Everyone can turn a deeper shade of green

This blog is dedicated to all those looking to deepen their green--whether you are making a commitment to a greener lifestyle and need help taking the first steps or whether you're already a practicing tree hugger who is looking for practical advice on what steps to take next. Over the years, I've heard all the good intentions and all the excuses. I've also seen my fellow environmentalists sabotage the good intentions of others. I am making a commitment to you, dear reader, wherever you fall on the spectrum, to help you take the next steps to fulfilling your commitment to the earth, to your health, and to your well-being. Stay tuned for articles and interviews.

Friday, November 15, 2013

5 Ways to Balance the Excess of the Holiday Season Starting Now.

I did not stand in line for the grand opening of Charlotte's first H & M yesterday, tempted as I was. Aside from the fact that I was working yesterday, I'm limiting my time at Northlake Mall since they already had Christmas decorations up the Wednesday before Halloween!! Thankfully, they were still playing muzak the following week, but  we're well into November, which means that the Holiday season is well under way.

Northlake Mall, Charlotte, October 30, 2013
As a certified tree hugger who loves Christmas, it can be a struggle finding that balance between celebration, sanity, and being green. I offer some suggestions for your consideration:

1. Decide what your priorities are and stick with them

As we get deeper into the holiday season, there will be a lot of demands on your time from family, friends, co-workers. Other people's expectations may conflict with your own desires. I recommend picking just 3 things that are most important to you. Those are your priorities and anything that conflicts with those priorities needs to be politely turned down.

Not sure what your priorities are? Try a little visualization.

Take a few deep breaths and recall your favorite holiday memories. Maybe it's a recent memory, maybe it's one from childhood. Allow yourself to tun into any memory that makes you smile or "warms your heart." 
What do these positive memories have in common? Is it the people you are with? Is it the activity that you are doing? Is it the place? If you can identify a thread (or two) that links these positive memories, make this your priority. Maybe it's hosting a gathering in your home because you don't like to drive. Maybe it's time with family. Maybe it's time away from family. Perhaps it's a specific activity (for me it's traditional cookies--family recipes). 
Pick three things. Maybe other people and other activities will fit around these three things and help you create a joyful and memorable season. But, whatever you do, don't give up on those things that you know bring you joy. 
**Shameless self-promotion alert** Even though this post isn't really about holiday stress, if you found that visualization helpful (nd you live in the Charlotte area), consider coming to one of my seasonal workshops to learn some great yoga practices to help you thrive during the holidays.We'll be talking all about strategies to conquer holiday stress.

2. "No presents" and other strategies to reduce the problem of "too much stuff"

I have a number of friends who no longer exchange gifts with their family members. I think this is a great idea, but not always practical or desirable.
If you love the tradition of exchanging gifts, but want to reign it in, here are some other ideas:
  • handmade gifts. Handmade does not have to be useless or ugly. I've done jam, homemade marshmallows, and toffee as gifts in the past. There are a number of DIY bloggers out there who generously share their ideas. I'm currently loving the natural beauty recipes on Wellness Mama. I'll be experimenting with the whipped body butter recipe very soon. If you're not the crafty type, keep in mind that handmade gifts don't need to be made by you (see #4).
Lavender/vanilla and vanilla infused honey I made! It's surprisingly easy to do: buy some raw local honey from a local beekeeper, cut a vanilla been lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Put the pods and seeds into the honey and stir it, let it sit for about 2-4 weeks to infuse. It will infuse faster if you heat the honey, but then the honey won't be raw, which means it loses some of it's health properties. I used about 1/3 pod per 4 oz jar. I used a scant tsp of lavender buds per 4 oz jar. Use more or less depending on your taste. Turn the jar periodically over the first few weeks to allow the flavor to spread more evenly.

  • drawing names. This can work really well in large families. Rather than getting everyone something small, get someone a more substantial gift--perhaps something they really want. Instead of socks and chapstick for all 20 siblings, you could get your brother that guitar he's had his eye on.
  • adopt another family. Maybe your family is blessed with everything you need, but you love shopping during the holidays. Get the kids to buy gifts for Toys for Tots, maybe there's an angel tree program in your community, or even a program that allows you to adopt a family, making sure they have all the fixings for a holiday meal (if you live around Plaza Midwood--there's a drop off bin for this at Okra).
  • enjoy an event/vacation together. Some of the coolest gifts I've received from my older sister were tickets to Cirque Du Soleil. I was in grad school and never would have treated myself to the show, but we went together and had a great time. Some families take a family vacation together instead of buying gifts.


3. Out with the old and in with the new.

Donate unwanted items to charity and make space for less! Maybe you realize that you have decorations you haven't put out in years, maybe you find that your tastes have changed as you pull out the winter clothes, maybe you need to make room in the closet to hide those presents you bought anyway. Spring and Fall cleaning are good times to purge, but the holidays work well, too. Even with seasonal purging, I still have too much stuff, so I've personally committed to letting go of one item each day in November and December. It's a small step, but I keep a bin by the front door. When the bag is full, it goes in my trunk and off to Goodwill. I'll probably keep it going into the new year....until I can close my closet door (this is my Achilles's heel, folks).

4. Support Local Businesses

So, your priority is being out in the community so you don't have time to do the handmade gifts, but you still want to buy gifts? Shop local. Farmer's Markets often have artisan crafts and this IS the season for art fairs so get your handmade gifts made by someone else. Find privately-owned, small businesses to meet your needs. For every dollar you spend on local businesses, 45 cents stays in the local economy--recirculating to other local businesses and schools. Learn more here. If you live in Charlotte and are looking to cater a holiday party, I'm going to recommend Encore Catering and Second Helping, both of which make great food AND provide job training/experience to members of our community who have faced barriers to employment. That's an indulgence you can feel really good about!

5. Taming your cravings

Are rich foods your weakness? Are you adding "lose 10 pounds" to your New Year's resolution list based on overindulging in November and December? Are you torn because your priority (see #1) is to enjoy good food?
Create a rule that supports your priorities. Here's some ideas:
  • Only indulge in your holiday diet on certain days of the week.
  • Be vegan before 6PM (gotta give Michael Pollan credit for this one)
  • Allow yourself to indulge only with certain people (what social commitments are part of your priorities?)
  • Try a "sensory swap," like a frozen banana or smoothie instead of ice cream. Let this article on Mind Body Green walk you through it.
  • Add an extra cardio workout  (or some weight training to your existing workouts) through the end of the holiday season.

I hope some of these ideas were new to you and that they help you find ways to make the holidays less material and more meaningful. I'll be pulling out my Charlie Brown Christmas DVD, but not until AFTER Thanksgiving.

image by Charles Schulz

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