Slow, Simple & Sustainable Living At Christmas

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Christmas can be anything but simple. It’s often a time of busyness, stress, anxiety and overwhelm. It’s also when lots of excess waste is created, people spend too much on unnecessary items, lots of extra food is consumed and tensions arise with other family members. Sounds fun when you think about it! But, over the last few years I’ve slowed down and simplified Christmas in both my home and lifestyle. For my family, it’s about consuming a lot less, trying to reduce our impact on the planet, keeping our home free from excess clutter and focusing more on spending quality time together. We’re not perfect by any means but we have found some ways to help us live more slowly, simply and sustainably throughout the holiday season and I thought I’d share them here.

Find moments to go slow - sometimes going slow may feel impossible with kids clamouring for your attention and asking to build the next Lego model or you have people arriving for a visit. However, finding small moments to go slow can help get you ready for the day ahead. When you wake up in the morning, lie in bed for five minutes and simply be present. Listen to the sounds of your home, your partner (hopefully not snoring!), your kids, your pet or bird call outside. Alternatively, choose to get up and do five minutes of gentle yoga stretches. Try not to pick up your phone first thing in the morning and aimlessly scroll through social media feeds or news updates - trust me, you won’t be missing anything vital on the social media front and the news will just be overwhelmingly depressing. Instead, think quietly about the day ahead and what you want or need to get done.

Christmas Eve: turn off the television, shut down your phone, enjoy the quiet and follow the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, where you give a new book to each member of your household on Christmas Eve and spend the evening reading together. We’ve been doing this for three years and it’s a lovely tradition. It doesn’t even have to be a new book - support your local charity shop who always have lots of books for sale or go online to Abe Books where lots of independent booksellers sell an enormous range of vintage, rare and secondhand books.

Make your home cosy:

Light sustainable candles (above right) - I know I talk about candles a lot but they are one of my biggest bugbears when it comes to choosing sustainable products for your home and they are such an easy change to make! I do love burning scented ones by Essence & Alchemy and I’m currently using this new porcelain one called ‘Hiems’. If you are looking for plain, unscented sustainable tealights, then try some of these natural rapeseed ones from Candle Cavern or these vegan ones from The Kind Store. If you can only find non-renewable candles or you have some left over, try not to light them all at once as they do increase indoor air pollution.

Bring out the blankets - we don’t have a roaring fire or a woodburning stove in our home, instead we rely on central heating. This keeps our home warm throughout the day and into the early evening, but we don’t like it on too close to bedtime. To keep warm on the sofa whilst we watch a movie, we bring out the woolen blankets. Curled up watching a detective series or a Christmas movie, there is nothing better on a cold winter’s night.

Decorating : You’ve probably already put the tree up and popped some other decorations up. But if you haven’t and you want to make something eco, simple and inexpensive then why not try making these repurposed glass candle holders? (above left). They are lovely on windowsills where they will catch the winter light, on a mantelpiece or even on the dining table as a centrepiece. If you want to give them a go, here’s how - wash out a clear, glass bottle and remove any labels (these are Belvoir lemonade bottles but wine or cordial ones work well too). Leave to air dry. Gather some herbs like rosemary or thyme, evergreens from the garden or offcuts from the Christmas tree and give them a quick shake to free any bugs. I’ve used cotoneaster from my garden as I love the luscious red berries. Wash and allow to dry. Boil the kettle and let the water cool completely before pouring into your glass bottle. This helps to prevent the water discolouring. Add your plants and push down with the back of a spoon. Add more until you are happy with the look. Top with a candle. If the plants start to look a bit grotty they can easily be changed but just remember to change the water too. After Christmas, recycle the bottles or keep for next year.

Wrap the presents: The most sustainable ways to wrap presents are using Furoshiki, the Japanese art of wrapping with fabric (above left), brown paper & twine or using old newspaper. I’m wrapping all my gifts this year using either Furoshiki (which is totally addictive and I love repurposing old fabric or napkins) or brown paper & twine. I add some natural, seasonal touches like evergreens, sprigs of dried flowers and seed heads. If it’s a gift that is going to be sent in the post or given to a friend, I simply add a plain luggage tag. Check out my Pinterest board here for some other inspiring and unique ways to wrap your presents.

Set the table: (above right) Even if you don’t have the dining table of your dreams, a stylist’s eye for detail, you can still add a little extra and eco something to your Christmas dinner plate. A rolled up napkin with a little bit of twine tied around it, the bow facing upward and a little piece of nature tucked into the twine makes everything more festive. Here I’ve used a cutting from my Christmas tree and some dried Gypsophila, but an evergreen sprig or piece of ivy from the garden would look great, a slice of dried orange or a cinnamon stick would add some seasonal cheer or head out for a forage in the woods and bring back some baby pine cones or sprigs of rosehips.

Clean naturally: (above) Have a go at making this seasonal vinegar bathroom cleaner that uses fresh orange and lemon slices as well as some cuttings from a real Christmas tree to give it a little pine scent - ideally choose a pine tree or a spruce as they have a stronger scent. If you don’t have a real Christmas tree, then you could add some drops of pine essential oil or pop some sprigs of rosemary in for a lovely herbal flavour. Firstly, shake the cuttings to ensure that there are no little bugs hiding amongst the needles and then give everything a good wash. Allow to air dry. You can either pop the cuttings in whole or strip the needles, either will work. Wash and dry one orange and one lemon, then slice into thin rounds. In a clean, glass container that can seal (jam jar, old coffee jar, Kilner jar etc) place the pine tree needles or cuttings, slices of lemon and orange before pouring over the vinegar ensuring that all the fruit/plants etc are covered. You can also add a few drops of essential oils like lemon and orange if you want some extra citrus scent. Leave for at least a week before using. This is a concentrated solution, so you need to pour some of this vinegar mix into a clean spray bottle and top with water. I use a ratio of around 1 part vinegar to two parts water for this recipe. *Before you try please make sure that you have a read of my previous post on using vinegar to clean with as it offers some hints and tips of which ones to buy as well as what not to use vinegar on in your home*

Food: There will obviously be a lot of food eaten throughout the season. There will also be a lot of waste either from packaging, things not eaten in enough time or full stomachs! Try some of these ways to help your Christmas food shop be more sustainable and spend less money too.

Support your local greengrocer, farm shop, market, zero waste shop etc - Firstly, these businesses rely on customers support all year round and it’s vital that we don’t just head to the nearest supermarket and hand over all our cash there. Secondly, buying local means you get fresher and better quality produce, better customer service and product knowledge, a more positive environmental impact (less transport, less packaging etc) and you are helping create jobs in your community. All priorities as far as I’m concerned. So instead of buying your sprouts, parsnips and potatoes from the supermarket, pop to your local greengrocer, farm shop or market and give them some much needed support. Look for zero waste stores where you can find loose produce like nuts, seeds, pasta, cereal, flour, even washing powder and take whatever you buy home in your own containers.

Get ahead - If you have lots of people to cook for on Christmas Day, you can get ahead with some of the veg prep. Roast potatoes can be prepared in advance - peel, cut into even sized pieces, par boil and then drain in a colander. Shake them up a little in the colander and then cool before popping them on a baking tray. Put the tray in the freezer and once all the potatoes are solid, transfer them to a freezer bag or container. Roast from frozen. Sprouts can also be peeled in advance to the big day. Cut off the bottom, peel the outer leaves off and then pop in a container. Add a little water and put in the fridge where they will keep for several days. Another quick tip for sprouts - buy them on the stalk as this helps keep them fresher for longer. The fresher the sprout, the less bitter the flavour. The stalk can be added to the compost bin once all the sprouts have been picked.

Reduce your food waste -

  • Make your own vegetable stock. Keep a freezer bag or container in the freezer and add to it whenever you have any of these: carrot peelings and any chopped off ends, onions and their skins, celery, herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves), garlic, squash peelings, chard, leek ends and leaves, parsnip peel and ends, spinach, fennel, shallots and spring onions. Avoid using anything from the cabbage family - kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower or cabbages as they can make the stock bitter. Be aware that if you do add onion skins it will make the stock a browner/redder shade which won’t make the most appealing looking soup! Once the bag or container is full, you can make your own vegetable stock. Defrost the vegetables and make sure they are free from any dirt. Roughly chop and then pop them in a large saucepan. Cover with water. The more water you add the lighter the stock will be, so aim to use less water for a stronger, more concentrated flavour. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer gently for around an hour. Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the water level to ensure the stock doesn’t dry out. Remove from the heat and pass the vegetables through a sieve into a large jug or bowl. Squeeze out all the liquid you can from the vegetables. Allow the liquid to cool completely then pour into reusable containers or divide into individual portions by using ice cube trays. This stock will keep in the fridge for five days or can be popped into the freezer where it will keep for one month.

  • Leftover veggies from the Christmas dinner - use up roast potatoes, cooked sprouts etc and make bubble and squeak, perfect for Boxing Day lunch. Try this vegan version from Bosh here.

  • Cheese boards - any leftover crumbs or bits of cheese that don’t get eaten can be popped in a freezer bag. Continue to add any leftover grated cheese and once the bag is full, you can use it up in cheese sauces or add it to pizzas toppings. Avoid any soft cheeses though as freezing can change the flavour.

Get outdoors: If you are going a bit stir crazy in the house after a few hours let alone days, head outside to clear your head. Take the kids and drag the teenagers along with you too if possible. Head to the woods, a local park, a lake, a reservoir or if you are lucky enough, the beach and take the time to embrace nature in winter. We always head to our local woods or to Ilkley Moor on Boxing Day, taking a flask of hot chocolate with us to warm us up. I really like this list of the top 10 winter walks in the UK if you are looking for something a little different.

Hopefully you’ll find some of these ideas helpful and allow you to have a slower, simpler and more sustainable holiday. xxx