Wrapping gifts for christmas. Some people love it, some dread it. This is an area where you can get really creative if you want, just try to remember that most wrapping paper is not recyclable. However, there are several other ways of wrapping gifts than in regular wrapping paper.
Firstly, I would start looking around the home what is lying around that could be used. Maybe you find an old shoebox that you haven’t thrown out. With some paint or fabric that could make the perfect box for grandpa’s new sweater. Just put a bow on it and you are done! Maybe you have some old wall paper lying around from renovating the house, those would make great stand-ins for regular wrapping paper and they don’t require you buying new. With some creativity, most things can become a nice wrapping design!
If you are the really creative one with some time on your hands, I would go for designing your own wrapping paper with potatoes. By buying simple brown or white gift paper (the ones without the shiny side) you can simply design different papers for the entire family. All you need are the paper, an ink pad, a knife and some potatoes.
If you are more of the lazy type (like me most of the time) go for reusing old newspapers. It gives a nice retro feel and you can dress it up nicely with nice bands and some decorations.
Last idea is to wrap in fabric, so called furoshiki (you can see more about furoshiki and the techniques on my Pinterest board here). It is a traditional Japanese way of wrapping gifts. You do not need to buy new for this, you could wrap it in a kitchen cloth, old sheets or whatever you have laying around.
For all the ideas you have the option of making it more fancy by accessorizing. Some pine cones, a tree twig or some dried winter flower that are easy to find outside. It really takes a gift from regular to special looking.
Christmas can be an incredibly busy and stressful time of year, especially if you are fed up with overconsumption and consumer culture. There are ways of making small changes for the better though. One field for improvement is the holiday gifts. There are different “levels” of conscious consumption in my book, below you can read about them.
The optimal choice is to not give anything. At least not material. Great things you can gift people that are not material:
donate in their name
gift card for service they use or need (like Spotify, Netflix, maybe some clothing subscription?)
gift them time to do something with you. Maybe you are a great chef? Well why don’t you gift them a 3-course dinner at your place. They love hiking? Plan a weekend hike to do together!
gift an experience. They want to learn pottery? How about you give them a class for x-mas! Want to learn a language? Sign them up for classes or buy a subscription to Babbel!
If you still feel that you want to gift something physical, try to make something yourself. A lot of times it is more appreciated, since it requires time and love. One year I made my grandma a knitted headband for winter. She cried for like 20 minutes because she was so happy for it. And I made a felt Ipad case for my dad one year, he still uses it to protect the screen!
What if you want to git something physical and you suck at any kind of crafts or similar? Well then I say give stuff that is sustainable and that they actually need. Some ideas for this is:
Bees wrap – a really practical way of wrapping food that eliminates plastic wrap
Reusable bottle – because we all know the problem of plastic bottles, don’t we?
Bamboo utensils – for when they are out on the run and need to eat.
Produce bags – very handy for grocery shopping, and we all need to buy food!
Sustainable underwear – you always need new underwear…
Garment care – e.g. pimp stone for clothes pilling, clothing brush, clothes mists.
Edible treats – such as homemade granola, truffles, bread mix, sourdough, kombucha starter.
I am still quite new to the concept of sustainable shopping and conscious closets. Only about a year ago I started to learn more about this topic and more recently changing my own habits. Changing ones habits from being slightly shopaholic and always having new clothes to a more slow lifestyle is hard in itself. Trying to cultivate a sustainable closet comes with additional challenges. Since the world is mainly built on fast fashion and unethical business practices, finding sustainable options can be hard, time consuming and, let’s not forget, expensive compared to regular shopping.
So what are really the main challenges I face when trying to switch over to a more sustainable and ethical shopping habit?
Finding clothing I like
I can be quite picky with style and I tend to like a more expensive and elegant style. With sustainable fashion I feel like a lot of things are either boring and generic, as in all is made super minimalistic in black and white or that everyone is wearing the same Everlane pants, or colorful ethnic fabrics that are just not me. Honestly, I don’t really get the Everlane thing, they are a bit to everyday and plain for my taste, even if I do like some styles. Also they do not really have sustainable fabrics or processes which I would prefer. Also, I do not really feel comfortable in colors, especially when combined with crazy prints. So I tend to feel a bit lost in the middle at times. I have managed to find some brands I like, but they are few.
Finding materials I like
When I happen to stumble onto brands or garments I like, I get disappointed 95% of the time because of material mixes or poly. In my opinion you are not a sustainable brand if you mix in plastic at every chance you get. Sure, there are times when it makes sense, like in socks that would break very quickly without the add in. But in a woolen coat I really do not see the big point in adding synthetics. Synthetics are made from non renewable resources and should not be overused just because it’s cheap. They also make it impossible to recycle. The fabric recycling techniques available today cannot handle material mixes, only 100% fabrics.
Finding things that are accessible
Taking a normal shopping trip to town or the mall is really not a feasible way of shopping ethically and sustainably. The majority of brick and mortar stores are big brand and fast fashion with bad materials, bad quality and that is way too trend sensitive. So when shopping for sustainable brands you are often dependant on online shopping. I like to shop online, but since smaller brands often do not have the opportunity to offer free shipping and returns it makes it a bit risky to order when you are not sure about sizing.
Finding things that are within budget
Let’s be honest, ethically produced or sustainably made clothing is not cheap. Quality materials are more expensive than polyester and having a fair supply chain where people are being payed fair wages means more expensive end prices. I have a quite high budget and have in the later years mostly shopped in the bridge or affordable luxury category. So it is not as much of a stretch for me to be able to afford sustainable items. However, it is still very expensive especially when looking for high quality materials like cashmere and silk that can be bought for 100€ at H&M. The sustainable ditto is more towards 500€, so the difference is still noticeable.
When it comes to sustainable fashion I have come to terms with the fact that you can’t always tick all boxes. Buying something you really like, with good quality that will last a long time, that is also sustainable and ethical is like finding a four leafed clover, doable but hard. You have to compromise a bit sometimes and go with the best option available. For me, material is one of the criteria I do not like to compromise, for others it might be the ethical production. Whatever are your boxes to be ticked just remember that perfection shouldn’t stand in the way of good.
Flying not the greatest thing you can do for the environment. Actually it is one of the worst things. The biggest issue with flights are the CO2 emissions, with one transatlantic flight equaling the yearly emissions of almost 100 people in Tanzania. Crazy, right?
Many people think that by being vegetarian or vegan, recycling, living zero waste or not consuming they can outweigh the effects of flying, but that is unfortunately not the case. I still fly, I have even flown a lot! Last year I did five return flights, three within Europe , one within the States and one transatlantic. At the time I did not think about it but this year I am decreasing it and trying to find other ways to get by. I did fly back and forth from Rome to Copenhagen once this spring and will be flying down to Madrid this weekend for a short holiday. To some people five flights or even two might sound a lot, to others not that much. Anyways, I am exploring other ways of travelling that do not hurt the planet as much.
So back to the point. I love to travel. I grew up travelling and as I grown up I have enjoyed living abroad several times which has meant a few flights now and then just to visit family and friends. But this summer I travelled through 5 different countries in 12 days completely without flying. Starting in Italy, where I had been living for a few months, and going all the way to Copenhagen and then Sweden.
There are several ways to travel over ground, like train, car, bike and hitchhiking (don’t know about the safety of that one though). For this summers trip, however, I chose to go by bus. I chose the bus mainly because it was the cheapest option available, and they also had the option of night buses, that would get me long distances in one haul as well as saving me money on housing. I am not a person who needs a lot of sleep and I do quite well even on several days of bad sleep so sitting on a bus all night was doable. Actually my family used to travel a lot by long haul buses when I was a kid so sleeping on a bus was nothing new to me.
The company I travelled with to get from Italy to Scandinavia was Flixbus. They are really nice and have affordable prises and some great routes. The buses all have toilets (even though they are not always that fresh, but I’ll blame that on some people’s ability to use the bathroom while on a moving vehicle…) as well as wifi and power outlets. The only time I had a bit of problem was when I travelled through Croatia. The buses there were chartered by a local company that didn’t have working toilets or outlets onboard, which can be a bit annoying when you are on a 10-ride with 30 percent battery. Also, don’t expect bus drivers to understand English or anything else spoken outside the region. Even with somewhat fluency in 5 languages I didn’t manage to well in communicating, though some were a bit more accommodating with trying to explain than others.
So how did I travel 5 countries in 5 days? Well, I started in Rome with way to much packed into my backpack. I left with 40 minutes extra time since I knew that public transport in Rome was unreliable, but still, I got completely stuck like never before and ended up being so late I had to run up three flights of stairs and 300 meters with almost 30 kg of luggage just to stop the bus exactly when it was departing. After the somewhat stressful start the rest of the trip was great. With barely no people on board it was quiet and enough space to take up a full double seat on your own, which really helps with the comfort. I left Rome at 8.30 in the evening and arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia, around 6 am the day after.
After a short visit in Ljubljana I continued to Zagreb, which was only about 3 hours away. I stayed in Zagreb two nights before leaving on a night bus for Dubrovnik. This leg of the trip was probably the worst, because of rude drivers and no toilets on board. However, dubrovnik was quite worth it.
From Dubrovnik I continued back up north to Zagreb, where I caught a night bus to Vienna. This one was the longest ride out of all. I spent a total of 18 hours on a bus, with a 2 hour stop over at Zagreb bus station. It is safe to say I was quite happy to arrive in Vienna in the morning.
After a nice visit in Vienna I continued to the next and last stop of the trip Berlin. And I got there by, you guessed it, taking a night bus! I was lucky enough to get a double seat to myself so I was quite comfortable, however, we had to get out a few times in the middle of the night due to border controls which was not ideal, but hey, what can you do. I arrived to Berlin just in time for the morning traffic.
The ultimate ride was the one that was the most crowded, the one from Berlin to Copenhagen. It was completely full, but I was one of the first ones on so I at least scored a window seat. Even being overcrowded I managed to get some sleep. In all honesty I didn’t care too much at that point because I was coming home anyways where a warm bed was waiting. This last ride took about 8 hours, leaving close to midnight from Berlin.
All in all, I am very happy with the trip. I was a bit home sick and really longed for the day I arrived home to Sweden, but I still managed to enjoy the travels. The best part about going by bus was that I got to see so much more of the country than if I had flown. Driving through the Slovenian countryside and the Croatian mountains was unbelievably beautiful and well worth the time it took. I will definitely travel by bus again!
When it comes to minimizing your impact on the planet, a lot of people feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. A simple way to start thinking more about ones’ behavior and how one consumes. Both in terms of food (food waste is a big problem, in Sweden 45 kg of food per person is thrown away every year), clothing, services and packaging (I’m thinking of you plastic wrap!). Some basically, one of the best ways to reduce ones impact is to think one step further and to avoid getting unnecessary stuff, and to use that which you already own.
This is where the 5 R’s come in. 5 basic guidelines for sustainable living.
The 5 R’s
things that do not serve you in any way, as well as things that do not serve the planet and you don’t have a need for. Refuse unnecessary materials like plastic straws, plastic cup lids, plastic bags. Also, say no to receipts if you have the opportunity.
your consumption. It is inevitable to buy stuff, but reducing your consumption will not only help the planet, but also your personal finances.
the things you already own. Have a dress you love, wear it! Buy a tote bag to use instead of plastic bags. Buy or make your own produce bags for food shopping.
things that no longer serve their purpose. Empty glass jars can be used as food containers or made into candle light holders.
That fast fashion is not the best option for the environment or the workers has been made quite clear for a while now. However, people keep shopping like there is no tomorrow. 80 billion garments are consumed every year, each item is then worn on average 7 times before discarded. Adding to that the fact that it takes about 7000 liters of water for making one single pair of jeans, one can understand that this is an enormously resource requiring industry. So what can you do about it?
My guidelines for clothing
The perfect option would be to never buy anything and when you do to only buy ethical/sustainable and second hand. But honestly, that is not easy, so I have given me some general guidelines for how to keep a long-lasting closet, that might not always be organic or recycled, but puts focus on buying things that will be used, and for a long time. So what do I focus on when shopping?
When it comes to the fabrics the clothing are made of, I like to stick to natural materials. These are made of renewable sources, in comparison to non-renewable man made materials such as polyester and acrylic. They are breathable and help you regulate body temperature better and, in general, I think they are more comfortable. If possible I try to choose an organic or certified option, this is especially important for cotton as it is one of the most chemical heavy productions that also require crazy amounts of water.
My favorite materials:
Wool – Keeps you warm. Doesn’t need much cleaning. Long lasting and durable.
Silk – Soft as no else. Beautiful. Light and breathable.
Linnen – Eco-friendly. Looks good even wrinkly. Light and breathable.
High quality is not only about buying good materials. It is equally about the garment being well constructed. This means that the seems, hems, buttons, the fit and other parts of the actual construction should be well done. High quality items will last longer since they will not unravel in the seems or just break in general. Since I want to build a closet that will last a long time this is essential.
Sticking to a timeless design and avoiding major trends gives a more long lasting closet. Style never goes out of fashion and good cuts are always stylish. I am not saying that you can never buy anything “trendy”, but having a closet full of trendy means you will be stuck in a hamster wheel of always needing more because you feel off. Finding a style that suits you will work in the long run. However, just because a Chanel suit is timeless doesn’t mean you should buy it, you should still be true to you.
So all in all I try to choose quality over quantity, to rather spend on fewer and more expensive pieces that are on style and will last. What rules do you follow when shopping?
My transition into a more sustainable living has been very organic. Step by step my eyes have been opened to a new field to be changed and improved. However, even with a slow transition I have felt, and still feel, overwhelmed at times. When I see other people who have come further in their journey I can easily feel put down by the fact that I am not doing everything.
Why you are feeling overwhelmed
You are trying to do all at once
When you get into sustainable living it might be somewhat of an epiphany, but it can become too much at one time. Going vegan, zero-waste and stopping fast fashion is not something you simply do overnight, at definitely not all at once. It requires time, knowledge and engagement and you risk losing interest if you go out too hard. Choose one field to go all in, or go with a slow reformation, if you want it to be a lasting change.
You are trying to be perfect
It is impossible to live fully ethical/sustainable/slow or whatever it is you aspire to do. You would have to die, but actually dying is quite bad too, so the only way of being fully sustainable would be to not have been born and that is not possible. So you have to try to do your best, but try not to beat yourself up if you are not perfect. No one is.
A real girl isn’t perfect and a perfect girl isn’t real
So remember that this is your life, it should be enjoyable and you should not feel bad about not being the best all the time, because honestly you probably aren’t.
You feel lost and don’t know where to start or go from here
For any big lifestyle changes it is necessary to know what and why you are doing. So before diving into something big (like spending tons of money on glass jars because you read that plastic is bad or buy out the Everlane warehouse because you heard they are ethical) do your research and form your own opinion on the topic.
What you can do to avoid feeling overwhelmed
Put it in perspective
When you feel overwhelmed by the quest, give yourself a break – you are probably doing something or at least willing to be better, so at least hold on to that! Some sustainable life changes are not possible for some people or in some life situations, but every change for the better is positive.
Simply avoiding to buy a new pair of jeans and a simple cotton t-shirt saves about 20 000 liters of water. Be happy for that and feel motivated instead of feeling put down by how much you do not do.
Go slow, step by step
Like mentioned above, you need to give yourself time to adjust to the changes. Rome wasn’t built overnight and neither was you. The habits you have today have probably been forming over years, so quitting them in one day will likely not be possible if you are looking for a long term change. For a habit to stick it has to be doable, so doable is better than perfect since you might stick to it. One step at a time, don’t move to quick.
Inform yourself, find inspiration
A solution to feeling lost in the world of sustainability is to get informed. Not only will it give you some clarity and guidance, but it will also (hopefully) inspire you. There are so many good sources of information around. On Instagram there are hundreds of other people trying to live a more green life, seek them out, get inspired. Maybe you can even reach out to them? There are also several Facebook groups where discussions about green lifestyles are encourage and where you can seek advice from others on the same journey. Use that source!
You could walk around naked, live in the forest and be self sustaining and you would still have an impact on the earth so just accept that you can only do so much and strive to make the best of it. The world would be a much better place if just everyone tried to be a bit better towards the planet.