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  • Writer's picturecathy king

Sustainable Holiday Choices

The question just begs to be asked. Why does a professional organizer store so many decorations for a holiday that comes but once a year? To be honest, I love decorating for the holidays, as it transforms that gray outdoor palette into a rainbow of colors and sparkle. I do my utter best to carefully store my abundant decorations so that they last many years. The following are a few guidelines that I offer for those who are working to make more sustainable choices during the holiday season. Remember, reuse is always a key consideration before buying new.

Christmas trees

Real trees help filter the air we breathe and, in most cases, new trees are planted after they are cut down for selling, making them a sustainable resource. Real trees that come with the root ball can be planted in your yard in the spring if taken care of properly. Real trees take more care when they are brought into your home, and must be watered so they do not dry out before you are done enjoying them. The average price of a real tree is $75 - $150. These trees can be downstream processed at many farms, tree lots, and local town greeneries. Essentially, one downstream option involves goats eating off the green parts, and then the rest is either burned as fuel or turned into mulch.

Artificial trees can range from $50 to $1,000 but, when taken care of, can last for ten to twenty years.

My first artificial tree lasted over 17 years before the branches just started giving way. The environmental problem with artificial trees is that they are usually made from non-recyclable plastic/metal, and are made overseas. Additionally, pre-lit trees break sooner and therefore move to landfill faster.

The long and short is that real trees tend to be a better environmental choice, and artificial trees tend to be a better financial choice. That being said, I like to put my trees up by Thanksgiving, which makes a real tree not an ideal choice. I would advise that you do not buy pre-lit trees. as the failure rate of the lights is problematic. Several times I have put a tree up, only to have a whole section of lights go out days after the tree is fully decorated. I tested and tried to get the tree re-lit without success. Frankly, I just cannot look at a partially lit tree, and several times I have completely undecorated the tree, fixed the lights, and then redecorated the tree. Fanatical right?


I will always suggest if you are buying new Christmas lights to choose LED. They consume much less electricity, making them a more sustainable choice. I only replace my lights when they won’t light anymore, and testing has netted zero success. While LED lights tend to be more expensive than incandescent lights, they are a better environmental choice. I can also tell you that they tend to have about the same lifetime wear and tear.

Damage caused by weather, undecorating, and storage render a similar lifespan. I store all my lights on plastic cord wrap reels to make them easy to store safely and deploy. Another tip is to make sure you wind them so that the last part to go on the reel is the end with the plug. This helps you with easy testing access before using them again.

I put all of my lights on timers, both inside and outside of the house.

This prevents accidentally leaving them on all night, as well as automatically turns them on when I am not home. On a side note, timers ended the debate in our home as to who was going to go pull the plugs before going to bed.

If you would like to find a new home for those old lights that don’t work, here are a lot of options for recycling Christmas lights. In addition, you can call your local recycling or waste management company to see what they suggest.


Holiday decorations can be treated a bit like most household items. The most sustainable option is to take care of what you already have, and it will last for years to come. However, if you absolutely need to get more, the most environmentally friendly option is to buy them second-hand.

Shopping hack: If you are not in a rush, look for holiday decorations at summer yard sales.

Try to stay away from single-use decorations that will not survive the undecorating and storing cycle. Seek to use what you have, before buying the latest trends. Choose decorations with little or no glitter because it's microplastic and all microplastics leak into the environment. I know, it is hard to believe that I would say that as I have lots and lots of glittery decorations. Many are over 10 years old, with some that are over 20 years old. Through years of research and education, I have come to protect the decorations I do have, in order to keep them from going in the trash. I do not buy new ones.

Gift Giving

Gifting during the holidays has many options for making solid sustainable decisions. Regifting is a great sustainable choice as the resources have already been expended to make the product. If you are truly not using something and it can be regifted to make it useful, do it.

Does a worthy cause have your attention? Charitable donations in the name of the recipient is a gift that keeps on giving.

Another great option is “experiences,” such as the gift of travel, theater, outdoor adventure, golf/sport adventures, gym membership, yoga lessons, or a mindfulness app membership. Once these items are consumed there is no “stuff” to store.

Or, think about consumable gifts that you make or buy, such as food that you know will get consumed, environmental body scrubs, soaps, and lotions.

Gift cards are another choice that will allow the recipient to get something that they actually want/need.

Remember during the holiday season to always take care of yourself, and make yourself sustainable by getting in some exercise and self-care. The holidays can be the best and worst times for some, and we need to remember that. A little extra attention and quality time are great sustainable gifts to give yourself AND others. Take a deep breath and smell the scents of the season.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. If you need help with decorating or undecorating be sure to keep The Sustainable Organizer in mind.


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