A conscious guide to Christmas

With the indulgence of the holiday season fast approaching, Megan Landreth-Smith (the voice behind blog Our Slow Home) shares her guide to having a conscious Christmas, navigating gift buying more responsibly and shifting buying habits altogether, whilst making this Christmas morning one to remember.
Words by Megan Landreth-Smith

My approach to shopping now seems so far removed from 12-year-old-me sat cross legged in front of an Argos catalogue circling the Barbie Dream House and electronic diary. Back then, it had never crossed my mind about the production of those toys, all I cared about was that they turned up to my house on Christmas morning. I didn’t consider where or how they were made, let alone the hands that made them or if there was a cost to the environment. 


It’s been a journey getting to a place where I really care what gets brought into our home. It’s taken hours of research and many learnings but for the most part money saved and a house full of clothes, toys and homewares that hold stories that are not just our own. But just because I have come to love another way of shopping, one that values people and the planet, doesn’t mean that everyone around me has those values too (the case for my daughter when she’s coveting the singing and dancing Frozen doll that her friend has at nursery!).


To help you this Christmas, here are a few ways to navigate gift buying more responsibly and a few thoughts on how to shift buying habits altogether. 


Get second hand savvy

I've almost always been able to find what I need second hand: yes bras, yes shoes, yes balloons! Why not try finding what your kids may be asking for on a second hand platform first. Now is a great time to start looking (shopping more responsibly I find takes a little longer), and you may need a few pointers if you’re new to it all. As somewhere to start, you can set alerts on the different platforms you are using so if something specific you’re looking for comes up you'll be notified - this helps to cut down endless searching and scrolling! If you’re looking for something that is expensive and are hoping for a bargain, why not try using fatfingers.com to see if someone has misspelled it while listing, meaning it’s less likely to end in a bidding war. Try sites like @reboxed if you’re looking for barely used second hand devices. If you can’t find what you need at first, try doing a shout out on a local FB group or ask for specific items when going to a charity shop, or…just wait a little. I started shopping second hand on eBay at the age of 14 and have learnt a lot - it may feel daunting to start with but it’s totally worth it, and soon enough you'll catch the bug! For more on this take a look here: 5 tips to shopping second hand


You can also get savvy when buying new. While 80% of what we buy as a family is second hand, 20% is new, and I use that as an opportunity to vote with our money; investing in companies that I know pay their workers a fair wage and are taking into account how their production has an impact on the environment. Look for words like  ‘fair-trade, OEKO-TEX certified, ECO-CERT, GOTS certified’. These terms don’t mean everything, but they are a start. Also try to dig deeper than words like ‘natural’ and ‘eco’, as this can often be a marketing ploy. 


Have hard conversations

For those trying to live more consciously, Christmas can be a tricky one as while we can control what we personally bring into our home, ultimately we don’t have control on the gifts others want to give. If you want to see a change with what people are giving, it usually requires some sort of brave conversation, a boundary set or a sharing of your own values which can be VERY hard. As a family we create gift lists (you can do this on Amazon but the products don’t need to be from Amazon). This means we can specify something we need or the kids have asked for, and you could also ask family to stick to homemade or second hand gifts or suggest having money instead.


Hard conversations will most probably need to happen with our kids too. There will be times we need to say no to something they request for whatever reason. One of the phrases we use often in our home is: ‘In OUR family we….’ A phrase that suggests that each and every family have different rules, beliefs and practices but this is how we choose to do things under our roof. This helps when kids start questioning why friends are getting more gifts or the latest tech on demand. Buying more responsibly doesn’t mean our kids have to miss out, but knowing why you make the decisions and boundaries you do as a family is so important as is bringing your kids on that journey too! 



One of the phrases we use often in our home is: ‘In OUR family we….’ A phrase that suggests that each and every family have different rules, beliefs and practices but this is how we choose to do things under our roof. This helps when kids start questioning why friends are getting more gifts or the latest tech on demand.

Grow thankfulness

This is one that definitely takes time as culture has taught us to consume. One way to grow thankfulness is to help kids think outside of themselves. Maybe this is helping them choose something for the food-bank each week (there is usually somewhere at supermarkets to put something extra), or, why not choose to bless someone else - a letter for the bin man, you could sponsor a child or take part in the shoebox appeal. Another way we do this is to have a one-in one out policy; this helps us not accumulate an unneeded amount of things and helps us think where something that is no longer serving us could serve someone else. 


Loose the stigma

Second hand is often associated with dirty or broken and is often one of the reasons many people don’t choose to buy pre-loved. Second hand is NOT second best and I don’t think our kids miss out on anything through our decision as a family to shop majority second hand. In fact, Heppy calls the charity shop a toy shop (she has never known any different!).


Emphasise the stories second hand items tell. Last year we gifted Heppy a dollhouse, the family who had sold it to us had written a note to say how much they had loved playing with it but had now sadly outgrown it -  Heppy loved imagining who they were. If you do struggle with buying second hand, why not buy second hand new? Items that have never been used. A trick is to look on platforms and write in terms like BNIB (brand new in box), BNWT (brand new with tags) or worn once.

 

Last Christmas I managed to buy the majority of gifts second hand, apart from a few which were from companies I wanted to support. Do you want to know something? NO one had a problem with a second hand gift….even better, I don’t think anyone even knew. The great news is that compared to ten years ago buying second hand is right on trend! 


Do things differently


Some ways you could think outside the box this year on gift buying could be the rule of 4 - something you want, need, wear and read! This is a great way to limit overbuying. You could make a decision to do a round-robin, or set a budget. I know families who wrap toys their kids already have, but present them in a different way. Is there something in your house you could repurpose? The point is, find what works for YOUR family, not someone else's. 


Shopping more responsibly starts with making a change, whether that’s big or small! Don’t forget to have fun, and take your kids on the journey too - before you know it they'll be more responsible than you! 



Here are a few places I will be looking for Christmas presents this year and brands I have come to love that are doing better for people and the planet:

wearedotte.com, Little Beacon, Plan Toys, Bapipur, Mamaowl, Dot Magazine, Pawsey Preloved



Now I’m off to start sourcing a ‘dinosaur toy that winds up’ for Heppy’s Christmas present. Challenge accepted.

Megan is based in the  West Sussex countryside with her husband and two children. She is passionate about ethical clothing, slow living, and shopping secondhand. She writes and shares her tips and insights on her instagram and blog and you can find her here: ourslowhome.co.uk


 


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