Love garage

Share the Love
The most environmentally friendly way to navigate this season is to buy nothing, but giving and receiving presents (when not done out of obligation) is deliciously fun. So I think the best way to be eco-minded during the holiday season is to be mindful of what you buy. Our actions have an impact; the people who sew our clothes, the natural resources that make up our household products and the animals that become our food all deserve to be treated well.

Here's my list of 20 gifts that tread lightly on the earth and, at under $25, are also kind to your wallet. These items are beautiful, functional and made by really incredible people. Share the love.

Eco-friendly home goods

Potato chip wrapper bowl

Eco-Friendly Home Goods
When Summer Bowen, founder of BTC Elements, first told me about these bowls, I was skeptical. How could catchall baskets made from used potato chip wrappers be things of beauty? They are—and they have an incredible story. The wrappers are collected on the streets of Nepal, turned inside out and cleaned, then wrapped around dried grasses and woven into surprisingly sturdy baskets. They add the perfect touch of bling to your table. Proceeds generated from these handicrafts support the Spiral Foundation's efforts to finance primary healthcare, medical and educational projects in Nepal and Vietnam.

World of Good is another great resource for eco-friendly, people-friendly goods. The portal aggregates values-based sellers and buyers and lets you search for stuff based on attributes like being people positive, eco positive, animal friendly and supporting a cause.

Chocolates, shortbreads and more

Lavender Fleur de Sel Caramels by Lille Belle Farms

Foodstuffs for the Foodie in Your Life
The holiday season tends to be a little stressful. One of my top stress relievers is chocolate, and one of my top choices in chocolate is Lillie Belle Farms. Owner and chocolatier Jeff Shepherd is committed to sourcing fair-trade chocolate from all over the world. He grows his own berries on an idyllic organic farm in Southern Oregon and told me the creation of this farm is the embodiment of his love affair with his family. His lavender-infused caramels with fleur de sel and marzipan figs poached in rum and spices will make you fall in love with everything and feel like every day is Christmas.

Of course, a girl can't live on chocolate alone. That's why there's shortbread. I discovered Bramblewood Shortbread at the incredible Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis. Amy Goetz uses her grandmother's recipe and makes an incredible array of shortbreads and caramels. The website says, "Sharing is optional." Indeed.

Food is love and can be used to show your affection for your self and others as well as your appreciation for the preservation of food cultures and traditions. The White Earth Land Recovery Project works to preserve traditional foods and indigenous cultures in the United States through the sales of wild rice, hominy, maple syrup and jellies. Heritage Foods USA sells food raised on small farms that are in danger of being phased out. Their motto is: "If we want to save them, we must eat them!" Fledgling Wine uses wine as a vehicle for educational empowerment. Proceeds from sales of its California blends benefit Room to Read, a nonprofit dedicated to establishing libraries, creating local language children's literature, constructing schools and providing education to girls.

A portal for earth-friendly, handmade goods
Fringe earrings

Handmade Presents for the Holidays
I'm not crafty, but I greatly admire people like my sister who can make magic out of the most mundane materials. That's why I'm intrigued with Etsy Earth, a small portal focused on earth-friendly handmade goods.

I also dig the artisan outlet 1000 Markets. Stunning leather fringe earrings from Lynore Store are made with materials designer Lynore Routte sources from her own clothing, finds in thrift shops or reclaims from the fashion industry. Dwell magazine editor Sarah Rich turned me on to handmade prints created by independent designers in San Francisco on sustainably grown, chemical-free maple.

If you are crafty enough to DIY, here is a great guide. Crafted By Us teaches you how to make your own duct tape purse, among other things. If you covet the purse (like me) but have no crafty inclinations, KMC designs has really well-made duct tape clutches, wallets and bags that I would go so far as to call elegant.

Earth-friendly organizing

Cork purse

Eco-Organizational Ideas
I dream of being an organized gal. You know, the kind who has everything pared down, properly labeled and in its right place. The recycled/recyclable plastic Jimi wallet forces me to streamline. The small wallet with detachable money clip is slim and sexy for boys and girls, but it holds just the bare essentials. I started off using it for jaunts to the tennis court and public pool, but now I can't conceive of going back to my bulky (and pricier) leather wallet. Plus, the company is committed to using lower-impact materials, avoiding sweatshop labor and manufacturing products in the United States.

Tom Bihn adopts the same kind of sustainable philosophy, and its cork pouches help make my dream of organization a reality. The cork fabric is harvested from the cork oak tree by peeling the bark, not chopping down the tree. I love the look and the insanely smart design of their products (that let you see the contents of your bag and protect the items you love). They also have a great cork bag for your Kindle.

Books that make a difference to those who need it most

Design for the Other 90%

Eco-Presents That Help Other People
If you're old school like me and still buy (or borrow) printed books, then consider Design for the Other 90%. The book is based on an exhibition that was held at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum focusing on the ways in which design can solve our most pressing humanitarian problems. The website explains: "Of the world's total population of 6.5 billion, 5.8 billion people, or 90 percent, have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted; in fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter. Design for the Other 90% explores a growing movement among designers to design low-cost solutions for this 'other 90 percent.'" This book will change the way you see every product that touches your life. The nonprofit Project H Design works toward a similar goal to design initiatives for "Humanity, Habitats, Health, and Happiness."

Donations to nonprofits that you find inspiring are my favorite gifts. There are so many groups that could use your support, and it feels great to customize donations for beloved friends around issues they care about. In the spirit of creating a healthy home, I highly recommend donations to Environmental Working Group and the Ecology Center, both dedicated to educating the public about toxins in everything from toys to beauty products and empowering us to make the best consumer choices we can.

Knowledge: There's an app for that!
iPhone app

Free Mobile Applications
Knowledge is power, and these free mobile applications ensure we are making informed choices. Seventh Generation (the leading manufacturer of natural household cleaning products) teamed up with the public health nonprofit Environmental Working Group for the Show the World What's Inside campaign, dedicated to helping us figure out what's in the products we bring inside our home.

The Environmental Protection Agency has found that indoor air can be twice as polluted as outside air is, in part because of the products we use inside our homes. (You can learn more about this in my earlier post on volatile organic compounds in floor finishes and paints.) The Food and Drug Administration doesn't require companies to divulge contents of household cleaning products, but businesses are increasingly making the voluntary decision to do so. That said, who among us really knows the difference between the ingredients sodium chloride (table salt) and sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach)? The What's Inside app breaks this information down in language we can all understand. The Good Guide mobile application, which I am just starting to play around with, offers a fairly comprehensive rating system for over 70,000 food, toys, personal care and household products based on various environmental, social and health attributes.

(If you're like me—chatting on your phone in subzero weather conditions—take a look at these Freehands gloves created by Coolhunting founder Josh Rubin. Little flip back caps on the thumb and index fingers let you text, dial and take photos without removing your gloves. They are not a green item—hence the parenthesis—but I am campaigning for an eco-friendly version in 2010.)

Furry friends for little ones

Organic bunny toy

Presents For Little Ones
If you're lucky enough to have little loved ones in your life, these 100 percent organic stuffed animals from Peace Toys are my hands-down favorite gifts on the planet. This was the first present I gave my sister when I found out she was pregnant—and this is the gift I hope someone will give me if I am ever pregnant.

The other little loved ones worthy of organic love are your furry babies. I am a sucker for organic cotton fleece, dye-free cat toys stuffed with organic catnip. Purrfect Play also has sweet eco-gifts for dogs and people (cat-shaped soaps or dog-shaped earrings, anyone?).

Perfect present for the home improvement lover
Simran holding caulk

Energy-Saving Gifts
The last time I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the producer asked me if there was anything new or different about weather stripping that I could talk about. My answer was, "Um, no." Weather stripping is not a sexy gift—unless you happen to consider saving money and keeping out the cold sexy, which I do.

Mortite rope caulk is rolled putty that can be pressed around the edges of your windows to reduce drafts and seal out any critters you don't want joining you for the holidays. It is so easy (and fun) to use and gives you the instant gratification of sealing air leaks. I am not usually one to hawk products, but allow me to get specific: The hardware private label brand was thin, crumbly and assured to leave me with a big mess. Mortite is kind of gooey and lifts off easily. Look for that brand in your local hardware store.

The best gift you can give  
Love Garage

This is an image from my hometown: "love" randomly painted on a garage door. Yes, it's everywhere. I believe the most important gift you can give this season is to love yourself and each other. It sounds so cliché even I want to roll my eyes, but it's true. Treat yourself gently, be patient with others and remember this season is about being closer to God and everything you hold sacred.

You can see other geeky home things I covet on my Twitter feed.

Happy belated Eid and Diwali, glorious Hanukkah, blessed Kwanzaa and merriest Christmas. Here's wishing you a breathtaking 2010.