YES! Picks: Green Gift Ideas

Our holiday guide to thoughtful gifts that will get you on the nice list.
Wreath, Photo by Grant MacDonald

Photo by Letting Go of Control

This year, celebrate the holidays for what they truly mean to you. It's easy for consumerism to take over the holiday season, so the YES! staff (and some crafty readers) made a list of our all-time favorite gifts and experiences. From our family to yours, Happy Holidays!

Do you have a great gift idea? Let us know in the comments section!


Made to Order...

Christa Hillstrom One year, my sister and brother-in-law didn't have money for Christmas presents.  They spent hours scouring the Internet for podcasts, lectures, and interviews and then made everyone their own set of mix CDs tailored exactly to each person's interests. Of course, it was all free, but they spent a lot of time finding compelling things that I wouldn't have otherwise heard. It was touching how much consideration they put in when it came to topics I would be interested in. 

—Christa Hillstrom

Gretchen WolfOne year that was particularly financially difficult for my father, he made my sister and I an Italian dinner in a bag. He filled a canvas recycled tote with his homemade marinara, fresh pasta, a lovely bottle of a local Cabernet and a hunk of Parmesan Reggiano. This gift idea can be made even more special when you can share this meal with the gift giver.

Gretchen Wolf

Brooke Jarvis

My friend Jed loves poetry, so I bought a plain little journal, painted the cover, and hand-copied my favorite poems into it. That was three years ago, and I still get phone messages saying things like, "I'm sitting by the lake reading that poetry book again!"

—Brooke Jarvis


Gifts That Keep on Giving...

Alexandria AbdallahLike many people, I probably enjoy giving gifts even more than I like receiving them. So, when my boyfriend gave me a gift certificate to Kiva, the micro-lending website, it was perfect. Because you choose whom to lend money to, you really feel the connection of investing in their cause. And, once your loan is repaid, you can choose someone new to lend to!  

My church is involved with Advent Conspiracy, a movement for people to spend less and give more meaningfully at Christmas. The campaign promotes the organization Living Water International, a group bringing clean drinking water to villages around the world. This year I plan to give my friends a reusable water bottle with a note inside that says I made a donation in their name to Living Water International.

—Alex Abdallah 

Jessica Lind-Diamond

A few years ago, I decided to make donations to Heifer International in my family members' names. It seemed scary, because everyone else in the family was still giving and receiving more traditional presents (also known as "stuff"). I was afraid they'd think I was lazy. But I spent time choosing a different Heifer animal for each person, and found little figurines at the local toy store to represent each one. When I gave out the cards tied with ribbon to cellophane bags with little toy animals inside on a bed of green paper grass, my stepmom teared up! Everyone was really touched.

—Jessica Lind-Diamond


The Gift of Time...

Sarah van Gelder bio picI'm known in my family for crocheting hats. But one of the best gifts I receive is from my kids—what they call "Happy Mommy Books." They are made up of hand-illustrated "coupons" for things they will do for me on request. When they were young, these included taking a bath without whining, cleaning their room, or reading me a story. As they got older, they included a weekend visit home (with small print requiring advanced notice and escape clauses in case of finals), a day of yard work, and wood splitting. I treasure the illustrations and imagination that go into the coupons as much as the work they represent.

—Sarah van Gelder

Fran KortenMy daughter and her husband love to go to a nearby hotel with a wonderful spa—sauna, massage, and steam bath.  It's too much of a luxury for their budget, but it works perfectly as a Christmas gift.

—Fran Korten

Recently a friend at YES! gave me the gift of an hour with a life coach and Vedic astrologer. What a wonderful way to help inspire your friend or family member and to start them off in the new year with a renewed vision of their future!

—Gretchen Wolf

Breanne DurhamI'm a big fan of giving experiences as gifts. Last year I gave my boyfriend tickets to see jazz legend Dave Brubeck in concert. We spent two hours listening to amazing live music together—he loved it!

For my parents, I bought a certificate for two to go on a jet boat tour down Hell's Canyon, which they've lived near for decades but had never really explored. It was a way for me to give them a memorable experience, while also supporting our local tour agency.

—Breanne Durham

Jing FongOne of my favorite gifts is to let someone know not only that they are loved and admired, but also specifically why. For a friend's 50th birthday, I wrote down on 50 slips of paper things that reminded me of her: how she always hugs her kids before they go to school, or always reminds people at potlucks that she detests cilantro ...

For a friend's 40th birthday, I got a dozen or so of her friends to email me their heartfelt words about why they appreciate her. These luscious slips of paper are put into a pretty box ... and on days that the recipient needs a pick-me-up, she will know somebody loves her!

-Jing Fong


It's in the Wraps...

Gift BagVideo: How To Gift(bag) Your Calendar

Easy steps for turning your old calendars into holiday gift bags.

Last Christmas, my loved one hand-wrapped all of my stocking stuffers with recycled paper grocery bags and decorated the personal gifts with his own holiday drawings, favorite quotes, and expressions of love. Stockings have always been a favorite of mine so this sweet touch made mine even more special.

When my girls were small, I used to lay out large squares of recycled craft paper and let them decorate the paper with their own painted hand- and footprints, various stamps, and creative drawings. This paper was used for holiday gifts and oftentimes was sent to family far away, offering a peek into their creativity and stage of life.

—Gretchen Wolf

Audrey WatsonI'm into recycled and handmade, so I bought a bunch of Christmas mugs at Goodwill (69 cents each) and am filling them with homemade cookies, fudge, and a candy cane. These go to many friends. For my nieces I add an iTunes gift card, so they also get a gift of music.

—Audrey Watson

Jane BaungartnerPhotos are always a priceless gift—whether you find ways to document the season, or take the time to dig through forgotten photos. I like to give my photos with an extra-special touch by making the perfect frames for them. I've made some of my favorite frames using a "rust" glossy finish spray paint; it looks aged yet very sophisticated.

Another fun gift is to find an old cabinet door at a thrift store, find a bottle opener from a hardware store, use some more of that rust glossy spray paint or some spray paint chalk, and make your very own wall art bottle opener—add a six-pack of your favorite homebrew and it's the perfect gift.

—Jane Baumgartner

Caitlin BattersbyMy family recently started playing "Dirty Santa." Everyone brings one gift that is under a pre-set price limit and draws a number. In order of the numbers drawn, people choose a gift from under the tree to open and keep. Or they can steal a gift from someone who has already opened theirs. The person who was stolen from can steal someone else's gift or go back to the tree to unwrap another gift. It is entertaining, funny, and more about the time we spend playing together than the gifts.

—Caitlin Battersby

From Our Readers...

This year I've written a letter to all the family asking that we make, thrift, or buy from local artists (and Etsy) for our gifts to each other. That wool sweater I accidentally felted in the dryer? I cut off the arms, sewed spot on the cuffs for thumb holes, and decorated them with stitches and buttons. It's a fabulous holiday gift for my niece.

Also, homemade candles are easy to make using vintage candy tin molds, wicks, and beeswax from leftover candles. You can also purchase some large match boxes and decorate the outside with craft paper, German glass glitter, and vintage jewelry or buttons.

Selena Cate, Apron Thrift Girl
YES! reader

As homesteaders, we often find ways to create gifts for our family and friends. This year, homemade Kombucha Tea will be on the list, as well as a Kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). Kombucha, with its probiotics, is too healthy not to pass along. We received our original SCOBY for free, and at this time we will do the same for anyone who wants one. Contact us through our website:, if you want a free Kombucha SCOBY. Just pay the cost of shipping, and it's yours.

Click here for the Kombucha recipe.

—Rich & Carol Radtke, Coyote Ridge Farms
YES! Reader


  • Give the Gift of YES! Forget the shopping mall. Take care of your entire gift list with this special discount offer.
  • : Video: How to make a handmade bow from recycled paper.
No Paywall. No Ads. Just Readers Like You.
You can help fund powerful stories to light the way forward.
Donate Now.