A sustainable Christmas decorating guide

in Christmas

The most festive time of the year is just one month ahead of us and we're all starting to get ready for it...but what if we celebrated more sustainably this year?
To me, celebrating a sustainable Christmas means choosing decorations, gifts and gift wrapping that are less harmful to the environment while being just as merry and bright!

Of all the preparation activities on the list, decorating is often first as it gets us into proper Christmas mood...so let's tackle that first, starting with a burning question:

To tree or not to tree…

…that is the question.
Actually, that’s one of the biggest dilemmas when it comes to sustainable Christmas decorating!

What is better? Real tree, faux tree or no tree at all?

Close-up view of a pine tree branch.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Alexandre Guimont (opened in a new window/tab)

Choosing the most sustainable tree

Not too surprisingly, all three alternatives – real tree, faux tree and no tree – have pros and cons…

- REAL TREE -
PROs

  • It's one more plant at home and comes with all the benefits of bringing plants indoors (among which is releasing oxygen).
  • Can be planted after the holiday season, and if not planted it can be discarded sustainably.
  • Pine trees crops exist specifically to satisfy the demand of Christmas trees. Every tree takes 8 to 12 years to grow and in that time it serves the air we breathe by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen.

CONs

  • It normally lasts just one season.
  • It's often not planted back nor properly recycled after Christmas.

 
- FAUX TREE -
PROs

  • It can be used for many seasons.

CONs

  • It's often produced with cheap materials that won’t last long and may emit bad VOCs in the air.
  • It's often produced in areas of the world where manufacturing practices are not at all eco-friendly nor ethical.
  • It often comes from afar.

 
- NO TREE -
PROs

  • The tree dilemma is cut at the root here but…

CONs

  • …isn’t decorating without a tree a bit sad?
    I say not necessarily and I’ll tell you why in a second, but let's first draw some conclusions.

 
As we've seen, the choice between real or faux tree is actually not making that much of a difference in itself, and both choices can be made more sustainable with a few mindful tricks:

How to make a REAL TREE more sustainable
Choose a tree coming from nearby (which cuts on transportation costs) and make sure you either get it planted after the holidays or you dispose of it properly (a.k.a. compost it or give it to companies that shred it and reuse it).
Even better is going for a potted tree. A potted tree can be brought indoors for Christmas and "stored" outdoors all year long, where it will continue to clear the air.

How to make a FAUX TREE more sustainable
Invest in a good quality faux tree. It’s been estimated that a faux tree should be able to serve you for a minimum of 10-20 seasons to become more sustainable than a real one (the estimate changes according to the sources*).

And now onto the third option:

Decorating for Christmas...without a tree

Personally, I won’t put up a tree this year.
But I’m definitely not giving up the festive atmosphere!

My plan is to bring home a branch from one of my walks outside, display it in a beautiful vase and hang ornaments on it.

Branch decorated with white ornaments on a light grey wall background.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Fein und Fabelhaft (opened in a new window/tab)
Branch decorated with paper ornaments in earthy tones.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Elisabeth Heier (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)
Branch decorated with acorns with a felt body mounted on real tops.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Vaida Petreikis (via Etsy) (opened in a new window/tab)

This is just one of the many ways to decorate for Christmas without a tree and – besides the sustainability aspect of it – it’s also a good tip for small spaces. Scale and proportion are two essentials in interior design and this should also hold true at Christmas time!
Instead, I often see small spaces getting honestly quite clunky with their way-too-big-for-that-space trees.
“If you can’t change it, work with it”, they say. So what about finding ways to make our home festive despite its small size instead of having to fit a tree no matter what?

Which greenery is best for a sustainable Christmas?

What we said for faux trees is also true for wreaths, garlands and picks.
Here, the choice is much wider and there are many real greens that we can use instead of faux ones:
 

  • Mistletoe
  • Olive
  • Eucalyptus
  • Rosemary
  • Berry branches

 
Last year, I’ve used rosemary twigs to make a minimalist wreath and I’ve found many more ideas that inspire me while looking online!

Triangular wooden wreath decorated with rosemary twigs.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign
Real twigs on a vase and few pomegranates make for an understated decoration of the kitchen counter.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Studio McGee (opened in a new window/tab)
Olive twigs asymmetric wreath on a dark blue background.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: The Line (opened in a new window/tab)
Oval metal wreath decorated with berry branches.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Ferm Living (opened in a new window/tab)

Sustainable Christmas ornaments

Looking for alternatives to plastic baubles?
There are plenty, including:
 

  • Paper
  • Wood
  • Food (apples, cut orange peels, acorns...)
  • Leather

 
Also, I love sparkles at Christmas time, but I absolutely hate glitters (that I find flying around the home until late January the soonest!)
So this year, I’m giving up glitters completely.
But since I'd never give up on the sparkle, here are some glitter-free materials that will still achieve that festive shine:
 

  • Metal
  • Mirror
  • Crystals
  • Gold/silver paper
  • Gold/silver leather (or inserts)

 
When it comes to DIY Christmas ornaments, the Internet is full of tutorials. Origami and papercuts are some of my favourites as they can turn the simplest piece of paper into something very special! And if stored neatly in a box they can easily last longer than one season!

Paper sustainable Christmas ornaments on a wood background.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Broste Copenhagen (opened in a new window/tab)
Flatlay of blue and white paper stars.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Broste Copenhagen (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)
Paper cut ornament made with a silver foiled paper.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Little Detroit (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)
Sustainable Christmas ornament made with wooden beads.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Liebes Botschaft (opened in a new window/tab)
Sustainable Christmas ornament made with two embroidery hoops, greenery and a metal wire writing "Noel".<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Flat Chance (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

Other festive decorations

At Christmas time, every table, shelf and surface is a potential candidate to add some festive vibes.
So here is some inspiration to create a festive vignette with art, holiday signs, little trees and other accessories.

Wood triangles with a bauble hanging in the middle are a minimal interpretation of a Christmas tree.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Homey oh my (opened in a new window/tab)
"Merry" and "Bright" words written into the glass on a picture frame.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Northern feeling (opened in a new window/tab)
Advent calendar made of paper trees mounted on a wooden stick and tucked in a container onto a moss base.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Bildschoenes Design (opened in a new window/tab)
Festive vignette created with real greenery and golden metal ornaments.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Hege in France (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)
Wooden minimal trees on a table with gifts next to them.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Brüün (opened in a new window/tab)

Stay tuned because I’ll soon share what my sustainable Christmas décor will look like this year!
And in the coming weeks we’ll keep talking about sustainable Christmas, looking at gifts, gift wrapping and more!

* Sources:
Carbon trust (opened in a new window/tab) estimates 10 years, whereas Ellipsos (opened in a new window/tab) has landed on a 20 years estimate.

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