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The holidays are a wonderful time of year when festivities and traditions take place. Gift giving is often a large part of this season, exacerbated by Black Friday and other holiday deals. Decorations and lights also begin taking over towns and cities. All of these practices contribute to a time period of huge overconsumption worldwide. How can we as consumers consciously reduce our footprint without sacrificing the holiday magic and spirit? Follow these five tips for small, easy ways to celebrate the holidays more sustainably. 

1. Reuse gift wrapping and accessories

This is an easy one that many people might not even think about. In the excitement and chaos of the moment, holiday gift unwrapping can become cluttered and messy, leading many to simply throw everything out—out of sight out of mind. But if you really take the time to salvage, organize, and store what is reusable, it can save money, time, and waste. For example, my mom has always saved used gift tags, especially those made for the family. Even though they already have a name on them, you can use them for the same friend or family member the following year. Wrapping paper is almost impossible to reuse, but in the case that you do use it, it is easy to find options made from recycled materials. The options might be less fun, but it is easy to spruce them up with fun accessories. 

2. Gift sustainable items from ethical sources

You don’t have to always give people the newest and best items straight from the ‘just-in’ rack. There is an element of charm to finding unique knick-knacks in antique or thrift stores—not only can you find great deals, but it also makes the art of gift-giving much more personal. When you’ve gone out of your way to find someone a treasure that makes you think of them, the gesture is that much more special. So don’t think you need to purchase everything brand new and sparkly. Sometimes the used items have the most value, even at a discount. 

3. Reduce food waste

The holidays are known to be a time of elaborate feasting with family and friends. It can be tempting to purchase a plethora of food just to create a picture-perfect spread that fills the table. But it’s not necessary to get multiple kinds of side dishes and multiple kinds of pie—purchase or cook whatever will be consumed and whatever you know people will enjoy. Additionally—and if you are able—try to cook your dishes with whole ingredients that don’t come wrapped in all kinds of disposable packaging. If you have a personal garden or go to a local farmer’s market, try to see what you can scrounge up from those sources before resorting to the pre-made items. With these practices, you can help avoid holiday season food waste and consume healthy, whole, organic foods.  

4. Turn off holiday lights whenever unnecessary

Holiday decorations are so fun and bring a lot of cheer to the bleak and cold seasons. But, try to avoid consuming so much energy to light up the neighborhood. Whenever you are gone for long periods of time or are asleep, make an effort to turn off decorations that use power. Just like how you turn off the lights before you leave your home, the same intention can be made with holiday decorations. Alternatively, try to find more traditional decorations that don’t even need power (or find some sort of energy-conscious offering). That way, you are avoiding the issue all together. 

5. Reduce the amount of gifts bought in your household

Now, this one might be more challenging and unnatural to implement, but there are more benefits than one. The holidays can be a stressful time in terms of ensuring that everyone is pleased with their gifts and no one is left out. Our happiness and self-worth can tend to rely on how many gifts we get and from whom. But it’s easy to switch this narrative within your household if you set expectations. This might be more difficult with children, but amongst adults it is easier to agree upon a standard of gift giving. Maybe you agree to only exchange one or two gifts with your partner and make sure that it is extra special. Maybe you set up a Secret Santa gift exchange with your friends and family: this way, each person only gives and receives one gift, but everyone feels included and valued. Not only does this effort to approach to gift-giving save money, but it also encourages setting limits to overconsumption practices and avoiding materialistic tendencies. 

All of these tips take a conscious effort, but once they are implemented as habits, they are easy to maintain and make a larger impact than you might expect. Challenge yourself and your family to lower your waste this holiday season—you might just find yourself saving time, money, and energy in the process!

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