Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holiday Shopping, Part II

I really love finding gifts for people. Gifting tends to be one of my love languages. I don't usually gift other than Christmas and birthdays, but when I do, a LOT of thought goes in to it.

The kinds of gifts I give vary per person, but the response I'm after is always the same - lit eyes, a smile, interest. I've had my hits and misses, but I always like to try.

For example, we gave my nephew potatoes for Christmas last year. Yes, we got him books too, but when he and I had talked earlier (he was eight at the time), he told me he wanted potatoes. So I gave him potatoes in a gift sack, with ribbon tied around each potato. He sat there, on my in-laws' couch, and proceeded to take the ribbon off each one. It still makes me happy thinking about it.

Finding Christmas gifts, though, can be overwhelming. So here are some thoughts from me about keeping life as (relatively) simple as possible during the holiday season...

1. Make a list of everyone you're giving to. Write what you're giving - or thinking about giving - to that person next to each name. Save this list for next year. Sure, you'll remember some of these gifts, but I never remember what color of earrings I've already made for my sister, and I hate asking. Keeping a master list of the finals solves everything.

2. Keep your recipient in mind. You might think something's the greatest item ever, but if your gift-ee doesn't think so, it's not a good gift. And don't choose just because you want to borrow it later. Make sure it's something the recipient will actually like.

3. Consider a theme. Two years ago, I knit hats for my brothers-in-law and nephew, and hat and scarf sets for my sister and niece (in case you're wondering why my own brother didn't get a hat, it was because he was going to Africa in a matter of weeks, and a woolen cap didn't seem all that practical. Oh, and Danny already had a hat). Last year with the book I scaled back and we did a book Christmas for most everyone. It was really handy, because we did the bulk of our shopping on Amazon and More on bargain shopping in a bit...

4. Shop year-round. Okay, saying that in November this isn't so practical, but Christmas will return next year. Generally, I'm too tired from the holidays to consider shopping until later, but one of these years I'll actually buy yarn and knit far ahead of time.

5. Shop online - the deals are there. We found really great products for great deals the year we did our book Christmas. And last year, I found superwash merino yarn for Danny's (as yet unfinished) sweater online at a really great price. The rule to online Christmas shopping is to do it early. We had a close call last year for one item, which almost didn't arrive on time. It was stressful!

When buying books, DVDs, CDs, that sort of thing online, condition is everything. I'm all for finding good deals, but for a gift, don't buy used. It's like pulling a book off your shelf and wrapping it. A dinged, cracked case or dented cover sends the wrong message. Visible dust is a no-no. I have no issue with remainder marks on books (black marker line on the top or bottom of the pages), since you can buy books new from bookstores like that.

If you buy a book that's marked new by the seller and it arrives obviously not new (and I've had this happen a couple times), by all means notify the seller. Most of the time they're horrified and send you another, gratis. This is another reason to order early, so you've got all the time in the world.

6. Speaking of damaged goods, re-gift with care. Anything you re-gift shouldn't look re-gifted. And if you're re-gifting, it should be the kind of thing you'd give the recipient anyway. Obviously, this does not hold true for White Elephant Gifts, which are my favorite way to discard odd gifts with style. Just try to take things that could potentially be enjoyed by someone at the party. This is why you invite people with a sense of humor...

7. Try to finish all of your shopping at least two weeks before Christmas. I'm not saying that to make people's lives harder, it's just that entering into places of retail in those last two weeks is like stepping into the Fire Swamp. On purpose. The crowds, the lines, the lack of parking, why do that to yourself?? Also, stores get picked over at this point.

8. Shop TJ Maxx, Ross, and Marshall's. Again, the deals are there. This kind of shopping you have to do with an open mind. What I like about these stores is that you can find really nice, high quality items marked way down. Cashmere is suddenly affordable (TJ stocks a lot of cashmere in the winter, btw). These stores get VERY picked over in the weeks before Christmas, so hit them early. Look for leather gloves, scarves, glassware, bath and spa items, hats, blankets, runners - walk through the whole store, you don't know where a good find is hiding. Check Costco, too, for books, clothes, and food gifts.

9. Rules for happy shopping still apply, especially if you have children with you! Make sure everyone goes potty/ gets a diaper change before you leave. Stay hydrated, bring snacks. You might opt for stores with easily accessible public restrooms.

10. If you're shopping alone, and you hate lines, you might try my sanity trick - take a library book in your purse. Library book, because you're clearly not shoplifting. Having something to do in line can make all the difference! You may look a little nutters, but at least you're happy by the time you reach the register.

A note on After Christmas Sales:

1. Case the joint ahead of time. This is a particularly good idea for stores like Target.
2. Only buy items if they're truly a good deal. Honestly, this is the only time I buy Christmas decorations.
3. This is also a good time to stock up on gift wrap, gift bags, gift tags, ribbon that sort of thing.

And most importantly -

4. Store all of your After Christmas Sale Loot in one place, near your Christmas stuff. If you can't find it come December next year, that's kind of sad.

Not that it has anything to do with shopping, but I'm also intending to wrap as I go this year. Last year's last-minute wrapping was almost as much fun as invasive dentistry. If you're buying items one at a time, you might consider wrapping them immediately afterward.

My gift shopping starts tomorrow. Now I have to decide when the Christmas music is coming out...

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