It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but how can we make it the most sustainable time of the year? When it comes to decorating, it is important for all of us to spend the little extra effort to make easy, environmentally-friendly choices. Gone are the days of decking the halls with disposables. It’s time to get creative with sustainable decorations.
While some believe that an artificial tree used year-after-year is a better option than chopping down a tree, but the truth of the matter is, buying a real Christmas tree is usually the better option for the environment. Think about the trip your plastic fir had to make across the globe to get to your house. Most artificial trees are produced in Asia, so make a more natural choice and support a local business at the same time instead.
Christmas trees are grown on farms for the purpose of being cut down – not unlike annual produce like pumpkins or corn. If you chop down a tree that isn’t from a tree farm, do your part by planting a few in its place. The most important thing is to be sure you properly recycle your tree after the holiday. A quick web search can help you find the most convenient recycling outlet. The best option is to use a potted tree that can live year-round in your home or yard. My family has a Norfolk Island Pine in the corner of our family room. In December, we decorate it and it becomes a holiday feature.
It can’t be said enough, switching to LED lights will save you money, create way less stress on the electrical grid, and reduce your chances of an electrical fire to almost zero. LED lights have come a long way since they were introduced. Initially, LEDs were cold and a bit garish. Now you can find warmer tones that are easier on the eyes and are closer to traditional lights. The variety and quality can fluctuate quite a bit, so try to find ones of higher quality. I suggest buying one package, trying them out, and then investing in more once you’ve confirmed you like the color.
One warning, mixing LEDs and incandescent lights can be an eyesore; the different levels of warmth conflict with each other. Try to go LED all the way for the most ecological and visual success! And don’t forget LED floodlights while you’re at it! With color-changing floodlights, you can leave them up all year and use a remote to change the white to holiday green and red or blue.
Many stores sell natural garlands and wreaths. But an even better option is to take some trimmings of your own coniferous trees! A few pine branches and pinecones on the mantelpiece immediately transform your room into a holiday retreat – and nothing beats the smell of freshly cut pine! You can also pick up some free or very low-cost scrap greenery from stores where Christmas trees are sold.
I also refer to Scandinavia and other parts of Europe for inspiration. The Old World charm you find across Europe is inspired by Christmas celebrations hundreds of years ago, before the influx of synthetic and artificial decor filling shelves nowadays. Decorations in Sweden use boughs of fresh greenery, straw, and wood. The German Christmas Markets have made their way to the USA and are popping up all over the country. The Chicago Christkindlmarket, for example, is a great place to pick up inspired ideas for decorating with Old World charm.
One of the most important things we can do as responsible stewards of the planet is to reuse items over and over. Creating and using the same decorations year-after-year is great for building memories. Repair damaged or worn decorations if needed, and be sure to store them carefully for extended longevity.
If you want to expand your collection, try hitting up estate sales or adopting decorations from an older relative. My sister and I adopted many of our family’s favorite decorations as our parents’ downsized their home. Thrift stores also have abundant amounts of holiday decor. If you do buy something new, try to be conscientious about what you buy. Is it made of materials that are biodegradable? Is it a good quality that will last for many decades? Is its carbon footprint smaller than a cheaply made piece that will need to be replaced? Participating in the circular economy is one of the best ways to protect the environment, and spread holiday cheer.