Easy Wrapping Paper Storage

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We’ve had three rolls of wrapping paper for the past two years since we typically use cloth bags for “wrapping” our gifts. Yet occasionally a wrapped present is shipped out because it’s easy to pack into a box filled with paper-wrapped items. Our three rolls of paper seem to be lasting forever and we’ve found the most simple way of storing them.

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Just cut a toilet paper roll open and place it around your wrapping paper roll. It holds that paper together gently, without the ripping we sometimes get from rubber bands.

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Happy wrapping paper storage for next year!

Buy Nothing Boxing Day

Boxing Day, traditionally, was a thing in Britain’s Victorian era. Boxes were left out in front of churches for people to donate gifts for the poor. It was also the day when servants of the super-wealthy were given a chance to observe Christmas with their families. Hard-working domestic employees were handed boxes of gifts to give to their loved ones. Tradespeople, too, were thanked on Boxing Day with boxes filled with gifts for services well done.

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A true Boxing Day is a day filled with small acts of kindness. 

In essence, Boxing Day historically is a day to commit small acts of kindness. Today, we can continue the tradition in less class-structured ways and offer boxes of gifts to our neighbors by posting them in our Buy Nothing groups.

Over the holidays we often acquire gifts that might not be to our liking. It’s the thought that counts, right? Once you’re over that warm-and-fuzzy feeling of gratitude for your gift, yet realize you just won’t ever wear it, or eat it, or use it in any way, why not simply regift it on Boxing Day?

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Willa loves Boxing Day © Liesl Clark

In a gift economy, we gain increments of social capital by giving and also receiving with grace. So when we have excess to give, especially on Boxing Day, offering it up to our communities in a transparent fashion, where all can see, is a way of raising our worthiness for future gifts. It also raises the overall wealth of the community since one more item will remain within the materials economy of the neighborhood: an item that might be re-gifted later, or might free-up up its owner to spend more money locally. The more we share within our own communities, the greater our communal wealth. So, get out your boxes and share your bounty. Your neighbors will be thankful, and you’ll earn yourself a little hit of dopamine to go with your added giver clout.

 

Unstuff Your Holidays And Share

Our kids know to not get us “things” as gifts over the holidays. We’ve worked hard to demonstrate that consuming less at holiday-time means less hassle of managing a household of stuff for the year to come. But, how can we take this one step further and try to bring-about a community-wide movement of buying less “stuff” and consuming what is already around us? I’ve found one way to do this: Get proactive, find the perfectly-shareable things that are out there, and help jumpstart collaborative consumption, i.e. sharing what’s already in our midst.

When I was a little girl, I had dreams of owning a shop and offering everything for free. I wanted to take money out of the bargain and let those who truly needed a loaf of bread simply have it, no strings attached. I imagined the happy faces when my clientele would realize they could take it home, along with the freshly ground peanut butter and handmade jellies. I didn’t have a business plan for this sort of shop, of course, but I knew it would thrive somehow. What I didn’t know then was that I was dreaming of a gift economy. Experience now tells me it works, and it can be a huge success.

IMG_5545, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Six years ago, my friend Rebecca and I started a local free food gathering that happened every Saturday morning before the farmer’s market. Gardeners would bring extra produce they’ve grown and home cooks would offer fresh baked and canned goodies. We’d see grass fed beef being shared, vegetable seedlings, and locally-caught crab at our gatherings. Everyone would bring a basket and take home their fill of produce, fruit, flowers, and other consumables. Participants departed enriched by the offerings and the knowledge that their food bills would be much less that week. A sharing economy is joyful. It brings neighbors together to share their bounty and eat locally-grown, caught, and foraged foods.

Bainbridge Bounty-Share, Photo © Liesl Clark

Taking this successful model of collaborative consumption further, Rebecca and I wanted to help take the burden of buying out of the holidays. What if we opened a “Buy Nothing, Give Freely Gift Boutique?” The idea is truly simple: Every family has, for example, toys their child outgrows and most are made of plastic. Or perhaps families have clothing, jewelry, kitchen items that they never use. Why not offer them up to others in exchange for free goodies that you might be able to give to family members or friends?  I tend to have excellent toy karma. So, we have plenty to keep 10 families happy for years. So every autumn, I start boxing up our unwanted toy bounty in preparation for the free gift boutique.

A Free Gift Boutique Makes Christmas Shopping Easy and Fun

We also have an arrangement with a local school that conducts a gift boutique for their students. When their shop (of donated gifts) closes, they want to get rid of the nice housewares and toys quickly so we pick up those boxes of goods and add them to our mix so kids and adults can browse for gifts for family members of all ages. Some families come with toys and items to share in the shop and others come simply to gather much-appreciated gifts. All are welcome.

The holiday boutique idea is a one day, once-a-year event and pure joy to see the happy faces and thoughtful children as they think of everyone in their family they’d like to find a special something for.

Free Frames! Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Free Housewares, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Free Housewares, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

We took this idea about a thousand steps further and created The Buy Nothing Project, which has grown into a worldwide social movement of hyper-local gift economies set up in communities all over the globe. At last count, we have well over 1500 groups and we’re approaching 200,000 members. We’re like Freecycle, but our emphasis in on community-building.

Free Toys For All Ages, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Yet, this year I didn’t have the time to host a holiday boutique here in our home, so I collected the items from the school, had my kids go through their toys, and I purged things from our housewares, and we’ve simply been offering them up to the community through our local Buy Nothing group. A truck-load of items that I got from the school has been given away, with only 1 box left for Goodwill. Families are so happy to receive items to relieve the burden of gift-buying, and perhaps free up some funds to spend locally.

My reasoning is this: If we all just take our perfectly-usable unwanted things to Goodwill, we’re removing those items from our community wealth. If we continue to share them with our neighbors, offering up what we no longer need or use, our community  benefits in small but measurable ways by buying less stuff in general and saving that money to spend nearby: in a local restaurant or shop, for travel and exploration, for concerts and exhibits, for education. Over the holidays, there’s so much right here in our neighborhoods that’s shareable. The key is to seek those items out, and divert them away from the landfill or anonymous charity, and circulate them throughout the community again and again. I’m warmed by seeing my children’s dollhouse gifted 5 years later to yet another family. These things last many lifetimes, and sharing them sends a message to manufacturers that we don’t need to make so many, especially of they’re well-made.

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So, I look at our “stuff” as a community asset. Things we should keep circulating around our neighborhoods, for reuse, so we don’t go out and buy the same things over and over, producing the mountains of waste we see heading each week to the landfill. If we change the way we handle our stuff, add sharing into the picture, we can make a huge impact on our planet. In fact, each gift, in our original Buy Nothing Holiday Boutique, had a printed reminder of where the gift came from, the benefits of a gift economy, and the responsibility we each have as stewards of each item, ensuring that it stays in our materials economy, and not in our landfills or oceans, for a long time hence.

The Virtues of a Circular Economy, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Family Holiday Activity Calendar

Each December, we have a family tradition of creating an advent-style “advent-ure” calendar filled with special activities we can do each day in the run-up to the holidays. No matter what your faith, this idea is centered on togetherness and creating traditions of giving, gratitude, receiving, hope, and help. We intersperse giving with days of gratitude and creative outlets for each of us, whether we like to take pictures, draw, cook, or be outdoors.

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I found a little pagan-like Santa humanoid figure being thrown away by a neighbor one year and rescued him, his pockets perfect for our family holiday adventure calendar. Before I found him, I had made a calendar with pockets that we hung each year on the back of a closet door. Every morning in December, the kids still run downstairs to see what’s in the pocket with the day’s date on it.

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I’ve included a sample list of activities below, as a guide, if you’re interested in creating an advent-ure calendar for your family. Each year, we tailor our activities to special interests the kids might have. Enjoy your time together, and remember, you can do this any time of year!

  1. String popcorn for the birds and place outside on trees.
  2. Pick someone to be a secret Santa or secret gift-giver for, and give them a gift anonymously.
  3. Make a Holiday Wish List, with at least 2 things on it that don’t benefit you directly, and put it inside your stocking or on the mantle or kitchen counter.
  4. Search for a Christmas Tree in the National Forest as part of their fire-prevention Christmas tree cutting program. Oh, and get a permit for taking 3 trees so you can cut down 2 more to give to local families. Or, do something similar, like forcing an amaryllis bulb for later enjoyment in the spring.
  5. Trim the tree, and sip eggnog, or decorate your home with any natural holiday decor collected outside.
  6. Make holiday cards and mail them, today.
  7. Make Candles for your teachers, to light their new year.
  8. Make presents like bath salts, vinegars, hot chocolate mixes.
  9. Holiday party with friends and neighbors!
  10. Drive to nearest ski area, have a yummy dinner out, and snuggle down at a B&B.
  11. Ski, or sled, or make a snow man.
  12. Make ornaments, make hand-made gifts, have a Red and Green Dinner tonight, share holiday stories.
  13. Make a Wreath.
  14. Do a shoe drive and pack the shoes into duffel bags to take to Nepal.
  15. Choose a dish, or a dinner, that you will make for everyone over the holidays.
  16. Walk around the neighborhood together tonight with hot cocoa and see the lights.
  17. Sleep by the fire under the tree, or sit outside for an hour and watch the stars together.
  18. Write out 10 things you’re grateful for and tuck your list into the tree or on the mantle.
  19. Give $20 of allowance money to a charity of your choice.
  20. Deliver homemade gifts to the neighbors.
  21. Family Movie Night!
  22. Post something hand-made as a gift on your local Buy Nothing group.
  23. Make Gingerbread Houses and be sure to give them to the chickens, or a Buy Nothing neighbor who has chickens when you’re done with them.
  24. Bake Gingerbread cookies to put out for Santa, or place them on a neighbor’s doorstep.
  25. It’s Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, whatever the holiday, so go for a family hike and be sure to hold hands and do a race, skipping.bt0c3749What would you add to this list for your family and community to enjoy? I’d love to compile more ideas for a bigger list for all families to enjoy!

Post-Holiday Zero Waste Living

Carefree Holiday Fun in Zero Waste Style

Carefree Holiday Snowball Fun in Zero Waste Style © Liesl Clark

Some reliable sources say Americans produce 25% more waste over the year-end holidays than we do the rest of the year. I’m not surprised, given the household waste-management we’re undergoing this time of year. Our consumption, through gift giving/receiving and party-throwing, is at an all-time high.

Trimming the Tree, Photo © Liesl Clark

What steps can we take to make this year a game-changer, reducing our impact at years’ end? Here are some easy zero-waste practices that should make you feel good:

  1. Recycle Your Live-Cut Christmas Tree: Most communities have tree recycling options available. Boy Scouts in some communities conduct drives to collect trees and chip them up into compost, for example. Other communities will allow you to put your tree in your yard waste bins.
  2. Reuse Your Live Christmas Tree: We throw ours in our brush pile and then cut it up for kindling once the wood has cured. But we’ve created a list of 15 reuses for your Christmas tree if you’re interested.
  3. Take a moment to turn off your power, enjoy a few hours of power disconnection with family for introspection and connection. We do this for an entire day and the appreciation for each other, and the magic of slowing down comes back  into our lives.

    Ace Hardware is Doing Good Things in Our Hometown © Liesl Clark

    Ace Hardware is Doing Good Things in Our Hometown © Liesl Clark

  4. Recycle your broken holiday/tree lights: When your lights stop working (and, sadly, these things are so poorly made their working life is not very long), don’t throw them away. Most communities have a local option for recycling string lights. Ace Hardware, for example, is our local drop point on our island. But if you can’t find a local venue, you can send your lights to Light Source, in Texas, where they sell used string lights for recycling and give the proceeds back to charity. Or, better yet, collect a few from friends and neighbors and send the tangled mess in a larger box so you know you’ve diverted more than your own from your waste stream. The Refining Company in Medford, OR also recycles holiday lights. Recycling string lights is a booming business in China and although the practices aren’t the most environmentally-sound, thousands of tons of string lights are kept out of our landfills. The Atlantic has a must-read article about the recycling of our string lights in China to mine out the copper wiring inside. After reading the article, I swore we’d never buy string lights again. We receive thousands of unwanted string lights at our local summer community auction, so our family retrieves a few of the unwanted strings from there each summer and use them until they stop working, which, sadly, isn’t very long. IMG_0769 copy
  5. Stockpile your styrofoam and recycle or reuse: Styrofoam is the single most prolific plastic material found on our beaches. In some communities, it has been banned. If you received styrofoam as part of a gift this holiday season, consider yourself the future steward of this highly toxic material. Finding your local recycling option for year-round styrofoam stewardship is the single best thing you could do for the environment this season. In the Seattle area, for example, a free drop-off location in Kent is the place. In the meantime, ask your local zero waste group if there’s a nearby store, like Bay Hay and Feed on Bainbridge Island, that conducts drives to collect the stuff so it doesn’t end up in our waters.
  6. Save your Christmas cards for repurposing: You can always recycle the cards you get from friends in your paper recycling bin. But a fun activity is to cut off the side with the writing and save the card with its attractive artwork for future homemade gift tags. Some people use them to create wreaths for next year, too. And I found a pretty bunting idea for displaying them on your hearth.
  7. Save all ribbon for reuse: Ribbons are made of plastic and survive in our oceans unscathed for years. We’re always surprised to find ribbon from birthday balloons wrapped up in seaweed (they are also known to entangle baby seals, sea otters and sea turtles) and once we break them free from the wrack line debris, the ribbon is as good as new. Save the ribbon you receive on gifts and give the gift of life to our marine creatures by not buying more of it. If you reuse what you have, and receive in the future, you’ll never need to buy more ribbon again. Giving and receiving is cyclical like that.
  8. Find a spot to store re-usable tape: This is a true insider’s tip. There’s plenty of tape and stickers that will peel right off a bag or shiny package and it, too, can be reused. The trick is to have a convenient spot in your home where you keep it. My friend Rebecca puts hers on the side of the fridge for the kids to access easily (kids go through gobs of tape.) We put our reclaimed tape on the inside of a closet door where office supplies are kept. Family members know that’s the community tape dispenser. We haven’t bought new tape in months.
  9. Save what wrapping paper you can for reuse: You don’t need an explanation for this. It’s yet another way to see how reuse can save you money. Most wrapping paper can’t be recycled because of the materials used to make it. Composting or burning it, too, isn’t recommended because of the toxins involved. Because we are committed to not buying new wrapping paper, what do we use? We make beautiful cloth gift bags and give them to friends and family for reuse. We recycle our children’s art as wrapping paper. We use pretty cloth as wrapping paper in the Japanese style of wrapping. We keep items in their shipping boxes and decorate the boxes with ribbon we’ve found on our beaches or plastic marine debris we’ve recovered as a reminder of our mission in the first place. These packages below are how our children creatively wrap their gifts in found items from our home or the beach:

10) Pass on your unwanted faux tree through The Buy Nothing Project or give to Goodwill: Thousands of plastic trees end up in the landfill after the holidays. These aren’t meant to be single-use items. If you need to get rid of yours, pass it on to Goodwill, sell it on Craigs List, or Buy Nothing it.

11) Don’t throw away your unwanted or broken items or toys: One of the single-most satisfying activities you can do with your family is create a workspace where you can repair the items you received over the holiday that were made to break within the first 6 months’ (or sometimes 6 hours) of use.

Send us your stories of what broke, and how you fixed it! We’re looking for inspiration from you, stories about how you defied the odds and came up with a smart solution to repair or repurpose an item so it could be diverted from a landfill and have a new life.

12) Thank your tree: And finally, a special thank you movie in tribute to the pesticide-free, sustainably grown US Forest Service tree we weeded from the dense thicket on the tree-laden slopes of the Olympic National Forest:

Doll Ornaments

Most of our ornaments are handmade or free finds we’ve rescued from the landfill. That’s not to say our tree looks like it’s decorated with junk. Quite the contrary. Each little piece has a story to it: where was it ‘recovered’ or who created it.

We love to find small dolls the children are finished playing with and turn them into ornaments. This one’s so easy it takes all of 30 seconds to make…er…once your glue gun is heated up.

Doll Ornaments, Photo © Liesl Clark

Doll Ornaments Look Like Angels, Photo © Liesl Clark

All you’ll need is:

An assortment of dolls

A glue gun

Scissors

Ribbon

All you need to make your dolly-ments, Photo © Liesl Clark

All you need to make your dolly-ments, Photo © Liesl Clark

Glue the ribbon together into a loop. Then glue the loop to the back of your doll. Ours have hats which make the gluing really easy. Now hang your dolly-ments onto the tree! Other toys lend themselves to ornamentdom if you’re so inclined. We’ve made lego ornaments, matchbox carnaments — you get the picture.

Have Yourself a Handmade Christmas

In our house, Christmas is a special time to create things together and follow traditions we’ve established since our children were born. There are so many wonderful projects to undertake together: Wreath-making, gingerbread house constructing, ornament crafting, cookie baking, tree-finding, gift-making, creative wrapping, card-garlanding, and candle-making. Every day our activity advent-ure calendar is filled with yet another family-bonding event that makes this time of year so alluring. I try my best to use this special time as a model for the rest of the year. The lessons learned from these projects spill over to the new year and beyond as we work together to create outdoor garden and play spaces, grow our own food together, and transform everyday things back into useful items for our household.

Felted wool elf hats are easy for children to make. Photo © Liesl Clark

Felted wool elf hats are easy for children to make. Photo © Liesl Clark

Elf Hats: If you have an old wool sweater, either green or red, felt it and then have the kids craft little elf hats. They’re really easy to sew together and embellishing them with your saved-up scraps of fabric, ribbon, bells will make them a permanent part of Christmases to come.

Edible Zero Waste Snowmen: If your children are having a Christmas gathering or a party at school, they can contribute to the party by making zero waste snowman treats! How are they zero waste? We buy the candies from our supermarket’s bulk bin, the marshmallow bag can be recycled with plastic bags, the baking cups are compostable (and the box recyclable), the sprinkles container can be recycled, the toothpicks are compostable, and the toothpick box can be recycled with our paper.

Little Marshmallow Snowmen, A Zero Waste Treat Handmade by Kids

Little Marshmallow Snowmen, A Zero Waste Treat Handmade by Kids

We love these little snowmen because they’re fun to make and appeal to the nut-free gluten-free crowd. We use our favorite vegan marshmallows, Dandies, which are smaller than traditional marshmallows.

Marshmallow Stacking is Fun, Photo © Liesl Clark

Marshmallow Stacking is Fun, Photo © Liesl Clark

First thread 3 marshmallows through a toothpick leaving the end of the toothpick sticking out. Next, place a spice gumdrop on the snowman’s head for a hat, spearing it with the toothpick tip. Use another toothpick to poke eyes and buttons into the marshmallows. Press jimmies or sprinkles into the holes for eyes and buttons. Break the toothpick in half and place them in as arms for your snowmen and women.

Enough for the Entire Class, Photo © Liesl Clark

Enough for the Entire Class, Photo © Liesl Clark

Use some paper baking cups (stack 2 together so they’re sturdy enough for small hands) to hold your snowpeople in a bed of organic jelly beans — just enough to make any child’s mouth water.

Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses: Another zero waste edible we love to create are our holiday graham cracker gingerbread houses. With the leftover jelly beans, gum drops, snowmen and some powdered sugar and graham crackers, we were able to build little houses for display on the dining room table.

Graham Cracker House Magic, Photo © Liesl Clark

Handmade Christmas Magic, Photo © Liesl Clark

The key is to have good “sugar glue” by making your own royal icing. I had a cup of powdered sugar, some cream of tartar and an egg in the hen house so we were able to whip up the icing and the rest was our own hands.

Cottage Construction Zone, Photo © Liesl Clark

Cottage Construction Zone, Photo © Liesl Clark

All on a Fancy Cardboard Platter

All on a Fancy Cardboard Platter