Your Best Holidays Ever – Week 2 and Creating a Gift Plan

Christmas gifts at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: DP Styles

Welcome to the second installment of “All Done By December 1,” our group effort to get organized for the holidays early so we can enjoy the month of December and actually experience the joy and wonder of the season. I hope you enjoyed last week’s assignment, and were inspired to ponder how you might create a celebration this year that is both personally meaningful and reasonable in scope.

This week, we’re going to tackle the Big Kahuna of Christmas tasks – a plan for gifts. But before we begin, let’s explore some of our own beliefs and practices. Read each of these statements, and consider whether you agree or disagree:

  • I need to buy a gift for every person who gives me a gift.
  • My gifts should be roughly the same cost and/or value as the gifts that are given to me.
  • The gifts under the tree should make a design statement, and should be wrapped in coordinating colors.
  • I have no idea what to get some of the people on my gift list. They are so hard to buy for!
  • Sometimes I end up buying a gift I suspect the person won’t even use, just because I have to have something to give.
  • I feel I should keep some generic gifts like candles on hand, in case someone stops by with an unexpected gift for me.
  • I have purchased gifts out of desperation on Christmas Eve.
  • I have spent more money than I had planned to, buying last-minute gifts.
  • When someone asks me what I want, I demur and don’t really answer.
  • I sometimes receive gifts I don’t really want or need.
  • I have paid rush shipping charges to have gifts sent at the last minute.
  • Buying and wrapping gifts is sometimes a source of stress for me.
  • On Christmas morning, the pile of gifts under the tree is obscene.
  • Even so, my children have been known to tear through the gifts and ask “Is that all there is?”
  • We need a black Hefty trash bag or two to haul out all of the wrappings and packaging after Christmas.

I made up this list largely by drawing on my own experience. Can you relate to any of those statements? When did the whole Christmas gift-giving business get so completely out of hand? What can we do to make a shift in our celebrations?

Christmas gifts at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: James Ellsworth

Let’s begin by encouraging each other, and sharing our thoughts and ideas. For some soul-soothing perspective on how it might really feel to simplify gift-giving, you might enjoy a story about our friends the McDonalds in “One Real Family’s Real Simple Christmas.” Even if we just take baby steps to buy less and enjoy more this year, we’re heading in the right direction. We can do this!

Now, these are some thoughts and ideas from yours truly:

Family gifts can often be challenging. If you doggedly follow the same traditions year after year, can you take some steps to cut back or simplify this year? How radical would you have to get? Since 2002, our family has been using Christmas Wish List, a site where we  each post a short list of the things we would truly like as gifts. Users can even post a link to where the giver can find the item online. It felt a little piggy at first, but we have all benefited from much easier gifting and shopping. We’ve also enjoyed receiving things we truly need. Our lists often contain homemade items, used books and stuff on eBay. (Christmas Wish List’s website has been down for the past 24 hours, but Your Christmas List and Smart Christmas List are good alternatives.)

My friend Joanie’s family draws names for Christmas, and the rule is that the gift has to cost under $25. Regifting is encouraged, as are homemade, recycled and used items

Most of my friends and I have stopped giving gifts, and instead we make plans to do something fun together – like a Simple Christmas Cookie Exchange. If you broach the subject with your friends, chances are they’ll happily agree to forgo the presents. Or you could try a White Elephant exchange, or give gag gifts.

But what about our children?

Christmas Day at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Lisa Sexton

How do we keep their expectations reasonable? Much of the advice I’ve read suggests starting young, and being honest about what what our kids can expect. I’m a little late, but our son knows that he will receive five presents from us – that’s it. Five gifts is plenty, and as he gets older I suspect the number of gifts will be reduced as the cost of the gifts rises.

Now, let’s talk about me and you. In our good intentions to be humble and thrifty, I think sometimes we drive our loved ones crazy when we don’t give them at least a few ideas. I’ve been so guilty of this! Can we think of a few simple suggestions that we can share if we’re asked what we want? If you did last week’s homework assignment, you’ll be prepared if the question arises.

Finally, could we let go of the urge to always feel like we need to reciprocate on the same level as those who give us presents? It’s not an easy thing to do. Two years ago, I wanted to surprise the young administrative assistant who worked for one of my clients. I knew she held down two jobs to make ends meet, so a week before Christmas I sent her a nice gift card to an online retailer. I imagined her using it to purchase some Christmas presents for others, with a little left over to buy herself a treat. To my dismay, on Christmas Eve I received a Fed X package. This dear young girl had felt so compelled to return my favor that she had gone out and bought me a gift, and paid $25 to have it shipped overnight.

If I’m being honest, though, I can sort of relate to how she must have felt. I remember several years ago when an acquaintance dropped by with a surprise basket filled with little goodies, including a beautiful ornament, homemade candies and cookies, and presents for my kids. I could hardly enjoy it, so guilt-ridden was I that I didn’t have something for her. But did she care? I’m sure she didn’t! Instead of fretting, I wish I would have simply basked in her generous gesture. We have to get beyond this whole idea of reciprocity, don’t you think?

Christmas morning at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Brett Jordan

Now, could you use some ideas for this year’s holiday gifts? Two years ago, my friend Pam posted this on her Facebook status:

“I just did all my Christmas shopping in one stop at our library’s used book sale. I purchased 24 books, something for every person on my gift list. Total cost: $47.”

Brilliant! I’d love to receive a great book, wouldn’t you? Plus, they’re easy to wrap and ship. If you can’t buy a used book for everyone on your list, here are some terrific articles about holiday gifts — each of which has great ideas for things you can make or purchase inexpensively:

Get Rich Slowly’s List of 34 Great Gifts You Can Make Yourself

From Not Made of Money – 50 Homemade Gift Ideas

From Martha Stewart – how to force amaryllis and narcissus bulbs

14 Homemade Food Gifts from Country Living

Homemade liqueur recipes

From Epicurious – edible Christmas gifts to make or buy

From Wise Bread – 10 Gifts Teachers Really Want

Great Charities for Families at the Holidays

Homemade Christmas gifts

Photo: Ciarra McDonnell

Your Holiday Homework (“HoHo”!) this week is as follows:

  1. Make a master gift list. Write down every single person for whom you want to present a gift. Check your list twice, whittle away what you can, and keep it reasonable.
  2. Set a spending limit for each person, and a total amount you will pay for gifts this year. Your budget should be within your means, so that you can achieve it between now and December 1 without taking on any debt.
  3. Purchase, make or otherwise obtain at least one gift for someone on the list this week.
  4. Find a creative way to wrap or package it using materials you already have on hand.
  5. Cross it off your list. You’ve made progress!

Optional: Reduce your list by at least one gift. Talk to one person about doing something fun this year instead of exchanging gifts.

If you like, share your ideas and experiences in the comments below. I’ll post some tips about wrapping soon, but in the mean time I hope you’re able to create a gift plan that works for you. For me, just making the list and getting started is like taking a nice, deep breath. Ahhhh…here we go.

Here’s to your nicest Christmas ever,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of six books about home design and food. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

4 comments to Your Best Holidays Ever – Week 2 and Creating a Gift Plan

  • I started on my list already, we give 1 present to each person (my mum, step-dad, mother in law, sister in law, brother in law and my partner) and we have an idea for almost everyone (we give presents together with my partner).
    My main problem is how to keep my mother in law from getting each of us (partner and I) not only what we asked but also everything else she managed to think of?
    My mother says to let her as she enjoys it but she doesn’t have that much money and it’s also a bit overbearing for me.
    I’m open to any idea/suggestion!

  • Our family handles gift-giving differently than any other family I know. By mutual agreement, on my husband’s side of the family and my own, we have quit exchanging gifts. It had become burdensome instead of joyous, so we simply quit doing it.

    Instead, we have Christmas Eve breakfast out with my husband’s dad and step-mom, Christmas Eve dinner out with my daughter and her husband, Christmas morning at home with our granddaughter, and a Christmas afternoon meal at home with my husband’s mom and step-dad. We all take turns hosting or picking up the tab.

    On my side of the family, if someone decides to host a gathering, we go, but this doesn’t happen every year.

    With these traditions, our gift list is very small. We buy a few things for our granddaughter (who lives with us), a gift for her teacher, and a gift for my husband’s boss. We help our granddaughter by a gift each for her parents. We don’t really care how many or how few gifts are under the tree, but we do have a budget we follow. We save a few dollars from each paycheck throughout the year, and I redeem Swagbucks for Amazon.com gift cards that I save for Christmas.

    My husband and I don’t buy gifts for each other anymore, but we will often go out sometime just before or after Christmas and buy ourselves something we’ve been wishing for. It’s usually not expensive — just something that is more of a want than a need. :)
    Annie recently posted..The Measure of a Marriage

  • Becky

    I’ve just found your website and it’s great! I’m jumping on board for this challenge. Years ago I was half done by October, but 3 kids later and all their activites have taken over my time. One thing I did start with them years ago that I heard form someone was three gifts were enough for Gods son, so three gifts are good enough for my sons. They can make a list of five and I choose the three.

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