Toward a greener, less stressful Christmas

Published Tuesday, November 27, 2012 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

In storybooks and on cards, Christmas typically conjures images of fireplaces, family, goodwill and relaxation. In real life, however, the onset of December often brings a triple threat of stress:

  • What to get for someone when you are completely dry of ideas
  • How to afford Christmas in a world that exalts excess and frowns on frugality
  • How to get everything done so that there’s actually time left to enjoy the holidays

As well, our annual consumer frenzy may be a boom for the economy, but it’s a bust for the planet – from shopping trips to Bangor to disposable everything to low quality stuff shipped in from afar.

Four big downers, but here are a few ideas and strategies to help address them.

What to get
If you can’t think of what to get someone, perhaps it’s because they already have everything they need. Most of us live in great prosperity, but it seems we’ve evolved a culture that can’t say “enough”; we keep acquiring more stuff. No wonder our basements are cluttered, our garages are overflowing and the self-storage rental business is thriving.

Here are a few anti-stuff options:

  • For the homeowner on your list, a home energy evaluation. Efficiency NB offers generous incentives for home upgrades, but it all starts with an evaluation. Evaluations provide direction and clarity, because they identify and prioritize upgrades that will yield permanent energy savings. They’re truly a gift that will keep on giving. Every homeowner is eligible; more at www.efficiencynb.ca.
  • For the driver, coupons for car maintenance and operation. And why not print off and include “10 Eco-Driving Tips For Everyone”  (www.tinyurl.com/howtoimprovemileage2)? It’s a list of very simple, zero-cost practices that can help the average driver save at least 10% on their fuel bill every day.
  • For the foodie, a share in a local community supported agriculture operation that will provide a weekly box of fresh, local food. Find one at www.BuyLocalNB.ca.

Hair care, gym membership, home cleaning, snow removal, massages, dinner at a local restaurant, a weekend at a local inn, tickets to a show, a stay in a yurt at Fundy National Park – all likely to be more memorable and appreciated than stuff.

How to save
We’re conditioned to look for new things when we buy, but new things carry a huge price premium plus the environmental footprint of their manufacture. So why not consider used when you shop? More and more secondhand shops have sprung up, making it easier than ever to find a range of quality, nearly-new products. You can get clothing, books, music, electronics, furniture and more at a fraction of their original prices. (I recently visited Changes, a Fredericton store, and came out with two books and a movie. Total cost: $5.)

Don’t overlook the value of homemade items: knitted items, baking, preserves and crafts make great gifts. There’s nothing like that personal touch.

How to get it all done
Chasing down gifts can be an exhausting experience. So why not make commemorative charitable donations to organizations that share your values?

  • Purchase a symbolic night at your local homeless shelter; how much closer to the true spirit of the original Christmas could one get?
  • Make a gift to your local food bank. Better still, pledge a monthly gift; the holidays may end but the need doesn’t.
  • Contribute to the Nature Trust of NB (www.naturetrust.nb.ca) or the Nature Conservancy of Canada (www.natureconservancy.ca) to support the permanent preservation of NB’s most special places – one of the best legacies of all.
  • Symbolically adopt a pet at your local animal shelter
  • Purchase carbon offsets for your friends. Learn more at www.tinyurl.com/COffsetInfo.

And if the above ideas can help make for a less stressful, more affordable Christmas, it’s a happy coincidence that they make for a better planet too. It’s true that they won’t work for everyone; kids in particular need to find something under the tree. But please think moderation, education, physical activity and battery-free; and where possible spend at ‘greener’ stores.

Let’s face it: most of us don’t need more stuff. We need more time and happiness, and we need a decent planet for our kids. So this Christmas, let’s strive to align our gift giving practices with those critical needs.