Creating a Life Free From Chaos

Quick Guide to Giving Eco-Friendly Gifts

I know — you’re thinking “ANOTHER green gift giving guide?” Well, it IS the holidays, and shopping and gifts are on everyone’s minds, so here are 50 gift ideas to hopefully simplify your shopping and help you give greener gifts. This list is generic, so you can choose your own favorite brands or organizations to support, and many of these ideas are DIY.

  • Locally grown or made food gifts
  • Organic or fair trade chocolates or coffee
  • Gift certificates to their (or your) favorite eco-friendly retailer
  • Concert or event tickets
  • A zoo or museum membership
  • A reusable travel or coffee mug
  • Reusable shopping bags
  • Green (or your own homemade) cleaning supplies
  • A donation to their favorite charity
  • A CSA subscription
  • Solar chargers
  • A dinner or movie gift certificate
  • Homemade baked goods
  • A cool refillable water bottle (Siggs or KleanKanteen perhaps)
  • A folding (or conventional) bicycle
  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Eco-friendly bath products or cosmetics
  • Power surge protectors (that can be shut down when not in use)
  • Hemp T-shirts or jeans
  • Organic cotton or bamboo sheets or towels
  • LED Christmas lights
  • Solar garden lights
  • Heirloom or organic gardening seeds and a bag of fresh compost
  • Natural beeswax or soy candles
  • Books that educate (local foods, simple living, global warming, etc.)
  • Water filter
  • CFL lightbulbs
  • Tire gauge (checking those tires can save lots of gas $$)
  • Homemade bread or goodies delivered every week for a month
  • Family recipes compiled in a wooden recipe box or notebook
  • Babysitting time or coupons
  • Monthly lunch date with an elderly relative or friend
  • Lessons in a subject you excel in that your giftee would love (French, golf, knitting, etc.)
  • Your talents, such as photography, financial planning or hairstyling
  • A photo album you put together
  • An experience, like a day kayaking or a day at the ballpark
  • A plant or a tree
  • Prepaid phone card
  • 100% recycled stationery (with postage stamps)
  • Do-it-yourself photo calendars
  • A gift certificate for a health club, exercise classes, day spa or massage
  • Homemade play dough and bubbles for the kids
  • Housewares made of recycled glass
  • A compost bin
  • A nice refillable pen with a couple of refills
  • Any cool gift you find used — hit the swap meet or consignment shop for unusual or vintage trinkets for those hard-to-please giftees
  • A wine or food of the month club
  • Automatic thermostat controls (and maybe a sweater)
  • Low-flow shower head
  • The ever-popular regift — a new item you receive that’s just not you can be “recycled” — just make sure it’s new and you cover your tracks!

Simplify Your Holidays

Do you plan ahead for the holidays, or do they sneak up on you every year? The holiday season can be a lot more fun and a lot less stressful by planning ahead and keeping things simple and organized.

  • Create a holiday notebook, or if you already have a household control notebook a la Flylady, create a special holiday section in it. Photocopy your favorite holiday recipes and keep them in there, so you don’t have to scramble every year looking for those special family recipes. You can also keep a copy of your gift list in your notebook, as well as To-Do lists, directions to those holiday parties, etc. Here’s a great place to get one started.
  • Create a gift spreadsheet. One of my lifesavers is an Excel spreadsheet where I track and organize my holiday gift giving. I create a new worksheet each year (all in the same document) and I list who I need to get gifts for down the left side. I have columns across the top for my budget for that person, what to give, whether I’ve bought/ordered/made it, how much it actually cost, whether it’s been wrapped or shipped, and notes to myself. The budget and actual cost columns add themselves up automatically using the SUM function, so I can always glance down and see how I’m doing on budget. I also have an area set aside at the bottom of the list for my shopping list and gift ideas. I’ve been doing this since 2003, so I can look back and see what I got someone for the last several years, ensuring I don’t duplicate myself!
  • Mark your calendar now for your gift purchasing “deadline” and your mailing “deadline” if you have to mail gifts. Planning ahead saves you from costly last-minute binge-buying and ensures your gifts arrive on time.
  • Catalog or online shopping? If you do any of your shopping online or by catalog, it’s time to get going. Keep in mind shipping time and charges, and give yourself some leeway in case your items are canceled or back ordered
  • Wrap as you go. Instead of saving all the gift wrapping until the last minute, set aside a few evenings here and there to wrap some gifts. Keep your wrapping paper, bags, tissue paper, scissors, tape, ribbons and gift tags handy and organized in a box or plastic organizer so you can find what you need easily.
  • Do you do holiday cards? Now is the time to start working on the holiday letter, and if you’re taking photos for that holiday card, make the appointment and get it on your calendar.
  • Stock up on some easy entertaining supplies for unplanned or last-minute guests. Tidy up your guest room, keep the bathroom clean and stocked, and fill your pantry with easy appetizers like chips and salsa, crackers and summer sausage, hot cocoa, ciders, etc. There are also some yummy snacks and treats that can be kept in your freezer and heated up as needed for drop-in guests.
  • Enjoy yourself. Simplify the holidays where you can, organize the rest, and vow to have fun with friends and family this year.

November project: The Garage

November’s project is cleaning out the garage. We’re kicking this off by participating in our community’s garage sale this weekend, and the unsold items will be going to a local charity. Does your garage need a little cleaning out? Best to do it now so you have a place to park your car when the cold (and snow and ice!) hit this winter.

  • Decide what you can actually store in the garage. Make sure to take into account temperature ranges, humidity and pests.
  • Decide what you want to keep and what you can get rid of. Be ruthless and purge — you could use the space, right?
  • Consider hanging big items from the ceiling. We love hanging storage shelves that fit right over my car for storing Christmas decorations and such. Our bikes hang on pulleys in front of the car. Lots of great storage, out of the way.
  • Mount as much as you can on the walls. Shelves are great, but so are pegboards, hooks, and specialty racks.
  • Clean your garden tools before storing them. You can mount them on a rack on the wall, or just stand them upright in a clean trash can, preferably one on wheels.
  • Dispose of old paints, lawn and pest chemicals, fertilizers, etc. properly. Check with your city or county for hazardous waste disposal facilities. Most places have a designated drop-off point where they collect your hazardous chemicals for free. Some even come to your home to pick up the chemicals — just call for an appointment.
  • Recycle empty boxes and packing materials, as well as old newspapers and magazines.
  • Set up an area for charity donations or garage sale items. Pick a date for your sale or arrange pick-up/drop-off of charity items. Mark your calendar now so you don’t procrastinate! Craiglist or Freecycle are also great ways to get rid of unwanted items.
  • Clean up any oil stains from your car. Spread a thick layer of fresh sawdust or kitty litter over the grease to absorb excess grease or oil on the surface. Allow the sawdust or kitty litter to sit for a day or two.Gently sweep away the dirty sawdust or kitty litter.Pour dry cement over the entire dried grease spot. Allow the cement to sit for a day or two, then sweep away the dirty cement. Gather dirty cement in a bag and throw it away. Do not allow the dirty dry cement to go down the sewer. The kitty litter and sawdust soak up grease on the surface, whereas the dry cement actually absorbs the stain out of the driveway.
  • Finish up by sweeping away dirt, leaves, dead bugs and dust from your garage, including the corners.