"Sustainability Throughout The Holidays" - Part Five Written by Jessica Money

Sustainability Throughout the Season

Growing up, every Christmas we would ask my dad what he would like for a present and we always got the same response:

"A turkey dinner and some Stilton blue cheese...maybe a Mars bar."
My dad doesn't want gifts. He's satisfied with the simple things in life and didn't get the frantic gift shopping stress mode that I would go into every year leading up to the holidays. When I was a teenager my gift budget was based on what money I saved from babysitting the neighbourhood kids. Because I wanted the most bang for my hard-earned diaper changing money, I would usually go to the dollar store and stock up on the most cheap items I could find. 

How my mentality has changed!

Since having children, my modest-sized house is in constant need of a purge or organizing guru. It isn't that I am a shopaholic or a hoarder; it just happens that people like to treat children and I happen to have two. We live in a time and society that has disposable income and access to inexpensive manufactured items. It's really incredible that we are so fortunate. However, the negative side of it is that we end up with too much stuff. I always joke that TOO MUCH STUFF is a First World Problem. How much money is frivolously spent on items we want when there are people who can't afford the items they need? What is the environmental impact of all the plastic packaging and poorly made broken toys that end up in the dump? When my mind starts down this path it gets a little dark and depressing; however, there are ways to alleviate a bit of the guilty conscience while still celebrating the season of giving.

Gifts are lovely. The surprise, the thoughtfulness...allllll the warm feelings. Many people express their love through the act of gift giving. I am not the Grinch!! I'm just advocating for responsible shopping. If you think of every dollar you spend as a vote for the products you want to see in the future, it gets you thinking. I want to see more products made in Canada out of sustainable resources by people being paid a living wage. If you feel the same way, then the simplest thing to do is support our very own local businesses and entrepreneurs. Calgary boasts amazing shops, markets, and online vendors who have handmade or curated collections of quality products that would make your friends and family very happy to receive.

Want, Need, Wear, Read

This easy rhyme is a guide when buying gifts for your tiny kin. The idea is to make a list and try your best to stick to one item per category to cut down on the amount of excess that can happen during the holidays.
"Want" - this item can be a toy they are obsessed with or something fun that they will enjoy. 
"Need" - is the practical item that might not be as exciting to unwrap, but it will definitely get used (a thermos, toiletries, a helmet, bedding...).
"Wear" - this category is easy given the beautiful clothes our local shops have to offer.
"Read" - is my personal favourite maybe because my mother is a librarian! I could spend hours in a book shop picking out the perfect book to be cherished for years to come.

Quality Items

As part of the minimalist movement, there has been a shift of mentality from quantity to quality. Instead of buying ten cheap pieces of clothing that don't fit or flatter, invest in one quality item that will be loved and that will last several years. Kids are hard on their clothes. If we buy cheap kids clothing, we end up having to buy a much greater quantity and replace items more frequently. And isn't it such a shame (and disappointment) when a new piece of clothing goes through the wash and comes out ruined?! My work-around is buying clothes second hand! These items have already been worn and washed and have proven their quality and durability. When buying second hand clothes, there will be no surprises when they come out of the wash. And by giving clothes a second home, it also keeps them out of the landfill. Check out shops that sell high end new or previously worn clothes that have a reputation for standing the test of time. 

Quality Time

With everyone's hectic schedules these days, it's important to make time for each other. So give your loved ones the gift of a date! This doesn't just apply to adults. For the last few years we've gifted the grandparents "dates" with their beloved grandchildren. (This also gives us a break from the kids...sneaky.) The kids take a handful of loonies out of their piggy banks, put on clean clothes, brush their hair, and showcase their manners by doing things like opening the doors for their "dates". They are also so proud to buy their grandparents a coffee or treat with their own money.

Below are a few kid-friendly date ideas: 

White Elephant Gift Exchange...with a twist

Consider hosting a "Dirty Santa Gift Exchange". Instead of buying new items, everyone has to dig around their house and find something that they don't use to re-gift. The emphasis is on entertain instead of gain. This type of gift exchange is sure to get some laughs and you might find yourself fighting over a ridiculous item because one man's trash is another man's treasure! One year I exchanged a pair of beautiful champagne glasses for a big bag of potting soil and I couldn't have been happier!

Family Photos

A professional photo shoot captures a moment in time to be cherished more with every year that passes. Consider going outdoors or on a casual little outing and have a photographer take a mix of posed and candid photos of you and your loved ones. You'll spend a nice time together and end up with beautiful photos too. I'm not just adding this because I'm a photographer...or am I?

Save for the Future

In lieu of gifts, consider asking for contributions to a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) to help save for your children's post-secondary education. We set up a fund for our kids when they were very small, but didn't have many opportunities to contribute to it because I had decided to stay home with the kids and one income doesn't go far in Calgary. If they are able, family and friends are happy to put money towards the next generations' future. For us, it is amazing to see our kids' little education fund grow despite our own meager contributions. We are very grateful.

One Big Item

There is so much stress around getting "the perfect gift" for your significant other. You either blow the budget and spend too much money (in turn making the other person feel like their gift to you is inadequate) or you feel obligated to buy something and it just isn't that special. What if you decided to skip presents altogether and pooled your money to purchase one big item? Imagine not worrying about birthday presents, Holiday presents, Valentine's Day presents, anniversary presents...and, instead, deciding together on one big item. This could be a piece of art, a trip, a cooking class, tickets to a concert, or -- if you're in my phase of life -- a vacuum! It definitely isn't romantic but it is very practical.

By all means, spoil your loved ones! But think outside the box when it comes to gifts and try to avoid waste whenever possible. There are so many unique and wonderful ways to celebrate the season while keeping sustainability in mind. 

Wishing you happiness this winter and always,


Jessica Money is a local photographer. We love her eye and creativity and often use her photos for our website, blog and social media channels. She is an incredible talent and she specializes in family and portrait photography. For more information or to view her portfolio visit her website! www.kindredcamera.com

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