Sunday, November 26, 2006

'Tis the consume less

Ok, as much as I try to block it out, the commercial "holiday season" is now upon us, and the Santa towel sets and holly garlands at Vons won't let me totally ignore it. (Heck, even the entertainment at the Thai restaurant I ate at last night was singing strictly Christmas carols). We are entering the month-long Super Bowl of over-consumption and waste. Ideally, of course, we would all reject the consumerist elements of our respective holidays, and get in touch with the true meaning behind them (love, peace, the survival of a culture, etc.) without lining the coffers of the companies that up the ante each year for appropriate gift-giving. But your family might not be ready for that, and neither is mine just yet. However, I also know that my dad doesn't need any more ties or books on fishing, and just like Buy Nothing Day, the holidays are a great opportunity to reclaim the reigns of consumerism and bestow our friends and family with some gifts that are more from the heart AND that don't contribute to needless consumption.

Here are some recommendations for having an eco-friendly holiday:

--Gifts that help people consume less (reusable bags, mugs, bottles, wooden laundry racks, etc.)
--Gifts made out of recycled materials (For you LA people, I just found an amazing little shop in Eagle Rock called Regeneration I'm pretty sure you can get recycled cards and wrapping paper there too.)
--A massage, facial, pedicure, acupuncture...some extravagance or service that mom and pop wouldn't buy themselves. One year my sister and I got our mom a couple months of a cleaning service, and it made such a difference in her life that she has kept the service since then!
--A night's getaway at a B&B, or some outdoor adventure like a snowboarding day-pass, horseback riding outing, or rock-climbing lesson (thanks, Grist)
--Tickets to a concert/musical/play
--A meal, cookies, festive bread, or pie. Holiday cooking is fun! Especially with red and green sprinkles...
--Get crafty! Spend a saturday doing that knitting/painting/jewelry-making project that you've been wanting to do...then share your creativity with friends. (Some of you say this cries out "I'm cheap!", like those years you substituted framed pictures of yourself for "real" presents...but I think, needless to say, we would all be impressed and touched if a friend put the time and effort into making a piece of art.)
--Recycle books/clothes/music you don't need anymore. Again, I think we need to reorient our perspectives on the giving of "used" items. Since when does the amount of money we spend on someone reflect how much we love them? We all know that how much a guy spends on a piece of jewelry isn't always equivalent to his love for his lady...So why do we turn this philosophy on its head when it comes to our own gift giving? I know at some point we've all gotten insecure that our loved ones will speculate that we didn't spend enough money on them. What's so wrong with, "I read this book. Yes, this exact one. Thought you would enjoy it too"...?

Here are some more ideas and links for alternate eco-gifts.

--And for those of you whose friends and family are already down with the anti-materialism thing: Donate money in their names to a cause they care about. Or, be a real trend-setter and help them offset their carbon emissions.

One last word: The added bonus in giving "alternative" gifts is that you have an opportunity to help convert friends and family over to the eco-cause. Add a note explaining why you're giving them something a little different this year...

UPDATE: Slate's Green Challenge is also doing a holiday theme this week. Quite extensive coverage of all the ways you can cut down waste (albeit a depressing reminder that pretty much every element of my own holiday tradition is ecologically terrible, from the trees to the lights...sigh). Check it out.

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