How To Have A Minimal & Eco Friendly Christmas

How To Have An Eco Friendly Christmas

Everyone who celebrates Christmas knows that this most charming, sentimental holiday is all about the giving.

Too often, though, our well-meant generosity ends up being about the getting instead: getting this for mom, that for dad, these for colleagues at work, those for the kids. The shopping frenzy stretches our budgets, shopping bags and credit cards like Joey’s “Thanksgiving pants.”

Christmas morning itself can seem like the Lightning Round by comparison.

Remember last year, and the year before that, when you said to yourself, “This is nuts! Where did all this wrapping paper come from?”

An Eco Friendly Christmas Is Possible!

If you’re dreaming of an eco friendly Christmas this year, start early, think twice, and follow some of this simple, green advice. With a few simple tweaks to tradition, you may even find yourself enjoying the kind of family-focussed holidays of yore, roasting chestnuts, open fire and all.

1. Start earlier and think before you shop.

The simplest way to avoid excess at Christmas is to make a list, and check it twice. Buy only what you carefully chose to shop for, then back away from the shops, slowly. Use the extra time you’ll save by starting earlier to bake some seasonal cookies with the kids, or curl up with a good book. Jenga, Scrabble and the ginormous Globe & Mail crossword puzzle are holiday staples with us.

2. Shop differently.

Giving handmade gifts is perhaps the simplest way to green your Christmas, either by gifting your own baked goods or handicrafts or by supporting local artisans at One of a Kind markets or in Etsy shops. Shopping handmade makes you feel good on so many levels.

I'm Dreaming Of A Green Christmas

Whether you shop in markets or conventional toy stores, it’s actually quite easy to shop unwrapped.  

Things like books, stuffed animals, dolls and lots of toys come without (or with minimal) packaging. Bring your own shopping bags and Bob’s your uncle: Zero waste! Consider gifting tickets or passes to experiences such as movies or the zoo, or get creative and thrifty, with secondhand or vintage gifts.  

In my own secondhand children’s boutique, iSpy Clothing, I get a lot of creative satisfaction from pairing gently-used books and toys, thematically. For example, I might pair a like-new Tonka truck or Green Toys tractor with a board book on trucks and tractors.

I had fun recently, pairing one of my favourite children’s stories “Lilly’s Chocolate Heart” by Kevin Henkes, with a little brown wooden heart (gently used, and originally from fair-trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages) for a child to recreate the story, after reading. Your local Goodwill or thrift store will often have wonderful children’s books in like-new condition, that may inspire you to create gift pairings of your own.

I'm Dreaming Of A Green Christmas

Finally, don’t sniff at the regift.

Asking your child to choose a toy he has outgrown, to share with a younger sibling, cousin or friend of the family is a great way to teach generosity and minimalism to your kids.

Your child may even surprise you and choose something special to him, as a way of showing love for a special friend. After all, isn’t it the giving from our heart that we always *intend* Christmas to be about?

3. Give less.

Not like Grinch-less, or Scrooge-less, but making a conscious decision to move away from the excess that Christmas has come to represent, can really shift your focus.

If your family is anything like ours, you start off each holiday season honestly needing nothing, generate wish lists based on the pressure to think of something — anything — to tell the grandparents, and end the season by giving, and getting way too much.  

Remember those elementary school math questions? “If each baseball player on the team shakes each other team member’s hand once, how many handshakes will there be altogether.” The answer is “too many.”

Same goes for gift exchanges.

When you shop for your kids’ gifts, remember that you won’t be the only one: there’s Santa, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and perhaps your friends’ children too.  In our family, we limit ourselves to one gift per family member, and still end up with 8-9 gifts each — more than enough.  

If you find even this one-gift-each math excessive, and your kids are old enough, consider drawing names Kris Kringle style, for your gift exchange. Getting one more substantial gift can often be enough for older kids and adults. There are lots of apps and websites now that can help you draw names anonymously and even set out parameters like budget limitations (e.g.,,, and, just to name a few.)

4. Wrap differently.

Brown paper wrapping, also known as kraft paper, is readily available at your local post office and art supply stores. It can be made classically seasonal with some raw jute twine, and natural berries, evergreen sprigs, or pine cones and a bit of hot glue.

For the unwrapping, many green families set up bags for recycling, compost, and garbage where their family opens presents. Consider adding a shoebox for collecting pretty ribbons and tissue that can be reused throughout the year.

How To Have A Green Christmas

For a more elegant (and frankly, faster) wrapping solution, consider the art of furoshiki.

Furoshiki is not a Japanese nuclear reactor, or an intricate cuisine, but rather a clever, simple and green way of wrapping gifts.

Any square piece of fabric, hemmed or even just cut neatly with pinking shears, can be used to tie a gift into an attractive bundle. The fabric can be saved and reused year after year, and used to wrap birthday or housewarming gifts in the interim.

I have fallen in love with the idea of using vintage silk scarves in this way, and started a scarf collection solely to use as furoshiki gift wrap:

How To Wrap Eco Friendly Gifts

5. Consider adopting new, simpler traditions.  

When our three children were tiny, we started celebrating Christmas Eve (otherwise known as Mummy’s birthday, in our house, which is why I get to choose) by opening one gift each, and it’s always pyjamas and a new book. Everyone puts on their PJs and curls up for a good read in the living room, with the tree sparkling. We cap off the evening with a read-aloud of the story The Night Before Christmas, put out some snacks for St. Nick, and head for bed to listen for reindeer hooves on the roof.   

My own mother is responsible for a minimalist tradition that I now consider a godsend, as a frequently-exhausted parent:  Santa doesn’t wrap.

Why would he? I mean, clearly those wrapping papers used by Mom and Dad can’t be used on Santa’s gifts too — it doesn’t take a big kid to call you on *that* rookie mistake! Plus, don’t the elves make everything in the workshop?  

In our house, gifts from Santa either fit into a Christmas stocking or are placed in a cluster near the tree, with our name on a paper and twine tag (as they do these things, in the North.)

How to plan a minimal and eco friendly christmas

Bring back some green traditions from an earlier time: Cut down your own Christmas tree at a tree farm and make a day of it, bake your own holiday cookies, make your own Christmas crackers,  invite neighbours and friends to a caroling party with eggnog or hot toddies.

Most of all, remember that Christmas is about people. Being together with loved ones, and giving the gift of our time is what it’s all about.  

It’s easy being green, when the gifts take a back seat to the people we love sharing them with. Enjoy!

P.S. If the excess of the holidays is getting to you, try these 10 mindfulness techniques for mamas.




  • Tiffany Washko says:

    I love those mittens/gloves. They look so toasty!

  • Green Bean says:

    What a wonderful, beautiful post. I will be sharing after Thanksgiving. These are great ideas on how to simplify but retain the beauty of the season. Everyone who celebrates should read these.

  • anna@greentalk says:

    I adore these ideas.–especially the way to wrap gifts. Love the evergreen idea.

  • Betsy (Eco-novice) says:

    We are hoping to cut down our own tree thus year. And I love reusing our cloth gift bags each year. I may need to steal your Christmas eve tradition!

  • Kathy Connors says:

    Thank you so much for this post! This year is so tight as far as finances go. I really don’t have any money for my kids Christmas. You reminded me that I can use Goodwill for gifts. I know my kids won’t care but there was just something about it that didn’t feel right. Now I have someone else saying it is ok and that makes a difference to me. Again, thank you.
    Merry Christmas

    • Natalie George says:

      Kathy – we have enough money to buy new gifts and we still to choose to buy a majority of our gifts second hand (we actually only give each child 4 gifts – 1 Want, 1 Need, 1 Wear and 1 Read) or we make themselves ourself. Unless it is an item that we know will benefit from being bought new (aka, will be used for all 4 of our children or we want to last a really long time). It is a purposeful decision to do Christmas and to live like this. We have been “trained” in society to want brand new gifts and items – as though it means we are better people. Somewhat of a keeping up with the joneses effect. I hope you and your children have a lovely Christmas together!

  • Rebecca Saha says:

    Awww, thanks Kathy! That makes me feel great too. Like Natalie, we think secondhand *first* in our home, and make no apologies about it. You can “curate” a great gift set for kids by looking to make connections between a group of items. For example, a book and a toy plus a piece of clothing — Say you find a book about trains, a “new to you” engine for your train set and a pair of striped OshKosh “engineer” overalls. Presto! It’s a gift set. In my own resale shop,, I love putting things together that way. Merry Christmas to you and your family! <3 Rebecca Saha, owner/curator, iSpy Clothing