Beams of light burst through the cloudless blue sky and into my window this morning bringing promise of another beautiful fall day. Little color remains on the trees, but variations of brown, rust, and gold still cling to nearby hillsides. The valley, aglow with sun-dappled leaves and shadows, seems to laugh in the face of autumn’s imminent demise. Despite the gift of unseasonal warmth this week, I can’t help but turn my thoughts to the coming holiday season and gifts of another kind. Not to overlook Thanksgiving, it indeed has its rightful place, and there is much for which to be grateful this year.
Nevertheless, with things being the way they are, I have had a minor focus on holiday gift giving for quite some months now. After surrendering my job to the pandemic in July, I quickly began to consider the idea that it will be a meager Christmas this year. Well, meager is a strong choice of words. You see, for several years I have wanted to pare down our extended family gift giving. Not because I am stingy, or in anyway an ungrateful giver… in fact, I quite enjoy the process of selecting and giving very personalized gifts to those I love and seeing their face light up with joy when they peel back the wrapping.
But with a simple lifestyle there comes a turning point when you realize you really don’t want a lot of gifts. Gift giving and receiving is fun. But in the end, when the excitement is over and guests have gone, we usually find ourselves looking at a lot of very nice things but wondering what in the world we’re going to do with it all?
So, with the loss of half our income, I began shopping bit by bit each month to smooth-out the dent that holiday giving will put in our budget this season. We announced that we’ll be putting a cap on how much we are able to spend per person – and asked family to stay within that limit. This is something we have wanted to do for years, yet though we’d mention it, we knew that generosity would continue to overflow. We would be just as guilty in our spending because, let’s face it, money does not go far these days. So, below are some of my favorite tips for keeping Christmas costs low, and gift-giving useful, meaningful, and clutter free!
- Keep your eyes and ears open. All year. Some of the most surprising and best gifts come by paying attention to what your loved ones say, noticing what they need when you visit, and making note of it. (Keep a list on your phone).
- Spread shopping out over several months. Or even the year. Often the best deals you’ll find happen when you least expect it. But beware the trap of buying items just because they’re on sale at an amazing price when they’re really not what the recipient would want or need.
- Keep gift-giving useful. This doesn’t mean it has to be plain and strictly utilitarian. Know your recipient’s tastes and give something they need, in their own personal style.
- Give items your recipient is passionate about. If you know and understand their hobbies, or can find out specifics, gift them with something special that they will appreciate and use. Like a leather journal, some new fishing gear, or a luxurious natural-fiber yarn.
- Give meaningful gift cards. Yes, I know. Many people feel that gift card giving is impersonal and requires little thought. But giving a gift card for a specialty store that grandma loves, or to a fancy restaurant your brother would really enjoy but won’t splurge on for himself can be meaningful and appreciated.
- Consider memberships or one time visits. This is not necessarily one of my favorite options. Often memberships, though they make a lovely gift, can be well over your spending limit. However, if it is not, go for it! On the other hand, it is one of my favorite tips to create special moments with a loved one. Sharing the visit to a favorite museum, event, game, or dining experience can be a wonderful opportunity for strengthening relationships.
- Consider classes. Give a lesson for cooking a special meal, baking bread, a new hobby they’ve always wanted to try, or beginning language for your student’s upcoming exchange trip. Local community colleges, community centers, and libraries are a great place to check for these types of opportunities.
- Avoid decor items or collectibles. It is too easy to think you’ve found something someone will love. But they may not have a place for it or it may not truly be their style. In addition, the intended recipient may already be overwhelmed with an item they started collecting years ago that people won’t stop giving them. (Just because they loved widgets 5 years ago doesn’t mean their tastes haven’t changed or that they love every style of widget available).
- Do give something cozy or relaxing. You can’t miss by giving someone the softest quality pair of socks you can find, an exquisitely fluffy throw blanket to snuggle up in, a softly scented candle, or even a set of thick, sumptuous bath towels.
- Ask them what they want. I believe this is the best strategy. I know many people prefer the element of surprise and want to preserve the magic of the holidays. But for me, every time, I would rather know what someone truly wants – with specific colors, styles, sizes, etc. (think Amazon wish lists). And I would rather provide ideas to save someone time, effort, and money during the busiest time of the year. After all, don’t kids eagerly let Santa know what they want? 🙂
- Avoid giving items of clothing. Don’t opt for clothing if you do not know the recipient’s size. Steer clear of anything that is not a one-size-fits-all sort of item such as scarves, a shawl, or socks. Stick to items they’ve asked for specifically.
- And finally, Ditch the wrapping paper. Use up all that you have left and then switch to gift bags. These can be saved and used over. I like to use plain brown ones and make them festive with little ornaments and some ribbon. Reusable, cloth holiday-print bags are fun too and they are becoming more readily available. One of my favorite traditions was a pink, rose-shaped bow that my mother in law and I passed back and forth for years. It would show up on birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, Easter… and we were always surprised and tickled to discover it on a package!
However you choose to celebrate your holidays this year, whether it be in person with your loved ones or mailing packages and visiting online, know that you can simplify the act of gift giving. Let this be the holiday season you’ll adhere to simplicity as you shop for those perfect presents!