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Their Perfect Wedding: Sustainable and Affordable

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

[By Katie Kornreich]

wedding couple

Like most young couples, our wedding was on a budget. Our wedding also needed to be environmentally friendly. Because of these two factors, our wedding was full of DIY’s. I cannot take credit for most of them. I spent way too much time on crafting apps. I love seeing what other people create and am often inspired to create related items, except with my own flare.


Kolton, my husband, and I met in an Earth and the Environment class, and we also share a common interest in caring for our planet. When we dreamed of our big day, we envisioned décor which represented us and our quirky style. We knew we did not want a cookie-cutter wedding, copied from Pinterest (even though it would have been so much easier). Kolton and I were determined to leave as small a carbon footprint with this wedding as possible. Our decision to be environmentally and budget friendly made planning our day much more complicated, but completely worthwhile.


Kolton and I love to travel and experience new things. Ever since I was in high school, I loved taking pictures, collecting mementos, and documenting adventures with scrapbooks, photo albums and shadow boxes. When Kolton and I would travel, nothing changed. What better way to introduce our couple style to the world than with photos of our relationship? Our centerpieces contained a vase with flowers, and around it, picture frames with photos. Kolton and I enjoyed scrolling through our phones and apps, reminiscing on our most enjoyable moments to share with our guests. Photos of our time in college were the first selected. Since we met in college, and much of our early time spent together was in the library, lab or on campus focused on helping the environment. We are also huge history nerds. While we were dating, we saw the musical, Hamiliton. Those photos and the Playbill had to be shown! Right after Kolton proposed, we traveled to Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown, so those photos were a favorite. Our engagement, beach trips, graduations, our first fur baby and other important dates found their way in our “Must” pile.


ornate frame

To display these photos, we took frequent trips to various Goodwills in search of wooden (or easily paintable) 5x7 frames. Goodwill did not disappoint with the picture frame selection. I later painted those frames our custom colors of coral, navy blue and gold. This was so much more of a time commitment than I originally thought. Kolton was incredibly gracious with the mess I made and the amount of counter space I used. Although they took longer than expected, they were worth it. When they were displayed at the wedding, our story seemed to come to life. The photos and short stories on the back also created conversation for guests if they did not know each other.


Kolton and I both have family who had passed away or could not safely travel to attend the wedding. We still wanted them there, especially his late paternal Grandfather, my late maternal Grandparents, my late paternal Grandfather, and my Grandma who lives in Tucson. Several more trips to Goodwills later, we were able to find larger frames which beautifully matched the personalities of our loved ones. We also used hand painted frames to create signs for the dessert, photo booth and send-off/guest book table. Using second hand photo frames was incredibly economically and environmentally friendly.


bouquet made from brooches

Another budget friendly option was giving up on flowers. Real flowers are one of the most expensive parts of a wedding, and I personally could not justify spending hundreds, if not more, on flowers that would die shortly after the event. From an environmentalist standpoint, I could not do real flowers either. But we needed flowers. After some research, our best option was plain wooden flowers. I hand painted over two hundred wooden flowers with our colors and made the arrangements for the bridesmaids, matron of honor and tables. Again, this task took so much longer than I wanted. For my bouquet, my mother-in-law and I made a bouquet out of brooches. These older brooches came from everywhere to create a new story. Family members graciously gave me heirlooms or pieces special to them. Several of the pieces were second hand. I wish I knew the stories of who wore them or who they were given to, but I hope I made them proud.


One thing stumped us – the favors. I have been to several weddings where the favors were sweet, but impractical and/or single use. First, we thought about metal straws. Very environmentally friendly, but not budget friendly. The next option were pamphlets discussing what brands tested on animals and which brands did not. A great resource for people, but not completely budget or environmentally friendly. Third time was the charm! Kolton and I decided on reusable cloth bags. This would help cut down on plastic and textile waste.


handmade bags from fabric

I used fabrics such as curtains, tablecloths, and shower curtains for the bag. I collected these materials for free from websites or purchased them from Goodwill for a few dollars. The fabrics were washed and cut into 11x9 rectangles or 10x10 squares and the leftover strips into handles. Again, I sorely misjudged the amount of time it would take me to sew sixty or more bags. I spent several late nights bent over a sewing machine. We had many bags left over, but the guests who did end up taking the bags have told us they are using and enjoying them. Whatever the guests did not use, we stashed in our cars to have in case we forget to bring our regular bags.


Whenever someone shops second hand and creates something new from old, those actions add up to make differences. Not only for your budget, but for your community and the environment. Even though it was a lot of work, the DIY projects paid off. The wedding was beautiful and resourceful. Now after the wedding, we are still trying to be environmentally conscious. Leftover items such as picture frames and flowers are being used as gifts, and extra décor is going to friends who are getting married. Any leftover items are being donated for a second chance at life.


Thanks to Goodwill, we were able to save money, help the environment, get creative and make an unforgettable day completely “us.”

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