COMMENTARY: Celebrate The Planet This Holiday Season

Is there another way to get through the holidays without crazy consumption?

  • Friday, November 19, 2021 12:34pm
  • Opinion
Siobhan McComb

Siobhan McComb

The holidays are fast approaching; ‘tis the season for expressing love and gratitude to family and friends. We all know that this season has been commercialized, with intense pressure to buy buy buy lots of gifts for those family and friends.

But wait! Let’s step back for a moment and consider: is there another way to get through the holidays without crazy consumption? Yes, this year let’s all engage in “unshopping for the holidays.”

This idea is growing, and more people are now “unshopping” as we learn more about how our desire for “stuff” contributes to our carbon footprint and climate crisis.

Living on Vashon, we frequently see the gigantic container ships plying their way to the Port of Tacoma. These ships, full of items we all think we want, often make long journeys all while burning polluting fossil fuel. And these items are fabricated from resources extracted from the earth, contributing to climate change as well.

Our planet has a world resources “annual allotment”—the amount of resources that can be extracted sustainably in a year—and this allotment is reaching its limit earlier and earlier each year. This year, we met the limit in April, with eight months more to go. Learn more at Earth Overshoot —

We can do our part to stop this trend by “unshopping” during the commercialized holidays. But how?

• Gift “experiences.” When you were a child, you were likely given a number of toys. Can you remember them? What stands out? Chances are you’re much more likely to cherish the memory of a grandparent taking you to a special event than that plastic toy you received when you were 9 years old. But also think about the experience you want to gift: does it support a local company? Is that company socially responsible? Take care here; an elaborate trip to a far-away destination will involve air travel that contributes more to climate change.

• Buy used or “pre-owned” goods. Our own Granny’s Attic has an array of puzzles, games, books, toys and much more, waiting for new homes.

• Make gifts: hand-made items are often a hit and don’t have to be elaborate. A jar of jam, cookies, or flowers are always welcome.

• When you do buy a requested option, consider its source and vote with your wallet. Does the manufacturer work to reduce its climate impact? What is the product lifespan? Is the item sustainably sourced? And will it be recyclable when you’re finished with it?

• Donate instead to a local cause that will have meaning for your loved one, such as the Vashon Tool Library & Fix-It Café. Or become a “Secret Santa” to a family in need.

• Donate to one of the many national or global organizations that help people in need. Just one example: give a cow or even bees so a family can build wealth. Often, a thank-you or update will follow, with a recurring reminder that the gift made a difference.

• Shop at fair trade stores, including our own Giraffe, or fairs that support ethical product manufacturers.

• Work on a project together: help plan a garden, plant a garden, fix a bike, bake a pie. Opportunities abound.

• Finally, be sure to buy local and support our Vashon merchants!

In the world of gift-giving, less is often more. If gifts are exchanged, limit them to three or four, make sure you’re buying something the individual wants and needs, avoid plastic and disposable items. Fewer, but more meaningful gifts, can spur more gratitude than a raft of things. Remember — it’s not about the “stuff,” it’s about the season and being together.

If this is new to you, and you’re intrigued, there are lots of websites out there with ideas on sustainable gift-giving. Happy holidays!

Siobhan McComb is a member of the Whole Vashon Project Advisory Board. An island resident and zero-waste sustainable lifestyle advocate, she teaches zero-waste lifestyle classes and has a website with lots of useful information (see

McComb will partner with Zero Waste Vashon, The Whole Vashon Project, and Vashon Island Time Exchange to host an online discussion, “Unshopping the Holidays” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1. This is a conversation, so bring questions. Register for the webinar at

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