Make Your Holiday Festive, Beautiful AND Sustainable - Small Legacies

Make Your Holiday Festive, Beautiful AND Sustainable

By Valerie Short

Easy Ways to Make a Difference in Your Home

This week our very good friend Valerie is here to help us re-think the decor in our homes. Sustainability seems like a big concept to most of us but Valerie is helping us realize that it's actually super easy to accomplish just by taking small steps along the way. Here's what she has to say!

Trees: Faux vs Real?

As the holiday season approaches, one of the most common things that people with a newfound passion for sustainability may ponder is what type of Christmas tree is best for the environment. The answer depends!

The Benefits of Artificial 

If you already have an artificial tree, keep on using it for as long as you can. Dumping it would just be contributing to the overwhelming amount of waste sitting in landfills. When taken care of properly, artificial trees can last for decades.

The Benefits of Real Trees

If you are in the market for a tree, live trees are generally the way to go. Buying from a local farm is more environmentally friendly, as those trees haven't been shipped for miles to get to your destination. When the trees are cut down, new trees are planted, and the cycle continues. As the trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air, and when the trees die, they are biodigradable. Once you're done with your tree, consider donating it to an animal sanctuary or wildlife rehabilitation center. Wild animals love to use the trees for climbing and hiding, and animals such as goats enjoy nibbling on the branches and leaves. Otherwise, many cities do tree collections and turn them into compost.

A Third Option: Rent-a-Tree!

A lesser-known option is choosing to rent a tree from a local farm. These trees are planted in pots and don't have to be cut down or thrown out. At the end of the season, the trees are returned to the farm and then used again the following year.
If you would prefer to have an artificial tree, check your nearby thrift stores at the start of the holiday season. You may be surprised by the quality of the options you'll find there.

Holiday Lights

Holiday lights are a magical way to celebrate the season. Thankfully, they can bring joy without using a lot of extra electricity (and driving up your electric bill)!

Use LED Whenever Possible

Opt for LED lights whenever possible, as they last longer, have lower voltage, and are far more energy efficient. By using LED lights, your energy consumption and costs will improve by at least 60%!

Watch Out for Loose Cords 

When decorating outdoors, be concious of how and where you place your lights and other festive trinkets. Loose strings and nets of lights could get tangled around wildlife. Wreaths and garlands with faux berries may look like tasty treats to birds and squirrels, who may accidentally ingest them.

Don't Leave Them on All Night

Lights left on overnight can cause disorientation to your animal neighbors and migrating birds. As long as you take these things into consideration as you decorate, you'll be able to create a wonderful display with the least amount of potential hazards.

Other Decorations

Get Outside as a Family to Gather Decorations!

Real tree branches and pinecones are great options for decorating tables, fireplace mantles, and other areas inside your home. They have a natural look that can fit a lot of styles, from rustic to modern. Plus, they give off a lovely scent. Going outside to find these decorations can be a fun activity for the family to do together.

Focus on Recycled and Recyclable Crafts 

Trees can be adorned with ornaments crafted from paper, recycled cloth, and even baked goods. Garlands made with plain popcorn, cranberries, and natural threads such as hemp cord are a traditional accent for trees and banisters.

Tips for Garland

Some people enjoy placing the garlands on their trees outside as a snack for birds and other critters - just make sure the popcorn doesn't have any flavoritng, salt, or oil on it if you choose to do this for your furry and feathered friends!

Wrapping Paper

Stay Away from the Glittery and Shiny Paper

Surprising to many, a lot of commercial wrapping paper isn't recyclable. As a basic rule, if the paper is really shiny or has any sort of glitter, it can't be recycled due to the added elements that give it those shimmering qualities. This type of paper can be saved and reused - provided that it hasn't been torn to shreds in excitement! 

Find Eco-Friendly Paper for A Clean Aesthetic Look

Other types wrapping paper can be recycled, and many recycling centers will accept it with the tape included. However, the best way to ensure that the materials get recycled is to use eco-friendly paper and tape. There are many options out there, and you'll even be able to find it at some large department stores. Bonus if you can find wrapping paper that is made out of already recycled material!


Bows generally are not recyclable, so be sure to remove those and save them to use again later. 


When in Doubt Reuse and Repurpose 

Thrift stores are treasure troves when it comes to finding resuable manmade decorations. Holiday weaths, trees, serving platters, signs, statues, and even lights can be found in abundance at your local stores ahead of each season. You can save a lot of money and find some truly unique pieces this way. The storage containers that you place all of these items into afterwards can also be found secondhand.
On those chilly winter nights, you'll feel warm and cozy knowing that you're taking such impactful steps to help the environment!

Valerie Short is a Colorado-based writer and community activist. Valerie has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Central Florida. Helping care for and rehabilitate rescue animals is something dear to Valerie's heart and she enjoys helping others learn how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Comment 1

Kendra on

I love this! Thank you Valerie for the advice because I’m completely clueless when it comes to sustainability efforts and this makes it all much more approachable. :)

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