15 Inexpensive, Last-Minute Stocking Stuffers

Clementines for Christmas stocking stuffers

Photo: PostBear

As we enter the home stretch before Christmas, one of the last things on the To Do list is often the stocking stuffers. Let’s not blow the budget on a bunch of little things our loved ones will never use. Instead, here are some ideas for fun, inexpensive and practical presents to tuck in Christmas stockings:

1. An orange or clementine

Traditionally put in the toe of the stocking.

2. Candy canes or sticks

Unusually flavored versions are fun!

3. Tea

A box of tea, or a bag of loose tea, or even a few favorite tea bags.

4. Knit gloves

The stretchy kind that cost $1 a pair, much appreciated by the person who always loses one of their gloves. (That would be me.)

5. A used paperback book or a favorite magazine

For the reader in your life.

6. Candles

For eco-friendly illumination in the year ahead.

7. Socks or Slipper socks

The super-soft ones are often on sale at this time of year.

8. A small notebook

For jotting down those great ideas in 2015.

9. Packets of seeds

Great gift for your favorite gardener!

10. A pretty bar of soap

Choose one with organic ingredients and bless the environment, too.

11. A jar of cinnamon or other spices

Perfect for the baker in your life.

12. A bag of imported pasta, quinoa or bean soup mix.

Nice for making a comforting meal on a chilly night.

13. A ball of yarn.

Do knitters and crocheters ever have enough yarn?

14. A roll of duct tape.

What did we ever do before duct tape was invented?

15. A package of batteries.

Are we the only ones constantly running out of the AAs?

How about you? Do you and Santa fill the Christmas stockings in your home, and if so, what are some of your favorite treasures to give?

No matter how you celebrate, I hope you’re finding time during this busy season for some moments of relaxation, rest and reflection.


The signature for Eliza Cross

Why I’m Sending Back My Aveeno “Natural” Skin Cleanser

Aveeno Cleanser contains polluting microbeads

My friends, I’m embarrassed to tell you that I was greenwashed.

I’ve used this Aveeno face cleanser for years. With its green packaging, soy extract and “active naturals” tagline, I naively thought it was making a good, clean choice for my skin. What I didn’t know is that my skincare product has been polluting our oceans.

Shortly after purchasing a new tube of the cleanser, I was distressed to read that Aveeno Positively Radiant is one of the brands that contains plastic microbeads. As you may have heard, non-biodegradable plastic microbeads are too tiny to be caught by the standard filters used at sewage treatment plants and pass from our bathroom sinks to streams and oceans, where they pollute the water and also enter the food chain. You can read more about the devastating environmental effects of these tiny plastic particles at BeatThe Microbead.org.

I learned that many of the polluting microbeads used in personal care products are made of polyethylene, and sure enough, there it was—the fifth ingredient on the list on my cleanser:

Polyethylene microbeads in Aveeno Positively Radiant cleanser

Johnson & Johnson, which makes Aveeno products, has issued a statement promising to eliminate plastic microbeads in its products by the end of 2017.

You can check this list and see if your product contains plastic microbeads. I was surprised to see toothpaste, shaving cream and shower gels on the list in addition to cleansing scrubs.

You can find a list of microbead-free products here.

If you’re going to return your product, you can use this excellent example letter from Beat the Microbead.

I replaced my Aveeno scrub with Alba Botanica’s Even Advanced Enzyme Scrub, which uses powdered walnut shells for a truly “natural” exfoliate. (This isn’t a sponsored review—just my own experience.)

You can also make your own facial scrub, using ingredients like baking soda, honey or oatmeal.

How about you? Do you have any microbeads lurking in the products in your drawers and shelves?


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7 Debt-Free Holiday Gifts to Give This Year


holiday gifts at Happy Simple Living

Photo: Jimmy Snell

I just read an interesting statistic about holiday spending. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation here in the U.S.,  the average person celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa and/or Hanukkah will spend $804.42 this year–up more than 5% over last year.

$804? WOW.

My friends, let’s vow not get into financial trouble in the next three weeks. I think we can all agree that overspending and taking on debt simply doesn’t reflect the values of these holidays. Yet it can be all too easy to slip into a sort of holiday frenzy and pull out the credit card in our desire to bless our loved ones.

If you still have some presents to purchase, consider these ideas:

1. Used books

Used bookstores can be treasure troves of great titles. A used book is just as pleasurable to read as a new book, and the savings can be significant. A friend of mine who was on a very tight budget once bought used books for all ten people on her gift list for $25. My family loves and encourages used books.

2. Thrift store find

I love rummaging around thrift stores, and am always amazed by what can be found within. Some gift ideas include cookware, dishes, books, craft supplies and cashmere sweaters.

3. Food

Stores like Trader Joe’s, Sprouts and Whole Foods are all great places to shop for special food items. You could put together a bag with gourmet pasta, spaghetti sauce and a chunk of good Parmesan cheese for under $15, or give items like specialty flours, high-end chocolate, nuts, olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, favorite snacks, etc.

4. Drink

Always welcome, you could give a bottle of French lemonade or your recipient’s favorite wine, a six-pack of gourmet soda or an assortment of microbrewery beers.

5. A donation

Most of us have those people on our gift lists who really do have everything, and would love nothing more than a donation made in their name to a charitable cause. Print out the details of your donation on a pretty piece of paper and wrap it in a box for a special presentation.

6. Something handmade

Often the best presents are the things we create ourselves. A plate of fudge, a hand-knit scarf, a pillow, a hand-strung bead necklace, or a CD of family photos would all be welcome gifts.  Use up some of those supplies you already have on hand, and you’ll reduce clutter, too.

7. Creative supplies

Give a budding artist paints and brushes or blank canvases; give your favorite writer a fat, blank notebook. Give pretty papers and stickers to a scrapbooker, seeds to a gardener, or a generous bag of instant yeast to a baker. Many of the craft retailers have sales and online coupons during December.

How about you? Are you going to spend $804 this year, or will you cruise through December without overspending and taking on any debt? I’d love to hear your ideas for simplifying and keeping the holidays merry and bright.

You might also enjoy one of this blog’s most popular posts, “One Real Family’s Real Simple Christmas.” This true story about how my friends the McDonalds radically simpliifed their Christmas celebration was later picked up by the Chicago Tribune.


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Once again, Happy Simple Living will be embarking on the January Money Diet beginning January 1, 2015. If you’d like to undertake the challenge of going 31 days without spending a penny on anything but the barest essentials, please join us. Start the new year financially strong!

Thanksgiving and the Most Important Thing

Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

We’ll be hosting Thanksgiving here this year for about a dozen friends and family, and I’m excited. Yesterday I bought the turkey, unpacked the china on the dining table, and began making my To Do list.

Soon my list was filled with vacuuming, dusting, polishing, straightening, preparing and cooking. The pending celebration makes me look around here with a critical eye:  The bathroom sink has toothpaste in it! The stove needs to be cleaned! The front porch is full of leaves!

So I pause in my preparations, and curl up in my favorite easy chair to meditate and pray. My soul becomes calmer, and I sense that love is the only thing that really matters on Thursday — a day to be grateful and give thanks.

Let our home be warm and welcoming.

Let our celebration remind us of all we are grateful for.

Let our hearts be filled with love.


With that prayer, I cross “Clean the oven” off my list.

Wishing you a joyous Thanksgiving filled with love,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Here’s my easy method for cooking a moist, crispy Thanksgiving turkey, and our family’s favorite green bean casserole. Hugs!

Crispy Roast Turkey Recipe at Happy Simple Living blog


A Season of Stuff – 7 Ways to Prevent Holiday Clutter

7 ways to prevent holiday clutter

Our homes fill up with things a little at a time. Stuff creeps in gradually, until one day we open a closet and realize we can’t squeeze in another single item.

We’re about to enter a season filled with new things arriving on a regular basis–presents, Christmas cards, holiday goodies, calendars, and much more. But what if, at the end of this holiday season, our drawers and closets were actually a little cleaner, neater and less jammed?

Here are 7 areas to watch:

Winter coats, hats, gloves and boots – Let’s go through our cold-weather clothes and accessories now, and give away what we don’t wear. Shelters everywhere are reporting a shortage of warm clothes during this Arctic cold front. Maybe we can clear space in our closets and help those less fortunate at the beginning of the winter season, when our unused gear will do the most good.

Christmas ornaments – Each season, I try to give away the ornaments and decorations we no longer need. As new items come in, I vow to send an equal or greater number of items out the door and not let this collection grow unchecked. I’ve also ended my holiday tradition of buying a new piece for our nativity scene every year, after we had start arranging the family of ducks under the elephants (I’m not sure these were really common Bethlehem animals) to save space.

Food – Our family’s pantry can get really cluttered if I’m not careful. During this season of gifted baking mixes and gourmet food items, let’s try to use up what we already have and keep our cupboards neat and tidy. Holiday food drives are the perfect place to give away those edible items we’ll never use.

Clothes – A holiday sweater here, a glittery scarf there, and pretty soon I can no longer move the hangers in my closet. I now have a rule that if I buy or receive something new, I have to retire one or two items before the new item earns a place in my closet.

Candles – I love receiving candles, but then for some reason I like to put them in the cupboard and hoard them. I blame this on my shared DNA with my cavewoman ancestors who saved their Smoky Sandalwood Amber Mammoth-Musk candles for a rainy day. Here’s my promise:  I’m going to burn more candles this season and enjoy the magical flickering candlelight. I’m also going to give some of my collection away.

Kids’ toys and clothes – When your children are growing like bamboo plants, accumulating toys at a breakneck pace, and not particularly inclined to part with their precious things, your home can soon become a sprawling convergence of Halo 4 action figures populated with a couple of humans. The only recourse I know is to constantly give things away, every single week. Some of this casting off may happen when said children are away from the house. I need to double my efforts during the holiday season.

Papers – You’ve just recovered from the 2014 political season mailings, and now it’s time for the hap-happy season of holiday mail. Catalogs, holiday sales flyers, coupons, Christmas cards and calendars will be flowing into our homes with more force than the blizzard of 1982. It’ll take daily diligence and a conveniently-located recycling bin to keep those papers from stacking up. If you’d like stop receiving certain catalogs, you can input your preferences at Catalog Choice — a free service.  Here are 13 things you can do with Christmas cards. You can also send holiday cards to St. Jude’s Card Recycling, 100 St. Jude Street, P.O. Box 60100, Boulder City, NV 89006.

How about you? Have you discovered any ways to keep Christmas from becoming the Season of Stuff? I always love to hear your ideas and comments.


The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo by Patrick Q

The One Thing That Will Return Sanity To Our Political Process

Political flyers from one election season

I decided to save the paper political flyers we received leading up to this election. A quick count reveals that 89 brochures and postcards landed in our mailbox and on our front door.

In my neighborhood we have 600 homes, so just in our square mile we probably received about 54,000 pieces of propaganda. Think of the trees cut to promote candidates and issues this year — the environmental impact of our election process is staggering.

A measure that was dear to my heart was the passage of Proposition 105, an amendment to label GMO foods. Early returns indicate that the measure was defeated.

Three of the 89 mailers we received were slick, four-page color brochures from No on 105.

political flyers


We didn’t receive anything from the pro-GMO labeling camp. That’s not surprising, given that we were outspent on this campaign by 20 to 1. I contributed $25 to the Right to Know Colorado campaign, but it takes a lot of moms sending $25 to equal the $16 million dollars that Monsanto and other biotech and agribusiness opponents spent to defeat this measure in Colorado.

We’re now seeing the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unpopular (and wrongly-named) “Citizens United” decision four years ago to remove barriers to corporate spending during elections. You may recall the furor over the court’s “corporate personhood” ruling. Eighty percent of us opposed the decision — with rare, nearly-equal bipartisan agreement from Republicans and Democrats both.

The aftermath of those open floodgates is not pretty. Do you know anyone who’s not weary of the awful barrage of attack ads, robo-calls and politicized misinformation? Just think — we have another presidential election to look forward to in 2016.

Now that Pandora’s Box has been opened, we can be assured that the politicians, wealthy donors, big corporations, and media companies that benefit from all the ad spending will be completely unmotivated to overturn the Citizens United ruling.

What can a frustrated, concerned citizen do? The answer is simple:  we need to make an organized, grassroots effort to enact campaign finance reform. Groups like People for the American Way and Move to Amend  joined forces and delivered a petition with 3.2 million reform supporter signatures to Capitol Hill in September. Sixteen states have already passed resolutions to overturn Citizens United.

Campaign finance reform is the only way to restore democracy to our political process here in the United States, and we may all need to get involved on some level to make our voices heard.

What do you think?

The signature for Eliza Cross