Category Archives: Eco-Friendly Gifts

DIY: Switching things up with switch plates

By Jeanne Romano

Ever look at a room and wonder what you can do to make it more fun? Paint? Wallpaper? Get all new furniture? Knock down a wall? Whoa, slow down.

All that sounds great… however you have a small budget (very small), you want to recycle, you’re renting,  and oh yeah, you’re scared to death to do it yourself. You’ve come to the right place. This idea is not only great for sprucing up a room; it’s new and unique party fun.

Let everyone decorate one and it becomes a party favor. This works for kids and adults!

Personalized plates make great gifts – especially from children to their friends and family. Think early drawings, handprints or even just abstract squiggles.

What you’ll need:

  1. Blank (plastic) switch plate. Of course you can buy a new one (they’re very inexpensive) but the idea here is to recycle, right?
  2. Sharp utility scissor
  3. Craft knife
  4. Double sided tape
  5. A variety of papers, fabrics, glitter, pictures, trimming, stickers – etc.  As you’ll see, you can use just about anything to cover, decorate or paint a switch plate.

Like following a recipe, there are specific ingredients, or steps, to turn an average switch plate into something really unique to display in your home or to give as a personalized gift. Here are step-by-step instructions to cover a switch plate. For this example I chose my favorite wrapping paper, however you can use almost anything – a list of ideas and photos will follow.

  1. Turn the plate upside down and place on the wrong side of your paper then cut your pattern
  2. Allow at least ¾ to 1 inch all the way around the plate.
  3. Use double sided tape to line the inside edges of the back of the plate then wrap the paper around the sides.
  4. Finish folding over as if you’re wrapping a present

Turn the plate over – but wait, something’s missing.

Draw an elongated “X” as shown in step 6. Use your craft knife and cut along those lines. (Make sure you have something underneath the plate to help you avoid cutting through to the surface underneath. Place small pieces of double sided tape around the opening. Bend the triangles back until they stick to the tape.

Feel for the holes where the screws should go. Retrieve the screws and just pop them through. If you want to hide them you can paint them to blend in or in my case, I thought accent colors could be fun and painted them red. Then screw the decorated plate back on the wall

For another creative outlet – the outlet.



Wallpaper —

The plate is wrapped with the wallpaper that matches the wall

Photographs, illustrations, greeting cards (seasonal and misc…)

Hand-painted     Spray painted   


Decoupage collage  

or just plain goofy 

Get your kids’ involved – my neighbor’s daughter Rachel C. (11) created these:

 Original artwork  Duct tape  

Trims, beads, sequins and glitter and spray sparkles on a metal outlet plate!

Stickers, stickers, stickers….Tips:

  • If you’re putting the plate in the kitchen, bathroom or child’s room you’re going to want to use washable paper. Or you can always coat the paper with a gloss, flat or shellac type protection. Check the warnings, especially for the kids’ rooms.
  • Nail polishes (both clear and color) are great for this kind of project. It’s very shiny and usually dries quickly
  • Glue can be used instead of double side tape; however glue takes longer to dry and may not be effective with heavier papers or fabric.
  • Check copyrights on all photos, artwork and team logos.

There’s no end to the possibilities. You can make your design permanent or temporary. You can even use the same switch plate over and over again. Have fun and be creative!


Gift Giving Guide for the Super Natural Relative or Friend

By Leah Kaminsky

Last week, we took a look at several eco-gift giving strategies for your decidedly non-green friends or relatives. But if you’re green-minded, you probably run in a green-minded circle, in which case you likely have a super natural friend for whom gift buying can be just as difficult.

The Profile:

The super natural friend transcends all demographics and locales. He or she could be:

  1. Your flower power father who’s been fighting for Mother Earth since the early sixties. Dad wears Birkenstocks and all-vegan clothing and is the sole reason the word “granola” is a synonym for tree hugger.
  2. Your green architect friend who lives in the Pacific Northwest and won’t hesitate to plunge her hand into the work trash can to fish out a food-stained take-away carton and transfer it to the compost. Where it belongs.

The Gifting Challenge:

If you’re environmentally conscious but not, say, the non-cartoon embodiment of Captain Planet, chances are whatever green gift you choose will be something your super natural friend has already heard of, bought and moved on from. Giving a green gift to a friend or relative who lives and breathes environmental consciousness is a bit like giving the first Harry Potter book to an avid Harry Potter fan; chances are, they’ve read that one.

The Solution:

There are only two options to giving a good green gift to the green god or goddess: buy the newest, most innovative product out there, or let the greenie choose for him or herself. Here are a few ways to go:

  1. Give the gift of giving. Does your recipient have a favorite eco-charity, like the Sierra Club or the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)? Make a donation in his or her name.
  2. Promote eco-tourism. From wild jungles to barren deserts, buy your friend or relative an eco-tourist vacation – or at least a portion thereof. He or she will visit beautiful sites along the way with minimal impact and return with a new cause to fight for.
  3. Plant seeds for tomorrow. Your super natural friend will love a membership at a community garden or a share in a Community Supported Agriculture. Or put together a gardening gift basket, complete with seeds and tools.
  4. Watch your materials. From toys made of organic cotton to soy candles and free-trade chocolate, give a gift sourced from sustainable materials…and let your super natural friend know they’re there.
  5. Empower a green lifestyle with cool technology. Sure, your super natural friend or relative probably bikes to work already. But does he or she use a solar-powered pod to listen to music? Look for new and cool green gadgets, and you’re sure to impress.
  6. Give the gift of…choice. If you’re really at your wit’s end, just buy your friend a gift certificate to his or her favorite organic store or restaurant and call it a day.

It is possible to wow your super natural friend or relative. All you need is a little thought, a little creativity, and willingness to try something new.


Reused and Reusable New Year’s Decorations

By Leah Kaminsky

Every year on December 31, partygoers the world round gather to celebrate the beginning of the New Year. But starting fresh doesn’t have to mean going back to square one with your decorations. It’s easy to stay green with a few creative DIY ideas…and a willingness to rethink just what those holiday decorations from earlier in the month can do.

1. Decorate Your Door With Timely Snowflakes

If you’re missing that holiday wreath, there are plenty of ways to decorate your front door. As demonstrated here, turn those holiday snowflakes into the perfect New Year’s decoration by stenciling the year onto a burlap sack and attaching it to the front of your snowflake. If you don’t have a snowflake hanging around, cut your own out of paper and use an exacto knife to cut the shape into thin white foam board. To hang it from your door, all you need is hot glue and a magnetic clip.

2. Get Festive with Wrapping Paper

Think wrapping paper is the ultimate in waste? Think again when you turn that paper into streamers or confetti. All you need is a good pair of scissors and a love for tearing things up!

3. Light Your Way to a Lucky New Year

In southern climes and beyond, black eyed peas are the traditional New Year’s good luck treat. Fill a candle holder with uncooked beans, add a nice soy candle and light your way into the New Year. Caveat: You can reuse the beans from year to year (they last a long time), but eventually you will need to replace them. And definitely don’t plan to eat them.

4. Make a New Kind of Tree Tradition

Just because the holidays are over, doesn’t mean every kind of tree must be banished from your home. These ornament trees are as festive as can be, and they’re much more sustainable than cut flowers. Even better, they’re easy to make. Just gather a few sturdy sticks, place them in a vase, and hang your ornaments. Though you can use whatever ornaments you please, try sticking to silver and white to pay tribute to the Times Square ball.

5. Keep Track of Time With Tinsel

This is one of the few times of year when your party guests will actually want to stay keenly aware of time’s passing. String yarn or ribbon across the mantel, shape and staple tinsel into the numbers for next year, and hang them from your string.

Reusable New Year’s decorations are well within your reach. And what better way to usher in the New Year than with a little bit of a green tinge?

Gift Giving Guide for the Non-Green Relative or Friend

By Leah Kaminsky

For the green consumer, holiday gift shopping can be a stimulating opportunity to flex their green problem-solving skills. Sick of wasteful wrapping paper? Use newspaper. Tired of cheap, throwaway clothing? Give organic.

That’s well and good when giving gifts to friends and family who have a bit of an eco-bent, but what’s a greenie to do when giving gifts to someone who’s staunchly non-green? Let’s do some strategizing.

The Profile:

  1. Your relative who grew up during WWII, when canned goods were practically a patriotic duty. “We ate beans from a can and we liked ‘em that way!” Warning: This person may not be a big consumer, but they’re likely clinging to chemical-laden housewares.
  2. Your shop-a-holic friend who cares only about more, more, MORE, regardless of where “more” comes from. Warning: May be a fan of saying, “That sounds delightful, darling. Just delightful!”

The Gifting Challenge:

The Non-Green Relative or Friend either pays no attention to green trends or actively despises anything that disrupts their regular patterns of consumerism. The green movement may make them feel guilty, which can spark a visceral reaction against anything interpreted as being eco-friendly.

The Solution:

There’s only one way to give green to the non-green friend: don’t let them know you’re doing it. Such gifts could include:

  1. A cookbook…that just happens to slip in tips on buying local produce.
  2. Jewelry…that’s sustainably made and purchased from a small, local vendor. Who needs to know?
  3. A bicycle…with an electric boost. This will be especially good if your gift recipient is into gadgets.
  4. Everyday goods made from BPA-free materials…that distract the recipient from their inherently green nature. For instance, this reusable coffee mug, which features a major youtube meme, will have any pop culture fan in hysterics before they realize you’ve tricked them out of using paper coffee cups.
  5. Products they’ve asked for…but with a green spin. If, for instance, you find “books” on your recipient’s holiday list, swap a new book with something secondhand, or buy them an e-reader.
  6. Products you present as being cool new trends in generaland not just to the cool green movement.

Voila! With a little creativity, you’ll turn this time of consumption into a time of sustainability. And your decidedly non-eco conscious friend will be none the wiser.

Natural Nails

By Leah Kaminsky

It doesn’t take a genius to guess that nail polish is filled to the brim with nasty chemicals. All you need is a nose and a closed room.

In fact, most nail polishes contain what is called the “toxic trio”: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and formaldehyde. Together these chemicals have been associated with asthma, developmental and reproductive problems in lab animals, hormone disruption, dizziness and increased cancer risks.

But for those of us who love the sight of cheery, polished nails, there are a few key steps we can take to mitigate the risks.

1. Polish at Home

While professional manicures might feel good, all that time your fingers spend soaking in chemicals is sure to add up. Whether it’s methacrylate chemicals in gel polishes or acetone in nail polish remover, you want your interaction with these chemicals to be short and sweet. Polish at home to control your exposure.

2. Go for Water-Based Polishes

Water-based nail polishes can be removed with nail polish removers that are less harsh.

3. Ventilate

As much as you may love painting your nails in the privacy of your own room, it’s best to polish outside when you can, or at the very least in a room with a window and/or a fan.

4. Try a Natural Polish

While the natural label isn’t a guaranteed chemical-free experience, natural nail polishes are worth it if they’re from a brand you trust.

If all else fails, just try to go longer between touch-ups. Painting your nails every other week will cut your yearly exposure in half without significantly affecting your style.

The Great Natural Giveaway

It’s summertime and the giving’s easy. (I couldn’t resist.) is sponsoring a very cool DAILY giveaway of an array of products, many of which are from Martha Stewart’s Annual Whole Living Healthy Skin Awards. Yes, I said daily!  Just go to EVERY DAY and enter for a chance to win one of our favorite skin care products being featured that day. Winners (hopefully you) will be announced at the end of June… and prizes will be delivered to your door. Told you it was cool.

NO SUBSCRIPTION OR PURCHASE REQUIRED TO ENTER OR TO RECEIVE A PRIZE.  Legal residents of the 50 United States (D.C.), Age of Majority or older,  Ends 06/30/12.  To enter and for Official Rules, including odds, free methods of entry and prize descriptions, visit: Void where prohibited.

Upcycled Home Decor

Stuff. Most of us have way too much of it. Even as we grow more eco-savvy trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle, sometimes we still are faced with the question of what to do with what we have. Used to be we would throw it away, give it away or store it. Today there’s another option: Upcycling. Upcycling is the process of converting useless things or products you no longer want – including waste materials – into new goods or objects of a higher environmental value. In other words, you get creative with the stuff you already have by fashioning it into something new! It’s all about ingenuity, and having fun, too. But if crafts aren’t your thing, you can still participate by buying upcycle merchandise, which cuts back on the consumption of raw materials for new products. And that ultimately ends up reducing energy use, air and water pollution and even greenhouse gas emissions.

The following is just a tiny peak at what some people have done with their discarded stuff to decorate their homes and at the same time efficiently upcycle their odds and ends. Keep in mind, if you are not handy with crafts and the like, there are a number of websites that offer upcycle home decorations. Buying upcycle is a great alternative to purchasing something new plus it helps keep our landfills free of needless waste.

iMac Aquarium from home-designing.comSo here’s a wild one: The Mac Aquarium. Do you still have one of the original iMacs kicking around? Remember the Apple computer that came in thirteen “flavors”? Imagine turning it into a colorful fish aquarium! Well, that’s just what some folks have done, and it’s a real showstopper.

Staying with the tech theme, how about that stack of useless old floppies? Here are several clever solutions:  assemble a small book using recycled paper for the inside and two floppies for the outside.  Punch two holes through the ‘book’ and bind with a couple of loose leaf rings. Take four floppies to construct the sides of a pencil holder with a fifth for the bottom.  Use old CDs to craft a lampshade or the face of a small clock.

Fabricate a fashion statement: Cut up the bright sides of soda cans, add earring hooks and you’ve got a unique set of earrings. Speaking of jewelry, dust off those outdated vintage brooches, remove the fittings on the back, glue on a super strong magnet and you’ve got yourself some glamorous refrigerator magnets!

Upcycled can candle holderLight up the room: Create eye-catching candles out of graphic tea tins, sardine cans, olive oil cans, etc. Break a tea saucer? Fill the cup with candle wax and add a wick for an elegant flame.  Single coffee cups, cute but never used eggcups, teapots – they all are good vessels to hold wax and can be one of a kind gifts to give.

Mirror mirror … on the table? Repurpose small wall mirrors as decorative trays. Glue on a backing of felt and dress up your dresser top!

A stitch in time could save nine or it could make a new table runner, rug for the hall or throw pillows for the window seat.  Sew together vintage napkins for the table, tea towels, napkins or soft shirts for the pillows and rag rugs for a comfy hall runner.

As you can see, the ideas are endless and the results original, distinctive and eco-friendly.  Repackage ordinary objects in your house and delight your family and guests with your surprising design and decorative solutions! Who knows, you just might inspire them to do the same.

Check out these and other great ideas at:

Simple & Green Gift Ideas

GreenWash Ball

GreenWash Ball

I guess the holidays are officially here. I think our late Indian summer lulled me into a false sense of endless autumn, and made the sudden shift to sub-freezing temps, wind and snow pretty abrupt. I feel like I’ve been catapulted right smack dab into the holiday season…without a lot of time to prepare for the age old issue: what am I going to get my loved ones???

To help me simplify this year, I’m keeping it Simple & Green. My kids are beyond toys now, so maybe that makes it easier. But whether they’re in a home of their own, away at college, or still living with you, they’ll benefit from an active green role model with good ideas for all kinds of cool things to help them minimize their own footprint.

A no-brainer is the battery charger with a set or two of rechargeable batteries. I love this gift idea for an older child or preteen – who will no doubt be given some toy or gadget that eats up batteries for the next several years. How perfect for them to see how easy it is to avoid using regular batteries that are so toxic to our landfills. Their habits haven’t been formed yet – so it’s a great time to help them learn.

Another techno-learning gadget is the Kill a Watt, for those still dubious of the importance of energy savings. These cool things show you the operating costs of household appliances as well as calculating costs and forecasts by week, month and year. Plus they’re on sale right now and easy – just plug in – to use.

But my gifts won’t all be techno. Thinking organic bamboo sheets for my luxury-loving sister, and some herb tea and an electric tea kettle for my dear ol’ mum who’ll love finding out how much energy she saves using it – rather then turning on the stove to boil water. So last century!

For the young homesteaders in the family, twenty-somethings starting up their own households – I love turning them on to great green things they’ve never heard of, like the GreenWashBall Detergent. This innovative little ball cleans your laundry without using any soap! Don’t believe me? Just try it. I used these things when I was doing the laundry for my three kids –it works! And who isn’t going to chuckle finding a soap-less washball in their stocking?

Another fun one is to make a whole green home gift basket. Start with my favorite recycled newspaper baskets (a set of two is conveniently on sale!) then fill them with your favorite green household things like great counter top composters, water filters, natural cleaners like Bon Ami (do you all know how great that stuff is for cleaning sinks and tubs without chlorine???).

For the more elegant, like my sister, I’d fill a gift basket with natural beauty and bath things. Like the de~luxe bath salts, which is another favorite of mine and a great value; looks and feels like the much more expensive brands.
Or for your favorite hypochondriac, how about a gift basket of natural health and wellness goodies? Fill it with everything from the netty pot to Oscillococcinum Natural Flu Relief, — which is also on sale; or herbal cough drops and Breathe Easy Tea.

Need more ideas? How about a yoga mat made from earth-friendly materials, not only non-toxic, but latex-, PVC- and chloride-free and 100% recyclable and decomposable. My daughter will love that. But then she’d also love a BPA-free water bottle, Clementine natural art supplies art supplies or Weleda’s Wild Rose Moisture Cream. (Or maybe that’s just what I want.)

Sort of funny… I could go on and on with these ideas…and here I thought it’d be hard to figure out what I was getting everyone. Now I’ll just grab a good book for each of them, give a charitable donation in each of their names, and I’m done!