If You Love Christmas but Hate Waste, Try Thrifting

Many people say that Christmas is their favorite time of the year.  The lights, the music, the décor, the fun get-togethers, and yes, the presents – all add a special lift to each day during this season.

You can love the holiday but still worry about what it does to the Earth.  And that's where the trending TikTok topic #thriftmas comes in.

holiday gift

What a waste

Togetherness, memories, and music can create plenty of Christmas magic.  But there's also all of the packaging, plastic, and waste to think about.  All the extra energy used for lights and inflatables.  All of the food waste, from special ingredients we buy for the one teaspoon our recipe calls for, to mail-order food gifts we don't want, to the leftovers we don't manage to eat.  And don't forget all of the transportation to get merchandise from wherever (mostly China), to the warehouse, to the Amazon truck, to its spot under the tree.

That's why some people are giving Thriftmas a try.  It's about sourcing what you want second-hand, from décor to clothing to gifts.

A friend of mine, a retired teacher, was recently bemoaning Halloween waste, which is considerable.

  • 83% of costumes are made using non-recyclable plastic and polyester, meaning they wind up in the landfill – for centuries.
  • 60% of pumpkins purchased are carved but not eaten, and as they decompose, they release methane.
  • Americans spent $3.6 billion on candy this year, almost all of it over-packaged in plastic.
  • Costumes for pets continue to rise in popularity, accounting for $700 million in spending this year.

And Halloween waste is nothing compared to Super Bowl waste, and biggest of all, the waste generated by Christmas and Hanukkah.

The alternative

My friend says that she's started shopping at a thrift store not far from her house, and is always surprised at how many things she finds.  From holiday tablecloths and other décor, to special serving pieces, to holiday-suitable clothing, it's all in the second-hand store.

And since we all claim to cherish our tree ornaments and holiday collections, why do we need to buy anything new in that category?  If what we're storing means so much to us, why not be satisfied with reusing it year after year?

Thriftmas is an idea whose time has come.  Here are some gift ideas I've seen suggested as likely to be found in a resale store:

  • Vases and candlesticks.  Include a fresh bouquet or handmade beeswax candles.*
  • Picture frames.  Include a new picture of your kids or yourself with the recipient.
  • Stemware, teacups, and mugs.  Add a bottle of wine, a tin of tea, or a bag of fair-trade coffee that supports a local small business.
  • Plant pots.  Add a cutting from one of your house plants, or check Facebook Marketplace for pre-loved plants.
  • Metal canisters and holiday plates.  Add your own homemade cookies or fudge.
  • A well-seasoned cast-iron pan or quality piece of bakeware that will still be useful for many more years.  Add a handwritten copy of a favorite recipe.
  • Brand-name winter jackets.  Some people donate items they can't be bothered to return.
  • Handbags, satchels, and totes.  Include a tube of lip balm, mini hand sanitizer, and maybe some cash or a gift card.
  • Vintage vinyl and CDs.  Choose your recipient's favorite artist or era.
  • Old comic books.  Buy several you know your recipient will like.  Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Archie, Tintin and others have captured hearts for generations.
  • Gently used sports equipment for kids.  They'll outgrow it by next year, anyway.
  • Washable plastic toys.  Look especially for those already made with recycled plastic, such as Green Toys.*
  • Board games and puzzles.  Check to be sure all the pieces are there.

  • Clothes and accessories for dress-up play.  You can also probably find a basket to stow them in.

* I know, I know – these are sponsored links.  But this blog is reader-supported, and I really do love these products.

The little extras that enhance and personalize each gift show your recipient that you thought carefully and specifically about them.

You can "shop" your own home for gifts too.  You may find:

  • A pretty piece of jewelry you no longer wear that you know your friend will love.
  • A book you've enjoyed that someone else will like as well.  Add a handmade bookmark.
  • Gently-used kids' DVDs that their younger cousins will enjoy.  Add a bag of homemade Rice Krispie treats to snack on during the movie.

  • Unused scented candles.  You know someone has given you one that's just sitting in a closet.

Improvement, not perfection

You don't have to buy zero new items in order to give Thriftmas a try.  Improvement is the goal.

Remember that small actions add up.  Taking a new approach to the holidays is an important step in reducing their environmental impact.  If we all waste a bit less, that's a bigger change than if just a few people attempt to be perfectly waste-free.

Thriftmas is great for the environment, easier on your wallet, can yield items of better quality than what you'll find at your big box store, supports local businesses and charities, and adds uniqueness and history to our lives.  Those five great outcomes will bring a special lift to this season!


  1. This is brilliant! This year I bought books at a local Goodwill, many of them in pristine condition, stacked them with a bow, and made a homemade bookmark to go with them. I had fun putting it together and was able to give each person 6 to 7 books. (:

    1. Gina, I bet your recipients loved those gifts. Great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  2. We enjoyed a white elephant exchange back home one year. You brought something you no longer wanted and wrapped it well. Then we drew numbers to see who got to pick their gift in what order. Then we went around again and you got to exchange your gift for one someone else had. It was good to draw a high number. There was one of those drinky birds that came back year after year and everyone laughed when that one was opened. I brought homemade candles that were all black because of recycled wax and a childhood friend picked them on purpose. That was a good year.
    Linda Sand


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