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Guide to clutter-free gift giving

- Author: Crystal


Sparkleize encourages sensible, sustainable gift buying that won’t lead to bulging closets and clogged attics.

Some favorite clutter-free gift ideas:

  1. One-year gift membership to Consumer Reports or Angie’s List. Both are useful and promote responsible consumer choices – gifts which keep on giving!
  2. Donate to a charity in honor of someone. So many hard-working organizations need your money way more than your relatives and friends need more junk! You’ll feel good about it, and so will the recipient.
  3. Passes or a membership to a museum in the recipient’s home town. This is a great gift for children.
  4. Theater or concert tickets. Awesome!
  5. Shopping for a busy mom? Get her a spa or massage gift certificate.
  6. Lessons or classes. Give the gift of cooking or pottery classes, or salsa dance lessons! Even better: take the class with them!
  7. Photos. Most people, especially family members, love receiving current photos of you and your loved ones. Studios in shopping malls and department stores offer quick, inexpensive photo shoots with lots of photo ordering options. Pair it with a nice frame, and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind gift that is truly meaningful.

Clutter-free gift giving in a nutshell:

  • Steer clear of material gifts. Consider presents which are consumables, services, charitable contributions, memberships, or those which involve your time and friendship – rather than material stuff that folks don’t need.
  • Create memories, not junk! The greatest gift you can give someone is the time you spend with them. Generate lasting memories by doing things together. Making plans which include talking, eating and/or walking is always a good start.
  • Beware of gift cards. Giving a gift card to a chain retail store seems a bit better than a material gift; however, these are not the necessarily the best choice either. Think of it this way: often people feel obligated to pick something out at a store – not necessarily because they need it but because they have a gift card in their wallet which someone gave them. Unnecessary spending is a big factor in clutter! However, if you must give a gift card, choose one from a local, independent store so that the money stays in the community.
  • Buy local. If you must buy stuff, shop locally. (Here’s my Guide to Shopping Locally in Durham.) For example, one of the best place to find unique, handmade/homegrown gifts is your local farmer’s market!

Have additional thoughts or ideas to share? Leave a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: People and pets, Sustainable living

Guide to Shopping Locally in Durham

- Author: Crystal


Why shop locally?

By choosing to shop at locally-owned, independent stores rather than chain stores and large national corporations, we are directly helping to grow our local economy and enrich our community. 

More great reasons to shop locally can be found in this article: “Why I Try Really Hard to Shop Locally”. You can also read up on the local independent shopping movement in Durham at Sustainabull.

How to shop locally in Durham, North Carolina

Durhamites can consider some of these local shopping alternatives, listed by category:


  • Host a clothing swap for your friends. It’s free, and everyone gets great stuff!
  • Shop at local thrift stores whenever possible. Proceeds usually benefit the local community, and thrift shopping does not encourage production of more new products. Pennies for Change is one of my favorites!
  • Fifi’s Fine Resale, a consignment store on Main St., is amazing and delightful.
  • Check out Durham’s lovely clothing boutique culture – particularly those on 9th St., Main St and in the Brightleaf Shopping Center (Some of Crystal’s favorites are Magpie, Vert & Vogue and Vaguely Reminiscent.)



Sporting Goods


Shipping and mailing

  • A-1 Stop Mail Shoppe (9th St.) Very quirky but super friendly little place. I support these guys 100% because I get personal service and lots of friendly conversation whenever I go.

Photocopies and printing services

  • Spee Dee Que Instant Printing (E. Chapel Hill St./Foster St.) This is a very “Durham” sort of place (i.e., messy, homegrown, old school..) but they care deeply about the work they do, and there’s a Chihuahua. Also it is a thousand times better than going to Kinko’s.

Auto supplies




Hardware and building materials


  • Thrift stores, yard sales and flea markets!
  • Craigslist
  • TROSA Furniture (Foster St.) We consistently find great stuff at TROSA Furniture. They deliver too!
  • Morgan Imports (Gregson St. near Brightleaf Square)


Pet supplies

Office supplies

  • Not Just Paper on Main St. This is another one of those very “Durham” sorts of place (i.e., messy, homegrown, old school…) but they care deeply about what they do, and it’s super fun to shop here. I discover new things every time.


  • Atomic Empire (3400 Westgate Rd off 15/501) Board games, role playing games, comic books and much more. They will special order you anything you can’t find in their store.

Arts and craft supplies

Garden supplies

  • Stone Bros. on corner of Geer/Washington St. These are the friendliest people who are incredibly helpful with gardening tips! They have full service customer service, including the standard practice of carrying/wheeling all your purchases out to your car for you.
  • Barnes Supply Co. on 9th St.


If you know of any other great local business alternatives you think Durham should know about, please drop Crystal a line!!


1 Comment - Categories: Sustainable living

Borrowing instead of buying

- Author: Crystal

istock_000010634696xsmallI believe that whatever each of us can do to encourage and participate in sharing and borrowing rather than buying and owning can go a long way toward repairing our society’s unhealthy relationship with material possessions.

To this end, I love the idea of NeighborGoods, a new site which hooks people up to borrow things like ladders, tents and lawnmowers.  The point? It reduces the need to buy new things. Why buy something brand new that you might only use once or twice (like a backpack for Thailand), when you can simply borrow it and then send it back into The Great Cycle? This idea is potentially really good for the environment, the community and the soul.

If you’ve ever used FreeCycle to get rid (entirely and forever) of things you don’t use or need, you’ll know how great it feels to free yourself of unwanted items and meet other people’s needs at the same time. You might even score something for yourself while you’re at it, all without having to buy.

For those of you in the Durham area, let’s try it!

Though NeighborGoods is so far only available in the Los Angeles area, the owner of Neighborgoods has set up a special group for me and others in the Durham area! Check it out HERE.

You’ll find the following items of mine listed as borrow-able:

  • Garden shovel and two rakes
  • Hedge trimmers
  • 2-3 person tent
  • Thermarest air mattress
  • 7-speed Jamis men’s commuter bike
  • Charcoal grill

And you’ll see the following items on my borrowing wish list:

  • Lightweight sleeping bag (40 degrees F) — need for 3 weeks only
  • Lightweight trekking backpack — need for 3 weeks only
  • 2-layer water-resistant jacket for ladies (size M) — need for 3 weeks only

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

3 Comments - Categories: Sustainable living

Another green idea for reducing clutter

- Author: Crystal

istock_000007262651xsmallFew people realize that in most towns across the USA, mixed paper can be recycled with your weekly recycling pick-up.

To find out whether your town does, Google your local solid waste management program. You can also check Earth911 to find a drop-off center near you.

What is mixed paper?

  • Paper of all kinds – not just newspapers and office paper! We mean junk mail, construction paper, old birthday cards, cardstock, paper shopping bags, and any other non-standard paper. Staples are fine.
  • Paperboard. Shoeboxes, cereal boxes, paper towel rolls, etc which are clean and dry – no food contamination!
  • Soft books of all kinds. Phone books, paperback novels and catalogs are examples.

How to recycle mixed paper at your home or office:

  1. Designate a bin, box or bag for mixed paper in your home or office. I use an inexpensive crate like this one.
  2. Deal with junk mail right away. Do NOT set it aside for later. Put your junk mail directly into your mixed paper bin so it doesn’t pile up! Remember: Envelopes with plastic windows cannot be recycled, but their contents can! Shred any credit card offers.
  3. Make mixed paper recycling a habit. Each time you receive a package, finish off a box of cereal, or pay bills, gather your mixed paper and head toward the recycle bin!
  4. Put your bin out on recycling pick day along with your other recyclables.

Ready to go a step further? Simplify your paperwork.

If you have thoughts on this or other ideas, post a comment or write to Crystal.

2 Comments - Categories: Office and paperwork, Sustainable living

Guide to donating and recycling

- Author: Crystal

Hey Sparkleize readers, think environmentally responsible organizing!

If you live in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area North Carolina, please check out the new Crystal’s Triangle-Area Guide to Donating and Recycling. I’d appreciate any comments or feedback you may have. With the input of others, I’m hoping it will become more and more comprehensive and useful over time.

Thanks, Crystal

No Comments - Categories: Sustainable living

What to do with clementine boxes

- Author: Crystal

I don’t know about you, but I find those little wooden crates irresistable. This Apartment Therapy article offers some clever ideas for repurposing the crates once the clementines are gone, including using them as planter boxes, container gardens, doll beds and gift baskets.

No Comments - Categories: Sustainable living

Snag a bag!

- Author: Crystal

Being organized can be great for the environment too, and this easy solution only takes a moment:

  1. Right this second, head over to wherever you keep your reusable cloth shopping bags.
  2. Grab at least one, and put it either in your purse (yes, they can fold up pretty small) or in the trunk of your car. Better yet, put them in both places!
  3. Now use them whenever you go to the store (any store). Politely but firmly refuse the store’s bags. In doing so, you will help to cut down on the sad environmental impact caused by the plastic grocery bag. Hooray!

Don’t have a cloth shopping bag?

You can buy them at most grocery stores for $.99 near the check-out line. You can also purchase fun, crazy colorful ones here. There’s also this beautiful set from Amazon. Cafepress makes many witty bags. If you’re the DIY type, check out this how-to and make your own bag!

Already have a ton of plastic bags at home? Reuse them, or recycle them!

No Comments - Categories: Kitchen, Sustainable living

One way to reuse yogurt containers

- Author: Crystal

Here’s a bit of nerdy Sparkleizing for you. I helped my husband organize a huge box of “miniatures” (little plastic figurines) for his Dungeons & Dragons game. We used plastic food containers, including yogurt containers, and a shoebox to separate the miniatures by type. (As you can see, some of the miniature types he came up with are real funny – e.g., “Evil humanoids, includes kobolds”.)

Yogurt containers are typically #5 plastic (check the number inside the little recycle symbol on the bottom of the container), so they are actually not recyclable. Thus, reusing them to organize small items is better than putting them in the landfill!

Have additional thoughts or ideas to share? Leave a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

1 Comment - Categories: Sustainable living

3-minute bathroom maintenance

- Author: Crystal

Investing just three minutes a week in lightly maintaining your bathroom will keep all that hair, scum and mildew from building up. A great time to do it is on a weekend, right before you take a shower.

A note about vinegar: the effective, natural cleaning product. There is no need to use dangerous disinfectants, antibacterial products or cleaning products that contain chlorine in your bathroom, all of which cause negative health effects and are bad for the environment. This 3-minute bathroom maintenance guide recommends using only white vinegar and water. You can read more about the amazing natural cleaning power of vinegar here. And for $1.79 per gallon jug, white vinegar is a steal!

The following bathroom maintenance steps will only take you about three minutes:

  1. Clear everything off the bathroom counter.
  2. Sweep the dust and hair off the floor.
  3. Use a clean rag, a piece of toilet paper or a washcloth to wipe the hair off the counter and out of the sink.
  4. Spray white vinegar on all the surfaces of the toilet: the lid, frong and sides of the tank, the top and bottom of the lid, top and bottom of the seat, and inside and outside the bowl. Pour a little white vinegar into the toilet bowl.
  5. Wet a clean rag with warm water and wring it out well, then use it to wipe down the surfaces of the vinegary toilet. If you are squeamish about cleaning toilets, use disposable rags for this job.
  6. Scrub the toilet bowl with a toilet brush. Flush the toilet, then swish the brush around in the fresh water to clean it off.
  7. Spray the sink, counter and faucets with white vinegar. Scrub the sprayed surfaces with a scrub brush or rag.
  8. Spray the mirror with white vinegar. Wipe the mirror dry with a slightly used towel, then use it to dry the sink, counter, faucets, and, last of all, the floor. Then throw the well-used towel in the hamper.
  9. Spray the floor with white vinegar, then wipe it dry with another towel.

After the bathroom surfaces dry, the vinegar smell will disappear, leaving lovely clean air behind!

Thanks go to Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck for these helpful tips!

Have more ideas to share? Post a comment or write to Crystal and let her know!

2 Comments - Categories: Bathroom, Sustainable living

How to stop junk mail

- Author: Crystal


Not only is junk mail bad for the environment, it is also just plain annoying. Thankfully, you can stop junk mail from coming to your mailbox!

To stop junk mail, write to the following three addresses:
Mail Preference Service/Telephone Preference Service Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 90008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
(Request that your name not be put on any new mailing lists)

ADVO – System, Inc.
Director of List Maintenance
239 West Service Road
Hartford, CT 06120-1280
(Request to be removed from current mailing lists)

Customer Services Department
National Demographics and Lifestyles
Denver, CO 80202
(Send a request every 9 months asking to be removed from new & current mailing lists)

You can also:

  • Return the unwanted mail to sender, or send a note asking to be removed from their list in their postage-paid or return mail envelope.
  • Call unwanted catalog companies and ask to be removed from their list.

Thanks to the City of Durham for these great tips!

Have more tips to share? Leave a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: Office and paperwork, Sustainable living