Simple, Sustainable Gift Wrap

I am not one to take in an eye-sore kindly. I would call that one of my biggest flaws. Things just have to be aesthetically pleasing to be pleasing to me. For that, I am sorry. So when it comes time to start putting presents under the tree, it follows that I cannot just shove them there, unwrapped. It isn’t that I feel the need for another person to be surprised, although surprises are quite nice. It’s that I need the presents to look cohesive, for my own sanity. Which brings me to the following dilemma: less waste for a time of the year when gifts abound.

Last year, I wrote about the art of furoshiki gift wrapping, as a means to produce absolutely zero waste by using excess fabric lying about the house. But after a year has come and gone, I am without any more fabric left to wrap gifts in. It appears that everyone wanted to keep the fabric pieces for their own re-use. This year, I find a not-so-perfect zero waste (zero-ish waste? less waste?) solution from the following:

+ Less gifts, in general. Call me Einstein, but with less gifts comes less gift wrap, and therefore, less waste. This year, I have narrowed down our gifts to ten. That includes required Secret Santa’s at work and holiday parties, and our most immediate family members. Part of this comes from our public renouncement of the gifting of material things, right this way.

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+ Simple methods of wrapping. One of the very first memories I have of being conscious of my wasteful lifestyle involves wrapping gifts at Christmas time. I was 20 years old and I had volunteered to help my aunt wrap the gifts for my cousins (all forty-something of them). I was previously taught by my mother how to make gifts look pretty by adding in additional folds in the wrapping paper and using multiple bows. By scrapping sticker tags when my hand-writing was too ugly to bear. I went about my usual methods of wrapping gifts when my aunt questioned why I was folding the wrapping paper in such a way. I replied, “Because it looks pretty.” To which she laughed and said, “It wastes paper.” Confused, I didn’t understand why that mattered. Off course, my mind mulled the comment over and over again in my head as I continued to wrap. By the end of the wrapping session, I was embarrassed at the waste of gift wrap that I had cost my aunt. I was embarrassed of my frivolous lifestyle. And I saw a glimpse into the world of minimalism that I had yet to discover. Nowadays, I just wrap the paper once around, barely enough to cover the good, and call it a day. A more refined self finds this way of wrapping more attractive anyway.

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Simple materials. I avoid plastic as if I was allergic to it, that you may already know. These days, I find comfort in choosing materials that are natural, biodegradable, or at the very least, recyclable. For Christmas this year, I’ve stuck with twine, string, paper wrap (the non-glossy kind), brown boxes, and re-usable stamps. The color scheme itself is simple, making it easy for me to satisfy my need for cohesiveness. To fill excess spaces in the boxes, I’ve opted not to purchase tissue paper, but rather, use left-over packing paper that has survived our move into our new home a few months ago.

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+ Less wrapping of the gift wrap themselves. If I have to buy gift wrap in order to appease my need to have everything look cohesive, may it be the least-dressed gift wrap there is. This tip goes out to the minimalist (or minimalist hopefuls), to the environmentalists, to the pursuers of mindful living. This year, I went to a local stationary store (and by local, I mean I live across the street from it), and chose a brown paper gift wrap rolled up sans one of those cardboard rolls that you typically find in the center of a tootsie pop wrapping paper. Additionally, it was not wrapped up in cellophane, as they usually are. It was held together by a piece of paper detailing the company from which it came. I also purchased paper tape, with a little green decorative charm, holiday-esque enough to spruce up plain brown boxes (see what I did there?). I purchased yarn that was wound around a cardboard roll, and without the plastic covering (why are they even necessary?!). Lastly, I whipped out my wooden stamp collection and cut up a piece of sketch pad paper to make the name tags. All of this to say, it doesn’t take much to appease my need for pretty. We don’t have to indulge our presents in excessive gift wrap, but I am completely okay with allowing myself something simpler. It’s not perfectly zero-waste, but we can’t always be beating ourselves up for their inabilities to be perfect. We are, after all, human. The point is, we try.

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Writing A No-Gifting Holiday Letter

My favorite time of year is upon us. A time of brisk morning air, evening fireside chats, excuses to snuggle and wear socks to bed, and gathering for no jolly good reason at all except for the fact that it’s that time of year. Intermingled among all this is the season of gift giving, interlaced with all sorts of well-meaning intentions designed to show affection and care. How then, to break one’s bubble and tell them not to give gifts at all, in order to avoid waste, excess consumption, and negatively impact livelihoods and the planet? Such Grinch-like talk will surely get you uninvited to Aunt Sally’s Christmas dinner. But lack of such talk could keep you in a cycle of forever contributing to unnecessary waste production and consumption. Which idea can you be more at peace with?

For myself, preceding any sort of wish list requires a conversation, which could be substituted by a letter if you’ve got some ‘splaining to do for a large number of people or if the face-to-face interaction is just too awkwardly painful to sit through. It requires bravery fortified by resolve, THAT I can guarantee you. It also requires an openness on my part, since I have no control over the openness on their part. Meaning, I must accept the possibility of rejection. For some, gift giving is just something very much ingrained in their being. I know it once was the case for me. There used to be a time where everyone I knew got a gift from me, whether they wanted to or not. I used to think it was the best way I could spread joy and show love. Today, I see the holidays as a heavily marketed event that promotes large amounts of consumption packaged in the form of gifts. Not everyone shares my view point. But I know that I’ve changed, and maybe over time, they may too. Regardless, allow people to be themselves. It is important to share your view point and stand strong as a mountain around your values, but it is equally important to allow others around you to be fluid and flow as a river, going their own way. Be open to being denied your wish to veer away from gift giving, because it is, after all, a wish.

The hard part, off course, lies in finding the best way to communicate that wish. Each family is different, and the way you communicate greatly affects the way the wish is received. With my immediate family, I have had endless conversations (throughout the year) about my stance. But what of extended family and friends? The easiest thing to do if your family is keen on sending each other wish lists is to include a letter addressed to all. Every year, people ask me for a wish list. And when I say “You don’t have to get me anything”, they typically respond with, “Just send it to me, anyway.” So I do, attached with a written letter. I have included this letter last Christmas, for my most recent birthday, and yes, this Christmas as well. May you find inspiration and support.

Dear all,

Please do not feel the need to get me a Christmas gift this year. I’d rather Christmas be about spending time, not money. I am more than happy to receive NOTHING. Actually I would feel a weight lift, since I feel stressed knowing that our consumption choices do affect the environment. Our resources could be used elsewhere, like buying a Christmas meal for a low-income family, or sending the gift to a child in a third world country. Please consider.

On that note, if you cannot keep yourself from the gift giving spirit, I ask that you kindly respect my wish for having as little negative social and environmental impact as possible. I request no plastic packaging, which requires either picking up these items from the store or writing letters to the companies to request zero plastic packaging in the shipping. No gift wrap is necessary, but if you wish to wrap, please be mindful and avoid plastic wrap, including ribbons and bows made from cellophane. There will be no need for plastic tags stickered onto gifts as well. Lastly, please use the links specified in this document if you choose to gift. Do not substitute products with other products as a majority of these are chosen specifically for their sustainability in material, fair trade, or direct global impact in poor communities.

Future thank you, regardless of what you choose to do.

XOXO,

Sam

Yes, it takes guts. Yes, it may not be well received by some. But after sending letters of the like twice before, here is the change that I am happy to see.

  • This year, my siblings were open to limiting the gifts to under $25. We used to spend $100+ on each other, and limiting it to a small price really allows us to focus our dollars on what we truly need.
  • This year, my sister-in-law approached us and asked if her, Mr. Debtist and I could skip gifts this year. She said that she had also asked her closest friends to do the same, and it was received with open arms. She only felt comfortable asking us this because we have made it clear in the past that gifts are not important to us. The conversation had already been started.
  • We have requested to participate in only the Secret Santas for the parties we are attending. Meaning, for the years that we are attending the other side’s extended family’s party, we will be skipping gift giving for the side we aren’t attending.
  • My husband and I will not get gifts for each other. We gift to each other throughout the year in forms of travel, quality time, and everything else we do to create an intentional lifestyle. At the end of December, we will be traveling to Australia and New Zealand, which is “gift” enough.

I hope that in sharing these moments, you find the courage to speak up for the lifestyle you want to lead. Change can happen, no matter how minute, but it all starts with awareness about how our actions today affect the world we create for tomorrow.

Thoughts on: The Blackest of Fridays.

Today is a sad day, and will likely continue to be a sad day for me for the rest of my life. It is with a heavy heart that I reminisce on past Black Fridays that I regret ever participating in. Growing up, my family held a huge emphasis on acquiring material goods and symbols of social status and wealth. Hence, Thanksgiving was never the real holiday. The real holiday was the day after turkey day, Black Friday, and it consisted of doing only one thing. Shopping.

I remember as kids, we were told to go to bed early on Thanksgiving so that we could wake up early to hit up the stores for their sales. Me and my cousins would all wake up early and, in a flurry of excitement, get dressed and pour over discount advertisements at the breakfast table while we ate left-over food for breakfast. Then we would all hop in vans and be driven to the outlets and malls by our parents and dropped off. We would separate into groups, with me managing the money my parents gave for myself, my sister, and my little brother. We spent the whole day walking, visiting every store and checking out the best deals. We wouldn’t make our decision until the end of the day, when we have exhausted every deal out there and picked the best deal that we saw, or the item we ended up most wanting that day. Some days, we would go to multiple outlets, then return to the outlet with the store with the supposedly best deal. What a waste of gas and precious time. We weren’t going out there to shop for something we actually wanted. We went out there with a mission to spend a certain amount of money that we were given on something that gave us the best-short-term-longing-feeling. And we HAD to spend it that day, otherwise, we would “miss out” on a good deal, and that money would be “wasted”. Talk about experiencing the real FOMO as early as 13 years old.

In addition to being taught awful habits regarding spending money, as well as de-valuing money throughout this entire process, you would not imagine the stress we went through on the blackest of Fridays. First world problems, I know, but seriously, it’s a true problem! We ran ourselves ragged, searching for the perfect thing. I was holding all the cash for my siblings and myself, and they would be running back and forth to me asking for a certain amount of it, and returning the change, and asking me how much they had left. I was a walking calculator zombie, not a human being. And then imagine the amount of thought and aggravation that went into deciding what to buy. The constant doubt of whether I was spending my money “wisely” on the best deal possible. The debate between getting a bang for your buck, or something you actually like (I say “like” and not “want” because I doubt we truly “wanted” any of that stuff. Don’t get me started with “need”). And oh, the comparisons afterwards! We would sit together at the end of the day, at In N Out or some other harmful fast food restaurant, and discuss what we spent our money on and how one deal was better than the other. It would pretty much be a show of who got the best thing, as if that was a measure of our self-worth, as if it was equivalent to our best life accomplishments.

Rather than spend time with each other, we spent time alone, in our own minds, as well as physically. The parents would drop off the kids and the kids would separate from the parents. In order to pursue and peruse our different interests, the kids would break up into groups. A group would enter a store, and then the individuals would look on their own. The only time we ever came together was when we wanted to gather all our resources or divvy up allocated money. Sad, sad, sad, I told you this was sad.

And now, Black Friday begins on Thanksgiving Day in the evening. I think of future generations and wonder what they will learn from all of this. I understand getting a good deal on something you may need, but watching videos of people line up, race through the doors, kick, shove, push, fight, I mean, is that really what life has turned into? It’s like the scene from Mean Girls where the shopping mall turns into a jungle scene. Now that I’m becoming less and less attracted by typical American consumerism, I sit back and can’t help but feel slightly disgusted with my past self. Our day of thanks is slowly turning more into a day of thanks for things rather than for things-that-truly-matter.

This year, Mike and I made sure to set aside time for our family and friends, the only things that really matter to us. We opened our doors and offered our home to everyone, as a way to say, “This is what we want to spend our time doing. The doors are open for you to come into our lives any time.” We have no desire to go out today, on the blackest of Fridays, to shop for ourselves and buy things we do not need. I have no desire to be surrounded by demanding customers and exhausted teenage clerks. I am not trying to depress myself the day after Thanksgiving. We both have the day off, and I think we are going to go out on this beautiful 85 degree weather (in late November! Thank you California) and enjoy the outdoors, at the park or the beach. Something to acknowledge all the blessings we have in our lives. And to spend time with each other, after spending the past few days with everyone else.

If you must go out there and get some early Christmas shopping done (I am still an advocate of getting to do lists checked off), then please consider shopping for meaningful gifts. Companies have started using Black Friday as a way to give back to charities and communities. Consider the following companies, so that at least the money you spend is used for a greater good somewhere where they don’t have money to spend.

 

Pantagonia – 100% of sales* to grassroots organizations working to create positive change for the planet in their own backyards. We’re determined to use every means at our disposal to defend our world’s climate, air, water and soil. In these divisive times, protecting what we all hold in common is more important than ever before.

 

Everlane – This year’s Black Friday fund goes towards building an organic farm in Vietnam, where pesticide use is so out of control that it is difficult to find safe food.

 

Check out more stores, here, and here, if you must. Or better yet, volunteer your time to an organization this holiday season, and give back what you can. Consider making a donation to a charity under someone’s name. More meaningful gift guides to come in the future, perhaps.

 

Welcoming the holiday season

I always love the first day of November. For me, it marks the beginning of the holiday season (sorry Halloween!). There are only a little over sixty days left to the year, and you start to feel that magnetic pull towards the new beginning promised by the following year. The holidays hold a different meaning for different people. Many look forward to gatherings over candlelit dinners surrounded by loved ones and an assortment of delectable dishes. It becomes more of a nightly occurrence compared to the rest of the year. Some envision twinkly lights hung on decks and shrubs and trees, peeking out of dark windows and above fiery fireplaces. The holiday music comes on the radio, and everywhere else, which could be a good or bad thing, depending. The wish lists are being placed in stockings, the stores are being filled with toys, and the malls are being filled with people, gathering to see the tallest of Christmas trees be lighted for the first time. The parties and celebrations may start snowballing, passing the days by until suddenly, you’re screaming at the top of your lungs, “Happy New Year!” The holiday season is fleetingly beautiful and joyous, and is undoubtedly my favorite time of the year.

This has always been the holiday season that I knew growing up. But now that I am a little older, I try to hold on to the days a little longer, and anticipated November and December happenings start to shift towards other things. Quiet mornings with my husband and slow risings out of a comfortable bed. Blanketed humans with gloved hands, holding warm mugs, both on couches and walking the streets. Turning the Christmas music off to hold conversations or listen to a crackling fire. Focusing on being present, rather than buying presents. Writing down a list of things I’m thankful for and reading it aloud on Thanksgiving day instead of placing it in a stocking. Looking at old photo albums with my parents, rather than taking another photo with Santa.  Counterintuitively making slowing down a priority, and creating space a mission.

Admittedly, I will still continue to do traditional holiday things. But the hope is that it doesn’t consume my season with traditional activities for the sake of doing traditional activities. With only a smattering of dates left for the year, these few months, days, and hours really matter. So let’s find the space to fill them with what matters most.