This year for Christmas, Kelly Hagelauer is giving her husband 12 one-hour massages, one on the first day of every month in 2009.

She's also considering - except this might be excessive - giving him "Yes, dear" coupons. During a disagreement, he can hand her one and she must say, "Yes, dear."

The Exton family of four normally spends $1,500 on presents for themselves and their extended family. This year, they've limited it to $500.

Economizing? No, although that's certainly a complimentary benefit. They're just trying to be greener.

At the core of it, they've decided to forgo as much "stuff" as they can - two toy-age children notwithstanding.

Actually, Hagelauer figures if the kids were a little older, this might be tougher. But her 16-month-old son, Noah, won't have any idea that the train table under the tree is a hand-me-down from one of Hagelauer's friends.

As for Ella, 4, Hagelauer figures this is the perfect time to create a new tradition for her, and not have her come to associate Christmas just with presents.

To be sure, lots of eco-groups have enthusiastically published "green" gift guides. The problem is that, with the few exceptions where you can adopt an acre of wilderness or sponsor a tiger or some such, it's often just something else to buy.

Even the windup flashlight/cell-phone charger is . . . stuff.

And stuff has environmental consequences.

Aside from its own stuffness, which might include tropical hardwoods or petroleum-based plastics, it has to be transported, packaged, and often marketed by a store with all its lights on and the heat cranking.

A litany of resource consumption and pollution accompanies each step, including disposal at the end.

According to Annie Leonard -her 20-minute documentary about consumption, The Story of Stuff, is almost a cult classic in eco-circles - the average U.S. person consumes twice as much as he did 50 years ago, which is about when our national happiness peaked. We spend three to four times as many hours shopping as our counterparts in Europe do.

"Shopping is not a solution," posits the Web site www.buylesscrap.com, which suggests charities instead. "Buy (Less). Give more."

Economists (and store owners) may complain that anti-consumerism will make the economy spiral even lower.

So to stimulate the economy without perpetuating the horrors of stuffdom, why not give a gift certificate for dinner at a favorite restaurant or a sporting or cultural event?

My mother, who for years has instructed, "Just don't give me anything I have to dust," has turned me on to the virtues of use-up-ables, such as fancy soaps.

For Hagelauer, this is the latest in an eco-continuum lasting nearly a decade, during which she gradually began noticing her impact and finding ways to reduce it.

This year, she founded the Eco-Moms Alliance of Chester County. She began volunteering with Greenpeace.

And now comes Christmas.

There will always be some stuff. Like the World Series championship T-shirts - how could she not?

Hagelauer also is giving many of her relatives reusable water bottles. (She has assurances they'll be used.)

What stuff they do give will likely be wrapped in her daughter's drawings. She brings home three a day.

Her husband, Stephan, is French, and instead of sending his extended family 25 paper cards - Mon Dieu! "To go across the ocean?!" - they're doing e-mail photo cards.

Instead of exchanging gifts with her friends, they're swapping cookies. And ideas.

Hagelauer's mother is getting the children a membership for six to the new Please Touch Museum so Hagelauer can share it with friends.

Eco-darling Bill McKibben wrote about Christmas consumption in the online magazine Grist last year, positing that the stuff problem was rooted in a "conspiracy" in which "we've agreed to try and meet basic human needs - status, respect, effect - with material ends."

Sure enough, Hagelauer doesn't feel as if she's losing the holiday spirit at all.

Indeed, by taking the time and attention to think of creative ways to please those she loves, she might be gaining more of it.

Contact staff writer Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147 or sbauers@phillynews.com.
To post a comment, visit her blog at http://go.philly.com/greenspace.