Tips from Helen McClements, your ‘EnvironMENTALIST’

Let’s change the record with Christmas this year and say ‘More fun less stuff!’

Here are a few suggestions on how you can reduce the clutter and still treat your loved ones this festive season.


  • Ditch the gifts and buy-in to something bigger

Instead of an expensive gift for friends or family, why not pay for membership of the National Trust, or a local open farm or wild-life sanctuary? This way, you can enjoy free or greatly discounted rates for the venue throughout the year, and also solve that conundrum for them, of what to do when their kids are wrecking the joint of a Saturday afternoon in November. They will think of you fondly while their off-spring stroke a goat or throw some grain at a chicken. If you are one of those people who just loves ‘something to wrap’, buy a small cuddly creature and put it under the tree with the membership cards tucked in its paws. What joy awaits on Christmas morning, at the prospect of all these fun-filled weekends.

  • Give the Gift of Learning

Does anyone close to you dream of cultivating a skill such as painting or writing, or maybe they’ve talked about improving their Spanish or learning how to code. On their behalf, why not investigate what courses are available at the Crescent Arts Centre or at Queen’s School of Open Learning. Take the plunge and book them a course so they can follow their dreams, and maybe they’ll take you to a swanky restaurant when they’ve written their bestseller. Sometimes it’s the ‘getting out the door’ that’s holding them back, so offer to babysit. Frazzled mums need their heads showered; I should know.

  • Rifle through your local charity shops.

When it comes to kids, no matter how much we try to cut down, there are still stockings to fill. This is where charity shops come into their own, where you can bag bargains of often unopened games and jigsaws and a few fun items for a few quid. These will entertain the children for at least a millisecond as they tear into their stockings with gusto. Badminton in December? Why not. With this crazy weather, you’ll probably be playing outside in your shorts. And even if you make a dodgy purchase, who’s going to resent a fiver to Concern of Action Cancer?

  • Get creative

One of the most thoughtful gifts I ever received was a glass jar filled with all the dry ingredients for oatmeal raison biscuits. It looked beautiful, with all the layers of flour, sugar, raisins, and even the baking powder. I like the idea of baking, but by the time I’ve discovered that I’ve only demerara when the recipe calls for muscavado, and the flour’s plain and not self-raising, I’ve gone completely off the notion. This is a great gift to create for those of us who are culinary-inclined, and like getting the scales out and making things look pretty, with a handwritten ingredients list at the end, tied on with a nice ribbon.

  • Support your local artists

For a fun afternoon out, take yourself off to a craft fair, such as the ‘Fine and Dandy Market,’ found at different locations around Belfast, (checkout their Facebook page for details).   A handmade piece of art or a Christmas card which can later be framed make a beautiful gift, and help a starving artist at the same time. There are always stalls with unique pieces of jewellery, and tables with festive jams and chutneys. And there are always, always wonderful cakes and buns, that you can guzzle while you browse. It’s all most convivial.

Remember, here at Belfast 89, we’re not a bunch of Scrooge’s, begrudging spending any money this Christmas, and I know I’m not alone in this, if every lifestyle magazine is to be believed anyway. Clutter gets me down, and stresses me out, so if you’re a bit like me, take action before you’re landed with a whole lot more.

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