I love Christmas when it's Christmas, but it was a little horrifying in early November. I walked through it, assaulted by all the blinking lights and chipper music and bubble packaging and paper wrappings and, and, and...
It just struck me that we are always buying stuff at Christmas, even beyond the actual presents.
(Just a time-out to say that if you don't celebrate Christmas, you can ignore me. I'm not trying to ignore you, just speaking out of my own cultural and personal experience and out of the fact that Christmas is kind of self-proclaimed as the most excess-driven of all celebrations. If you celebrate something else, these musings might still apply; if you don't celebrate any particular holidays at all, go about your merry existence unburdened by such considerations as this.)
I started wondering, what if I/we made a pledge not to spend anything for a Christmas? And then I laughed heartily at myself.
But it kept circling in my mind, and a list of ideas started forming. The only thing I could think in particular that I wanted to buy this Christmas was some of those new flameless candles (because I like candles but not fire hazard + lead wicks + toddler), along with some presents and some special food items, but I decided I could forgo the fake-o candles.
I finally decided that there could be separate or shared goals if someone wanted to commit to buying less for Christmas. For instance, one family might decide to spend no money, in an effort to be frugal, whereas another might try to create no waste in an effort to be environmental. You could combine them and do both, and my idea list takes into account either or both goals. Please add any of your own ideas in the comments!
- Christmas decorations! Do we actually need any more? I mean, really. Take a good, hard look at your storage of red-and-green-and-sparkly-and-blinky, and see if you can just call a moratorium on any new ornaments and garlands for one year. Another option would be to make sustainable, low-impact, or multi-purpose decorations: a popcorn and cranberry garland or cookie and candy ornaments that you actually eat; make a live Advent calendar by telling a joke or reading a poem once a day; repurpose something that's meant for another season; raid your craft and fabric stash for scraps that could inspire you.
- Christmas tree! We bought a live evergreen for Mikko's first Christmas, and our idea is to have it grow along with him. We found out after we bought it that live trees don't much like being brought in to the warmth during the winter and then set outside again — something to do with dormancy periods and damaging them and such. So it's happily out on our balcony, where we will decorate it with some hardy ornaments. If you don't care about using the same tree every year and you have your own land, you could buy a new, live tree this year, enjoy and decorate it inside, and then transition it gradually to the outdoors before planting it in its new, earthy home. If you already have evergreens outside your home that are yours to mess about with, you could bring your decorations outside. Last year, we decorated our ficus instead of our little evergreen, since it was cozily sitting out the freak winter storm on our patio and we didn't want to disturb it.
- Wrapping paper! I had this idea to go simple with wrapping paper in the future, once I'd used up my collected stash. I thought, I'll use just white tissue paper, and then ribbon to hold it together, preferably fabric ribbon, in whatever color fits the occasion. That can work for baby showers, weddings, Christmas, birthdays, whatever, and the storage would be a piece of cake! But then my friend went one better by showing me how she buys cute fabric bags at thrift shops for fifty cents or so apiece to use as reusable gift bags. Cute, no? You could also use fabric scraps you already have. One of my favorite wrapping ideas is to incorporate the present, too: like, a great wedding present (that we received and have since given!) is a picnic basket filled with lovey-dovey picnic-for-two paraphernalia. For kids, you could wrap a toy in a silk playscarf. You could always forgo wrapping presents altogether, but...oh, I don't know, isn't half the fun unwrapping? For very young children, it's about 99% of the fun!
- Christmas presents! Speaking of which, we have used this shady technique with Mikko when he was very young: wrapping up toys he already has but has forgotten about. He didn't at all seem disappointed when he opened them! This will not work on anyone who has decent long-term memory, fyi. But there are ways to give less wasteful presents. You can make a gift, of course, though sometimes that can cost just as much and become just as much clutter. One that I'm rather proud of but might not be everyone's cup of tea (such as those I gave it to...) is an album of lullabies I recorded for Mikko. Low-cost, low-mess. Memberships to museums and tickets to events are pricey but eco-friendly. Coupons for experiences you make yourself would satisfy both the frugal and the environmental side, but make sure you follow through. Examples I've received and given, respectively, have been a free wardrobe consultation and a couples photography session on the beach. If you're talking distant relatives and you're feeling gifted out, ask if they'd mind stopping exchanging gifts — they might be feeling the same way. Or maybe do a Secret Santa deal, to limit the number you have to give, or agree to donate to charities in each other's names. I've found that some people appreciate the donation thing if it's unexpected, and some think it's obnoxious, so it's probably best to ask. Other ideas if a group of people is up to it would be a clothing, book or toy exchange party, or giving each other used gifts from the thrift store or craigslist — that would require still spending money, but not as much, and you would be preventing waste by taking something out of the trash stream.
- Christmas events! I liked that live Advent calendar idea I had up there — didn't you? I had no idea that was going to pop out when I started writing this. I bet there are similar ways to streamline and tone down your Christmas festivities. There are so many free concerts and puppet shows and community potlucks to attend at this time of year that you could pass on anything that requires tickets and still feel celebratory. Maybe for Santa pictures, someone you know already has a Santa suit, and someone else you know has mad camera skillz, and this could all come together in something serendipitous and less mall-intensive.
- Christmas food! All right, this one has me stuck a little, because I absolutely have to make my mom's famous hot cream cheese dip. There is no possible way I'm giving that one up. But, in other times, such as when we were preparing to move, and phases when we have been desperately poor, we have instituted buy-no-new-food months. That is as it sounds, with the exception of a minimum of perishables that are absolutely required in our quest to use up the food that's already in the pantry, fridge, and freezer. If you're anything like we are, you'll be surprised at what's lurking on your shelves or molded into little blocks in the back of the freezer, and equally surprised at what tasty dishes you can make from it all. Maybe December isn't the best month for such a venture, but it's a possibility, in any case!
- Christmas letters! We send out an annual Christmas letter through the actual postal mail, but I've been thinking that eventually it will become a Christmas email. We already have a personal photo website where our family and friends can keep up to date with us throughout the year, and I keep whittling down our mailing list to our particular friends and to those who are not internet-savvy enough to type in a URL or subscribe to an RSS feed. As those people die off (sorry, old people, but it's true!), I will probably switch to all-online. Now, don't get me wrong — I love getting me some Christmas cards and letters in the actual mail: the feel of the paper, the seasonal stamps, the thrill of something in my mailbox that's not a bill or flyer, and the pride of crowding my mantel with the results to show off just how many friends I have. But...I can see that moving toward a paperless society can and will be a good thing. You can now send or post cards, invitations, letters, videos, and photo slideshows all online, so you have a lot of options for making your e-greetings merry and meaningful. If all else fails, you could, um, use recycled paper?
If all this sounds too bah-humbuggy to you, just think about incorporating one or two ideas and let the rest percolate for another year. In perfect honesty and humility, I freely admit I will not be following all these suggestions this year, but I will be thinking about them. I've decided that counts. And, yes, the irony is not lost on me that my last post was about coupon codes for holiday shopping. I figured — hey, if you're going to buy things, might as well use a coupon! In my defense, the only one I used was the $3 Amazon mp3 download, which is cluttering up only my iTunes instead of my shelf.
In the spirit of the fact that NaNoWriMo is over in two days, and I still have 5,000 words to write, I spent almost no time at all on this post. I'm sure there are plenty of other ideas out there, and that a bajillion other bloggers have covered this topic, but you know what? I'll just lean on you all to fill in the missing pieces! Let me know what ways you're cutting down, saving money, and making do this Christmas.
Photo courtesy of Hilde Vanstraelen on stock.xchng