As we ease into what will hopefully be a more normal-feeling holiday season this year, it’s becoming increasingly tempting to go all out for the holidays. But while the thought of decking all our halls with all the things sounds merry and bright, we’re also conscious that it’s not the most responsible choice—financially or environmentally.
But rather than ditch our plans for a very merry holiday season entirely, we decided to turn to the experts and ask: How can we have a minimalist holiday season that still feels jolly and joyful? Read on for their tips for an effortlessly simplified holiday season.
Meet the Expert
- Shira Gill is a professional organizer and the author of Minimalista, a guide to a simpler home.
- Ashlee Piper is an eco-lifestyle expert and the author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet, a practical guide to living a more sustainable lifestyle.
Stay Neutral and Stick With the Classics
“I think a little themed holiday decor goes a long way ... invest in high-quality, neutral items, and stay away from things that are overtly specific or kitschy. Everything from entertaining platters to party decor can be easily repurposed all year long,” she says. “I love using large white platters, tall white votive candles, and cheerful bunting flags for parties any time of year.”
Ditch the Plastics
As you sort through the clutter this year, don’t replace like for like. “Minimize and simplify your holiday decor!” says Gill. “[Try] swapping out elaborate disposable or plastic party decor for simple options—like fresh greenery, votive candles, and felt garlands. [This] will eliminate plastic waste and still help your home feel festive and party-ready.”
DIY or Secondhand-Source Your Gifts
Sourcing gifts can be one of the easiest ways to go overboard this time of year, but Ashlee Piper, eco-lifestyle expert and author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet, has a few suggestions. “Gift secondhand, do-it-yourself, or [go] locally bought, so you’re supporting small, ethical businesses,” she says.
These options all have an added bonus, Piper tells us: “With supply chain and shipping issues, these approaches are not just great for the environment and your wallet, but will mean your gifts actually get to your intended recipient.”
Gill agrees. “Buying less but better is the number one thing we can all do to reduce waste during the holidays. Buy someone you love a coffee, wine, or gourmet food subscription. Consumable gifts are a delight to receive and leave behind far less waste,” she says.
Once upon a time, regifting was considered an awkward faux pas. But as Piper says, it’s all in the spin—and the presentation. “[Regifting] isn’t as tacky as people once branded it to be,” she tells us. “Especially if items are still in the box or have tags on and they’re something the new recipient will definitely love or get use out of.”
Pair the regifted item with something personal (even something small) to maintain that handpicked feel. “You could clip on a favorite recipe to a food-related gift or add some fresh lavender to the spa set you’re passing on, so it feels more intentional,” Gill says. “Even just adding a thoughtful note indicating why this item reminded you of the receiver can go a long way.”
Think Experiences, Not Things
This gifting (and receiving!) advice is tried and true. Think of ways you can gift adventures or outings, rather than items. “Invest in experiences over things,” says Gill. And if you’re not sure of where to begin, she gave us tons of fab ideas.
“Consider taking your family on a special trip or starting a new holiday tradition like camping in the backyard—s’mores and all. Treat the kids to a movie night with ice cream sundaes instead of more toys they will tire of quickly. Organize a fun gathering, a special concert, show, or event the whole family can enjoy together. Cook your favorite savory snacks and treats to share with friends, family, and neighbors,” Gill says. “Focus on connection over consumption!”
Instead of handing over wishlists, ask for new experiences from those you exchange gifts with, too.
“[Tell them] you’re gifting more intentionally this year and not buying heaps of stuff for the sake of it,” says Piper.
Save and Reuse Your Gift Wrap
Gift wrap can be beautiful, but it can also be incredibly wasteful. That’s why Piper strongly suggests saving what you can and reusing it. Hang onto wrapping and ribbons (especially if they're relatively neutral), she says, as well as packing supplies and materials if you’re wrapping anything breakable. If you do need to source more paper, Piper suggests using craft paper or even repurposed paper grocery or lunch bags.
“There are so many fun and creative alternatives to standard gift wrap!” agrees Gill. “We love to use good old-fashioned butcher paper to wrap gifts, with a simple cloth ribbon or butcher’s twine. Tuck in a candy cane, foil-wrapped chocolate coins, or a sprig of greenery to dress it up for the holidays, or personalize your package with seasonal greetings or kid art. You can also repurpose tea towels, fabric scraps, tote bags, baskets, or boxes to DIY your own gift wrap. For families that celebrate Hanukkah, consider decorating one large box for each child and pop a new gift in each night!”
Preserve Your DIY and Delicate Decor
“Natural decor, like dried wreaths, can be used for many seasons if they’re less season-specific—think dried pine needles versus a wreath of less seasonal greenery,” says Piper.
“Delicate paper crafts and DIY items can be tricky to store and preserve,” agrees Gill. “For the items you want to repurpose year after year, consider spraying with a sealant or even laminating so they can stand the test of time.”
Skip the Single-Use Plasticware
Parties can be one of the most wasteful experiences of the holiday season, but it helps to plan ahead. “For large parties, lighten your environmental footprint by using biodegradable cups, plates, and utensils instead of the plastic alternatives, which never fully break down,” says Gill. “There are lots of festive biodegradable plates on the market, and bamboo utensils can be rinsed and used again or easily composted.”
Piper also has another fun alternative: “Ask guests to BYO-mug to a spiked cider party!”
If the issue is that you just don’t have enough dinnerware to host a large event, Piper suggests asking neighbors if you can borrow their dishware. “Or, go to the thrift store and pick some up—it’s likely as much or less money than even the eco-friendlier disposable options, and it’s much easier on the environment,” she says. “Also, posting in local Buy Nothing or free groups can help you find decor and party supplies folks have maybe used once or not at all.”
Give up the Holiday Cards
If there’s one thing Piper wants people to do, it’s this: “Stop with the photo and paper holiday cards. Most cannot be recycled and end up in the landfill. Opt for electronic, or a good old-fashioned phone call—arguably even more meaningful.”
Share Your Plans Now
If this is your first year planning a minimal Christmas, start sharing your plans now. “Make sure to explain your values to your friends and family before holidays and special events,” says Gill. “Fill them in on your reasons for wanting less, and explain clearly how they can help support your goals. You might want to make a clutter-free gift wishlist or initiate a totally new tradition.”
Ask Yourself These Key Questions
As you plan for the holidays this year, Gill suggests asking these key questions in preparation: “What do you want to contribute? How do you want to feel? How much do you want to spend? What do you want your kids to remember? The goal is to do and buy less, but better, so you can actually enjoy the holiday season instead of dreading it,” she says.
Above all else, Piper tells us, stay present in the season. “Don’t give into the hype and remember the reason,” she says. “So many folks go into a stress and debt-spiral … when we’re in this headspace, we make poor choices. If we can recalibrate our approach from a place of intention and remember the whole point of the holidays is togetherness, joy, gratitude, [and] giving back, our time will be so much more enjoyable.”