A Conscious Consumer Holiday Survival Guide

A few days ago I asked my ethically-minded instagram community what the most difficult elements of the holidays were for them to cope with. The following tips and resources are in response to some of the most common issues that came up in the ensuing conversation, and that I've received via email and facebook message this month. 

FOOD:

Perhaps even more difficult to source ethically than presents, food during the holiday season can pose a problem for conscious consumers. For most of us, our normal eating habits are altered around the holidays, which might put us in situations where our ethics are compromised when we're asked to make/bring a certain dish to a holiday gathering or are gifted food items that might not align with our values. A few simple tips related to food: 

  1. Buy holiday sweets like Chocolate coins and advent calendars from Divine and truffles from Alter Eco.
  2. Get your hot cocoa and tea from a fair trade source like Divine or Numi. Make your own vegan marshmallows
  3. Stock up on Fair trade baking supplies (sugar, vanilla, baking chocolate, etc) from FrontierDivine, and Wholesome!.
  4. If your family's traditional snacks require the use of food products with questionable ethics (like M&Ms or cheap imported fruits), introduce new recipes that you can create with more fair trade or local ingredients. There are thousands of delicious treats out there, we don't need to be tied to making the same thing year after year! 

At the end of the day, my advice is to purchase and cook/bake with ethically sourced food whenever you personally can, and to gently and joyfully explain why to your family and friends. For food that you're given or offered, or that other family members cook- eat, and be grateful. Acknowledge that everyone is at a different place in their journey and that you can't change your entire family unit overnight. 

GIFTS FOR KIDS: 

Many conscious parents struggle with the holidays because they don't feel as though their family respects their wishes to keep kid-gifts to a minimum. Not having kids myself, I don't have a ton of wisdom in this area, but I have gathered a few tips from smart parents in my life: 

  1. Use the "Something you want, Something you need, Something to wear, Something to read" strategy. Implement this formula for the gifts that you purchase for your kids, and explain to family members that you'd like them to do the same. Sure, the kids will probably still get more gifts than they need, but at least 3/4 of them will be practical/needed items rather than a plethora of light-up toys. 
  2. Donate/Invest: One of my family members asks extended family members to purchase smaller/simpler gifts for her kids, and to gift money toward their education funds in lieu of more excessive gifting. You could also have family members donate to a cause in your child's name and recruit them to help you teach your kids about giving vs. receiving. 

GIFT LIST WOES: 

Here's another holiday bummer:  what if you provide your family with a list of needed/wanted items (all fair trade and ethical, of course), but they end up purchasing a similar, non-ethically made product instead? This especially applies to older members of the extended family who might not be comfortable with shopping online. 

  1. Be strategic about which family members you share what with. If you know for certain that a specific family member won't purchase an item ethically, don't send that item to them on your with list- give them some easier options to choose from. 
  2. Ask for a donation to be made in your name to an organization you care about. If you think your family members will prefer something a bit more tangible, many organizations have lovely gift guides where you can donate money toward a goal/object: a sheep for a refugee family, a month of therapy for a sex trafficking survivor. Check out: 
    Heshima Kenya
    Preemptive Love Coalition
    International Justice Mission
    Safe Refuge
  3. Ask for something special to be made for you in lieu of a gift from a big box store. Maybe your great-grandma knits: ask her for a scarf in your favorite color. Maybe your mom makes the BEST jam or hot fudge sauce: ask for a supply to be wrapped up under the tree. Chances are, your family members will be touched that you appreciate their hobbies and talents and happy to oblige! 
  4. Make things easy: ask for a gift card from Fair+Simple that you'll be able to redeem for any number of beautiful and ethically made goods. To make it even easier, here is a code for 10% off all F+S cards that you can use TODAY: hannah10 

ETHICAL GIVING's COST: 

An understandable roadblock that conscious consumers face when trying to purchase only-ethical presents for family is cost. Fairly made gifts are often much more expensive than conventional products. However, even shoppers with the smallest of budgets can manage to shop ethically as long as they embrace the idea that they need not only gift brand-new ethically made items! Instead of feeling the pressure to buy new: 

  1. Regift something. 
  2. Thrift something. 
  3. Make something. 
  4. Give an experience. 

GIFT WRAPPING AND DECOR: 

Decorating for the holidays can be fun, but what about the environmental impact of all those plastic decorations and that foil-coated gift wrap? Here are a few helpful eco-guides to help you navigate this part of the holidays: 

  1. Elizabeth at The Note Passer recently published a wonderful and informative article on zero waste (or less waste!) holiday decor.
  2. Read Francesca's thoughts on eco-friendly gift wrapping on her blog Ethical Unicorn. 

BEING AROUND PEOPLE WHO DON'T SHARE YOUR VALUES: 

This one is SO tough. Most of us will spend Christmas around at least a few people who REALLY don't share our values (and, for those of us in the US, tensions might be running especially high due to the polarizing nature of November's election). 

One reader emailed me to say that she'd recently watched the True Cost Documentary and drastically changed her own shopping habits, and consequently was dreading the holidays as she'd have to watch her loved ones engage in rampant, mindless consumerism. 

My best advice: 

  1. Stand firm. Be bold but gentle when talking about your own personal choices and why you've made them. 
  2. Remember that everyone is on their own journey. Chances are, you probably haven't had the same ethical guidelines that you have today throughout your entire life. Think back to a year or three years or ten years ago when you were still living/consuming in a conventional way, and refrain from passing judgement. 
  3. You don't have to pretend to be excited about stuff that bothers you. If someone gets you unethically made slippers, thank them and then donate them to a women's shelter if you don't want them in your home. Make an effort the next year to be more firm about what you are and are not okay with receiving. 
  4. If all else fails, there's always fair trade booze.  

MODERATION + SELF CARE: 

The holiday season is a marvelous time to practice contentment and moderation. You'll avoid getting caught up in the marketing/buying frenzy and stay much more calm and grounded if you plan for a slower Christmas filled with good memories, rest, and non-wasteful activities. My best tips? 

  1. Don't overeat, and take time to exercise. I don't believe in completely avoiding indulgent holiday food and drink (I love my eggnog and rum far too much). However, over-indulging is something that I try to avoid: I don't want to spend a month of my year feeling sluggish and sickly. I also try to work out semi-regularly to keep myself feeling well and to alleviate stress. 
  2. Plan meaningful activities and say "no" to things you don't want to spend time on. I'd much rather spend an afternoon baking cookies with my siblings at home than spend a bunch of money shopping at the mall over the weekend... I also say "no" to some family events at this time of year- both Andrew and I have large families and we simply can't make it to every event and gathering. Thankfully we have lovely, supportive families that don't mind.
  3. Don't indulge in your people-pleasing tendencies. If you can't afford the gift that someone wants, don't screw up your budget to buy it. Don't over-extend yourself to be the "hostess with the mostest". Don't buy decorations and stuff for your home that you don't need just to impress relatives over the holidays. Simply give the ones you love the gift of yourself- present, joyful, and happy.