How To Survive The American Xmas (for Minimalists & Environmentalist)

It ain’t easy but it doesn’t have to be miserable…

As an environmentalist and minimalist Christmas with the folks can be stressful. The holidays aren’t very sustainable and it’s hard to petition against the waste of gift giving without coming off as a Grinch. How do you explain to grandma you don’t want any gifts this year?

Tis the season for giving! That’s how Americans show their appreciation for each other. Right?

We all know that’s a load and we tell each other the holidays are about being with family. Yet year after year the presents under the tree pile up; each one a nicely wrapped package of insurance protecting us from the guilt of receiving a gift without giving one or forgetting to gift a family member.

Indeed, it’s easier to just go along with the whole thing – give and receive gifts, then retreat back to your city life with a bag of semi-useful gifts you’ll either return, regift, or give away. Everyone leaves happy and you can go back to lamenting over the election results with your friends at your local craft brewery.

Except… that Xmas hangover, reminding you that despite your better judgement you were sucked into the consumerism of the holidays, contributing to the very problem you despise so much.

Not this year!

It’s time to break the chain and put an end to the nonsense. Or at least find some sort of compromise so we don’t get that Xmas consumer hangover. For the environmentalist and minimalist in you, here’s a few ways to make the holidays better without abandoning your roots:

Petition for an alternative.

If it’s not too late the first thing you should do is recommend an alternative to the old 1 to 1 gift giving extravaganza. If you’re in a modern family there’s a good chance you’re going to have Xmas with mom and Hanukah with dad, and when you add in the step siblings, half siblings, in laws, nieces and nephews, the presents pile up quick.

You’ll have to start early, but if you can, take the lead on organizing a secret santa or white elephant. I pushed hard for this last year, making sure we drew names on Thanksgiving when everyone was together. We also set a reasonable price limit so we didn’t have to worry about outdoing each other. We even setup a shared Google doc for people to make a wish list.

Really mean it.

If you have to do the gift exchange thing then make the best of it and give meaningful gifts. You might not be able to control what you receive but at least you can control what you give. Start thinking early and do your research so you don’t wind up buying a shitty gift at the last minute (if it’s already too late just skip to tip number four).

IMO a bad gift is worse than no gift at all; the awkward thanks and then change of subject… ugh. I’d rather try to fly under the radar than give a mediocre gift just so someone has something to unwrap.

Hide the hippiness.

You chastised your mom for using disposable silverware your first visit home from college and now the whole family thinks you’re a dope smoking hippie. Since then it’s been hard to even redirect the plastic bottles from the trash to the recycling bin without hearing a joke about it. Glass, plastics, and papers go in the reycle bin – why is this so hard?

When it comes to sustainable gift giving, you have two choices – either go full blown and accept the jokes about being a hippie OR try to be sly and sneak one in. If you’re going with the latter, you can buy things that are fair trade or shop from responsible brands. Most likely the recipient won’t know what the eco labels on the tag mean and even some major brands have lines that are eco-friendly, like Adidas’s shoes made from recycled fishing nets.

Gift cards! Awww yeaaa

This one’s obvious; I just have one thing to say about it. Gift cards are a classic cop out. The only thing worse is cash. But you can totally redeem yourself by putting some thought into what your recipient really likes and personalizing it with a sincere note. I know it’s still supporting consumption, but at least you have a chance of them buying something they’ll actually use. Plus, people gotta eat. A gift card to a nice restaurant is always well received.

This pretty much sums it up:

Beer. Wine. Liqour.

Sit back, have a cold one (preferably a local craft brew), and accept the fact that your uncle voted for Trump. We have to face the fact that our loved ones have their own views and the older ones are well set in their ways. With some hard work and persistence you might get your parents to separate their glass and plastics or even buy fair trade coffee, but it’s not likely that you’re going to break a tradition they’ve been doing for 60+ years.

Saving the environment is our generation’s fight and as difficult as it is to watch the baby boomers blindly consume, stressing over it isn’t going to help. Do what you can to reduce the waste and needless consumption at your family Christmas, but don’t let it ruin your time with your family. Have a drink, enjoy the reunion, and continue doing what you can to move us toward a more sustainable future.


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I am a minimalist, environmentalist, and conscious consumer with a background in environmental studies, conservation, and tech. I founded prch to help others be more sustainable and realize an alternative to consumerism.