Halloween is still a few days away, yet many Iowa stores are already featuring Christmas items. A new project from the University of Northern Iowa aims to minimize stress and maximize the meaning of the holiday season. U.N.I.’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education has launched a website offering tips to clear clutter, how to find environmentally-friendly gifts and to buy locally.

The effort is called: “Reclaim Your Holidays: Practical Ways to Create Meaning.” Program manager Susan Salterberg says the hope is that when the focus is on meaning rather than busyness and buying, the holidays will be more enjoyable and the environment will benefit as well. For starters, Salterberg says to pamper your loved ones with traditions, not expensive gifts.

“Create lists of what’s most important to you,” Salterberg says. “Communicate your expectations with your family and friends and ask them to communicate theirs. Sometimes we make assumptions that everybody wants to do the same things and they’re not accurate assumptions.” She says the holidays are supposed to be about nurturing and celebrating relationships, not the act of buying.

Salterberg says to investigate ideas on giving gifts, entertaining, reducing waste and thinking locally. When it comes to gift-giving, she says a little added thought can keep the “green” in the season of red-and-green.

“Good Buy Batteries makes this battery-free bike light,” Salterberg says. “Solar-powered shed lights, rotary-charge flashlights. Arbor Day has a gift tree program so you can give the gift of a tree. Other gift ideas, Iowa-made wines in a basket.” One way to control holiday finances is by paying cash for gifts, she says, and only using a credit card when you can pay it off at month’s end.

Salterberg says, “It really does make sense to pay as you buy so you have time to determine if a gift is really important and to save money on interest.”

Learn more at: www.ReclaimYourHolidays.org.