6 Ways to Keep It Simple on Your Wedding Day

©. Troy Glover Photography via K Martinko

I have been to a lot of weddings, both as a professional musician and as a guest, and I like to think I’ve become a wedding connoisseur of sorts. Over the years I’ve seen everything from wild hippy cottage parties and Star Wars-themed ceremonies to formal weddings held on antique steamships and lavish golf courses.

There have been many things I didn’t like, and those were usually the result of obsessive “bridezillas” trying to micromanage every aspect of their wedding day to make it picture-perfect, which, of course, it never is. But other weddings have impressed me greatly with their dedication to sustainability, recycling and reusing, supporting local vendors, and – most important of all – keeping it simple.

There are countless ways in which to reduce a wedding’s footprint, make it greener, and (I would argue) more enjoyable for everyone. It usually involves breaking with tradition, however, which is something that many people balk at. Here are some ideas for simplifying and ‘greening’ weddings that are worth passing on. Please share any others in the comments.

1. Forego the physical gifts

My husband’s European background introduced me to the brilliance of cash gifts. In my Mennonite background, everyone gives physical gifts that are supposed to help furnish a new home. But nowadays many couples get married later in life and often live together already in furnished homes, which makes those items often superfluous, not to mention that you might not share style tastes with Great-Aunt Martha.

Cash gifts, on the other hand, are simple and extremely useful for helping a couple kickstart their new life together. That is, unless all the cash goes toward paying off a mega-wedding that has landed them in debt precisely at the worst time in their relationship, which defeats the purpose of the gift.

You could also ask guests to make donations to worthy causes in honour of your marriage.

2. Reconsider the dress

wedding dress

© K Martinko

You’re going to gasp in horror at the sacrilege of my suggestion, but how about not buying a wedding dress? A wedding dress is the single most ridiculous splurge that many brides insist on making for their big day. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars go into purchasing a piece of clothing that gets worn for, literally, 12 hours. And there is nowhere else you could ever wear that dress without looking absurd. Just think about it – would you spend that much money on a single article of clothing, even if you could wear it indefinitely? Probably not.

The solution? Buy a used dress (there are plenty out there) or borrow a dress, which is what I did. The bride from whom I borrowed it was delighted to see it get used again and asked me only to cover the cost of dry-cleaning. I realize I won’t have a wedding dress to show off to my children in later years, but I don’t think my sons will care much. Plus, I’d much rather show off a healthy marriage with their father than a dusty old dress.

Another radical idea is to forego the white fairytale dress altogether. I’ve been to weddings where brides have worn red, black, blue, even sunflower-print, and looked gorgeous. Talk about practicality.

3. Spare the bridesmaids!

bridesmaids' dresses

© Sarah Jane Johnson -- The colour was purple, but the choice of style was up to the bridesmaids.

Similar to the bridal dress argument, it’s not fair to make bridesmaids buy expensive custom-made dresses that scream “bridesmaid!” and effectively render them useless anywhere else. Instead, you could pick a common colour and ask your bridesmaids to find a dress in whatever style they like. Or, if you really want them to be identical, stay out of bridal stores and go shopping at a store with dresses that are actually trendy, fun, and wearable outside a reception hall.

4. Make practical and/or simple decorations

wedding flowers

© Sarah Jane Johnson (used with permission)

At a wedding I attended last week, the centerpiece for each table was a collection of potted herbs – parsley, cilantro, basil, sage, and rosemary. Not only was it leafy, green, aromatic, and beautiful, but everyone got to take one home and will continue to harvest the herbs indefinitely.

For my wedding, my grandma made all the centerpieces out of flowers grown organically in her garden. She arranged them in water-filled mini vases that I bought at the thrift store for 25 cents apiece. The total cost for my centerpieces? Under $5. Then I took all the vases back to the thrift store the next week.

At the wedding of Hugh Alter, son of TreeHugger's managing editor, the couple collected beautiful, colourful pieces of fabric for months ahead to use as napkins. Afterwards, they were laundered and made into a quilt for the bride and groom. The same couple used bedsheets as tablecloths and made centrepieces out of Mason jars and plastic dinosaurs.

Alter wedding centrepiece

© Kelly Rossiter (used with permission)

5. Rethink the favours.

Instead of defaulting to the old standard of sugared almonds or foil-wrapped chocolates, how about finding a local vendor that sells an interesting, perhaps functional product? The sky’s the limit.

Some ideas: organically grown herbal teas, a small jar of flavour-infused salt, homemade preserves, the afore-mentioned potted herbs that double as centerpieces, a bar of handmade soap, a bottle of homemade wine, a hand-stitched birch bark canoe.

6. Choose the right venue.

Any space can be great for a wedding. There are countless venues, such as public halls and community centres, that are built to hold a crowd and usually just take some decorating to spruce up. My sister's wedding was held in my father's woodworking shop, which has large sliding doors that open up onto a parking lot -- a convenient impromptu dance floor.

wedding venue

© Sarah Jane Johnson (used with permission)

Another point to consider is accessibility. By choosing an out-of-the-way location, guests will be required to drive cars. If you live in a city, choose a place to which guests can walk or bike easily, take public transit, or at least catch a taxi easily.

An added bonus of renting a space that's not usually dedicated to weddings is that you'll have more freedom to choose your food provider, instead of being stuck with the in-house caterer. This way you could hire a chef who specializes in local food, cook your own meal, or even have an old-fashioned potluck dinner!

wedding hall

© Kelly Rossiter