HOW WE (JUST ABOUT) SURVIVED CHRISTMAS BUYING NOTHING NEW (AND HOW YOU CAN TOO)
Those of you who have been following for a while now are probably aware that my whole Sustainable(fish) journey began when I slightly randomly and naively decided that a year buying nothing new with my family would be a 'fun' thing to do.
And it was fun. On the whole. But it turned into so much more. It really forced me to confront the effects of our modern, disposable society on both people and planet. And when Christmas rolled around that year, I have to confess that it was probably the first time I'd ever really thought about the impact of all the extra 'stuff' and food on the environment, and started to question why we give presents.
It was a real eye opener - we were about four months into our year buying nothing new (it randomly started in the September!) and I was just starting to get my head around the fact that there might be another way. A way that involved LESS, rather than more. And here I was faced with the biggest consumer festival of the year. And my mum. Who would always go a bit bonkers on the present front.
I remember them coming over for the day and unloading the car, which was crammed with presents, and then seeing this massive pile start to accumulate under the tree, and for the first time ever instead of feeling excited, my heart sank and I started to feel a little bit sick.
Whilst I wasn't able to do anything about my mum's over-consumption that year, our buying nothing new challenge meant that I had to get a bit creative with the gifts that we gave, and I'm not going to lie, it was a challenge. Made more so by the fact that I try never to do anything Christmassy before the 1st December. Oh, and I decided that we would have to make all the decorations ourselves, including the tree...
But it really, really did force me to re-evaluate all things Christmas, especially the gifts. I decided I was going to make most of the presents we gave, and time was limited (both the kids were still pre-schoolers), so I figured that if I was going to spend my precious time making gifts, they needed to be really appreciated (this turned out to be a work in progress - see later). This meant we bit the bullet and pruned our gift list as a first step, putting an end to the slightly pointless Amazon voucher swap that had somehow evolved with hubby's brothers.
Buying nothing new is a brilliant strategy if you're looking for a quick way to re-dress your relationship with consumerism. If you've fallen into the trap of buying for the sake of buying (especially gifts). It really does make you stop and think about it, partly because it's harder to find the thing you want, so you have to really, really want it! And it's one of the easiest ways to reduce the impact of your consumption on both people and planet - you save things from landfill, new resources aren't needed to make those things, and you're stepping out of being part of the demand for fast fashion/fast electronics/cheap plastic tat.
Here are some of my learnings, and some top tips if you want to have a go too.
Don't do as I did and wait until the 1st December.
If you're looking for secondhand bits, start regularly whizzing around your local charity shops to see what you can find - I've managed to pick up some great stocking fillers in the past, as well as some perfect books for family members.
REMEMBER THAT PLASTIC TAT IS STILL PLASTIC TAT
One year I was absolutely delighted to find a load of secondhand stocking fillers on my charity shop trawls, but it was only when the New Year cam round and I was faced with a load of plastic tat to find a home for/throw away that I realised that even if it's secondhand, it's still pretty much 'instant landfill'.
PRUNE YOUR LIST
If you end up buying for Aunts and Uncles, and second cousins once removed, consider having 'that conversation'. Do any of them actually need anything? Could you all go out for a day out together in the New Year, and have a proper catch up rather than spending your hard-earned money on something they probably actually don't need or want, out of some sense of obligation to give 'something'.
PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
If you're going to make some of your gifts, be realistic about your skills, and the time you have available. I made some pretty hideous gifts in hindsight, that I'm pretty sure have never seen the light of day since. And that's just as wasteful as buying something new to give that isn't used.
Since then I've come to terms with the fact that my skills with the sewing machine might need some work, and that actually baking is the way to go. I now batch bake biscuits, or things like fudge and macaroons. They all get packaged up in old jam jars, and are generally pretty well received.
Re-use what you already have. This applies to:
When I randomly decided that we would need to make a Christmas tree for our year buying nothing new (being unsure whether buying a real tree technically counted as buying something new) I took to Pinterest to search for some 'pinspiration' for upcycled trees.
And settled on one that used green egg boxes. Can you guess which one was the Pinterest beauty, and which was our attempt to emulate it...?
RE-TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO THINK LESS IS BETTER
My childhood Christmas' were all about stacks of gifts, and somewhere along the way our society (and the retailers and advertisers) has persuaded us that more is better. That stuff = happiness. Logically, when we stop and think, we know that this isn't true, but so often when we shop (and it seems especially at Christmas) there is very little logic there - we buy 'because it's Christmas)
RE-CONNECT WITH WHAT YOU WANT CHRISTMAS TO MEAN
Earlier on in our year buying nothing new we had got the news that my mum had cancer. And as much as we all hoped against hope that it wouldn't be the last Christmas we would all get to spend together, sadly it was. I was aware that year that instead of all the gifts and the stuff that my parents had loaded up the car with, all I really wanted was some quality time with my mum - where she wasn't stressed about the gifts, and making sure it was all fair, and worrying about what to buy.
I still struggle with this one. My head knows that Christmas should be about family and friends, about people and experiences, not presents and stuff. That memories are made in the silly games, and snuggling up in front of the fire to watch a film, or dragging the kids out on a Christmas afternoon dog walk. Not in the gifts they're given that are so quickly forgotten. But it's not easy. Pushing back against a lifetime of somewhat excessive gifting. Knowing firsthand the joy and excitement as a child seeing a whole stack of presents. Resisting all the incessant messages from society and advertisers that buying the perfect gift will make for the perfect Christmas is HARD.
But take a minute to stop and think about what you want to Christmas to mean for you and your family, the messages you want to give to your kids about stuff, and the memories you want them to have.
And then start to think about what small changes you can make step by step to get there.
DON'T DO IT ALL AT ONCE
Buying nothing new at all for Christmas is possibly a little extreme. And unless you've already started will probably result in additional stress, and the odd tear or two.
Could you pledge to source a percentage of your gifts 'preloved' or homemade this year? What would feel do-able?
SHOPPING FOR A
Could you/would you do a Buy Nothing New Christmas?
If you'd love some additional resources, idea and suggestions with clickable links for Sustainable(ish) alternatives, check out the Essential Guide to a Crap-free Christmas!
ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO A
Grab a copy of my digital e-guide tackling the big issues around Christmas waste in the home: