This blog is about my own journey to sustainability—getting outside of the box and being more authentically human. It’s about not viewing 'wealth' as money, but as something much more holistic and broad. The ideas presented here come from my newest book, The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Stuffing the Stockings with Less Stuff

It is easy to get caught up in holiday consumerism. It's not unusual for people to find themselves spending money on decorations, or rushing through thrift-stores searching for something, anything!, to get for friends and family. We like holidays because they offer us ritual, connection with people, and something to celebrate. But, even when the ritual involves buying unnecessary, excessive presents, we can find ourselves participating in that ritual—and it may not necessarily be a ritual we would have consciously chosen.

So how does one celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank, or giving in to the rituals of consumerism? Simple. Develop new rituals. This year, you don’t have to rack up credit card debt or get swept up in the season’s commercialism. Instead, consider creating holidays that instill more meaning into the season and encourage more sharing, laughter, creativity, and personal renewal.

According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers spent a total of $441.97 billion during the 2008 holiday season. 40% of Americans start their holiday shopping before Halloween. According to the Nilson Report, Americans’ credit card debt, by the end of 2008, reached $972.73 billion, up 1.12% from 2007, with the average credit card debt per household totaling $8,329. These numbers point to the urgency of our revisioning consumer habits. What if—instead of buying “stuff” for holiday gifts—we gave gifts of time, gifts of experience and gifts of charity?

Gifts of time include things like babysitting, car washing, a month of taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, shoveling the snow, cleaning the cat box, dog walking or pet sitting, or a hiking trip. When I was a young mother, my best friend always gave me one day of child-care a week. Oh, how I looked forward to that day each week when I could have “my own” time!—a respite from the demands of parenting two active toddlers.

Gifts of experience include things like an offer to teach a skill such as canning, ballroom dancing, knitting, or swimming. I often give my horsy friends a gift certificate for a dressage lesson. Or, I gift them with an afternoon of hiking and wildcrafting in the backcountry.

Gifts of charity might include a donation to a cause in the name of a family member. Some families make gifts to charities and then present family members with a coupon or card indicating the gift was made in their name. Or, you could support a homeless shelter or protect an acre of rainforest. You could designate an amount of money to donate to charity and let your children pick which causes will receive it. Older children can research organizations that match your family’s values.

And, of course, there is the option of homemade gifts. Homemade salsa, jam and baked goods all taste much better than their commercial counter-parts. Include, of course, the recipe. Or, you can mix tins of dried, wildcrafted teas such as lavender, mint or rose hips. Include a mesh tea strainer. One of my favorites is a mix of lavender, rose petals and clover.

Being creative and keeping your mind focused on the real meaning of gift-giving will help you keep the culture's "buy more" influence at bay. Keep in mind, too, that the efforts you make to curb your holiday spending now will free up more cash for the coming year. And that's the best holiday gift you can give yourself and your family.