How one family changed their Christmas

My Story: Recycled Christmas

contributed by Lorrie

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Frugal and green living has always been important to me. An area that used to concern me for both reasons was the Christmas gift-giving process. The insane obsession of finding the right gifts (and lots of them) and then watching the huge pile of discarded Christmas wrapping paper grow made me crazy. So, a few years back, I decided to offer a new idea to my grown children (now with little ones of their own). Everyone agreed to holding our first "Recycled Christmas."

The rules of the "Recycled Christmas" were as follows:

  1. All gifts had to be pre-owned or made from recycled/recyclable materials in some way. It was okay if someone purchased a new, even unopened item from a yard or other secondhand sale or store. Items that came from a natural source, such as honey, jams or jellies made from wild or homegrown sources, nuts picked from a tree, dried herbs, etc. were all just fine. They were especially good if they were packaged in secondhand jars or other containers. Craft items made from recycled items were also acceptable.
  2. Each person was required to submit a list of items that they would be okay with receiving from pre-used sources. This list needed to be available sometime before the end of summer (to allow for yard/garage sale purchases). Like the entire "Recycled Christmas" idea, gift selection is more time consuming than the traditional "run into the store and grab something" method, as it requires really giving thought to the person you are giving. My feeling on the time investment is that thinking about my loved one and their interests and likes is an important part of the process. So, I don't mind investing a bit of extra time (plus, I love yard sales!). I also found that I was able to streamline my time expenditure by using eBay, Etsy, and other such online services.
  3. All gifts must be packaged in containers that were made from recycled materials and/or were recyclable. Gift bags could be made of any type of recycled fabric (pretty pillowcases tied at the top with ribbon don't require any sewing and are great for larger packages). Any type of jar or tin could be used (I especially like popcorn cans because they are pretty and stackable for storage). Wrapping paper could be made out of decorated paper bags, newspaper, or brown packing paper. Gallon metal cans, decorated with ribbon or paint, could be turned into buckets and covered with recycled tissue paper from other gifts. Even kitty litter buckets could be decorated to serve as great wrappers.
  4. During the holiday gift-giving gathering, we would all share where and how we got great deals on items that were purchased, traded for, and sometimes even found for free. Now, I know it is not traditional to reveal such secrets, but this part of the process helped us to realize how we can be quite frugal and earth-friendly while still giving great gifts that people really want. It also allowed us each to share lots of creative ideas.

As we set out on our "Recycled Christmas" idea, each family could set a budget for how much they would spend per person and then buy gifts accordingly (something anyone on a budget should do anyway). The other option was to simply try to find the best deal on a special gift for each person (and maybe save a little money in the process). For our first "Recycled Christmas," we all pretty much went with the first idea, which resulted in us all (there were seven of us at the time) spending over four hours opening gifts. Everyone got lots of things they wanted, but it turned out to be a bit overwhelming. The next year, we opted to go with the second idea of just looking for a nice gift at the best price possible. This was more fun and resulted in some really creative thinking.

Creativity flourished with our "Recycled Christmas." There have been great buys from yard sales, flea markets, Craigslist, etc., including CDs and DVDs, an entire set of depression glass, lots of tools (and toolbox), fishing gear, a vintage breadbox, great clothing, Wii games and accessories, a television wall mount, books, and lots of toys. Our families' crafting skills rendered lovely aprons and dish towels from recycled fabrics, functional coupon holders (with coupons including some for free items), homemade beeswax candles in baby food jars, and Italian-themed artwork. My daughter even made stockings for each family member that reflected that persons interests from recycled shirts or sweaters. Some gifts have been traded for, resulting in no expense whatsoever, such as an entire set of cast iron cookware (skillets for my daughter-in-law and a Dutch oven and griddle for me from our wish lists) for a set of DVDs. This summer, an end of the day yard sale allowed me to get a huge lot of Thomas the Train engines, cards, and tracks in a nice Rubbermaid bin for $5. This allowed for me to prepare a wonderful gift for one of our grandsons and sell the excess pieces on eBay (to help pay for this and other gifts). Other freebies have come from "curb alerts," including a barely used paper shredder and electric ice cream maker.

Now, I know that this idea isn't for everyone, but if your family will buy in, it can save everyone money and result in some really enjoyable holiday experiences for all, while caring a bit more for our planet.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to

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