Eco-Friendly Christmas Decorations

Eco-friendly Christmas decorators choose carefully.

Is decorating for Christmas a highlight of the season for you? It is for me. I think holiday decorating can be environmentally friendly and fun.

If you read last week’s post, Free Yourself from Christmas Consumerism, you might be surprised by this one. One week I am urging readers to consider opting out of exchanging Christmas gifts and the next week I am promoting Christmas decorations. What is up with that?

I Would Rather Decorate than Exchange Christmas Gifts

From a purely environmental perspective, buying Christmas decorations and displaying them year after year is substantially less harmful to the planet than buying and exchanging gifts every year. In addition, exchanging Christmas gifts can be a stressful, exasperating, and expensive activity so opting out might be the best gift you can give yourself and everyone else on your list.

Decorating for Christmas is an activity that you can enjoy doing on your own or with other people. Be kind to the planet by shopping for decorations thoughtfully and buying minimally.

To some people it may seem like environmentalists are always trying to ruin everyone else’s fun by getting things stopped, banned, and prohibited. Others may think that environmentalists want everyone to deprive themselves of the things they find beautiful, delicious, or fun just to save some polar bears in a far distant icy land. Well, polar bears are cool and deserving of our consideration but so is every other living being, including people.

Everyone needs and deserves beauty and joy in their lives, even environmentalists. For some people, like me, decorating for Christmas fulfills that need in some small way.

December is a dark and cold month. In our small town, we do not have streetlights except on the main streets so when it gets dark just after 5:00 p.m. it is indeed dark. At this time of year, it seems like my hands are almost always cold so I often wear fingerless gloves inside. Getting out of bed on cold winter mornings is an act of fortitude. I am already yearning for spring, longer days, and wildflowers.

One way I cheer myself up and renew my spirit is by bringing some color and sparkle into our home in the form of Christmas decorations and a tree (which is the topic of another post). I think taking care of your own well-being is a gift to the people you love.

When January rolls around, I am refreshed and ready to begin a new year.

Below is my take on eco-friendly Christmas decorations. Please feel free to share your own ideas with other readers in the comments section.

Eco-Friendly Christmas Decorating Suggestions

Every time you reuse a Christmas decoration its carbon footprint becomes a little smaller because unlike manufacturing a new decoration, it requires no additional resources or energy and does not create waste. You can find these eco-friendly Christmas decorations in your own garage, antique stores, second-hand shops, and family attics.

Ceramic Santa Claus, Snowman, and Christmas Tree Figurines
Ceramic Santa Claus, Snowman, and Christmas Tree Figurines – Photo Credit iStock/PK6289

Making your own decorations is an environmentally sound and creative endeavor. Give yourself extra eco-credit if you make the decorations using things you already have on hand, recycled components, or foraged natural materials.

There are other ways that you can make your Christmas decorating more eco-friendly even if it involves buying new items that are made mostly with non-renewable materials such as plastic, metal, glass, ceramic, and synthetic fabric.

Minimize First

Unless you are in your first year of buying your own Christmas decorations, you probably already have a collection stashed in your garage or a closet. This month, evaluate what you already own, set aside the items you really, really love, and give away or sell everything else.

Over the past couple of holiday seasons, we have been paring down our Christmas decorations. Divesting ourselves of items that family members and friends have given us has been an agonizing and emotional process. At first, I felt guilty for considering getting rid of things that someone had given me; it was as if I was rejecting that person, which of course is not the case. In the end, I decided that things are just things and that it is okay for me to make decisions about my own belongings.

After you reduce your decoration collection, some vigilance is probably required or you might end up back where you started.

Be Prepared

To me, one of the most dangerous activities this time of year is to go shopping in a store or online unprepared. With so much stuff to buy everywhere, you can easily find yourself putting things in your real or virtual shopping cart that you did not even know you wanted until right then.

Christmas Tree in a Snow Globe
Christmas Tree in a Snow Globe – Photo Credit iStock/Wavebreakmedia

Deciding what you want to buy before you hit the stores or log onto the Internet may help you stay focused on that item, which could save you time and money, too. For instance, if you have decided to buy a snow globe, there is no need to be browsing in the wreath section of the store.

I grant you that it is not easy to walk by all the gaily-colored Christmas decorations calling your name, but you increase your odds of ignoring those voices if you are prepared and know what you want.

Be Choosy

Eco-friendly Christmas decorating involves doing it with as little environmental impact as possible, while still enjoying yourself. The more stuff the more impact.

Nutcracker Toy Soldier Christmas Decoration
Nutcracker Toy Soldier Christmas Decoration – Photo Credit iStock/Wavebreakmedia

Be very choosy about what you buy. Only purchase items that you really, really like and can envision yourself happily un-boxing and displaying for many years to come. Try to buy quality items that will last.

Beware of decoration churning, which is routinely getting rid of items you own so you can buy new decorations. I am not advocating never getting anything new just suggesting being mindful of what you buy.

Even though I am committed to minimizing the amount of stuff I own, including Christmas decorations, I admit it is challenging.

For instance, I just purchased items to add to my Dickens Village, which is a collection of small buildings, trees, and figurines that I arrange in our dining room bay window each December.

Fortunately, I had decided to buy a new building for my village before I left my house and of the more than fifty on display all saying, “pick me” I selected just one, the honey shop.

If I had walked to the checkout counter at that point, I could be all self-righteous about my shopping self-control, but that is not what happened.

Of course, the honey shop had a companion beekeeper figurine that was sold separately so I had to grab that. Then I noticed a set of four furry animal figurines that would look wonderful gracing my village’s forest so I picked up a box. My self-restraint finally kicked in and I put down the battery-powered streetlights I had been eying.

Why would I share this story of my own not so successful attempt at eco-friendly Christmas decorating? To point out that we are all human. Sometimes we make environmentally sound choices and sometimes we do not.

This holiday season, I hope you will consider minimizing your decorations, preparing before you go shopping, and choosing new decorations carefully.

Merry Christmas!

Featured Image at Top: Christmas Gnomes Wearing Knitted Sweaters and Hats – Photo Credit iStock/amerto4ka

Related Posts

Energy Awareness Month – 10 Energy Saving Tips

You have the power to conserve energy.

This October, fulfill the promise you made to yourself earlier in the year to get serious about saving energy and reducing your carbon footprint.

October is an ideal time to address your energy use for a number of reasons. First, you still have plenty of time to put energy saving ideas into action before cold winter weather arrives in earnest and the holiday season diverts your attention. Second, if you enjoy challenging yourself during national awareness days or months, you are in luck because October is Energy Awareness Month (it should be Energy Action Month). Third, reducing your energy use can also save you money.

I realize that switching to LED light bulbs and putting on a sweater instead of cranking up the heat will not stop Americans from burning fossil fuels. However, if millions of Americans take these and other seemingly small actions, it all adds up and can make a significant impact.

For instance, if each American household tackled their energy vampires for Halloween we could save 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and use it to provide the annual power needs of 35 million Americans.1

I believe that taking action, even a tiny action, acts as a strong antidote for inertia. The first action may be difficult but each subsequent action is easier because you gain momentum.

Are you ready to take action to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint? If you are, below are ten tips of varying degrees of difficulty and expense to help you get your creative juices flowing. Most of the tips include links to other posts where you can get more information and find useful resources.

Light with LEDs

If you have not made the switch to LED light bulbs yet, now is the time.

Residential LEDs use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and they do not contain hazardous mercury as compact fluorescents do.2

The cost of LEDs has dropped dramatically over the past several years and now you can purchase an LED light bulb for around $2.00 maybe less (depending on wattage and type).

If you put LED bulbs in your indoor and outdoor light fixtures this month, you may not need to change a light bulb for a couple of decades and you will immediately reduce your energy use. You can even decorate your Christmas tree with a few strings of colored LEDs.

Snug House

Snug House - Scarf Wrapped Around Miniature HouseKeeping cold air outside and warm air inside during winter months and vice versa during the summer is a good idea, right. What you may not realize is how even small air leaks can wreak havoc with your heating and cooling bills. For example, a 1/8” gap under your front door lets in as much air as if the door had a 2 ¼” hole.3

Fortunately, you can shore up your home’s air defenses with a caulking gun, door sweeps, and weather stripping. You may be able to reduce some air leaks with things you have on hand like rolling up a bath towel to minimize door drafts. I folded up a piece of cardboard and stuck in a crack where the weather stripping on the fixed side of our double front door did not quite reach the threshold.

Read more in Seal Air Leaks to Reduce Home Energy Use and Cost.

Take Advantage of Your Thermostat

A thermostat is a useful device for moderating your home heating and cooling system. Turning back your thermostat 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day could save you 10% on your heating and cooling bills.If you frequently forget to adjust your thermostat when you leave for work, try hanging your keys on a hook next to it.

Learn more about thermostats, recommended temperatures, and thermostat options by reading Use Your Thermostat to Save Energy and Money.

Staying Warm Indoors

On average, home space heating consumes a whopping 42% of the energy Americans use in our homes.5 Hot air rises and cold air sinks so during the winter we are living in the coolest layer of our homes.

You probably take care to dress appropriately for the weather when you go outdoors in the winter so why not carry that theme indoors. Instead of ratcheting up your heater consider wearing clothing made of warmer materials or trying one or more of the tips in 7 Ways to Stay Warm Indoors in the Winter and Be Green.

 Shower Power

Low-flow showerheads are water and energy saving devices. Using less water also means using less energy to heat water. A standard showerhead sprays out at least 2.5 gallons of water per minute even when you are lathering up your body or washing your hair.

Low Flow Handheld ShowerheadWhen you switch to a low-flow showerhead that puts out 1.6 gallons of water per minute you can easily cut your water use by 25% and reduce the energy needed to heat your shower water. If you buy a model with a “trickle” button or a shut-off valve you can reduce your water and energy use even more by restricting the water flow while you are soaping up.

Even non-handy people like me can easily install a low-flow showerhead for under $50.00.

Use Your Dishwasher

Washing dishes by hand is not a water or energy saving activity. A kitchen faucet pumps out 2.5 gallons of water per minute so you may be using more water than you think filling up the sink or a dish tub and then rinsing dishes.

Cramming a bunch of dishes in a dishwasher willy-nilly may result in some items not getting clean so do pay attention to where the spray jets are and learn to load your dishwasher efficiently.

Green and Lazy Laundry

Doing the laundry is a habit that you learn and then repeat thousands of times over your lifetime so you may find energy and water savings hiding in your laundry room.

I did not think much about my own laundry habits until my kids went away to college but if you have children at home you do not have to wait that long. If you are interested in evaluating your laundry habits, you may find the posts Laundry – Laziness is Good and Greening Your Laundry Habits useful.

Extra Credit: Using the sun to dry your clothes on a clothesline is a significant energy saving action, but I admit that I do not do it, at least not yet.

 Tackle Your Energy Vampires

Energy Vampire - Cell Phone ChargerAn energy vampire is a piece of equipment that sucks power even when it is not in use; this is called standby power. For instance, a cell phone charger left in a wall socket or a television both draw power just standing by waiting for you to use them.

Our Halloween activity for 2013 was tackling our energy vampires. It was fun, easy, and inexpensive. A few weeks after we completed our energy vampire project I learned the hard way that cable boxes must be on standby power to receive system updates. Our cable television service was abruptly discontinued without notice because our cable box had been going offline each evening. Now I leave it on.

Energy and Water Efficient Appliances

I am not advocating buying new appliances unless you need to replace a worn out or un-repairable appliance or piece of equipment. However, if you are in the market for a new refrigerator, air conditioner, or television, consider adding energy and water efficiency to your list of must-have features.

Look for the ENERGY STAR and WaterSense labels to identify and compare appliances and equipment. I wrote about my search for a high-efficiency replacement dishwasher in Dishwashers – Top 3 Eco-Friendly Features.

Go Solar

There is no better time than right now to go solar. Solar panel prices are low, tax incentives are available, and the summer rush for solar installers is over. You can increase the value of your home with solar panels while reducing or eliminating your electric bills. If you do not want to buy a rooftop solar system, then consider leasing.

Purchasing solar panels for your home is a sound financial investment and even more importantly, it pushes the ball forward in creating a clean renewable energy future for all our children.

You can learn more about home solar panels and our real life rooftop solar experience by reading Go Solar with Home Rooftop Photovoltaics – We Did, Rooftop Solar Costs Less than You Think, and You Can Increase Your Home’s Value with Owned Solar Panels.

My energy saving action for Energy Awareness Month is washing our laundry with cold water. I know, I know, why did I not make this change years ago? My only defense is that old habits stick with you. The good news is that you and I can change our habits today or any day and make a positive impact.

I hope one or more of the above ideas has struck your interest and helped inspire you to take action to reduce your energy use and carbon footprint. Please share what you are doing to reduce energy use with other readers.

Featured Image at Top: Coal-fired power plant looming over a residential neighborhood in West Virginia – Photo Credit Wigwam Jones

Related Posts

References

  1. Energy Vampires and Phantom Loads – Standby Power, Green Groundswell
  2. LED Lighting – Energy.gov
  3. Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  4. Thermostats –U.S. Department of Energy
  5. Use of Energy in the United States Explained: Energy Use in Homes – U.S. Energy Information Administration