Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Holiday

Ways my family has reduced the cost and the negative impacts of holiday gift-giving.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
. Catch phrase, buzz word, easy way to explain environmental consciousness to kids. Also, the way my family has decided to celebrate our Winter Holiday.*

It started partly because, like most of the 99 percent, my family was feeling the impact of the recession. The other part of it was that we were working on some environmental science concepts with the kids, and we wanted to see how it would play out if we walked the walk.

This is our second year of doing things this way, nothing has been purchased new. The girls have picked gifts for each other out of their own toy collections. We have some hand-me-down toys from friends that will soon be wrapped up, and I've got a couple bags of new-to-us clothes and books that will also be unwrapped to happy smiles soon.

As I prepare to submit this, I realize that one huge part of why this works at our house is that our kids don't watch commercial TV, so except through friends, they don't even know what the latests and greatests are this year.  Even so, if your kids do, I encourage you to read on...there may be a useful tip in here for you somewhere!


First off, we eschewed wrapping paper in favor of fabric scraps (which, as a crafty momma, I have plenty of and can be easily prettied up with some pinking sheers along the edges and tied with real ribbons) as gifts can still be unwrapped (and we don't miss out on that fun this way) and gift bags in favor of colorful reusable shopping bags (the pretty ones from Ikea were front and center three years ago, when we began developing this idea).

Cards are homemade (remember, my kids are still under 6, so we're not talking crazy-cool scrapbook cards...yet...). Gift tags are reused from year to year (durable tags were purchased several years back, the sparkly ones might get laminated this year as they're showing some wear and they're so festive). This stuff was an easy sell at my house.

Secondly, we get gifts at consignment stores, Ebay and even the lower-end thrift stores.

When my elder daughter and I began discussing a certain “fashion doll” and why we will not be having that type of “role model” in our house, we found an alternative in Groovy Girls (which come in diverse skin tones, which was important to me, and have sparkly clothes and accessories, which was important to said daughter). Once we decided that would work, I realized the difference between a new doll and an older doll was minimal (and they can be machine washed, by the way, they're plush!) – except when it came to the price tag ($15 or so new, generally under $7 used). Anyone who's started a collection with just one item/doll/guy/etc. knows how that can be a bummer, so we wanted to have a couple for each kid so they could play together. Used fit the bill just right.

I confess that last year I went completely overboard. I found Groovy Girls at Once Upon a Child, at Savers, at the Goodwill. If we wanted each of our kids to have two dolls a piece, I'd have to have a lot more kids. I think on the morning the kids opened gifts they had over 20. Have I mentioned that I'm not even close to perfect?

Last year, my spouse got a collection of the Lemony Snicket books (which were mentioned as a possible read in the future. Of course, a year later, it just so happens that I've read those books...and so far I'm the only one...), a couple of smaller items, and I got a pair of tap shoes (I love dance). All used. All in beautiful shape.

Why We Do It

  1. It reduces the number of products coming into my kids' hands after having freshly left the hands of kids working in sweatshops in the third world. Ikea, by the way, has some systems in place to prevent/eliminate child labor in their factories. Not quite as ideal as Fair Trade efforts, but better than most big box stores!
  2. Some of the stuff we have has come from China (Groovy Girls included, as I recall), but we're still “voting with our wallets .” The Manhattan Toy Company hasn't seen our money. The Goodwill has. And some families across the country have (via Ebay). I feel good about that. And we are working to buy more items that are locally made too.
  3. We support “upcycled” artisans, such as Twitch and Whiskers (http://www.etsy.com/shop/twitchandwhiskers ), who creates amazing jewelery from vintage thimbles, reused marker caps, and all sorts of odds and ends. Last year, one of our closest family friends got a bracelet from her made of Barbie boots. Some upcycle folks do less funky stuff too, by the way. We're supporting local artisans, creative recycling efforts and it creates a sense of community. My kid commissioned a bracelet for her music teacher last year via Twitch and Whiskers, so Mei-Ling Uliasz asked about what colors and charms my daughter wanted to use. My kid was so proud to 1) know the artist, 2) know that she helped create this one of a kind gift. Cool stuff.
  4. Environmental impact last year was disposing of two cardboard pieces and saving the tissue paper the gifts from my brother's family came in. There's little to no packaging on used items. The packaging from some upcycle artisans is often reused or reusable. Best of all, because we've avoided plastic toys, nothing from last year's holiday has broken and ended up in the trash. Let's face it. Plastic stuff breaks. Then there are kids in tears, someone feeling badly that that money got wasted, and one less item to play with. At least that would be my house. I really prefer to avoid that whole scene as much as possible.
  5. When we go to Meme and Pepe's house, all bets are off, by the way. I'm talking Winter Holiday at OUR house. We're working within our walls first. However, I will say that my sister-in-law and Meme and Pepe and my own family all now shop off of wish lists for the kids, and we only give small, home-made gifts to the adults. This way nothing ends up in the trash (or, from my home, at the thrift store) because it wasn't something the kids really wanted.
  6. Because we have a strong emphasis on education in our family, this year we've tried something new. We're asking for family to deposit half of whatever they might have spent into the kids' CHET accounts. I realize that by the time my littles are ready for college anything is possible, but at least we're trying to help out when they get there this way. And the girls will know that everybody helped to get them there. They'll have to pay a lot of it on their own, I suspect, but again, this is a way of showing that the family is behind them getting as solid an education as they can.
  7. Books are great. Goodwill sells them for about a buck a piece for kids' soft covers. The Friends of the Library bookstore (which is now conveniently in the library, the Friends' Room) sells them even cheaper and has a great selection of classics and newer books most of the time. Books are also fun because you can get one on literally any topic under the sun... and when the book has been outgrown, it can be donated back to the library, or the Family Resource Center, or Literacy Volunteers and it will go to another reader to be enjoyed all over again!
  8. If you can get a bunch of friends together, toy and clothing swaps can be a LOT of fun. Chances are, no matter what, you've got one gift that your kid really doesn't care for. Think what fun it could be to trade that with a friend and end up with something more useful. We've had a couple of these in the past with various parenting groups I've been involved with. Sometimes the most successful ones are the ones pre-holiday.

Meanwhile, I've got to get to making lunch and then my younger child and I have to get back to the gift she's working on for her speech therapist. We wrote a book together and she's got a few pages left to illustrate.

When we make gifts, we are reducing our contribution to corporate holiday greed, we are flexing our creativity, sharing time with each other and, here, we often use recycled materials. However you celebrate (and whatever you celebrate), I hope you and your family have a wonderful time celebrating together.

*I am going to skirt the religious side of all of this in this post, intentionally. In our richly diverse city, we have people of any number of faiths, religions, spiritual, and humanist-y leanings. This is not a post about a specific holiday, rather some thoughts and ideas about gift-giving and trying to reduce the greedy side of the commercialism big holidays have inherited. Hence the generic “Winter Holiday.”  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jim Hartzell December 18, 2011 at 09:50 PM
What a great article you have written. If only more would put your ideas into practice.
Gene Bartholomew December 19, 2011 at 02:04 PM
Ditto and ditto. So many parents these days only teach their children that the world revolves around them, this is refreshing to say the least. So many have turned what is supposed to be a time of reflecting and giving into a time of getting. We have asked people to take whatever it was they were going to do or give to us and give it to charity, we'd prefer animal charities but any would be a good example for children to learn some good lessons about the real world. Especially since Connecticut is largely affluent and not a good indicator of how many people struggle in this once great nation. All parents need to be more responsible like you, your children will no doubt be a gift to society instead of a burdon.
Maura Jo Lynch December 20, 2011 at 12:59 AM
That's fantastic! I will have to mention this to my mom, who's starting to "thin out" her heirlooms -- love the written stories!
Maura Jo Lynch December 20, 2011 at 01:41 AM
Note: The day after I wrote this, I heard this piece on the radio... :) : http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/12/16/143842712/with-alternative-giving-a-nudge-out-of-poverty-for-the-poor
Molly Nolan December 21, 2011 at 03:03 AM
Great article. So many ideas to use for this season of holidays and beyond. Thank you.


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