A Renter Nomad’s festive season: be strategic, simple and seasonal

I hate over-planning for the festive season (standing in for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.) as much as the next slattern, but pre-planning is essential to spare yourself clutter and save money. The latter is an extremely important point: in January, Shelter was warning that one in nine surveyed were worried about paying rent or mortgage after overspending on the festive season.

Being strategic is simply planning: presents, food, guests. Whether you are a student in temporary digs over the holiday, living in rented accommodation for the first time or… still living in rented accommodation and wondering how to get through another festive season, planning is essential, even if you simply plan to do nothing!

Let’s start with entertaining (guests). Maybe you are a student alone with other foreign students; maybe you’re having your first grown-up season alone after having moved out, or having got married or having divorced; maybe it’s “your turn” to host family; maybe you’ve done it all before but want some fresh ideas.

Food Tips

  • pot luck (this will spread out the cooking, and shorten the time spent in the kitchen)
  • borrow pots (and plates, and glasses, and don’t forget for mulled wine!)
  • to save cooking time, cook two smaller hams/ turkeys! I must admit I felt like an eejit when I discovered this last Christmas. No more getting up at 4 a.m. to get a huge roast on.


  • an airbed will always find use. We have a mains-operated double airbed, so our existing double sheets can do duty
  • B&B/ hotels. Your guests may appreciate being able to snap their fingers for service that they are paying for (and you may appreciate this, too!)


Activities out of home can be an alternative to entertaining at home. Do see the Presents section for memberships which may help with this.

At home, as a family, we have recently rediscovered Charades, but this is is adaptable for all ages. Try also:

  • Chinese whispers
  • Consequences
  • Twister (no, really: it’s hilarious!)

(can you tell yet that I’m a child of the 70s?)


Christmas decorations can be one of the biggest sources of under-used CLUTTER in a Renter Nomad’s inventory, so before you start a lifetime of carting around a box full of the glitter which has fallen off old decorations, consider the following principles. You may go against them, but at least you will be mindful… and a mindful choice of your home décor means having a home of your own, no matter who owns the bricks and mortar.

  • The flames of candles and fire actually deserve their own paragraph. In the ages before electricity, winter was a time of darkness and cold, and fire answers the need to banish both of those. Living in a modern society of light pollution, our atavistic fascination with fire may have dwindled, but it does remain. A flame, however dim, however unnecessary in a room of electricity, is a tiny meditation, creating a mindful moment and a focus for taking stock, as our ancestors used to do in the cold, dark season. After a candle is all melted away, it leaves no clutter, no bulb to take to the recycling depot. Just a little calm and warmth.
  • Foliage. You can harvest fresh “seasonal” foliage (ivy, mistletoe, evergreen, holly, etc.), or you can buy it from a market, but it’s biodegradable and authentic, and has a strong effect on those who grew up in the darker parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Keep in mind that some foliage is poisonous, so if you have a young family or a pet, or will be hosting, you might want to keep bannisters free of ivy, etc., and put it up high (see my Pinterest board for this article for ivy twined around an ugly ceiling fitting).
  • Wreaths. As with foliage.
  • A tree? A plastic or fibre-optic Christmas tree will indeed last years, so will save you money. However, that will also mean moving it from home to home for years, whereas a cut tree will probably be recycled by your local council into mulch for your local parks. (NB – not Christmas trees in pots, since a Renter Nomad is unlikely to have one garden from one year to the next)
  • Scent can be derived from entertainment (mulling wine with spices, mulling cloudy apple juice with cinnamon), or everyday consumption of citrus fruit, whose peel can then be placed on/ in your radiators. Airing your home will also clear the air. That’s before we even get to the scent décor of candles, joss sticks, frankincense… because not everyone likes those!
  • Digital decoration consists of changing your computer screensaver and desktop, mobile phone screen, etc. Change your social media avatars, too: why not? None of the changes will leave any clutter, and may have a stronger psychological effect than you imagine: as a Renter Nomad, you are sick of starting over, but a seasonal fresh start really is a fresh start.

PRESENTS are the panic-button of this season, because of the money, the ideas, and the mess they leave afterwards. If you’re worried about getting loads of STUFF which you will then have to store or take with you on future moves, now’s the time to make suggestions! You may want to give some of these gifts yourself:


You may offer your time or attention in any way you wish. Babysitting or DIY “vouchers” are a good idea, but they come with certain limitations, not least the giver’s schedule, the recipient’s schedule, the recipient’s scruples or shyness…

One present of time which will not require any effort on the part of the recipient is your year’s commitment to monthly hand-written letters or cards. I’ve been struggling a bit with doing this one for a friend this year, but I do recognise that it’s because I had got out of the habit of letter-writing and reflection, so the return to the discipline is a boon for me, too.


You may wish you had more money to benefit causes close to your heart. This doesn’t have to be orientated on a killer disease or social cause; it could be something you yourself could benefit from, for example Shelter, which has a helpline for tenants, or a local organisation which has charitable status.

When you’re stocking up on food for Christmas, perhaps consider adding to your local food bank collection, for distribution to people who are in enough need to go to a food bank. If you’re feeling the pinch yourself, you could limit your donation to the third item of a Buy One Get One Free offer.


This is not all about someone giving you a sky-diving day that you will never, ever, ever do! This is more like memberships of:

  • museums
  • zoos
  • “leisure” farms
  • theatre/ music venue (which may have a members’ bar to invite friends to)
  • National Trust/ English Heritage
  • (and this may sound weird, but…) garden centres, the sort which have extras, like nature trails, or a children’s playground/ soft play

These memberships will give Renter Nomads an extra place to entertain, a gift shop for presents which are unusual enough to boost the appearance of the “spend,” and simply make you feel more connected. Living temporarily and precariously, subject to others’ whims, can have a very demoralising effect, and it’s good to be cheered up and make to feel less of an “outsider.”

Other Memberships

  • online food shopping delivery pass (which will save your delivery fees, and perhaps allow you to order at any time, including “peak” times) In alphabetical order, these can be had at major supermarkets including:







With online grocery shops beginning to advertise their Christmas slots, and travel companies gearing up to fill their places, it really is time to plan! I’ll leave you with MoneySavingExpert.com’s Christmas savings list of tips and links.

Some of these tips are illustrated on the “Season’s greetings” Pinterest board which accompanies this article. Keep an eye on my seasonal board, too, for some low-cost/ free, biodegradable, natural decorations.

Disclaimers: I am a member of English Heritage, give by monthly direct debit to Shelter, and have a Sainsbury’s Delivery Pass, but I have not received any incentive from any of these organisations, in writing this article or otherwise. I’ve also recommended Alys Fowler’s book “The Thrifty Forager” in the Pinterest board accompanying this article, again, without incentive.


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