nights
-a few thoughtful gifts
-grasping + celebrating the gift of God among us
It's a simple list. I'm just going to go about bringing some of that home. I'm not really even going to think about the stuff that I don't like...or expectations...or what I'm not doing. And that feels good.
It's still a bit brown + coldish outside, but I'm trying to remind myself + my tribe that we are almost out of the winter woods. A few happy hints that spring is here ::
Lightening up in the closet:
-My knits, hat, scarf, + gloves have been packed away in my suitcase with some lavender.
-It may be a few weeks until my wool blanket coat joins them, but I'm stitching up the holes in it now. The navy really hides the patches well.
-Not as many regrets when I go without socks (because I pretty much always do). :)
Sunshine on a plate:
-Mangos. Alone or like this...add some yogurt, honey, cinnamon, pecans, + chocolate chips!
-Spring reminds me of the simple goodness of egg salad on toast with a sprinkle of greens.
-Golden beets. With kale, onion, chickpeas, wild rice, + avocado.
Getting some fresh air:
-Spotted: crocus + daffodils + tree buds + blue bird
-Trying to get outside for a walk or just to sit in the sun for a bit on those rare warmer days.
-Or at least rolling down the car windows with some good tunes blasting.
-Welcomed fresh air indoors via an open screen door + also received a spider + itchy allergy eyes.
How are you experiencing it?
Do you like to take stock, compile the data, look back, make plans, set goals, and map out the next steps? I'm not exactly sure how to answer that question in regards to "like"...but I do think that it can be quite useful. :)
When I came across this little guide again this year, I jumped right in. I thought in light of the fact that I made a lot of plans at the beginning of 2017, it would probably be good to take an honest look at how it all turned out. I had actually forgotten about some of the accomplishments of 2017 + felt quite good about recognizing them. There were also a few spots that I could have stuck to plan a bit better + I had the chance to recognize that as well.
Now, 2018...I've got plans for you.
If this sort of thing appeals, here a few places to find a little guidance/inspriation for the journey:
-Unravel Your Year
-Find Your Word
P.S. Let us know if you have favorite year end/beginning inspiration! :)
I've been on a mission to live a Christmas this year that leaves our tribe with the sense of having experienced love + light. One of the ways that we are looking to experience this is through a different kind of giving. I don't at all wish to call attention to or garner credit for ourselves. I just thought that sharing here could possibly spark some further creativity out there. :)
This weekend these girls + I spent a little time writing notes of encouragement + rolling them up with dollar bills. This idea was sparked by someone else who shared doing something similar...so I thought I'd share too in case anyone else might have fun with it. (Highly recommended! No dollars even necessary.)
Before we got out at our first stop, we said a prayer + asked that these tiny gifts would communicate a message of love + encouragement just where it was needed.
A dollar doesn't seem like much, but we went straight to a few places that it could actually make a little difference.
A few of these were placed on washers + dryers at a busy laundromat...among the feminine hygiene products + nerf footballs at the dollar store...in the pockets of cute winter coats + button down shirts at the thrift store...
...and among the cat food + 99cent avocados at a grocery store. This was some of the most fun we've had during this holiday season! We've got plans to keep the generosity flowing + we're all looking forward to it! :)
A few other ideas for a different kind of giving:
-discuss a cause to which the whole tribe would like to contribute some money, place an envelope under the tree + let each decide the amount they contribute
-give kids a dollar amount + let them decide how to spend it in the giving catalogs
-combine McDonalds gift cards with handmade cards for homeless neighbors
-buy some personal pizzas + pass them out
-gift feminine products, natural haircare products, toiletries, lotion, etc. to a women's shelter
-make cookies + take them to the places we love
-pass cards to the people at the grocery store who give us our milk bottle refunds, fill our bulk containers + check them out
-write cards for the garbage men + mail carrier
-take a walk + spread birdseed for the animals on Christmas Day...doing this once a year offers a day of celebration + ease to our fellow creatures
Christmas offers the best chance all year to see two ways of life for what they are. We're encouraged to make Christmas about us- or, more accurately, encouraged to make Christmas about our children. We are encouraged to buy them stuff. But if we make that the center of the holiday, we help school them in the notion that transcendent joy comes from things. If, instead, you emphasize others- making presents with your kids, spreading seed to the birds and beasts, visiting the nursing home- it exposes them to the other truth, gives them some chance to see where real joy lies. ~Bill McKibben :: Hundred Dollar Holiday
Bento bags have their origins in Japan (like so many useful, beautiful, simple designs). I love their possibilities in relation to a zero-waste lifestyle. Although a bandana tucked into my bag works well for impromptu bulk buys, a bento's bag shape is a bit more spill proof. In this season of giving, I am really looking forward to using these bento bags for reusable, zero-waste gift wrap!
SweetKM's bento bag pattern came out just in time for Christmas giving +/or wrapping! I scooped it up the moment it was offered, because I've been wanting a pattern like this for years. The pattern offers a variety of sizes to make, and works up beautifully. I love that all of the edges are enclosed, so it will wash well. While this bento is the smallest size, I look forward to making a few in larger sizes too. Putting together PDF patterns is not always my favorite activity, so I really like this one. I didn't actually print out the pattern, but instead simply used the provided measurements to mark + cut the fabric.
For gift wrap, I like to use truly opaque fabrics...which often means darker fabrics, but heavier linen or quilting cotton would also work well. (This fabric is from an old favorite shirt.) The pieces needed for each bento are on the larger side, so many of my scraps are not quite large enough. Instead of buying fabric especially for these bentos, I plan to use what I have + to piece together the bits that are too small. I love using every bit of these gorgeous fabrics, + I think that pieced bentos will feel quite special.
These bags would make lovely gifts as well as wrapping. Bentos could be used as project bags for individual craft projects, lunch sacks, bulk grocery shopping bags, travel sacks to separate laundry, toiletries or shoes, or even as a purse. Of course one could be used for all of the above! :)
I'm in love with these bentos for gift wrap + finally think that I've found a wrapping to love (and reuse) for years to come!
A few other ideas for wrapping zero-waste:
-reuse packaging collected thoughout the year (my favorite is brown paper...tied up with string)
-last year someone's birthday inspired a magic gift box (a nice sturdy box that once opened acquired a new gift + was tied with its bow once more) (my laziness sometimes = laughs)
-accent with greenery, cinnamon sticks, tags made from last year's Christmas cards...
on a journey toward zero-waste, simplicity, + compassion :: daring to choose fair one choice at a time