I have a friend who works in the consumer lending department at a bank. She starts getting busy around August — because her offices are flooded with people taking out loans for their holiday shopping. And she stays busy well into the new year — because a huge percentage of those people default on their agreements and/or end up filing for bankruptcy! When did this become the norm for celebrating the holidays? And isn't it time for a change?
Why do we feel compelled to go so deeply in debt buying gifts? It seems as though every year the bar is raised — we are expected to shop for more people, purchase more expensive presents, and spend larger and larger sums of money. Even in a down economy, folks who are struggling to pay the mortgage and buy groceries refuse to cut back during the holidays. And where does all this spending get us? I can't tell you how many of my organizing clients have piles of old Christmas gifts buried in their closets — items for which they have no use, but can't bring themselves to toss. I'm pretty sure that the holidays are not supposed to be about debt, guilt, and clutter! Here are a few steps you can take on the “giving” side to make the holiday less costly in every direction.
Some families feel like they need to have lots of presents under the tree for it to be a happy holiday. At least in my family, it's because my Depression-era parents spent many years without, and they want to compensate for the lean years with a big pile now. Matt and I finally had to ask our family to stop loading us down with a lot of “stuff” each year, especially once we hit the road RVing (although we stated it in much nicer terms!) And in return, we have limited our giving to one gift per person. And it's made such a positive impact (less pressure, stress, and expense) that no one complains about having fewer presents to open on Christmas morning!
If you come from a large family, you might not even be able to manage one gift per person — and that's okay! I learned a great technique from a client with a huge clan (we're talking 12 kids plus grandkids, aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it.) They simply couldn't afford to shop for everyone, and decided that the reasonable solution was for each person to give only one gift — period. Each year, they all put names in a hat, each person pulls a name, and buys or makes a present for that one individual. Then they plan a big party on Christmas morning where the whole group opens their packages together. It's the perfect win-win — everyone gets a gift, and no one has to feel strapped during the holidays.
Back in the days of macrame potholders and picture frames decorated with dried macaroni, handmade gifts got a bad rap. But thanks to the proliferation of craft “department” stores that offer tons of high-quality ideas and low-cost supplies (as well as folks like Martha Stewart who have built empires on teaching DIY skills) they've rebounded in a big way. Homemade gifts have a personal feel that bought presents often lack — folks know that you cared enough to put yourself into the giving, and you get the satisfaction of creating something beautiful. You might way, “I don't have that kind of talent.” But even the craft-challenged can overcome with a good “kit” or a free class. You don't even have to make something from scratch — you can put together a photo album with pictures of your kids, or a recipe book of family favorites. And if you really want to turn on the old heart light, give a gift that one of your kids made!
If you're not particularly artistic, gift baskets are always a hip and happening gift. Paying a gift basket company to put one together for you can cost more than a traditional store-bought gift — so customize one yourself, matching the contents to the recipient's interests and hobbies. I will shop sales throughout the year finding neat little “gizmos” that would go well in a gift basket — a kitchen tool for my sister who loves to cook or something “cow” themed for my ruminant-obsessed friend — and stash them away until the holidays. I also look for practical (a colander) or funky (a cow-shaped cookie jar) containers to use in place of the basket. The result is a gift that I had fun putting together, that really means something to the recipient, and that costs less than it looks like it should!
Food is another great option — especially when you like to give a little something to everyone you know. Bake a huge batch of cookies or make sausage balls –even the dreaded fruitcake is actually pretty good when it's homemade! Then wrap a small bundle in colored cellophane and top with a bow. It's festive, it's inexpensive, it comes from the heart, it will eventually disappear (reducing clutter) — and everyone loves to eat!
You don't always have to give “stuff” when a gifting occasion comes around. Some of the best presents I have ever given or received were events rather than “things.” It seems as though everyone we know sort of has everything they need — why fill their lives with more junk? So we've taken folks out to dinner or to a play, given parents free babysitting (so they could grab some alone time), and scheduled group outings in lieu of holiday presents. And these occasions don't have to be expensive — a favorite gift I received in college was a day out with my friends at a state park (hiking, canoeing, and a picnic lunch). You can build great memories, spend some quality time — and you don't have to worry about your gift being exchanged for something else!
Speaking of memories, a great idea for a present is a little bit of nostalgia. One year, I made photo albums for my sisters. I gathered up pictures of our parents and grandparents, them as children, family events we had attended together, and important moments in their lives. It was simple and inexpensive and I had a nice trip down memory lane putting it together. And I don't know if I've ever gotten a better response to a Christmas gift. Dig up some old letters, a family heirloom, or even a favorite stuffed animal from childhood. Anything that reminds people of the “good old days” is always well-received.
Finally, there is always the issue of gift certificates, unfairly maligned but a great clutter-free and inexpensive option. I'm not necessarily talking about store certificates — the “you-couldn't-think-of-anything-else-so-you-bought-a-gift-card” type present. You can give gift certificates for chores or events — babysitting, free yard work, or a girl's night on the town. I recently gave a friend of mine a gift certificate for a day of horseback riding and sushi (two things her husband doesn't care for) — and she loved it. Or you can go one step farther, and make the certificate out in the name of a favorite cause. The gift of a charitable donation shows the real spirit of the season. You can choose from a variety of non-profit organizations — from adopting a whale to planting a tree to making a contribution to a particular foundation. And hopefully your selflessness and concern for those around you will inspire others to do the same.
Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream with The Husbert and two fur-babies. Learn more at GettingOrganizedAToZ.com and RamonaCreel.com.
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