Marianna Sachse is the founder of the sustainable children clothing brand Jackalo, and of course, she is a MUM! She gives some of the best ideas to spend your time with kids by getting the most out of it, and wise techniques to keep your children busy with what’s really important. Fewer toys, more time together, memories, experiences and also important at this time of the year: reducing our environmental impact. Promise, it will be very special!
Here we are in December, and we’re in it — the holiday season. As a family of four, trying to reduce our environmental impact, I always find the holidays to be a time that we really have to check in and restrain ourselves (and not just from eating too much of the ever-present threats that are around.) Advertisements scream at us, telling us that we need more, more, more. Kids compare wishlists and get so excited about opening presents. But no matter your religion, your traditions, or what holiday(s) you celebrate, there are so many ways you can reduce your impact.
- Make memories. Everyone has some holiday memory that sticks out, but what cements them into our brains? Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book, The Power of Moments, he looks at memories and suggests you can take almost any moment and turn them into memory with a little work. One key element of a memory is having some level of insight associated with it. The times we realize things are the times that stick in our heads. I love their suggestion for birthdays you can ask a child, ”What’s the major thing you want to remember from this year?” This is a question that’s perfect for a family holiday dinner, a quiet evening by the fire, or prior to opening gifts. This is an activity that requires no other action, no prepwork, and literally no environmental impact. But the impact on an individual or on your family can be profound.
- Focus on experiences. Tickets to the theater or a concert are wonderful if they are within your means, but there are so many ways to create experiences for kids that don’t cost a lot of money. One year we gave our son a play-date with a friend who he hadn’t seen since we moved away. We knew when we’d be back in town for a visit, so I emailed the friends mom and told her about the idea and that we wanted to give our son a playdate with his dear friend as a present (so it was important that we kept the plan!) Most folks don’t make plans for a play-date six months in advance, but this one was extra special and our son was extremely psyched. We already had the trip planned, so the cost of this gift was zero, and the impact was huge. But experiences don’t need to be so elaborate — a coupon to stay up a half-hour late, a special family movie night with a yummy treat, or an extra-special pancake breakfast can all be thrilling gifts for a kid. I highly recommend making a special card or coupon for these experiences so that the child has the experience of opening something special.
- Make your own tradition. When I was a teen, each winter my mother and I would cuddle up and watch Little Women (the one with Susan Sarandon and Wynona Ryder.) This movie still makes me think of cozy times with my mom. We love to cook potato latkes for Chanukah and revel in the smell of frying potatoes, with children sneaking the little crip bits that fall off. Whatever it is, find something special to do as a family and do it every year, no matter where you are.
- Want, need, wear, read. I love this approach to limiting the number of gifts a child receives. No one needs a mountain of gifts, but how can you set clear boundaries on how many gifts your kids will get? Using categories really helps to set those limits. Plus, with this technique, you limit the number of toys that will be abandoned in a few weeks. If you celebrate Chanukah, themed nights can be a wonderful tradition.
- Get fewer, higher quality gifts. One year we limited the gifts for our two kids to a total of three: one shared item and one larger gift for each kid. For the shared item, we invested in a Wobbel board. Made by a great small business in the Netherlands, this board ticks so many boxes: it keeps kids moving, it has multiple uses, and I’m not embarrassed to have it in my living room.
- Buy second hand. From toys to clothes, there are so many quality items available that are gently used. Join a local buy/sell/trade Facebook group to see what you can find, clean out your kid’s toys and offer some items up for sale or trade, or organize a swap with nearby friends or at your kid’s school.
- Avoid plastics. I’ll admit that this is a hard one for our family as my older son loves LEGO sets, but he does get a ton of play out of them and his little brother loves them too (sorry kiddo, it’ll only be hand-me-down legos for you. We’ll try to keep track of those instructions!) But where we can, we try to avoid buying plastic toys. For little kids, there’s a wooden option for almost any plastic toy you can think of. And some of the simple toys like our wooden rainbow and blocks still get the most use.
- Make something special. I’m a dedicated maker, so I’ll often be caught making winter woollens for my kids. But what you make doesn’t have to be difficult. It could be an evening at home making holiday decor, rolling your own candles from beeswax, or just baking cookies together. Not for the kids, but if you don’t make your own vanilla extract, you should do it now. It’s the perfect gift for bakers and it takes hardly any effort: just shove a whole vanilla bean in a small bottle of vodka or bourbon and let it sit in the dark for 4-6 weeks. It’ll spruce up your own holiday treats or make a great gift.
The wonderful Emma of Mamalina.co has pulled together an amazing non-toy gift list. It goes by the interests a child has and offers suggestions of objects and experiences you can give to foster that interest. A sewing machine for a crafty kid, a learning knife for a kid who loves to cook (I love this one, it’s actually a very good knife!) I also love her “Seasons Greentings” (get it?) guide that covers various different ways to reduce your impact over the holidays with decor, gifts, food and activities. She reminds us that (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) the cold weather calls us to hibernate and it is worth owning that and just slowing down and getting cozy. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, slowing down could be a heeding the call of the ocean and going for a surf or just taking a lazy day reading a book.
Whatever you celebrate, making the focus on family, friends, and togetherness — rather than things — is the best way to reduce your impact on the planet.
How are you going to spend your holidays with or without children? Comment below and share any new ideas with us!