Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don’t let the holidays waste the planet

Did you know?
What can I do to reduce my holiday waste?

Send holiday cards by e-mail or use electronic greetings. If everyone sent one less card, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. Reuse holiday cards by creating gift tags.

Use newspaper, children’s artwork, or fabric bags for gift wrap. If every American family wrapped three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Forgo the ribbon, or reuse it. If every family reused 2 feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet?

Shop wisely. Take reusable shopping bags when you go shopping. Purchase gifts with minimal packaging or ones that don’t use batteries.

Use less energy. Drive less and combine trips: if each family used 1 less gallon of gas during the holidays, we'd reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 million tons. Encourage carpooling to holiday events. Use LED lights to reduce 90% of energy consumption.

Cut back on gift giving (read my other blog post on simplifying the holidays). Ask your friends and family to participate in “the Hundred Dollar Holiday,” started by environmentalist Bill McKibben and friends (participants limit holiday spending to $100). A national survey found that 70% of Americans would welcome less emphasis on gift giving and spending.

Produce less waste while entertaining. Send leftover food home with guests or donate to a shelter. Set up recycling stations at holiday events. Use cloth napkins and durable goods instead of paper and plastic. Offer water in pitchers rather than bottled water. Serve locally grown, sustainable foods.

Do you have any suggestions to share on how to green the holidays? If so, please leave a comment.

10 ways to simplify the holidays

Did you know that the average American household spends $1,700 on holiday gifts and accessories each year and carries credit card debt of $15,788? Furthermore, the holidays can be a particularly stressful time of year, especially for women and people with lower incomes. Here is some good news, though: people can feel more love and happiness during the holiday season because they connect or reconnect with loved ones.

One secret to creating more happy moments and minimizing your holiday stress is to simplify your holiday traditions. You can start planning stress-free holidays now by making lists and organizing your family’s gift giving and traditions. Here are 10 ideas to consider:

Gift giving

1. Draw names for gifts or plan a yankee swap. We have a large extended family, and my cousins and I used to buy gifts for all of our children. Now we have the kids draw names, while the adults do a yankee swap.

2. Shop local. I like shopping in nearby Multnomah Village so I can get my gifts wrapped for free.

3. Make your own gifts. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to give wonderful, personal gifts. My friend Shelia makes unique, wonderful family gifts with her kids, such as a cookbook with their family’s recipes or a painted mirror with her kids' photos on it. Other ideas are tree ornaments or photo calendars. I've been known to paint glassware, do calligraphy calendars, or make candles or jewelry. Search the library or the internet for easy handmade gifts you can make. Making gifts can save you a lot of money, and the gifts are much more personal.

4. Give experiences instead of physical gifts. Last year we gave Chris and Kieran tickets to see “Rain” (the Beatles tribute band). Other ideas are theater tickets, restaurant gift certificates, sports events, trips to the beach or mountains, or movie tickets. When I was a kid, we would often get one "big" gift for Christmas--like a bike or a stereo. These gifts were nearly always secondhand, of course, but we loved them.

5. Give a donation instead of a gift. You could consider donating to a charity in lieu of gifts. Last year Mike and made a joint donation to Interplast instead of buying gifts for each other. Other worthy organizations are Mercy Corps, Oregon Food Bank, Medical Teams International, Water For People, and Pennies for Peace. A few years ago my sister and her family signed up to sponsor three children (matching their children’s ages) in developing countries through World Vision.

Holiday traditions

6. Give back to your community. Local organizations look for people to sponsor needy families. Try the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, or Lutheran Community Services NW. Or surf Hands On Portland’s comprehensive Web site to find a volunteer idea that fits your family. The Children’s Book Bank is a great local charity that is always seeking volunteers and donations.

7. Plan low-stress holiday events. Can you say “potluck”? It’s the most beautiful word in the holiday dictionary. If you host gatherings, ask guests to bring a food or beverage to reduce your time and cash outlay. Or plan a cookie exchange with friends.

8. Look for opportunities to spend quality family time. We always go to the Macy’s Holiday Parade downtown (and it’s especially fun now that our Robert Gray Middle School student marches in it!). It’s a great way to start the holidays. We also like to go out into the sticks to choose a tree and stop by a McMenamin’s afterward.

9. If you live near Portland, take in some of the city's great entertainment. Check out Northwest Children’s Theater Company’s production of “Annie,” Portland Center Stage’s “A Christmas Story” and “The Santaland Diaries,” or the Northwest Dance Company’s Nutcracker Tea (a family-friendly, less-expensive, and condensed “Nutcracker”). Have you experienced traditional British pantomime? You don’t have to leave Portland to partake in this hilarious tradition. “Holly Jolly Hullabaloo” is great fun. And it’s FREE, FREE, FREE! (Can you tell how much our family likes the theater?). Pioneer Courthouse Square hosts a holiday ale fest, holiday artisan market, the “Tuba Christmas,” and a Christmas Carol singalong, in addition to tree and menorah lighting.

10. Spread out the fun. Who says that the holidays have to end on Dec. 9 (Chanukkah) or 25 (Christmas)? Our family has celebrated Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) with a tea party. We leave our tree up until Epiphany and continue my husband’s family tradition of leaving our shoes under the tree so the “three kings” can put a small gift in them. Some companies plan holiday parties in January when it’s less chaotic. Think about ways you could spread out your celebrations.

Here are some more resources:


What are your ideas for simplifying the holidays? Please leave a comment and share your ideas!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nine steps to identify clutter

This great list of "nine quick tips to identify clutter" by Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) is not only applicable to clutter in our own homes, but it is also a good list to apply to potential purchases.

Our vacation habits in 2010 have set us back financially, in addition to preschool fees and costs for children's activities...and we are trying to be even more austere in how we spend our money.

I am going to print out this list and laminate it so I can carry it around with me!