Affordable and Sustainably Minded Holiday Ideas

December 11, 2023, sierraharlan

Mother and daughter playing with hand made paper chain, laughing. Cute Christmas lifestyle scene.

I grew up celebrating Christmas and, very occasionally, Hanukkah. Sometime over the past several years, my “holiday spirit” has dwindled. I think part of it is the consumerism culture that is at a height in December and is at odds with my personal values. This year, I have made it a goal to reclaim the holiday season and start new traditions with my family that will add fun and meaning during the holiday season. Having a new baby gives my husband and me fresh eyes and a renewed sense of wonder and joy. I am excited to start new family traditions that, hopefully, my daughter will look back on with warmth in her heart.

Little girl showing Christmas garland of dried citrus slices in the kids room. Selective focus.

Decorating one’s house for the holidays is an annual tradition in many homes.  Last year, I saw a fun and simple DIY idea for making Christmas trees out of toilet paper rolls and did this activity with my mom when she visited over the holidays. It was a fun way to spend time together, very low cost, and an environmentally friendly way to upcycle toilet paper rolls. I don’t have many holiday decorations and, honestly, like it this way. However, I enjoyed making the Christmas tree decorations last year and would like to make a new decoration every year. I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to participate. This year, I am going to use dried orange slices. I plan on making a garland and decorating around my house with dehydrated orange slices in other ways as well.

Instead of doing a Christmas tree this year, which takes up a lot of space in our tiny home, we will put pine branches in bottles, similar to the idea in this post. I plan on decorating them with (you guessed it) dehydrated orange slices. One thing I like about using oranges to decorate is that they can be used a second time or simply go in the compost. I plan on using them in a simmer pot and possibly as potpourri around my house. Our winters in the Willamette Valley are long and dreary, and bringing nature inside and engaging the senses through smell is a nice boost for our mental health.

Parent making impression of baby's hand in blue doughGift-giving is a big part of my culture and something that brings stress and joy into many homes. This year, I plan on making stove-top potpourri gifts for friends and family. I plan on upcycling jars from the Benton County Re-Usable Container Collective Facebook group or local thrift stores. For my parents, in-laws, and husband (shhh), I also plan on making clay ornaments with my baby’s hand and/or footprint. Last year, I learned of a common gift-giving “rule” that some families use, “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” My husband and I both like this idea and have talked about basing our gifts for each other and our daughter on this. I also love the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod (translates to “the Christmas book flood”), where family members give each other a new book on Christmas Eve and spend the evening reading together, as well as possibly sipping cozy drinks and enjoying snacks.

Baby in a white onesie inside a red and white striped boxGift wrapping is something that I try to do as sustainably as possible. Many types of wrapping paper can’t be recycled, and so much of it goes to the landfill each year. Brown paper grocery store bags and newspaper are my go-to, as well as wrapping paper and gift bags that I’ve saved from gifts I was given. I usually dress them up with string and some small twigs from our pine tree. This article has some additional ideas for sustainable wrapping paper. My favorite new idea from their list is using old maps. I have a pile of old, outdated road maps, and I may even make some decorations by wrapping some boxes with them! Another fun upcycled way to give smaller gifts is to wrap them in a toilet paper roll or paper towel roll and tie the ends of the roll to make it resemble a Christmas popper/cracker.

For the last few years, I’ve done a big clean after Christmas to give away items I am not using and anything we were given that we won’t use. Donating gifts is something I still feel guilty about, and I am working on changing my mindset to remember that the item should be in a home where it is used/enjoyed rather than sitting on a shelf somewhere. If you have something you want to regift that can’t be donated, the Buy Nothing group is great. I look forward to starting new traditions with my little family and hope this post gives you some ideas, too!