deck the halls…with eco-friendly decorations!

There are 15 days left until Christmas – are you prepared? I have to admit that I am not! There are still a few gifts I need to buy, a few being delivered this week, and lots left to wrap. But the decorations are up and the get-togethers are planned! So that's something, right?

Last year, I did a three-part series on Christmas shopping, decorating and gifts and how each part of the holiday can be more eco-friendly.

When doing your Christmas shopping, shop smartly. Try local businesses first for your gifts, or choose gift cards to encourage your loved ones to also shop small. I've picked up a few of my gifts from local shops, and I'm super excited to give them out. If you're looking to save money, try following your favorite local shops on Facebook or Twitter, or add yourself to their mailing lists. There's always a good chance there will be sales and discounts posted that you wouldn't otherwise know about.

If you choose to shop online, first of all, do it early! Avoid having to pay for quicker shipping or using air freight, which takes more of a toll on the environment. If you're making an order from a website, see if there's anything else you can buy at the same time so you can condense packaging. Don't buy one item from 10 different websites, but rather buy three or four items from one website. And choose websites that sell earth-friendly goods, such as Hipcycle, Vine, Abe's Market or Buy Green. There are so many more websites, and you can find just about anything you want recycled, up-cycled, or made with earth-friendly materials. The benefit of online shopping is the amount of boxes you get in the mail that are perfect for wrapping gifts with! Save those boxes and packing materials and use them again.

Decorating is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. I love the cheer and coziness that decorations bring to a home. I'm not sure how many times in the past few weeks I've told my boyfriend just how much I love our Christmas tree in his living room. Once your home is decorated, turn off all the lights but your Christmas ones, and enjoy the festive glow while you watch a movie and drink hot chocolate. Bonus points, you'll save electricity from turning your regular lights off. 

When you decorate, look for pieces made with eco-friendly materials, such as burlap, hemp, or organic fabric. Use LED lights for your tree, around your home or outside. They use less energy, helping to lessen the impact on your utility bill when you're already spending extra money on food and gifts. They also keep their cool better than incandescent lights, making your tree a little less of a fire hazard. You can also find decorative solar-powered outdoor lights, eliminating the need for a Griswold-style power cord overload. Keep in mind that they will be more expensive, and chances are, the lights won't be very bright. But they are still pretty!

You should also buy decorations that will last for multiple years. Vintage ornaments give a Christmas tree a classic, timeless look. Our tree has lots of ornaments on it that are relics from our childhood days, and they are my favorite ones. I've been growing my decoration collection for a few years now, and each year I take a few of my family's decorations that they are no longer using. The tree skirt we have has been around for years and still looks great. It only needed a slight cat-proof modification this year (ahem). 

There's a large debate on whether real or artificial trees are more eco-friendly, and there's no clear answer on a winner. Real trees are obviously the more natural choice, and many cheaper artificial trees are made with toxic chemicals and are not recyclable. But, artificial trees can be reused for many years, while real trees are one-and-done. Does anyone plant their Christmas tree outside after the holidays are over? It's a nice thought, but I'm not sure it's possible in South Louisiana! Real trees can be recycled, though. For many years, our city picked up trees separately and sent them out to the marshes, where they would then get placed as a barrier to keep the wetlands from eroding. The city no longer does this, but you can take an idea and use your tree for another purpose. I think this year, our tree will make its way to my boyfriend's family's camp, where it'll go in the water to help some erosion.

Are you ready to wrap? Hold one for one second. Shiny, waxy gift wrap cannot be recycled. Keep that in mind when you buy your gift wrap, and adjust accordingly. Last year I bought what is essentially decorative brown kraft paper wrap, and it was merrily recycled. I used eco-friendly twine and jute for ribbons, and used a few sprigs of Christmas tree branches as extra decoration. I also made a couple magazine-paper gift bows; while those were fun and pretty, I am not sure I'll be taking that extra step this year. You can go the classic route and use newspaper as gift wrap. If you get gift bags and boxes, keep them for future uses. Bags have a very long life if they are taken care of and not ripped. Tissue paper can also be reused. Or you can shred regular old copy paper to use for stuffing inside boxes and for protecting breakable gifts. 

Pretty reusable bags make for great gift bags, and the recipient also has a nice bag to use when shopping during the year. I love to put gifts (especially for showers) in nice reusable bags or baskets, so everything can be put to use later. There's already such an overload of non-reusable gift bags and paper; why add more? 

I also choose not to spend money or waste extra paper on gift tags, as gorgeous as some of them are. There are so many eco-friendly options to tagging gifts though! I usually just write the person's name directly onto the gift wrap, and this year I have some nice metallic pens to make it look extra fancy. You can also use the decorative fronts of old gift cards, or use up those wrapping paper scraps. Just tape it right on to the package, or affix it to a ribbon or bow. Stamps are also a creative idea. You can use letter stamps for each family member's initial, or just use a few holiday stamps. If you want to get extra crafty, Apartment Therapy has some great handmade gift tag ideas. I might just break down and try one or two of these, but I won't leave out my shiny new metallic markers!

And when it comes time to open gifts, keep a separate bin out for recyclable materials. Don't let your hard work just get thrown out with that waxy paper.

So, now that you've got the eco-friendly Christmas basics down, it's time to get crackin'. If you're hosting any kind of holiday gathering, check out my party post so you can keep the eco-friendly theme going.

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