Photo: Stock Photo
“How you spend your money is
how you vote on what exists in the world.”
Having spent my entire Thanksgiving weekend organizing and de-cluttering my living space, I am a bit afraid of acquiring any more stuff. I mean, I love receiving and opening presents, it makes me feel special… but soon it becomes just another thing that I take for granted, while adding to the clutter at home. As the saying goes, “The stuff we own ends up owning us”. Very true!
Having said that, many of you are still ‘obligated’ to produce presents. Thus, I’ve compiled this list of gift ideas, following last year’s tradition. Given my current bias towards owning nothing, this year’s list leans towards gift ideas that are practical, clever, frugal, or eco-friendly.
I had way too much fun compiling this list, and I hope that some of these ideas bring many more smiles to the loved ones in your life.
1. Magazine Necklace ($18)
Made of recycled rolled, shellac-dipped magazine strips! Not only incredibly unique, but also supports an amazing cause. Families in Uganda were torn apart during the violent civil war, in which children were trafficked both as soldiers and for sexual exploitation by guerrillas. Now surviving families are rebuilding their lives through this jewelry.
2. Universal TV Remote Control Keychain ($19)
Imagine sitting in a restaurant trying to have a conversation with someone, but the restaurant TV is annoying the heck out of you. For $19, you could get this remote keychain that can turn off any TV. Wow! Alternatively, you could make your own following the instructions here.
3. Diamond Ring Mug ($15)
Turn surprise into laughter. A white porcelain mug with a “Diamond” ring attached to it as handle. The “2 Carat Cup” is packaged in an oversized jewelry box, so when you present it as a gift, all you see is the ring. :)
4. Tickle Me Plant ($6)
The ‘ticklish’ plant that ‘moves’ when you touch it. The set includes a ceramic pot, a package of seeds, a soil pellet, and packaging that becomes a mini greenhouse. When you touch a grown plant, its leaves and flower close. The plant is otherwise known as Mimosa pudica. A pretty unique way to introduce any newbie to gardening. The company’s mission statement is, “We want every child (and those young at heart) to have a positive experience growing plants.” Aw…
5. GOOD Magazine Subscription ($20)
GOOD Magazine donates 100% of subscription money to charity. And the magazine is not bad. Among its non-profit partners (which you have the choice of where the money goes) are: Kiva, Room to Read and Youth Aids.
6. Mix Tape USB Drive ($20)
Ah, memories from the 80s. Remember the days before CDs and MP3 players? If you do, then you probably made mixed tapes of all your favorite music to share with your friends and school crushes on good old fashioned blank cassette tapes! Now you can reclaim that memory, and put MP3s of sappy love songs and other digital files on this 64 MB USB drive, enclosed in an old fashioned cassette tape wrapping.
7. USB Cassette Deck ($135)
Speaking of mix tapes, are you holding onto a pile of these tapes sitting in your attic from the 80s? Now you can let them go, after using this plug & play device to simply transfer your old cassette tapes to CD or MP3 on your computer.
8. Flexible Illuminated Keyboard ($30)
This full size, roll-able, spill-proof, indestructible keyboard serves as an effective portable keyboard for traveling. This one even has the option to light up, giving it a blue glow when you’re in the dark.
9. Heated Computer Keyboard ($36)
People really liked the USB heated blanket from last year’s list. This year, instead of recommending USB heated gloves to warm up our hands, why not have keyboards that can warm them directly? Makes typing more enjoyable on those cold mornings in the office.
10. Porn for Women ($12)
Now that I have your attention, this book is hilarious. I burst out laughing while flipping through it. Yes, it is a joke, but really cute and tastefully done. (Preview pages.)
11. Homemade Chai Tea Mix
Make your own instant chai mix, and put the mix in a nice tin jar. Type or hand write the instructions for brewing and attach it to the side of the jar. Place a few bags of black tea on top of the jar, secure it with a ribbon. Alternatively, you can put the mix in a nice clear bag, close it with a ribbon. Place the bag in a cozy mug. Here’s one recipe.
12. Homemade Sun Jar ($20)
The sun jar collects and stores sun from during the day. Simply put it out in the sun, and watch it light up at night. Watch people’s faces light up when you tell them that you’ve made it yourself. It’s an adorable, unique and functional gift. Love it!
13. Forearm Forklift Lifting Straps ($16)
I know this isn’t the sexiest thing you’ve seen, but it’s pretty darn useful and clever. Invented by a professional mover, these straps will make moving furniture and heavy things a more pleasant experience. The straps actually reduce the weight of objects by 66% and make it much easier to navigate through tight spaces in your home. No more scratches or stains on wood floors or carpets from moves. Also check out the Shoulder Dolly.
14. Nike Sport Kit for iPod Nano ($29)
If you own an iPod Nano and go jogging, check this out. The device tracks running time, distance, pace, calories burned, and can provide real-time spoken feedback that alerts you to workout milestones.
15. Homemade GTD Kit
Introduce someone to Getting Things Done (GTD)productivity concepts with a homemade kit consisting of supplies they may need, including a copy of the book, pads of paper, post-it notes, and filing folders. All set for learning and doing.
16. Homemade Raw Food Kit
Introduce someone to the curious raw food diet with a homemade kit consisting of a recipe book or two, almonds, dried fruits, flax crackers, fresh produce – avocados, bananas, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.
17. Homemade Ideas Kit
Make someone a creative brainstorming kit that includes instructions for creative thinking, a nice notebook and some pens, tie them together with a ribbon. Write on the first page of the notebook, “For your next million dollar idea…” It’s simple and unusual.
18. Origami Sticky Notes ($3)
Bored at work, or need a creative way to distract yourself at your desk? Turn your old sticky notes into 3D paper models. Each sheet has printed instructions on the back – 10 designs in total. Alternatively, use this book with your existing sticky notes. And if you have a lot of time on your hands, consider napkin folding.
19. Travel Toothbrush Sanitizer ($30)
A convenient toothbrush container with built-in UV germ-killing capabilities. When the lid is closed, the germicidal light activates and within 6 minutes, you have a sanitized toothbrush. Pretty cool!
20. Recycled Paper Hot Mat ($8)
This hot mat is made from recycled materials, and designed to keep moisture and heat from sensitive table tops. Recycled newspaper provides hope and income for Filipino families. Here’s a larger version of the mat.
21. Flowbee Haircutting System ($85)
Give yourself a professional looking haircut at home. I thought it was a joke, until I read the raving reviews. Seems like those who own one love it and it can save you a lot of money in the long run.
22. Zipcar Membership ($75)
Pay-per-use car rental, paid by the hour. For $10 an hour, the service includes the car, insurance and gas. Fantastic option for us car-less downtown dwellers – where parking runs $300 a month, and it just doesn’t make sense to own a car. I have personally been a member for 3 years and love it.
23. Eco-Friendly External Hard Drive ($74)
With its sleek modern design, this eco-friendly external hard drive is encased in bamboo grown by the manufacturer and steam-pressed without chemicals or wood varnish. The case also uses 100% recycled aluminum. And get this – the instruction manual is printed on the box to reduce paper usage. Additionally, the Energy Star Level 4 power adapter is a fan-less design for energy efficiency. (Cheapest one I found was $74) Can hold 500GB of data.
24. Candle by the Hour ($23)
You can preset the amount of burning time for this candle, by the hour. So, it’s cool if you fall asleep while the candle is still on. Additionally, the candle is made out of beeswax, which apparently helps to clean the air.
Forever is a long time, and such is the claim for this battery-free AM/FM radio, flashlight, and table-top nightlight. 1 minute of cranking will give you 20 minutes of radio listening or 40 minutes of flashlight and nightlight. Not only is this functional, it’s also creatively designed, making it an attractive display on shelves, tables or nightstands.
Before you go to bed, crank it for music from your favorite radio stations. It will turn off automatically in 20 minutes while you are falling asleep. Let the flashlight show you the way to bathroom in the middle of night.
26. Planet Earth Series ($55)
This 11-episode DVD set shows off the world’s environmental beauty and extremes, from mountains and oceans to ice worlds and underground caves. Highly recommended. Beautifully produced, aw-inspiring and very educational.
27.The Green Book ($10)
A very practical and outstanding resource book on the little things we can do to help our environment. Did you know that, if everyone in the U.S. used one less paper napkin per day, in a year’s time we would have saved one billion pounds of landfill waste? I didn’t know that!
28. Mobile Alarm Clock ($50)
Need a push in the morning to get out of bed? This alarm clock moves and will give you one snooze before it runs away, thus forcing you out of bed to find it before shutting it off. Clever!
29. iPhone Glove ($15-$40)
For navigating your touch screen mobile device in the cold. The gloves have little round metal scratch-free dots on the tips of the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger that allow you to register touch inputs on your iPhone, G1 Phone or Blackberry Storm. Another company – Freehand, tackles the problem with a different solution – caps that flip back exposing your thumb and index finger. They’re $20 (fleece), $30 (stretch) and $40 (leather).
For anyone out there even remotely interested in the possibilities of working for yourself, this book is for you. It’s one of the best books on entrepreneurship and business mindsets. While you’re at it, you might also be interested in “Small Business Ideas: 400 Latest & Greatest Small Business Ideas”
31. “Feel the Fear . . . and Do It Anyway” ($11)
We all have fears. Thus, this book is appropriate for everyone. One of my favorite books, and I recommend it to everyone.
32. Bubble Scrubber ($6)
Kitchen cleaning brush with a built-in bubble wand. See if you can use this to encourage your kids or lazy roommate to help with the dishes. Bubble wand + dish soap + water = FUN!
33. Staple Free Stapler ($6)
This little gem attaches pages together by cutting and folding the papers together, thus removing the need for metal clips or staples. Great for documents you know you’ll throw away – no more removing metal staples before feeding it into the shredder or recycling it.
34. Recycled Bangle Picture Frame ($28)
Unique frames made with pieces of broken glass bangle bracelets, the jingling ornaments worn by women throughout India. Here’s one with a different design.
35. Table Topics Conversation Cards ($25)
36. One Laptop Per Child ($199-$399)
These are innovatively designed, low-cost, rugged, plastic laptops for children living in the most remote environments. As such, the laptop consists of some amazing features: small text book sized, built-in wireless, unique screen to make it readable under direct sunlight, and ultra-low power (4 watts vs. 40 watts used in conventional laptops).
For $199, you can give this impactful learning tool to a child in a developing country. For $399, you can keep one for your child (or yourself), in addition to giving one to a child in need. (Learn more about the laptop)
37. ModestNeeds – Instantly Change a Life ($10+)
Puppies Behind Bars trains inmates to raise puppies to become service dogs for the disabled.
Conscious Gift Wrapping
Reduce your gift wrapping waste by recycling and reusing items from around the house. Use old posters, magazines, comics, paper shopping bags, Sunday funnies, scrap fabric, calendars or old maps. Get creative. When you receive gifts, be sure to save the ribbons and bows.Alternatively, you could make your own bows: using old wrapping paper, or regular white paper.
Thoughts on Holiday Cards
I am not a big fan of holiday cards. I never know what to do with them. On one hand, you don’t want to toss it away, knowing someone spent money on it and wrote in it. On the other hand, you don’t want to keep it, since it clutters up your living space.
“An estimated 2.6 billion holiday cards are sold each year in the United States, enough to fill a football field 10 stories high. It is estimated that between Thanksgiving and the New Year an extra million tons of waste are generated nationwide each week.” (source: CIWMB)
If you must get cards, check out these from the Worldwide Orphans Foundation, each of which features a different child’s drawing. All of the profits go to WWOs innovative programs, which provide resources to children in orphanages around the world
Other Places for Gifts
- Made By Survivors – Jewelry, clothing and gifts made by survivors of sex trafficking to support rehab programs.
- World of Good – online eBay shop introduces consumers to the actual artisans and causes. Simple and clear categories defining your purchase impact: People Positive, Eco Positive, or Animal Friendly.
- Ten Thousand Villages-Similar to World of Good.
- Etsy- Marketplace for handmade and original things. Support creative souls following their hearts, and making beautiful things. Anything from clothing, to jewelry, to ceramics, to artwork.
- Make Your Own – from the clever people at instructables. Here are more ideas.
Need more ideas? Here’s our list from last year:
Got unique gift ideas you want to share? Do tell! Do tell! … in the comment section. See you there! And while you’re there, what do you want for Christmas this year?
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