9 Simple Ways to Reduce Holiday Consumption

The holidays can present many challenges for anyone trying to cut their waste. From the parties, to the feasts to the gifts—and everyone’s expectations—you may feel like throwing your hands in the air and throwing in the (disposable) towel. These nine steps will help you reduce your consumption, retain your sanity and keep everyone happy.

1. Buy less stuff

This seems pretty obvious. But although you and your partner may have agreed to exchange no gifts, that might not go over as well with your kids, your brother, your mother-in-law… Fortunately, you can give your gifts stuff-free if you opt for experiences and services.

My younger daughter—who doesn’t read my blog and so won’t see this—wants to go to the symphony so I bought two tickets for that. They weren’t cheap. But have you seen the price of one video game?! Maybe music isn’t your recipient’s thing. You have lots of other choices—tickets to games, movies, the theatre, the train to come visit. I have compiled a “shopping” list of experiences and services here.

2. If you’re crafty, make gifts

Today kicked off Make Something Week, an international push to encourage people to become active makers, rather than passive consumers. Our addiction to convenience has become a self-perpetuating downward spiral toward helplessness. As we become less skilled at the basics—cooking, gardening, sewing, carpentry, repairing and mending—we become more dependent on corporations to fulfill our basic needs and so we buy more stuff. Reclaim your independence. Make something!

My younger daughter wants to make all of her presents this year. She loves to embroider. Last year, she gave me the dishtowel below, embroidered with the likeness of our cat, Bootsy. I love it! You could also make food. Most people would love to receive a glass jar filled with homemade cookies. Here is a list of 13 other gifts in jars.

Bootsy embroidered on a kitchen towel

3. When you do buy stuff, buy local stuff

We all love the convenience of shopping online. But when you shop local, more of your money stays in your local community, you support local small businesses and you avoid all that packaging! San Francisco recently raised garbage collection rates due to the “Amazon effect”—bins overflowing with brown cardboard and packaging materials from online shopping.

4. Learn to say no

Be prepared! This time of year, people will attempt to foist large amounts of stuff onto you. Can you speak with your friends and family in advance and come up with alternatives to exchanging presents? If you have to, practice in the mirror what you’ll say: “We’d like to start a new tradition this year and take you out for dinner at [name of recipient’s favorite restaurant], rather than exchange gifts” or “For the love of god, if you buy me so much as a pair of socks, I’ll have to rearrange my 600-square-foot apartment, please buy my nothing this year.” Tailor your request to each audience. 

5. If you bake, buy bulk ingredients

My mom’s freezer sits empty pretty much all year. Then about a month before Christmas, she begins to cram it with chocolate chip cookies, taffy tarts, date squares, dream squares, brownies, pie pastry… The scary thing is we eat every morsel… If you plan to do lots of baking, buy your ingredients in bulk, filling up glass jars and cloth bulk bags. Just make sure you get the weight (the tares) of the jars marked before you fill them up. You don’t want to pay for the weight of the jar, just the weight of the food in the jar.

bulk shopping
Bulk bins at Goodness Me! in Guelph, Ontario

6. If you don’t bake, buy with reusables

If you don’t enjoy baking—my boss says she philosophically opposes baking—find a bakery that will let you fill up your reusable containers and simply buy the cookies, brownies and other treats rather than baking them. You don’t have to make everything yourself. I tend to because that’s how I’m hardwired. Everyone is different. But both bakers and non-bakers can reduce their waste.

7. Plan your big meal

Reducing your waste requires some planning ahead but not that much—a meal plan for a few days, a shopping list and the jars and bags to fill up with food at the store. The same rules apply to a big meal like Christmas dinner. Will you cook all the food yourself? Host a potluck? Eat at your parents’ house? What will you cook? Come up with a menu now. Some food you can make ahead. Here is a list of ideas. And try out the Guest-imator, a dinner party calculator that figures out just how much food you need to buy for your menu.

Image courtesy of Save The Food

8. Wrap gifts in reusables

Cloth produce and bulk bags can double as gift bags. Below are some of the bags I have made over the years. Dish towels, hand towels and bath towels double as wrap and useful gift. (As a crazy jar lady, I think everything looks best in jars…) 

cloth produce bags
Cloth produce and bulk bags can double as gift bags

9. Choose natural decorations

When my kids were little, I made gingerbread cookie ornaments for the tree—gingerbread men, stars and bells I decorated with icing and silver dragées (which are illegal here in California!). We have also made popcorn garland and have decorated with pinecones and pomegranates (just be sure to eat that fruit). I saw the beautiful dried oranges in the pic below on Michaela Chamberlain’s Instagram feed. She’s using these to decorate her tree. Her tree will not only look beautiful but will also smell fantastic!

dried oranges for decorating the tree
Dried orange slices to decorate the tree

Happy holidays!

23 Comment

  1. Your blog is perfect for the holidays. Craftiness and creativeness makes christmas much better 🙂

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you 🙂

  2. Sound advice indeed!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you!

  3. Really really good post; I’m going to re-blog this once I’ve got my two scheduled posts out of the way. Goodness knows we need to do this, especially in America, for the sake of the planet! G (in Australia)

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you. We can have a perfectly pleasant holiday season without trashing the planet!

  4. love this! buy local always!!!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you. #buylocal!

  5. “The holidays can present many challenges for anyone trying to cut their waste.” I had to chuckle at this, at its understatement. This time of year is the worst for waste! I will be sure to check out your links. Thank you for reminding us we are not alone in this struggle against wrapping. (Doesnt the plastic armor that toys are encased in drive you mad?) and also, that there are consequences (like San Francisco’s) that come from our thoughtless behavior. Happy holidays!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      I originally had written more of a ranty opening but then thought I better tone it down. Maybe I swung too far to non-ranty mode 😉 We’re bombarded with excess this time of year! You’re right about that hard plastic casing. And it’s around so many other products too (I’m thinking kitchen gadgets). Happy holidays to you too 🙂

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks Kathryn. I’m glad you found the info useful 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  6. […] über 9 Simple Ways to Reduce Holiday Consumption — The Zero-Waste Chef […]

  7. such a great reminder of what to do this season!! I love love the name of that bulk store in Guelph !!! I live North of there,,

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks Laurie. My daughter goes to school in Guelph and loves that store–and the area. ~ Anne Marie

  8. I love these ideas, just last year I begun not using Christmas wrapping paper. It looks so pretty when wrapped up and the stacked boxes under the tree but I started getting sad with all the waster paper after unwrapping them. Not to mention no one cared as much as I did of the pretty wrapping paper so now I use newspaper.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you Roxanna. I’m glad you like the ideas. I bet your newspaper looks great. That’s a good alternative. Happy holidays 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  9. Ah! This post was full of much needed tips and reminders, namely to buy local and to say no! Thank you thank you 🙂

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks Susan. I’m glad you found the post helpful. ~ Anne Marie

  10. Well since this past year I became a zero waster/minimalist (even though as we speak my desk is loaded with papers!), I realized what a consumer my husband really is. He’s not really gung ho with the ZW stuff but I am trying to help him see through a new light… mostly with food. But he mentioned the other day he wants to buy our one year old some toys for her birthday. I said, “If you are going to buy toys for her for Christmas, can you please remember to make it Hello Kitty and/or eco friendly.” He was actually pretty ok with those options. So I feel a little accomplished. ^^

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Sarah, I find the hardest part about zero waste is other people. If I lived alone and didn’t have a cat, it would be much easier. Not everyone I live with as into it as I am but they don’t complain that much either. I do find, however, that these ideas rub off on people (maybe even if they resist) and they change their habits. Good luck on your quest 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  11. Wonderful advice! I sent my family a “please don’t buy me anything” email this year, and that was the hardest first step. I love your use of produce and bulk bags as gift bags!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you! Good for you. I tried to tell my mom not to buy me anything… I did successfully convince her to give my kids cash. That may sound unoriginal (or worse) but they will like it. I hate to see her spend her money on stuff they won’t ever use.

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