Holiday planning

So you guys, part of me is rebelling at the very thought of this post: Zero waste holiday gift ideas. I like to celebrate my holidays in order. Like, let’s do Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and THEN Christmas (for me. I’d love to hear about other traditions). I don’t need to see candy canes in October. Why am I seeing candy canes in October?!

But here’s the thing: Zero waste takes time. It takes patience. It takes planning. And so here we are. (Deep breath.) I may be rebelling at the thought, but I know it’s necessary.

Ta-da! Two half-pints for the "gift pantry" and three pints plus an extra half-pint for the fam. I also ended up with a bit left over, which went into another jar that could be devoured immediately.

Jam is usually very well received because not everyone makes it.

Roberta actually gave me this idea last month (hi, Roberta!) when she posted a comment about collecting containers for homemade lip balm for Christmas presents. It occurred to me that if we put our heads together and brainstormed ideas now, this could be a Very Merry Zero Waste Holiday Season.

So let’s blow the comments up. I want to hear your ideas, what you’ve done in the past, what you want to try. I want recipes! I want how-to steps!

And if this goes well, maybe we can talk about meals and decorating, too, in another post soon.

(And kids’ gifts. That’s an entirely different problem.)

Anyway, I am not (totally) greedy, so here is my contribution to the discussion:

First and foremost, my gifts will contain homemade jam. (Blueberry, raspberry and cherry, and peach butter just to show off.) This is especially fun to give to someone who doesn’t can themselves. I wrote a post on making jam HERE.

Idea Two: I like to give small presents to my coworkers — not everyone does, but I think it’s fun — and for the women in my office, I’m leaning towards a sugar scrub in cute recycled jars.

Which reminds me: Favorite mother-in-law, I may need more cute recycled jars.

Anyway, here’s a scrub that’s been Trisha tested. I made it as-is, but I don’t see why you couldn’t literally use ANY kind of sugar — white, turbinado, whatever. Maybe pulse it around in a food processor if it seems too coarse.

It's brown sugary, all right.

It’s brown sugary, all right.

Mix together:

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup very fine salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

(That’s almost too easy.)

Idea Three: I have discovered the joy of Citrus Bliss essential oil and have been using it to scent everything from my All-Purpose Cleaner to lotion. The lotion has been a surprise hit with my girls. (Well, it does smell like a dream.) I think this might make a nice teacher / bus driver gift. Abby has a few friends’ moms on her list … maybe this and/or the scrub?

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out how to give you a recipe when I kind of just wing it. I like to use coconut oil with a little beeswax added to thicken it up … some drops of Citrus Bliss … and then I stir it periodically as it cools to kind of fluff it up. If you need an actual how-to, HERE is a post describing how I made Bea Johnson’s All-Purpose Balm. It’s the same idea, just less beeswax and coconut oil instead of olive oil.

Lastly, I think a bottle or jar of homemade vanilla would be a great gift. This one needs to be made NOW, though, if you want it brewed in time for December.



I’ve been making my own vanilla for three years (if you can call soaking beans in vodka “making”), and there’s no going back. I actually bought a “starter kit” at the farmers’ market (cute bottle and a few beans for $14 — that didn’t include the alcohol), but I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I think I can simplify the process (and make it less expensive AND use fewer containers), as follows:

Step 1: Get a bottle of vodka or bourbon. It doesn’t even have to be good vodka or bourbon. I go cheap.

Step 2: Procure your vanilla beans. You’ll probably need five or six (maybe more) depending on the size of the bottle you purchased.

Step 3: Half the beans; slit lengthwise and scrape some of the paste out. Drop that whole mess into the bottle (beans, paste, the works).

Step 4: Store in a cool, dark place. Take it out and shake it periodically. The longer if sits, the better it is … but a month or two should do it.

(Step 5: When you decant into bottles, refill your original container with more vodka or bourbon. You now have a never-ending supply of vanilla.)

Wait, bonus gift: Homemade vanilla syrup using said vanilla. Post HERE. (A bottle of vanilla syrup, a jar of locally roasted bulk coffee … that would do it for me. Actually, that’s how I plan to get through the holidays. 😉 )

Okay friends, your turn now. Even though I don’t want to think about Christmas, I am rather excited to see what you all have up your sleeves. I think this could be a lot of fun.

Next up: Well, that’s a good question. I wish I had an answer.

13 Responses to Holiday planning

  1. Every year those candy canes come earlier and earlier i feel!

    In the past we have given homemade gifts such as chili oil (dried chills from our trees and soak in a glass bottle of olive oil) and homemade granola (oats, different nuts and seeds, dates, cranberries for a festive twist)

  2. I’m planning to do vanilla extract and a couple others this year. I knitted socks for my dad a couple of years in a row (he liked them so much, he asked for more the second year). I’m making gift wrap kits for club leaders and people like that. They include cloth gift bags, address tags, ribbon, decorations like glittered clothes pins (to hold on gift tags) and pine cones on strings. Almost everything is reusable (the gift tags are upcycled cardboard) and I’m hoping they will be useful. One year I ground up candy canes and added vodka for a pretty (last minute!) gift. I mean, the candy canes were wrapped in plastic, but they would have gone to waste otherwise.

    How do you package your lotion? I’d like to make some of that for teachers. I’ll probably do a lot of coffee for other teachers (we have ballet, two kids in middle/high school, piano, 4H, Sunday School).

    What do you give the men/boys in your life? And Kristin, what do you do with chili oil? That sounds masculine, but I’d want to include a recipe/use instructions.

    • For the lotion and the scrub, my plan is to reuse glass containers that would otherwise just be recycled. Another option, though, would be to hit Goodwill, as they have a ridiculous number of glass canning jars in all sizes. But you’d still have to worry about the lids.

      I’ll talk about men and boys in a separate comment …

  3. Experience gifts are also great! Spend a day doing something fun with a loved one if you live close enough to visit or surprise out of town family with tickets or a gift certificate for a fun family day out they can enjoy together. A lot of places now have e-gift cards that you can have on your smart phone so no plastic card to deal with either.

    I used to try and make a lot of handmade gifts but I found most people didn’t appreciate them. Food related gifts might be more well received though.

    • My parents and in-laws do experiences for our girls, and they LOVE IT. I have a dumb phone (kind of seeing how long we can hold out) so I didn’t know about that particular gift card option. That’s fantastic!

  4. I make jams and jellies yearly as gifts. I cut round circles from used Christmas cards to decorate the top of each jar. I dry herbs and package those as gifts. I make “mixes” and package them in used jars…ie : dip mix, hot chocolate mix, pancake mix, etc. I have crocheted dishcloths, winter scarves and hats. My husband uses old boards and reclaimed lumber to craft snowmen, jar caddies, plaques, etc. I have made herbal vinegars using my herbs. I also like to make candies, snack mixes and cookies to give. Old oatmeal boxes, potato chip tins, coffee cans….can be decorated with discards to decorate these. What about passing on a pretty piece of jewelry that you no longer wear but a family member complemented you about. I also crochet decorative scarves…not the kind for warmth…they are well received….also houseslippers. If you don’t do any of these things….there are always craft bazaars held in gelding winter that hold handmade, low impact gifts that support local grafters using up many recycled products and supporting good causes.
    PS….I love this blog!! Thanks much!

    • I forgot a couple of things. Spice rubs are great to make for the guys that cook or grill. You can get the spices to make from bulk bins.
      Also, the fleece blankets are do easy. You just buy the fleece and snip the edges and tie. Those are perfect for all ages. (Also make a brest gift for newborns.)
      I have made scented bath salts that have been received well.
      Packaging comes for all these come from recyclable things I find around the house.
      I also have made a recipe collection for each of my nieces of things they like that I have made. They consider these keepsakes now.

      • Linda, you’re amazing! These are great ideas! I can see combining a few things to make a fun gift, like a breakfast kit with the pancake mix, coffee and a dishcloth. And I love that your husband gets in on the act too.

        Another nod to craft fairs — that is a great way to support a cause and get handmade, non-packaged items.

        Thank you! You are a wealth of info, and I appreciate your taking the time to share with us!

  5. Oh, you guys, thank you for commenting! These are all great ideas! You are all seriously my favorites.

    I should probably have mentioned in my post that my gift-giving list is pretty small. Eric and I don’t exchange gifts because our love is enough and also because he is THE HARDEST, PICKIEST person in the world to shop for, so, uh, that’s why our love is enough. 😉 The girls get three Christmas presents each and then whatever Santa leaves (even if they don’t believe, oh yes, Santa still comes because that’s just tradition). We don’t go crazy. As for Eric’s family, we stopped the gift exchanges 20 years ago and instead pool our money to rent a house at the coast for a long weekend — 26 people in one house, it’s awesome and loud and amazing and super, super fun.

    The men on my list are just my coworkers, my dad, and my brother. Sometimes I’ll have a few extras, depending on who shows up to my parents’ house for Christmas Eve.

    This year, the guys at work will probably get jam, although I like that granola idea of Kristin’s, too, and Linda’s spice rub. I mostly work with women, so that means 10 jars of either sugar scrub or lotion or … The head secretary will also get a jar of peach butter because it’s her favorite and also she’s a champ, and our archivist, too, because she’s in her 80s and is darling. Not everyone exchanges, which is perfect because I like to give more than I like to receive. (Minimalism. I don’t need more stuff.)

    I can usually find something fun for my brother — last year he got a Sasquatch t-shirt. He also gets jam. My dad generally just gets cash. Boring, but he has specific ideas so this way everyone is happy.

    Anyway, it’s mostly just small things. It would be a little harder if we were doing family exchanges or something, or if I had more kids to buy for. I like to think that my homemade gifts bring us all back to reality, i.e. that it’s the thought and not the commercialism, although I can see, as Stephanie mentioned above, why some people might not appreciate that (well, we’re up against a very consumerist culture and the idea that “I love you this amount of dollars spent”). I’ve never had a problem with someone not appreciating my gifts, but then when your list is as small as mine, maybe the odds go down.

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