There are people who love the holidays, and people who don’t. I’m in the second group. I find the holiday season overwhelming, and I dislike the pressure of finding gifts for so many people. If it were up to me, we’d have a very simple Christmas with minimal gift giving. But others in my extended family don’t share my views. So I must accept that our Christmas celebrations are more elaborate, expensive, and time consuming than I’d choose.
Fortunately, I’ve found ways to approach the season that make it less stressful.
Here are a few strategies that have helped me. I hope they help you too, whatever holiday you celebrate.
1. Be grateful. This is the most important one! When I feel grumpy about the season’s demands, I try to remember how lucky I am to have so many loving and generous relatives.
2. Start early. Even if you don’t make decisions or shop till later, those processes will be much easier and smoother if you do some prep work now. See items 3 and 4 below!
3. Set up a system. Mine has three parts:
- Folder: I assign a folder for stashing receipts, catalogs, ads I’ve clipped, and coupons—basically, anything gift related that is paper and not on my computer. I use only one folder, and I don’t bother sorting. I just want a single location for this stuff. (I love to use slash folders for temporary projects like this.)
- Pinterest board: I use Pinterest to keep track of gift ideas I’ve found online. I have a board for gifts that I add to year round, but it gets the most action during the holiday season. I keep this board secret, so only I can see it.
- Spreadsheet: I set up a simple spreadsheet for everyone I give gifts to. For each person, I track the gift I’ve decided on, whether I’ve bought it yet, if anyone owes me money for it, or if I own another person money for it. The spreadsheet helps me keep track within the holiday season. But it’s also really helpful to have old versions, which I scan to remind myself of what I’ve given in the past—that way, I don’t repeat myself. Pro tip: I put kids’ ages next to their names. Each season I use the previous year’s spreadsheet as a template, and just increase each child’s age by a year, so I always have that information at hand as I’m thinking about gifts.
4. Do some research first—and here are a few links. I am not very good at coming up with gift ideas, so I either just ask for suggestions (not directly—I’ll ask people for suggestions for their spouses or kids) or, increasingly, use gift guides or other Web resources. I often start with Amazon; its 2016 toy list is here. In the past I’ve bought a lot from Hearthsong and Learning Express. They all let you apply filters like age or interest.
I’ve even had great luck from reading blogs. For instance, Mel’s Kitchen Café is a cooking site but I have gotten great game ideas there. Here is her 2016 roundup. (Mel has the best cookie recipes, by the way). Years ago I bought several wonderful books on the recommendation of décor blogger Centsational Girl. (That post is here—in particular we loved Emergency and Mirror Mirror.)
Or sometimes I’ve just done a Google search of “gift ideas for 10-year-olds.”
The point is, a little research time up front can really help, even if you’re planning to shop in stores.
And of course I must mention this: consider reducing gift clutter by giving experiences (vouchers for a restaurant, movie tickets, an offer of babysitting) or making donations whenever possible!
5. Donate or discard your old toys now. This is a great time to sit down with your kids to go through their toys to see what they’re no longer using. You’ll gain some space for any new stuff that comes in, and make the old things available for families who will use and love them in time for the holidays
6. Make wrapping easier. I hate wrapping gifts. Like, really hate it. I don’t like the process, and I’m not crazy about the waste involved. So I make it as simple as possible. Gift bags are my favorite, for ease and for reusability. But sometimes I do have to wrap packages. I buy nonmetallic paper (so it can be recycled) and keep one of these cutters with my wrapping supplies—I find it makes the cutting process quicker and easier. This year I’m going to try this hand-mounted tape dispenser, which I hope will further simplify the process.
I wish you and your family a joyful holiday season!