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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Last-Minute Gift Ideas For the Holidays: No- and Low-Cost Eco-Friendly Gifts!

Learn about the Buy Nothing New For the Holidays Challenge


It’s December 20th, and I haven’t bought a single gift for the holidays.  Am I worried?  Maybe a little bit, but I’m not stressed about it.  I have thought about it a lot, and I already know what I’ll be getting most of my friends and family.  For most, I don’t even need to leave my home!


The other day I asked readers and friends what ideas they had for no-cost gifts.  Here’s my favorite answer, from Stacey:


So, as a kid, I collected Breyer model horses. I was obsessed with them and all things horsey. Recently, I found them stored in my garage and have decided that they now need to belong to my equally horse-obsessed nieces. There are so many things right with this… I get a whole new opportunity to share my toys [I may not have excelled at this as a ... See Morekid], my nieces get something that they’ll love to play with, the garage will be less cluttered and, the best thing is that I get to share something with them that I once loved.


That brings me to….


Gift Idea #1: Gifts From Your Home, Garage, or Storage


Most of us have things around the house, and particularly stored in a box or a corner somewhere that mean something special to us – or more often than not, meant something special to us – and we can’t bare to part with it.  Books, records, dresses, coats, vases, pictures, dolls, figurines, games, tools, fishing gear, … the list continues, doesn’t it?  So why not keep it close to you, and give it to someone who will really appreciate it?  An antique means nothing in your basement.  The memories will never leave your mind, and new memories will be formed if you give it to someone who will love it.


If the object means something special to you, you might want to attach your story to the gift.  Tell the special someone about the gift, or write it down in a note:  where it came from and what it meant to you.  Think of this as part of the gift you’re giving.  Because after all, it is probably the most important part!


Here’s another great story from Julie:


One of my most treasured gifts was from my grandmother- a collection of old photos from my childhood, my mother’s childhood and even earlier ones of my grandmother as a young woman. She was able to scale back her photo closet plus give us grandkids something to treasure. She really enjoyed the process of going through and picking out ones for each of us.


Gift Idea #2: Special Keepsakes From the Heart


My grandmother always used to say that instead of waiting until she’s passed away and people attach sadness to a  special gift given in a will, she’d rather give it away now and watch people really enjoy it.  So true – it makes such a difference to hear the stories and to share the experiences!


Maybe it’s a piece of jewelry, a photograph, a work of art, an heirloom passed through generations… Share it with someone you love this year.  Make sure you tell the stories behind the gift, and make the giving of the gift truly special.  Spend the time and effort to let the person know how special this keepsake is to you, and how much you want that person to have it and treasure it.  And let it bring you closer together.


Gift Idea #3: Thoughtful Non-Material Gifts


Here’s a great list from Rachel:


1. Baby sitting someone’s kids for the evening so they can have alone time.
2. Washing someone’s car or cleaning their house – or doing any other housework errand that they can’t find the time/energy to do (like helping them tackle that overflowing mess of a closet, for example).
3. Chopping someone’s firewood.
4. Putting up someone’s Christmas lights for them.
5. The gift of your time. Actively prioritizing relationships we take for granted: ACTUALLY taking the time to spend a few hours visiting with friends that you don’t often see.


And from Risa:


6. Listening. With offer of fresh hot chocolate.


I’d add to this list:


7.   Help painting the porch

8. Gardening: pruning, planting, composting, and more

9. Setting up dad’s computer

10. A candlelight dinner for two at home


Gift Idea #4: A Coupon Book of Non-Material Gifts


Here’s another one from Julie:


One time my sister and I made a coupon booklet for my parents, with things like: a homecooked meal, mowing the lawn, a neck and back massage, being chauffeur for the day, etc.


You can certainly add kisses and hugs, as well as all the things listed in #5.


Gift Idea #5: Re-Gift


I know, it’s not super kosher to re-gift, but what else are you going to do with it?  And why not give it to someone who will appreciate it?


From Tree:


For my Father-in-Law: I regift (I know some people think its taky). Each year one of the Servicers I use through the year, sends me a lovely gourmet basket – It perfect for DH’s dad and we don’t eat that sort of stuff.


Gift Idea #6: Make Something


You don’t have much time, but sometimes things don’t take much time to make.  On Tuesday, my Mom and I are getting together to make homemade biscotti for all of our cousins.  I see it as a gift my mother and I are giving one another (spending quality time together), and a tasty gift for our family members.  Another idea?  How about a collage of meaningful photos, or a calendar made from your great trip photos or photos of your garden?


From Rob:

most things I give are homemade, and this year giving one of my turkey fryer burners to a friend who brews his own beer. LOL I don’t need two fryers anyway. And I am “remaking” clocks- one or two of them are old clocks I had sitting around, and 1 was bought at the “AS-IS” department at IKEA

From Erin:

I’ve been canning my garden bounty the last few weeks and have lots of salsa and mustard to give as gifts. I also plan to do a lot of knitted gifts again this year, but am keeping it simple with toys/ornaments for the nieces and nephews.

That brings me to…


Idea #7: Gifts From The Garden


You can’t grow anything now, sure – but you can give dried herbs or fruit, canned goods, saved seeds, and propagated plants.  Yes!  I have a cardamon plant indoors that just keeps making new shoots.  It’s too big for its pot now, so I’m going to divide a few of the shoots and re-pot them as gifts!  Or maybe you’re like me, and you have four pothos plants around your home from different cuttings at different times.  Why not give one away to someone who doesn’t have much greenery in their home?  Plus, imagine the joy of receiving a jar of homemade jam… Yum!


Idea #8: Peruse Antique Stores, Thrift Stores, and Used Book Stores

You may have cleaned out your storage units, your closets, and your garage and have little to offer from your home.  Well, go into town and have some fun going through the local antique store.  A beautiful first-edition copy of your mom’s favorite book, an awesome game you used to play as kids (maybe you can turn it into a new holiday tradition), a vintage handbag, an irresistible shawl, a tricycle, almost anything you can think of giving comes in used versions!

Idea #9: Charity Gift Cards

This is a great gift for people who don’t need or want more things, but to whom you really want to give a gift and show your appreciation and love.  If you know their favorite charity, you can make a donation in their name.  Otherwise, one of my favorites is Heifer International, where you can make a donation of goats for a family to keep for milk, or ducks for eggs, or many other things.  And one of our favorite clients is TisBest, which allows you to give a gift card (you can give it in email form), and the recipient can choose which charity to give it to.


Idea #10: A Coupon Book for Local Goods and Services


Here in Seattle, we have the Chinook Book.  I love it.  It costs $20, you can buy it from any number of local stores or charities, and it has loads of coupons for green, sustainable, and local goods and services.  I save hundreds of dollars using these coupons over the year, and it helps me support local businesses.  How about giving one to someone who are looking for an extra push to “go local” or “go green”, or someone who could use some extra coupons in their life (and who couldn’t these days?).

There are several other types of coupon books out there.  Check around or Google “coupon book” and the name of your city or state.  And the Chinook Book is also available in Portland, Denver, Silicon Valley, East Bay, and Twin Cities.


Did You Already Buy All Your Gifts?

You may have done all your shopping this year.  But did you see something on this list that is better than what you’ve bought?  Or cheaper?  So give the no- or low-cost, meaningful gift instead and take the other one back.  I bet you won’t regret it at all!


Did This List Make You Think of Some Great Gift Ideas?


Yes?  Great!!  Go do it, and please take a moment to share your ideas with the rest of us in the comments below, so we can all have more ideas!

Staying True To Your Values Through The Holidays

Winter Greens

During the holidays, I generally eat too much.  I generally “allow” myself to stop and buy foods or stuff that I don’t normally buy.  I generally turn up the heat more than I need to and sometimes I drive that mile to the store instead of walking.

It’s easier to “make exceptions” when it’s cold and you’re busy and you’re stressed out trying to get things done.

But do you ever NOT regret it later?  After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret eating too much and gaining those few extra pounds, or feeling awful from having too many unusual foods in your body, or having blemished skin from too much of something or another?  After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret just a little bit spending all that money, and now having a big credit card debt to pay off as you enter the new year?  And do you ever NOT have a twinge of guilt after driving or turning up the heat?

Extreme cold and grey and wet gets us a little down at times, and makes us want to hibernate.  I challenge you to fight that need to hide from the elements, the seasons, the real life outside!  I challenge you to embrace the change in temperature, as it pushes our citrus trees to produce luscious fruits, our plums and peaches to sufficiently overwinter, our carrots and greens to sweeten in the cold earth.

And I challenge you to resist the urge to give up for a moment on your values as you pass by something that you really want to buy.  Just ask yourself if it’s really perfect, given the environmental, social, and economic impact on you, your family, and the world.  Is it?  Or should you find an alternative that works better for every stakeholder in that transaction?

Make your holiday season guilt-free, happy, and healthy for you, your family and friends, and the world around you.  You deserve it.  And we all deserve it.

If you’re looking for some challenges to keep you on top of your values this season, here are a few:

1.  Eat Local for Thanksgiving

Eat Local For Thanksgiving

2.  Dark Days Eat Local Challenge

It’s not nearly as hard as you think, once you get started.  Try it out!

Dark Days Challenge

3.  Buy Nothing New For the Holidays

If you’re going to give gifts this year, instead of buying brand new things:

  • Give used or antique;
  • Make, bake, or grow a gift; or
  • Give non-material gifts

The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge!

4.  Buy Nothing Day

If you can’t do it for a whole month, at least try it for a day! Crowded malls, buying frenzy – are you sure you want to go out there?  Stay home and make something or nurture yourself instead.

Buy Nothing Day


5.  Freeze Your Buns Challenge

Challenge yourself to keep the thermostat low this winter.

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge

I encourage you to take on at least one or two of these challenges.  We are taking on all 5!

Will You Do It?

Come on, give it a shot!  And please feel free to recommend other good challenges out there as well!

The Four Challenge Check In!

Well it has been a long time since we’ve checked in on some of the challenges here!  I would love everyone’s feedback on these challenges:  are they helping you?  Are you following them?  Are you sticking to them?  Should I keep running them?  And how are they working for you?


10,000 Steps Challenge

The Buy Sustainably Challenge!I'm Green Inside

Just A Refresher


The Buy Nothing (New) For the Holidays Challenge – Challenges each of us to give gifts that have a low- to no-impact on the earth by giving handmade, home grown, antique/thrift store finds, or charity gifts for the holidays.


The 10,000 Steps Challenge – Challenges each of us to work up to 10,000 steps per day, in order to get a good amount of exercise in our lives, and to possibly eliminate some of the short-distance driving we do.


The Buy Sustainably Challenge – Challenges us to really think about impact before making a choice to buy something, instead of doing it impulsively:  do you really need it?  If you do, try to buy it locally, fair trade, green, and high quality enough that it will last.


The Green Your Insides Challenge – Challenges us to use healthy products in our homes and on our selves.  While there are so many products out there that are bad for us and bad for the environment, we have a choice to change what is normal and use things that are often cheaper and definitely better for our families.


In every case our mission is to work toward these goals – we can’t all go cold turkey on this stuff, and that’s ok – but we can start and work toward them, making a bit of progress each day!  If you haven’t signed up but would like to, leave your name in the comments here, or visit the page for the challenge(s) you’re interested in.


Thoughts and Updates!


So are you participating, formally or informally?  How are you doing?  Do you enjoy these challenges?  What else would you like a challenge about?



The Buy Nothing *New* For the Holidays Challenge!

The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge!


A month ago, I was remarking via Facebook and Twitter that I was aghast by the number of “buy green for the holidays” press releases I’d already started receiving in my email box.  I mentioned the idea of a “buy nothing for the holidays” challenge, and it sparked a good deal of interest.  Crunchy mentioned to me that she had something in store, and soon released her “Buy Hand for the Holidays” challenge.  Awesome!

But… I was looking for something a little different, a little more.  I am working my butt off in my new business and unfortunately I don’t have time to make much in the way of gifts.  Yet – I don’t want to ruin Christmas for those who like to give or receive gifts, so I don’t want to stop the gift-giving completely.  Besides, a really thoughtful gift can mean a great deal to both giver and receiver.  I like the good that can bring to the world.

Alrighty then, here you have it – let’s challenge ourselves not to buy anything NEW.

What Does That Mean?

1.  You can make handmade gifts (and I highly encourage you to make them out of things you don’t have to buy new – collages, scarves and mittens made out of re-sold or traded yarn, napkins made out of old sheets or scrap pieces, canned sauces or dried herbs from the garden, old furniture refurbished to look like new, etc).

2.  You can buy from a thrift store, resale shop, or anywhere that sells or gives away used items (like a beautiful first-edition copy of your mom’s favorite book, an awesome game you used to play as kids, a vintage handbag, an irresistible shawl, a tricycle, almost anything you can think of giving comes in used versions!)

3.  You can give non-material things (like kisses and hugs, help painting the porch, setting up dad’s computer, babysitting for a parents’ night out, a coupon for a candlelight dinner for two at home, donating to a charity in the recipient’s name, or something else creative).

4.  You can give things from your home (like an old, meaningful piece of clothing, a book dear to your heart, a vase or picture frame you love but doesn’t fit in your home anymore, a relic from an old trip, etc).

5.  You can give things from your garden (like propagated perennial herbs or ornamental plant starts, saved seeds, flowers, holly berries, nuts, citrus fruits, veggie starts, etc).

Why Do It?

  1. Why not? Does anyone you know really need more stuff?
  2. It means more, because the gift is more unique (and because maybe you searched for something to give that meant something to you)
  3. It doesn’t support corporations whose values you don’t agree with
  4. It doesn’t put unnecessary stuff out into the world
  5. It lowers the carbon footprint of your gifts
  6. It saves money


Some Resources:

(*Note TisBest is a client of mine, but I just think they’re cool – I get nothing from telling you about them!)


Shout It Out, Spread The Word!


If you’d like to spread the word about this challenge, please do!  Pick a doodad below to put on your blog, or you can click on the images to download a larger size.


The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge! The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge!

Sign Up Now – Join Us!

I remember when I was a little kid nobody talked about holiday shopping until after Thanksgiving – well, not anymore – it’s not even Halloween yet but the decorations are up and the malls are packed! So before you succumb to the peer pressure, sign up for the challenge and stay true to your values this holiday season!

And please feel free to share resources and ideas when you sign up below!