‘Tis the Season to be Green

Each year, we look for ways to simplify our life a little more during the frenzy of the holiday season. Although we inevitably get sucked into the surplus of food, travel, and gifts, we can still find a much-needed respite at home through an eco-friendly approach to holiday decor. This year, do your best to forgo the plastic trimmings that don’t resonate with your sustainable ethos and opt for items that truly mean something.

While there’s no fool-proof way to cut out disposable or wasteful decorations, there is a more thoughtful method for tackling the tinsel, plastic, and throw-away items. To help you kick things off, here are some eco-friendly holiday decor ideas for a festive and healthy home.

1. Host a Holiday Decor Swap

A lifetime of holiday celebrations and life events (such as moving or downsizing) can leave us with boxes full of decorations, some of which never leave storage. Take stock of these items and invite your friends to do a holiday decor swap.

Holiday decor swaps are a fun and gratifying way to reuse existing items and make new memories.

Are you looking for a new centerpiece? An extra string of lights? Have you amassed a collection of seasonal tea towels from years of Secret Santa parties? Rather than buying new, see what you all have collectively. It’s a fun and gratifying way to reuse existing items and make new memories. 

No luck at your holiday swap? Peruse your local consignment store for unique, secondhand finds, or scavenge a vintage shop for beautiful decorations made from timeless materials, like glass, ceramic, or aluminum.

2. Keep Your Decor Simple

Commercially, the holidays are a time of excess. Sure, there is a time and place for something a little extra—like glittery parties or traditional sweet treats, but this doesn’t have to extend to your home. 

Approach your decorating with a less-is-more mentality. Allow the small and simple things to shine through, and pare back a bit more than you think you should. A simple decorating style will let the select few stand out, as opposed to competing with a hundred other shiny objects. 

Opt for a Hygge-inspired home and light plenty of candles. Pile on lofty blankets, faux fur throws, and oversized pillows to create a cozy ambiance that feels inviting but not overdone. 

3. Real vs. Plastic Christmas Trees

Perhaps you’ve wondered which of the two options is the more eco-friendly choice for the holidays. The answer: a real Christmas tree is more sustainable than a fake one. 

Although a fake Christmas tree can be reused, it’s still made from plastic materials and has a heavy carbon footprint.

In the New York Times article “Real Vs. Artificial Christmas Trees: Which is the Greener Choice?” Karen Zraick talks with tree production experts, who explain how Christmas tree farms allow farmers (who are often small business owners) to keep acres of land open to grow and harvest rather than be developed. “The trees provide many benefits to the environment as they grow, cleaning the air and providing watersheds and habitats for wildlife,” she writes. 

Although a fake Christmas tree can be reused, it’s still made from plastic materials and has a heavy carbon footprint due to manufacturing, packaging, and shipping. It’s not easily recycled either—especially when disposed of with its lights attached (which is how many store-bought trees are sold). Ultimately, it’s still plastic manufactured from raw materials and, unlike a real tree, it won’t absorb carbon from the air. 

Buy your real Christmas tree from a local tree farm. After the holiday, compost it or contact your local waste management about tree collection services. Often, they can turn it into mulch. Alternatively, some farms sell potted trees that can be replanted.

4. Go for Natural or Handmade Decorations

A walk through the woods can lend plenty of inspiration. Take a cue from nature and skip the plastics and the disposable decor. Choose items made from natural materials, like wood, flora, recycled paper, or even cloth in neutral colors. Not only will this add warm textures to your home (something that shiny, hard plastic just can’t beat), but this natural color palette is bound to go nicely with your existing decor.

Forage for bright red winter berries for a festive pop of color, gather pinecones or fallen sticks and greens (don’t cut them off the trees unless they need a trim!), and arrange them around your house. 

If you celebrate Christmas, use the trimmed branches of your tree, some wire, and some twine to make a homemade wreath. For Hanukkah, a wooden or paper star looks beautiful near the light of a menorah. Throughout the week of Kwanzaa, colorful table runners or placemats made from natural fibers add even more depth to a festive table.

If you’re looking for more inspiration for a simple holiday, check out our gift guide for minimalists!


Based in the beautiful city of Portland, Maine, Katherine Oakes Englishman is a writer and yoga teacher with a passion for empowering others to live a more conscious and connected life. She is a contributing writer for The Good Trade, Wayward Collective and pens articles on outdoor travel as the East Coast correspondent at Bearfoot Theory; Katherine is also the former web editor of Pure Green Magazine. Offline, you can find her on a yoga mat or in pursuit of adventure in the wilds of Maine and the neighboring White Mountains.