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Simple Holiday Gift Ideas

We asked our readers to send us low-cost, resource-saving gift ideas for the holidays. If you'd like to add to the list, send us an e-mail to

The best gifts are often the ones that come from your heart and hands. Here are a few of our favorite no- or low-cost gift ideas for the holidays: 

• A homemade “coupon book,” offering free services like babysitting, a home-cooked meal, organizing assistance, or a day spent together.

• A photo album containing pictures that are meaningful to both of you.

• Handmade crafts: offers 101 great craft gifts to make yourself, from planters to photo frames to garden stepping stones.

• A homemade CD of your favorite music (using a legal download service).

• A jar filled with dry cookie mix and baking instructions. Embellish the lid with ribbons and scrap fabric.

• A homemade card or note telling your friends and family how much they mean to you.

• A donation in honor of the recipient to a cause or nonprofit s/he cares about.

• Instead of asking your gift recipients what they would like, ask them what they would like to DO. Then, take them to a movie, to a concert, a baseball game, or to a local restaurant, where your gift of a ticket or a meal is added to the gift of your time and company.  

• Take a craft class earlier in the year, and make your gifts. For example, learn to decoupage a picture frame, craft beaded jewelry, craft your own fragrant soaps, or fashion lovely ceramic vases. You'll indulge your inner artist and turn out some inexpensive, beautiful gifts for friends and family. Real Green editor Tracy Fernandez Rysavy took a mosaic class a few years ago, and is busy making winter themed stained glass hurricane lamps for a few close friends and family members this year. "I recently mosaiced a winter lamp for myself, and everyone who sees it loves it. So with a bulk purchase of inexpensive, glass hurricane lamps; a box of broken glass cast-offs from a stained glass shop; glue; and some time that I get to spend having fun, I have inexpensive, thoughtful gifts for the people who are important to me."  

• If you're an accomplished chef, compile a personalized cookbook of your best-loved recipes for friends and family. Or ask family members, especially elders, for their favorite recipes and make it a family cookbook to hand down to future generations.   (Be sure to print it on recycled paper!)

• For the new homeowner in your life, buy some spray bottles and a copy of Annie Bond's book Better Basics for the Home or Karen Logan's Clean House, Clean Planet, both of which include recipes for make-it-yourself, nontoxic cleaners. You can even make up the first batch and assemble the filled bottles in a pretty basket.  

• For the budding artist, make up a batch of nontoxic fingerpaints. Annie Bond offers recipes in her book Better Basics for the Home, and she has also generously allowed us to post them on our Web site.

• F or grandparents, a framed piece of their grandchild's artwork makes a thoughtful gift that won't break the bank. (Courtesy of New Dream. For more of New Dream's simple gift ideas, visit their site.)

• Plants make great, inexpensive gifts.  

• Instead of wrapping gifts in conventional wrapping paper, which is often made with virgin-pulp paper and contains no recycled content, use bandannas, decorative tins, reused paper from gifts you receive, or old maps and calendars.   You can also purchase recycled paper from these Green America Business Network members: Earth Love'n Paper Products, Green Field Paper Company, Lagniappe Gift Wrap, and Paporganics.   If you'd like to send paper cards to friends and family, buy recycled cards. These Green America Green Businesses all offer excellent quality recycled and/or tree-free holiday cards:, Goodge Street Press, Green Field Paper Company, Paporganics, Seltzer, Twisted Limb Paper.    

• Plant herbs in a small pot that will grow on the window sill.  

• Dishtowels are really easy to make by hemming old cotton or linen scraps from shirts or skirts that don't fit anymore.  

• Homemade candy is always a wonderful gift; there are great recipes at Alix Davidson, Green America's Green Festival® coordinator, makes salted chocolate caramels out of all organic and Fair Trade ingredients, and says they're a huge hit with her friends and family.  

• Alix also recommends giving a craft kit for the artists in your life. For example, you can gather supplies for making a collage (scissors, glue, cardboard or old cards, some fun stiff like ribbon and glitter, an old calendar or magazine with good images) or for making candy (recipe, sample of what they'll make, candy thermometer, organic and Fair Trade ingredients).  

• Passes to the local ice rink or swimming pool.

More green-living articles from the Green American »

Article Summary

Simplify the holidays.

Save resources and make your holidays more meaningful.

You'll have more fun and strengthen your ties with loved ones while avoiding the material focus of the holidays.

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