The Southern: Some Say Simplify Holiday Season with Alternative Approaches

December 23, 2011

By Linda Rush. This article first appeared in The Southern on December 23, 2011.

As the Christmas Countdown nears an end, and nobody can find the scissors or Scotch tape, most of us may silently vow to downsize the gifting, wrapping and shopping frenzy next year.

It may not be too late to start with this Christmas, especially if you are still shopping for last-minute gifts.

For most of us, the best holiday memories seem to be spending time with friends or receiving one special gift that involves more thought than money.

Simplifying the celebration can leave more time for connecting with loved ones, and also create less clutter headed for the landfill.

Suggestions from The Center for a New American Dream for "unplugging the Christmas machine" were available in a booklet during the recent Alternative Gift Fair held at the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship. The suggestions were long on "ways that are fun and creative."

And although the fair is over, charities still welcome contributions in these tough times, and will be happy to acknowledge gifts with a card to the person honored. And gifts received by Dec. 31 also could provide an income tax deduction for the giver.

Consider giving elderly relatives a book of coupons good for cleaning gutters, washing the car, even helping to put away the holiday decorations and vacuuming up needles from the tree.

If elderly relatives or friends aren't computer-savvy, offer to create a book of their favorite recipes and stories, to be shared with family.

Better than gadgets

For kids, instead of multiple remote-control gadgets that require constant feedings of batteries, consider a gift that will grow with them - a globe, a telescope or microscope, or for the youngest, a magnifying glass.

Or make a "creative clutter" box full of corks, buttons, bright-colored pipe cleaners, beads, glitter and plenty of washable glue, to let them cobble together something colorful.

Another great gift for kids is a subscription to a magazine. National Geographic and the National Wildlife Federation offer magazines tailored for specific age groups. Each new issue arriving in the mailbox is a brand new gift.

Making a book with favorite stories about his or her childhood can become a keepsake for a teen or young adult.

Teaching a friend skills you possess (knitting, photography, foreign language or baking bread) also can be a treasured gift.

Consider holding a "white elephant" gift exchange or drawing names for gifts. Most people would be relieved to cut back on the number of gifts.

Wrapping up

A sure sign of the holidays is trash cans overflowing with wrapping paper, bubble-wrap and cardboard boxes.

To cut down on the waste, look for toys that aren't encased in layers of plastic and cardboard packaging, and consider using (and reusing) gift bags or boxes.

Ordinary cardboard boxes can become snazzy gift boxes when box and lid are covered with gift wrap, wallpaper, even fabric. And they can be re-used for next year's giving, or as extra storage for toys, clothes or other things year-round.

For ideas

The Center for a New American Dream, founded in 1997, offers numerous suggestions for "conscious consuming and green living," and "downshifting and finding balance." Its website,, offers numerous suggestions for simplifying the holidays - and the rest of the year.

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