How to Scale Back During the Holidays

Some might say I go too far. When compared to the average consumer, I may seen downright nutty. But I believe that decades ago—before mass consumer culture kicked in—I would have seemed fairly normal. Well, let’s say normal as far as my consumption patterns go… As I have said many times, I’m not extreme, our consumer culture is.

Call me Grinch but…

I have opted out of Halloween for a few years now

Yes, I am that cranky lady down the street who turns her lights off and doesn’t dole out candy. I have older kids (one grown and one teen) so I can easily opt out of this one. The kids in my neighborhood get so much candy as it is. I am doing parents a favor by not adding to it. I think it would be a good night to go ice skating—the rink will be empty. I’ll wear a funny hat 😉

Jack-o-lanterns waste so many pumpkins (and all the water and other resources that went into growing that pumpkin). We won’t carve one this year but I have carved many in the past. If you carve a pumpkin, you can at least eat the seeds. They taste so so good. Pick off the larger chunks of pumpkin but don’t wash off the seeds. Toss the seeds in olive oil and salt, spread them on a cookie sheet in a thin layer and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden. My younger daughter LOVES these. After Halloween, compost your pumpkin.

Halloween candy presents a big dilemma for a zero-waster. If you know your neighbors well, you can pass out homemade treats. If you don’t know them, your efforts will most assuredly go straight into the trash. Simple Gum comes packaged in cardboard.

You could also try to find foil-wrapped candy in the bulk section—at least these alternatives have no plastic wrapping. Bulk Barn in Canada carries bulk candy, with several choices wrapped in foil, however until now, the chain hasn’t allowed shoppers to use their own containers and reusable bags. The company ran a pilot bring-your-own-container program in one Toronto store this past September and just announced this week that it will expand to 26 more stores in Canada beginning November 7th, with Quebec launching on December 8th. Keep it in mind for next Halloween if you live in the Great White North. Update: You can now bring your own clean containers!

I’ll make less food on Thanksgiving

My daughter MK returned to school in Canada this fall so she won’t be here for Thanksgiving. When she is home, she cooks the dinner. It’s her favorite day of the year. She goes hog-wild. Last year, she cooked four pies. She made the bread for the stuffing. She made chutney. She made gravy. She made cocktails. I ate until it hurt. And then I ate some more.

This year, with MK away, I plan on cooking a smaller dinner. I won’t cook a bird. (I know this is unthinkable for many people—I’m not suggesting everyone do as I do, I’m just throwing ideas out there.) My younger daughter C doesn’t like turkey, I can’t find a whole one plastic-free and we can’t eat 15 pounds of poultry anyway. C does love tourtière—a French-Canadian meat pie—so I’ll make her one of those. I’ll also make cranberry sauce or chutney if I can find loose cranberries (Rainbow has carried them in the past), a few vegetable sides, perhaps a nutloaf and a couple of pies. Yes, this is much less food than we usually eat at Thanksgiving…

There will be pie. MK made this one with “ugly” apples.

I buy nothing on Black Friday

I dislike crowds and I dislike shopping. Before the dawn of consumer culture, shopping was a chore reserved for servants or those who couldn’t afford servants. Instead of shopping on Black Friday, I’ll celebrate Buy Nothing Day by staying home and avoiding the crowds, eating leftovers, watching movies and maybe knitting something.

In what I regard as a hopeful sign (and not merely clever marketing), REI again this year will close all 149 stores on Black Friday and give its employees a paid day off. Last year, seven states offered free admission to their state parks on Black Friday. I haven’t found any information about this for 2016 but Thanksgiving is still a month away, so maybe parks will offer free admission this year as well.

I don’t send Christmas cards

I know this has really annoyed some friends and family in the past. I stopped sending them after I had kids—the task simply fell off the never-ending to-do list. Some of you love to send these, some of you don’t. Don’t feel guilty either way.

I don’t put up a Christmas tree

I haven’t bought a Christmas tree for a few years. For many people who partake in the holiday season, this goes too far. My mom finds my treeless state utterly horrifying. I’m not suggesting everyone do this. I’m just explaining what I do. Back when I did get a tree—if we were home for Christmas—I bought a small one and decorated it with strings of popcorn, homemade cookie ornaments and whatever decorations I had amassed over the years.

Update 11/26/18: This year I’m attempting to rent a potted tree that the nursery will then replant after the holidays.

I’ll have a potluck on New Year’s Eve

I’m not exactly a party animal. I can’t remember the last time I went out for New Year’s Eve. In my intentional community, the other moms and I and our kids often celebrate holidays together with a potluck. Everyone brings a dish or something to drink or both. It’s convenient, fun and no one has to worry about driving home after imbibing my mead.

Other events to scale down

Made-up holidays. Valentine’s Day. Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Grandparent’s Day. St Patrick’s Day. They’re more like marketing opportunities for business than holidays. If you want to and can (Mom may not like it), scale back on some of these too.

Birthdays. You don’t have to throw an elaborate party for your kids every year. Invite a couple of their friends for a sleep over, bake a cake and watch a movie. Ditch the goody bags. No one likes these bags full of plastic junk. If someone hands you one, politely say no thank you. Truly, this tradition must die.

Weddings. People always look horrified when I tell them this but I got married in Las Vegas. It was pretty simple. I would probably have had a mental breakdown had I attempted to plan a wedding. At The Little White Chapel, we didn’t go through the 24-hour drive-up wedding window or have an Elvis impersonator marry us and I do regret that a little bit. I wore a very nice dress and opted for a wedding band, not a diamond. I told John never to buy me a diamond—blood or otherwise.

According to the Knot’s most recent wedding survey, people have lost their minds. Couples in the US spend an average of over $31,000 on their weddings. In Europe, couples spend much less on weddings—about $5,500 US.

Happy scaling back 😉

30 Replies to “How to Scale Back During the Holidays”

  1. I don’t disagree. We stopped the Halloween celebration years ago also. I do love Christmas and proud to say this year we are returning to a homemade gift, gift giving. We celebrate other holidays because we love them and for us, Valentine’s Day is also our anniversary. PS I enjoy your posts and lifestyle. I appreciate your hard work.

    1. I think Halloween was always the most stressful for me of all the holidays. I used to make my kids costumes and I remember one year being up at 4am, hunched over my sewing machine and in tears because I couldn’t get one of the ears sewn properly on a wolf costume. I never made such an elaborate costume ever again. Homemade gifts are so thoughtful. What a great tradition. Thanks so much for reading my posts 🙂

  2. Your stance on the holidays sure resonates with me. Thanks for sharing your position. You not only provide another perspective on how holidays can (or won’t) be celebrated, but you also provide affirmation to those of us with similar views. It can be lonely out there when the choice is to opt out of cultural norms.

    1. My pleasure, Julie. That’s one thing I love about the Internet. I have “met” all sorts of like-minded people and feel normal, not that normal is all it’s cracked up to be 😉 ~ Anne Marie

  3. I hate Hallowe’en. Very sad it came over from the Staes to us in the UK. I think the idea of children dressing up as skeletons and weird cruel looking monsters is awful. Also don’t agree with Trick or Treating – begging really! As to weddings. They are big events in the UK now. An average cost nearer £20,000 I would think. Not sure what that translates to in $s.

    1. Sorry Halloween exported over to the UK. £20,000 is about $25,000 US! I hear Black Friday has also expanded to the UK. It’s in Canada now also. That makes no sense to me as neither the UK nor Canada celebrates American Thanksgiving and most non-Americans have to work that day.

      1. Halloween originated in the UK (well Scotland & Ireland). Children were dressed up to hide them from the evil spirits. In Scotland children are meant to recite a poem/ song / joke to get sweets, rather than just begging. I agree that we have inherited the over-comercialised aspects from the US, such as buying pretty made costumes etc.

      2. Thanks for the clarification Rachael 🙂

  4. In defence of pumpkins – they are great to grow as part of the traditional “Three Sisters” method. The other two plants – corn and beans – provide for each other (beans give nitrogen, corn gives habitat for the beans to climb) and the big pumpkin leaves shade the soil like a living mulch. Plus then you can eat everything.

    1. I don’t have anything against pumpkins but we do throw a lot out this time of year. By the way, I saw a NYT recipe for a three sisters recipe I meant to send to you:

  5. In defense of what you call ‘made up holidays’ – people like them because they like having reasons to celebrate. Yes, there are some people who need to be told when and what to celebrate. While we don’t celebrate all of them and while I might not like all of them, we definitely do celebrate many of them, often for personal reasons. I don’t love Mother’s Day for a list of reasons, but my daughter does. I wouldn’t dare tell her to not celebrate it, when it means I get breakfast in bed, a beautiful handmade card and most often, something new for my garden. One needn’t purchase ‘things’ in order to celebrate.
    And the Christmas tree industry is one of the most sustainable around. The trees may get cut down, but they also are re-planted. In our area, Christmas trees get picked up and ground into free mulch. My husband has worked environmental non-profit for over 20 years and one thing he unapologetically does is get a Christmas tree every year because he feels they are so sustainable.

    1. Well, I didn’t say don’t celebrate. I said this is what I do, take it or leave it. If you like trees, get a tree. If you want to go out for brunch on Mother’s Day (which we do), then do that. I just don’t think we need to buy a bunch of stuff to celebrate, which is what most people do.

  6. I love your attitude! 🙂 I think we should celebrate what we really want to celebrate but forget about the almost compulsory festivities if they are not ‘our thing’. At Christmas I tend to send cards to older relatives who are not on social media and friends who really appreciate cards. I haven’t had a tree for years as my place is so small, and I love giving (and receiving) food and experiences as gifts. I haven’t got into festivals I didn’t grow up with, such as Halloween or Valentine’s, especially when they mean *everything* costs a small fortune more than otherwise. Hubby and I deliberately won’t go out to eat etc on Valentine’s Day – there are plenty of other days for that!

    I had to smile when you mentioned your wedding: we had four guests at ours. Two came from Finland, two were local, and we took a steam train to Canterbury where we had a register office wedding. Our guests didn’t even know where we’d go: we had only recommended comfy clothes! 🙂 We had food, bubbly and lots of fun during the train ride to the wedding and back, and it was ‘so us’. Afterwards we met up with friends and family for coffees, lunches etc so we didn’t ignore them completely. The idea of a massive traditional wedding just didn’t sound right to us at all, especially with family in different countries and having to decide whom to invite. I had been married before too so my Mum wasn’t too upset: she was there for the first wedding!

    The older I get, the simpler I want my life to be.

    1. Thanks Minna 🙂 I give lots of food too. You can’t really go wrong. And I have read that people remember experiences much more fondly than they do more stuff (which makes sense). OMG your wedding sounds like so much fun!

  7. I grew up in Argentina and all holidays were family centered. Christmas was a few presents, etc. It has made me sad to see holidays like Halloween become popular there recently because of the commercial aspect.
    We like to keep it simple and homemade. My kids are 10 and 13 and those homemade cakes, ravioli, etc. are what they love the most.
    They opted out of trick or treating for a couple years and my husband was so disappointed that he didn’t get any candy to steal. They are going this year because they go with friends now. Their costumes are whatever they can put together. I learned that the hard way when I bought a costume for my then toddler and then he changed his mind and cried that he wanted to be something else.
    Love your posts, please keep them coming!
    ps. am going to gift sourdough to my father in law. I think he will like it.

  8. I always enjoy reading your posts and ideas on non-waste. However, lest anyone reading thinks otherwise, it is possible to carve a pumpkin and cut it up to cook later. I never threw out a pumpkin, and now that we don’t do hallowe’en I kind of miss that. I used to get the neighbours to donate theirs to me too! If the pumpkin is very large it is best to cook the flesh, then continue to cook the mush and reduce it by about 1/3 or so to evaporate all the water. Then add a little butter, cook and mix some more. This left me with lots of ready to use pumpkin in the freezer for the whole winter.

    1. Thanks so much for the info and directions Hilda. Did you carve your pumpkins the day before or day of Halloween? We used to carve them earlier so they rotted. By the way, I cooked a whole sugar pie pumpkin in my pressure cooker the other day. It took eight minutes!!! ~ Anne Marie

  9. We have never been big on Halloween in Australia, until a few years ago when the marketers got onto it. Classic example of how much power advertising has. Wish they would put it to good rather than promoting all the wasteful, useless commercial crap it leaves behind, not to mention the setting on concrete that consumers have to obey the marketers. I bet there aren’t as many dollars in promoting ideas such as yours. I know which side of the fence I sit. Thanks for sharing!

    1. “I bet there aren’t as many dollars in promoting ideas such as yours.” Don’t I know it! I like your use of the word “obey” because that’s what people often do. We don’t have to live this way and keep consuming like crazy and in fact, we can’t continue to do so. It’s madness.

  10. Love this, thank you!

    Op 25 okt. 2016 11:14 PM schreef “The Zero-Waste Chef” :

    > The Zero-Waste Chef posted: “It may come as no surprise that as a person > who makes her deodorant, crushes eggshells for homemade tooth powder and > brews hooch at home also doesn’t partake in the consumer frenzy otherwise > known as the holidays. Some would say I go too far. When compar” >

    1. Thanks so much. Glad you liked it. I actually edited that part out. I thought it was too long. Maybe I should put it back in 😉

  11. Hello Zero Waste Chef,

    I’m a recent sign up to your blog and I’m currently living the most zero waste that I ever have, it’s been great.

    I’m curious to know if you’ve considered going vegan for environmental reasons? I’m guessing you’ve heard the arguments for water savings, land savings, carbon reduction, et cetera? It doesn’t appear that you’re averse to making personal changes that seem outside of the norm. Just curious to know if you’ve ever given it a chance or would like more resources?

    I’ve been vegan now for 4 years and it goes so well with zero waste and caring about the environment and other life. It feels awesome being vegan and I’ve had had very few serious challenges with the transition.

    Cowspiracy =

    Meat the Truth from Netherlands = ttp://

    Gary Yourofsky – The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear (the case for animal rights and veganism)

    Best regards,

  12. I do the same and am content to celebrate the ordinary.

    1. Sounds good to me Mary 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  13. My bulk Barn, located in LaSalle, Montreal, accepts reusable bags. They also accept you reuse their brand name glass jars, but I refuse to buy more jars since I have so many.

    1. Woohoo! That’s great about the bags Nelly. Hopefully they will let you bring your own jars at some point. ~ Anne Marie

  14. Yes, so much yes. I wish there were more people like you out there. I can’t stand all the holidays anymore. I love being with my family and enjoying a nice meal, but all the stress that comes with the holidays, I can do without.

    1. Thanks so much! I hope your holidays are family-filled, relaxing and stress-free 🙂

  15. Here un Europe everything is like you say in this post. It is true that people still buy a lot of stuff they don’t need, and every holiday is a reason yo buy something, but to start we don’t have halloween. In my town (North of Spain) people celebrare the Samhain, which is Celtic, and we don’t have the candy thing or decorate pumpkins, and if we do it is in the house for about two days, so we can eate it later.
    Of course the word “Halloween” is everywhere, as a marketing strategy to make people think that they have to buy and Halloween is also our tradition 😂

    Black Friday is useful (it’s absurd we have this here, because it’s an American tradition), but we use it to buy Christmas presents or New Years outfit (although many people consume a lot, and buy things they don’t need). But is not a insane as it is there in the USA. Many shops don’t have discount, and the ones who do only apply a 20-30% in some stuff.

    Christmas: a few presents per member 😂 I get 2-3 from my parents and then some money from granma, maybe a small necklace from my aunts and uncles. That’s it. Also we don’t have the “organic” or “natural” tree, we’be been using this fake one for the last 9 years (yes, it won’t decompose I know 🤷🏻‍♀️). Also decoration at home is soo simple, a few religious stuff (Christian tradition) and some lights on the tree.

    St. Valentines (nobody celebrates it), Patrick’s (same), thanksgiving (same) Mother’s Day, Father’s Day: a small detail and a meal somewhere.
    Weddings, same. There still be people who spend so much money on their wedding, specially if they have it 😂 but where I come from weddings are modest and include closest family members and friends.

    I sorry for the long text, but I though I’d be interesting to givean “European” perspective 😂
    Maybe our diferente ways to celebrate open eyes to someone out there. We don’t have to spend money and energy buying things, what matters is to reunite family and care for each other 😉
    Yes, we also have other holidays, but “consuming ones” are the ones mentioned below, you Americans transmited us the consuming thing 😂♥️

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