As I shuffle blindly towards Christmas, I think we could all do with some hacks and tips to get us ready for the silly season ahead. So take a load off, pour yourself a cuppa (or a glass) and let's start preparing for Christmas together.
1. Pre-Christmas clear out
With thoughts of bulging larders and sagging toy shelves in mind- now is a good time to tackle a cathartic clear out at home.
It can be a quick skim over the toy shelves, or a comprehensive assault on all your “stuff”, whatever works for you.
Recycle broken plastic toys and give away items in good condition to charity shops, friends with younger kids or FREEcycle/Zero waste community pages on Facebook.
You can even sell toys and clothes online and make some cash for your trouble. Check out Thrifty to sell clothes and bric a brac, while many sustainable shops like Flopsy Shop and Jiminy Eco Toys buy back clothes and toys in good condition also.
2. Make a list and check it twice
Yes, I’m channeling my mother here, but it really works! Having a list will help keep you on budget, reduce waste, and subdue stress levels too!
3. Budget, Budget, Budget
God I was shocking with money when I was younger, so a budget is a necessity for me.
Here are my top tips to keep Christmas spending under control:
💶 Make your list when you are sitting quietly alone somewhere, relaxed, not overtired, hungry or stressed in any way (Similar logic to not food shopping when starving.)
💶Decide what you have to spend in advance.
💶Agree on your own family, and extended family’s, “present rule.” When you know where you stand, and what’s expected of you, it will quickly curb guilt buying pointless presents for the fear of leaving someone out.
💶Use cash as much as possible. If you are using cards, jot down a list of what you spend, to keep your spending visible, and avoid spontaneous indigestion when the bill slides through your letterbox in January.
💶Keep an eye on the sale racks in stores but remember “buy cheap, buy twice!”
💶Keep an eye on Freecycle pages on Facebook, local charity stores, local noticeboards or online second-hand stores, as you can pick up perfectly good products (clothes, books, toys) from these places at little or no cost.
💶Often, kids just want our time and attention, so if you’re unsure what Santa might bring them – take a look at the “experience” segment below for some ideas. These may work better as kids get older especially.
💶Try to recognise when you lapse into “emotional spending”. This is when the list really comes into its own. Check out this informative article on Emotional Spending here.
Emotional spending is probably at an all-time high right now, as the grind of the Covid 19 pandemic wears through our resilience reserves. So, check in with yourself and try to recognise how you are feeling before your splash out or overcompensate with extra stuff for kids.
Two truths to keep in mind when you plan your budget:
🎅Kids do not need an endless supply of stuff
In fact, studies have shown that kids play more, and with more imagination, when they have less toys - don't be afraid to keep things simple.
🎅Santa’s bag is not a bottomless portal to the toy factory
Kids need to understand this and that Santa can’t get them exactly what they want sometimes. Undoubtedly Santa will have given them something he felt they would love just as much in that event. I find it always helps to sit down with the child to play with their new toys. This can make all the difference with how they feel about their toys.
4. Gifting to and from family & friends
Eco- friendly gifts and toys are a growing trend and you can find details on these brands, and where to buy these gifts & toys in Ireland here.
But what about others buying gifts for you and your family?
I don’t know if I am alone here, but I’ve found myself pleading with relatives not to get my kids presents for Christmas.
“They get enough already”, I squeak, as visions of more “stuff” clogging my house float before my eyes, accompanied by an army of mini Veruca Salt’s.
But like us all, they just want to experience the joy of giving too.
So, here are my top tips for dealing with this issue:
🎀Be direct and get practical
If someone asks me what to get my kids, I will point them in the direction of what I think they need. In recent years, I direct grandparents to toys or equipment for outdoor play as that’s always useful, and for other relatives it will be arts & crafts, books, board games, sports gear etc.
Another great option that doesn’t involve buying more stuff are “experience” gifts. What this means is giving children an experience rather than a physical toy.
The experience doesn’t need to happen immediately and that can be for the best – the child gets to enjoy looking forward to their promised gift.
Fun examples for extended family, and parents, are:
🎁Voucher for the cinema, theatre, museum, dead zoo, or days out like the Zoo, Tayto Park, a theme/nature park in your locality, aquarium, funfair, or an animal sanctuary.
🎁Voucher for ice skating, roller skating, or bring them to mini golf, bowling, or an arcade.
🎁Bring them on a special Nature outing – the beach, park, woods, playground, nature trail, farm visit, all topped off with a picnic or a treat from a coffee shop.
🎁Voucher for a mid-term/summer activity camp, bushcraft experience, forest school camp or horse riding camp.
🎁Promise to bring them to the circus when it's nearby.
🎁Ticket to a sporting event, concert, or kids play or pantomime.
🎁Voucher (or bring them) to a class – art, crafts, pottery, drama, carpentry, baking, cooking, music, Karate. There are endless possibilities for new experiences and skills to try.
🎁Bring them to an adventure centre, outdoor adventure park, indoor rock climbing, karting, trampoline zone, or a fun play centre. A voucher is great for these too.
🎁Bring them on a train ride, boat ride, open top bus tour or horse & carriage ride.
🎁Give the gift of Nature with these useful sets:
Garden Tool Set, Plant growing kit (Find lots more in Thegardenshop.ie), Nature Gift Box, Nature Activity Box, Science & Nature kits & educational gift boxes. Here are more Nature & Science ideas from Cog The Brain Shop. Find even more inspiration here.
🎁Outdoor adventurer kit, crafts kits, binoculars, or a small camera for outdoor adventures.
🎁Voucher for outdoor winter gear, sports gear or equipment for their hobby.
🎁Pass on knowledge – gardening, crafts, reading, art, baking, cooking, writing, cards, life skills, sport skills or include them in a hobby.
🎁Plant or small pet to look after, once parent approval is given. (No one wants to squeeze themselves onto the couch between a python and a piglet.)
🎁Book them into a Nature or science workshop or an online version if they are not available in your area.
🎁Gift card for their favourite restaurant or ice cream shop. This will be a massive hit!
🎁Organise a trip to the bookstore together.
🎁Decide on a gift for a charity together.
🎁Finally, a subscription for a kid’s magazine is a gift that keeps on giving!
Publications like the Lego Magazine, comics like Beano, or Nature & Science magazines are all wonderful. Many comic shops will post out comics, and you can subscribe online to many magazines, including:
Newsflash, The Primary Planet, Eipic (Irish Language) magazines may be available through schools if you ask their teacher about it. Find the link here.
See Nature Days for more reading ideas https://www.naturedays.ie/indoor-activities-read
This wouldn’t be a strong suit of mine, but there are so many of you (and kids) out there who are keen home cooks and bakers. So put your hobby to work, add a sprinkling of love into the stirring, and create handmade food gifts for family and friends.
🍰Hot chocolate stirrers for kids
🍰Salted Caramel, homemade sweets and cupcakes
🍰Gingerbread or cookies
You’re sure to find something to try in the link here.
Hold onto glass jars, attractive containers, boxes and tins for reuse when gifting. Paper straws and wooden spoons from cafes & takeaways are always handy to hold onto to.
A ribbon here, bauble there, and a cute homemade tag can bring festive style to any foodie gift.
This is a sure way to cut down on pointless present buying.
For your group, whether its friends, family, or work, decide to buy one decent present for one person and leave it at that.
5. Christmas Eve Boxes – Say what?
I only recently stumbled across the very existence of the “Christmas Eve Box” as I read a magazine article, in which a bemused and frazzled mammy asked the millionaire dollar question “what do I put in one?”.
The author of the article was as clueless as me I’m glad to report, and we both educated ourselves on this growing trend of putting together a special box for the kids for Christmas Eve. The box can be filled with treats, small gifts, new pj’s, a movie, hot chocolate, a book, a note - the list goes on.
No doubt this box of heaven follows hot on the heels of the “Late Late Toy Show” box, while the remnants of the “Halloween” box are still being dug out of the sitting room carpet. Please make it stop!
In my Grinch defense, let me say that I am not against the special intentions and family traditions we all have at these times of year. These are wonderful opportunities to create bonds in our families which tie us together.
The problem I see is that it’s this general over consuming, and over buying, in every part of our lives which has caused the environmental crisis. If we want to make any impact to help our planet, we must begin to recognise when we are being manipulated by marketing and step back to ask ourselves “Do we need this.”
So I’m just saying keep things simple and get back to basics.
Think of Christmas Eve as an “experience” for your family – with hugs, warmth, simple traditions and cosiness together – and let Christmas morning get all the glory it deserves. It will cheer up your pocket and reduce the stress levels from last minute shopping too.
6. Christmas Décor
I love decorating my home for Christmas and, like other areas of my life this year, I’m trying to find ways to boost the Eco-friendly Christmas vibes.
I’ll be sharing ideas on Nature Days Instagram over the coming weeks about ways to bring Nature into your decorating this year. It can really add to the festive atmosphere.
In the meantime, here are some useful tips to think about:
If considering buying an artificial Christmas tree, make sure that you’ll reuse it for at least 10 years. Otherwise, it may be more eco-friendly to buy a real tree (WWF) and dispose of it to the local council collection afterwards.
Always buy sustainable Christmas trees from a managed farm.
Consider renting a real Christmas tree in a pot this year. This can be a savvy move for apartments and when you are limited for space.
Two suppliers are:
Search online for similar businesses in your area too.
LED Christmas lights are the smart choice for your wallet and the environment. Putting Christmas lights on timers is also a great idea or buy sets which have built in timer functions.
Using both small and chunky light bulbs on the tree can really add to it's sparkle too.
Bring Nature indoors for decorating
When it comes to decoration, natural materials like wood, glass, cotton, linen, wool, silk or hemp make great looking decorations which are kinder to the environment too.
Many of our Christmas traditions have their roots in Nature so bring in holly, evergreens, hang your natural wreath, and celebrate all that Nature provides in our lives.
Try Homemade Decorations
Making decorations can be a wonderful family tradition, being fun, relaxing, and a way to bond as a family.
My mam makes homemade decorations and gifts every year, and it’s a gorgeous feeling when I walk into the cosy kitchen to see her elbow deep in flour or Christmas wreath making.
Local Craft fairs are always a great option for handmade decorations too.
Invest in Eco-friendly crafting materials
If you’re dabbling with home-made decorations, using what you have at home is a great start.
Colourful materials from old clothes, pillowcases, curtains, sheets, duvets sets and dishtowels can all transform into fab decorations with a little needle work or creativity.
You can find a wealth of ideas online, like:
And, remember, perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be so don’t let that put you off. Personally, I never mind a wonky leg or droopy eye, it’s part of the character of your creation.
You can find Eco-friendly crafting materials in the links below:
Advent Calendar – invest in a reusable one
Having an Advent Calendar that you can take out year after year adds to your family traditions in such a tangible way.
You can find some lovely wooden ones online, like this one from The Garden Shop
Check out other ideas in the links below:
Get into the spirit of giving - The Good Deed Advent Calendar
Instead of getting a sweet or toy each day, why not agree that everyone do a kind deed for the 24 days before Christmas. I really love this idea, especially as it will help the kids appreciate what it coming for them on Christmas morning even more! You can find more information on this simple idea here.
7. Spread some Eco-friendly cheer
⛄Toys & gifts
You can get many options for Eco-friendly toys and gifts these days. Check out the link here where I explore the brands to buy and where to buy them in Ireland.
Forest friendly cards, marked with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, are a great choice. Check out the links below for some Eco-friendly card suppliers:
These seem like an amazing invention! The cards have seeds embedded into them so they can be buried in the ground after use to sprout flowers. Some types of cards come with a seed pack also.
Find some at the Little Green Paper Shop (UK) here.
Firstly, try to reuse what you already have - gift bags, ribbon, tissue paper, reusable wrapping bag, bubble wrap and brown paper bags will all work great for reuse.
Otherwise, consider buying recycled wrapping paper. Find suppliers here:
You can find more suppliers online. Also check with your nearest refill/zero waste store too.
Here is a directory of the refill & zero waste stores in Ireland based on location : http://gozero.ie/directory/
Finally, and this is a big one – I hear Santa Claus doesn’t wrap presents anymore!
⛄Reusable Christmas crackers
These are cute, as well as a wonderful way to personalise your own Christmas crackers.
Find some suppliers below:
Just pop in a personalised gift, joke and note for your loved one and make them feel truly special. I’d recommend you buy extra snaps up front, so you don’t run out at a later stage.
Plan your food shopping around those special meals for the Christmas period. I’m SO guilty of overbuying food at Christmas myself that I need to get a handle on it this year for sure!
A list is vital here - find some templates from Pinterest for food shopping here or follow the one above.
You can also pick up some Eco-friendly products to use in the kitchen as your green deed for Christmas:
🌎Only use these wrappings when you need to. Instead, use a clean dish cloth when you can, beeswax wrap or reusable containers for storing food.
🌎You can find a smart tip for reducing use of aluminum foil in the oven here. The simplest ideas are always the best!
🌎Remember, if using aluminum foil, a top tip is to wash it off and reuse it as many times as you can before throwing it away.
There will be beautiful, locally made, candles on sale in farmers and Christmas markets at this time of year. Soy, beeswax and vegetable oil-based candles are typically gentler, more eco-friendly, products.
When it comes to candle holders, creativity goes a long way. The traditional wine bottle, in red or green, still holds up to the task. You can also make pretty candle holders from small glass bottles, jam jars, masonry jars, little teacups, pretty saucers and even tin cans. Always be careful with positioning candles and naked flames.
Invest in good quality linen or cotton napkins that can be reused many times over.
They also add a touch of style to the table setting.
⛄The Christmas Outfits
Firstly, check can you use something you already own in a new way. Otherwise, try to buy quality products that last longer rather than cheaper, throw away clothes.
Swap shops, charity stores and online trading sites like Thrifty are all great places to find pre loved clothes and accessories on the circular economy. The same applies for kid’s clothes too.
8. Packaging – Recycle
Don’t forget to recycle all packaging and reduce waste by only wrapping, bagging or covering items when you really need to.
Many products will arrive at our homes in large boxes or containers over the coming weeks. Consider what might be reused or repurposed - large boxes, wrapping paper, bubble wrap, gift bags may all come in handy around your home rather than throwing them away immediately.
10. Shop local
Shop local and support independent suppliers.
It may cost more than online, or in chain superstores, but buying these products supports the small businesses that make up your community, who support local teams and groups and give local employment. It’s better for the environment too.
11. Connect with Nature
Christmas holidays are the perfect time to reconnect with Nature. Take advantage of the extra time together to get outdoors and add a little of Natures gifts to your holiday celebration too.
Use the Nature Days Activity finder to make some simple bird feeders together, play Nature Bingo, search for Animal prints or go on a Nature Photo Scavenger Hunt.
12. Go easy on yourself - perfect doesn’t exist!
Finally, in case you’re wondering how everyone else seems able to do it; have the best of everything, a bulging table on Christmas Day, the whole family kitted out to the nines, hair and noses shining, Instagram feeds overflowing with glorious shots of magazine standard Christmas décor, with not a grey root or stained tracksuit bottom in sight? STOP!
The cold reality can often be starkly different and we will never really know what may be going on in someone else's life. But one things for sure - everyone gets frazzled at one point or another and we can all be insecure.
So, rather than compare yourself to the neighbours, or your Instagram icons, quietly congratulate yourself that your Christmas is just enough. Everyone will be taken care of, there'll be simple fun and relaxed times together, but without the stress of debt and regret facing into the New Year.
However things are in your life right now, just do your best, not someone else’s.
And if your best is Cadbury Celebrations Toasted Sandwiches for Christmas dinner, served with a side dish of hugs and laughter, then shove over on the couch, I’m on my way round!