You can have my parking space at the mall this holiday season. You can have the crowds, the rain, the canned music—and January’s scary credit card statements. I’ll be happily tucked away in my craft space, making as many gifts as I can.

It won’t be the first year that handmade presents show up under our tree. My husband and I took turns being full-time students for the first six years of our marriage, so cutting costs at Christmas was essential. While our financial situation has improved over two decades, the tradition of producing at least some of our gifts has endured. It’s contagious—even our young adult children exchange at least a few handmade things each season.

I’d be lying if I said money didn’t play any role in my creative efforts. With five kids and a good-sized extended family, making some of my gifts helps keep the holiday budget manageable. But there are three other reasons I choose to give handmade presents when I can. Handmade gifts are more personal than anything I could buy online or in a store—they’re gifts from the heart. Making gifts is also an excuse to exercise my creative muscles, which I definitely enjoy. And last but not least: making some of my gifts helps me stay “green” during a season that traditionally leaves a huge environmental footprint.

The standard, mass-produced gifts we exchange during the holidays come with all kinds of hidden costs. There’s the cost of obtaining the raw materials, the energy consumed and waste produced during the manufacturing process, and the cost of transporting goods and their packaging across vast distances. Ultimately, there’s also the cost of disposing a gift when it breaks, becomes obsolescent, or simply ceases to be fashionable. There are all kinds of ways that we can minimize these issues: by avoiding unnecessary packaging, purchasing locally made goods or services, and seeking out companies with good environmental stewardship records to name a few. But my favourite green-Christmas strategy remains controlling a gift’s “manufacturing process” from start to finish myself.

If I used all-new materials for my creative projects, their environmental impact would be roughly the same as a similar ready-made gift I could get in the store. In fact the environmental price might be even higher, if every craft material I purchased was individually packaged and transported from a different location. But I consciously choose reused, recycled, or salvaged materials whenever possible, or at the very least new materials leftover from other projects. My creations then become much more earth-friendly.
Here are some of the materials my family has used in the past, in the hopes that they might get your creative juices flowing this season:

Fabric. I’ve gotten new “waste” fabric from a few sources. I’m particularly fond of upholstery and home decorating samples, which I’ve picked up at garage and rummage sales. I’ve sewn Christmas stockings, gift bags, placemats, hot pads, tea cozies and small purses from these samples. I frequently acquire larger pieces of leftover fabric at my local thrift store, which I’ve made into small quilts, cushion covers, aprons, lunch bags, items of clothing, and stuffed toys for my youngest children. (My son loves his stuffed rocket, complete with an interior pocket for the astronaut his oldest sister knit). If you know a tailor or upholsterer, you might be able to ask for off-cuts, which would otherwise be discarded. I regularly salvage interesting fabric from unwanted garments, and refashion them into new items. My youngest daughter has several pretty dresses cut down from adult clothing.

Wood. Salvaged wood is my husband’s favourite gift-making material. With it he’s made CD cases, boxes, shelves, bowls, and a decorative “antique” sled to hang above our mantel. The mantel itself was once an old door. I’m not a woodworker, but I use squares of wood as canvases for folk-art paintings and collages.

Newspapers. We went through a papier mâché phase in our house about a decade ago. We still have a few plaques on our walls, and a very life-like chameleon lounging on one of our clocks. Search “papier mâché” on Pinterest, and you’ll see endless examples of toys, jewelry and decorative objects made from this most humble material.

Yarn. My oldest daughters are the knitters in our family. Much of their wool comes from other people’s leftovers purchased at the thrift store. They’ve also been known to unravel wool sweaters to be knit into new slippers, mittens, or hats. One of them recently cut a large T-shirt dress into strips that became T-shirt yarn, which she knit into a chunky infinity scarf.

Jars. Reused glass jars can be used as a craft material in themselves (go to web link and search “Mason jars” for inspiration). They also make great containers for edible gifts assembled or baked in your own kitchen. Large plastic jars make especially good containers for homemade batches of playdough.

What you already have. If you’re crafty, chances are you already have materials left over from previous projects. Before buying new supplies, inventory what you have in your stash and plan your projects accordingly.

If you’re new to gift-making, start with one or two simple projects. If you’re learning a new creative skill, be patient with yourself—your results will improve with practice. And finally, choose recipients who will appreciate the time and effort that went into your special handmade gift!

Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at web link.