All I want (to give) for Christmas

Having a hard time deciding what to buy family and friends? Me too. There is significant pressure to find the gift for Christmas (and birthdays too).  I’ve tried many different strategies over the years. Once, I purchased all my gifts at after Christmas sales. I’ve dedicated August to gift-buying.  I even bought everything online on Black Friday and had things shipped  directly to recipients.  These strategies worked and didn’t work. My shopping was done. That was my ultimate goal. However, the pleasure of giving these gifts lessened.

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A gift of holiday greenery from our local grocery store

My shopping spree at the after Christmas sales left me with lots of great gifts at huge discounts. As the months passed, I’d find other items I wanted to give instead.  These newly found gifts made me immediately think of the recipient. The items from the after Christmas sale were more “best-of-what-was-available-at-the-time” instead of the gift.

Shopping in August was more effective. I had more time to think of items for those on my list and seek them out.  My downfall was staying strong over the next four months. Retailers stocked shelves with new merchandise and offered great discounts. I changed my mind on what to give. I bought more gifts. My gift stock pile grew. My checking account dwindled.

Buying all my items on Black Friday was exhilarating. Pajamas on and coffee in hand, I purchased a variety of items from multiple websites. No stores to visit. No lines to stand in. No wrapping presents on my bedroom floor. No trips to the Post Office.

I was a dedicated Black Friday online shopper for a few years. It worked, but it was just okay. The fun and magic was compressed into one day.  Gift giving became as ritualistic as addressing the envelopes of my Christmas cards. It is initially exciting and then becomes tedious.

With Christmas creep, multiple sales in November and December, specialty items at holiday fairs, and last minute finds in very random, unexpected places, I now approach my Christmas gift list with a variety of strategies.

Each January, I start a list of family members and select friends I plan on shopping for. The list includes a line for birthday, Christmas gifts, as well as special days that only apply to some recipients – Mother’s Day, confirmation, graduation, etc.  I note ideas I have for them or things they’ve mentioned. (I keep each of my annual gift lists in my address book. This helps me avoid repeats and manage costs).

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My favorite finds from Truelux – Polar Bear King Cookie Jar and their signature lotion-candles!

More and more I utilize Amazon’s gift lists. I set up a list and save ideas for specific recipients and monitor prices throughout the year.  My brother-in-law maintains his own significant public Amazon wish list. He’s always surprised I knew just what he wanted though I’ve confessed my source multiple times.  You can even add items from other online retailers to an Amazon wishlist – just need to add the magic universal button.

My overall guidance now is to buy something I think the recipient would love.  I listen throughout the year and if I’m still stumped I sometimes even ask (more on this later).  My laid back approach to gift gathering has resulted in fewer purchases and changes.  Sometimes, if I really like something I’ve found, I’ll get multiple and give them as hostess and teacher gifts. Hand cream, olive oil, and flavored vinegar are big hits.

General rules for gift giving I follow:

1) Gift cards for experiences over items. Gift cards are great. Let them pick what they want. I certainly appreciate getting a gift card to my favorite retailer.  I feel it can be just too easy and impersonal. Movie tickets, theater productions, museum/zoo memberships, go-carting, rock climbing, golfing, restaurant and hotel gift cards cater to the recipients specific interests. Groupon has great deals on all kinds of adventures and experiences. Note: I sometimes break my own rules. My son wanted new Nikes. My budget didn’t allow for me to get them for him nor did I want to get the wrong ones, so my sister, brother, and I each got him gift cards and he was able to select the pair he had been drooling over.

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UGG Fluffy Flip Flops. Image by J. Jurries

2) Practical gifts with flair.  Practical gifts can be fun too!  Who doesn’t want a bit of luxury and whimsy? My Ansley UGG slippers are one of my favorite gifts, right up there with a faux fur cowl, and my polar bear king cookie jar. My teenagers look forward to crazy socks and underwear. And pajamas! Can you really have too many?

3) Nothing personalized. While the gift should be selected for a specific recipient, personalizing it poses some problems. If they don’t like it or it doesn’t fit, they can’t return it. They may not have another friend with the same name or initials to pass it on to. If the gift is perfect, it doesn’t need their name stamped on it.

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Olympic Mountain Berry Wreath. Image by Lynch Creek Farms

4) Fresh greenery (preferably local) and food hampers/towers/baskets. Wreaths and evergreen swags are beautiful. Many have artificial greenery complete with lighting. The smell of fresh greenery subtly screams Christmas. Centerpieces, advent wreaths, and mini trees are enjoyable, versatile gifts, especially for those who have everything.  There are several companies to choose from.  I use Lynch Creek Farms based in Washington state.

Food. Most of us love it and the market for gift baskets, towers, and hampers is immense. There is something for every budget, food preference, and diet restriction.  Harry and David is my go-to site, though this year I did send a hamper from Fortnum & Mason. I’ve even sent several jars of peanut butter to a PB addict and a case of Bonne Maman peach preserves to someone deprived of their favorite spread. Homemade goodies are also a great gift. Candied pecans, Creme de Minthe bars, and homemade sugar cookies (known in our house as Christmas Crack) are reserved for those living and visiting my home, neighbors, and when a gift needs a little bit more.

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The Boxing Day Hamper. Image by Fortnum & Mason

5) Limit Christmasy items. It’s easy to get caught up in the Christmas colors, decorations, and clothing. I try and limit it. Once we celebrate New Year’s, most holiday items are pack away. Ornaments can be fun gift toppers. Decorative pillows, nutcrackers, and snowglobes should be reserved for extras in a gift package, but not the main event. Ugly sweaters are hilarious and fun, but would you wear yours in February?

6) Books, family games, and challenging puzzles.  Books, games, and puzzles make me happy. Repeated enjoyment all year round. Most are portable, can be shared with others, and passed on when necessary.  With so many choices, you’re sure to find that perfect book. A starter series for a new reader or a new release for an avid reader.  A difficult puzzle for someone needing a challenge.  You can even get wooden ones from Wentworth.  We love ours.  A board game for a whole family to enjoy.  There are sooooooo many to choose from. Our current favorite is Pentago and we’ve ordered Exploding Kittens this year.

I’m in Norway.  There are great stores here – Ting (housewares), Peak Performance (durable clothing), Sprell (chidren’s items and toys), Moods of Norway (clothing), and H&M (fast fashion and accessories).  Leading up to Christmas, many stores have extended hours and are open on Sundays. This is a pretty big deal.  Typically, stores shut down around 6pm and it can feel like a ghost town on Sundays. I like walking downtown and seeing all the shops lit up, and there are lights everywhere!

I have lived far away from family and friends before.  I must rely on the mail system to get things to many of those on my list. If things are going to arrive on time, they need to be purchased, wrapped, and shipped during the first week of December. (My love-hate relationship with the Post Office has improved.   Mail early and the lines are shorter.  I avoid lunch time and going after 3pm.)  I will often supplement my brick-and-mortar store shopping with online finds and have them wrapped and shipped directly.

A significant portion of this year’s gift giving has been made possible by Amazon. They have most everything or know someone who does. They ship almost everywhere.  They don’t always have the best price, however. I often check with Target and WalMart too. Also, it can be cheaper or ship quicker when shopping directly with the manufacturer/retailer.

I pop on Zulily for deals throughout the year.  By chance, they had the very pajamas my sister has been seeking for my niece.  Score!  Paper Source, Fuego,  ModCloth and Etsy are other sites I search for unusual, yet ideal gifts.  I stopped by all my favorite stores online in case they had something I wanted to give and/or a great deal going on.  This year, I have even reached out to Flicka – Women’s Clothing Boutique for some items.  They don’t have a website, so I just sent a Facebook message about what I was looking for (they post pics of new items on their FB page), and they tossed them in the mail for me. Lesson: it never hurts to ask.

It Never Hurts to Ask. This may be the best advice I was ever given about gift giving and therefore am compelled to pass on.  There may be something they really want or need but think is too silly to ask for – new underwear from Victoria’s Secret,  a cast iron skillet, a massage, a hair cut. These are perfect for the recipient and therefore great gifts.  I ask for a Chia Pet for years in vain.  It was a long time till someone took my request seriously.  It could be agreed that neither of you get gifts for each other, possibly meeting for coffee and cake or lunch spending some quality time together instead.  Have their family over for a simple dinner and play games.  If they aren’t willing to help with their own gift ideas, something fun, practical, and returnable will suffice.

It is the thought that matters.  Yes.  Their personality, needs, and desires should matter.  So you have to think about it.  Give it some thought.  Take your time.  Gift giving doesn’t need to be arduous. It should be fun. We often make it a chore.  Starting early and building in flexibility to your own approach helps keep it less stressful and easier to stay within your budget.

HAPPY GIFT GIVING!

For Tired and Hungry Shoppers in San Diego and PNW

I have a confession. I do not generally enjoy going shopping. I get tired and overwhelmed. There is either too much to choose from or nothing to choose from.  I get stumped with color and size options. But then, something, there it is.  The perfect gift. It can make all the pain and anxiety worth it. To help me cope I limit my brick and mortar shopping to a few stores – ones I love. I also like the one stop shop concept of select malls.  Not all malls are created equal.  If I need to shop, I need to lunch.  Remember, I get tired and hungry.  More malls should have lounges for a quick lie down.

When I lived in San Diego, my go to mall was the Westfield UTC in La Jolla.  “Retail-Resort” is an apt description.  Great variety. Yummy food options.  And it was 5 miles from my old house. I would hit Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Williams-Sonoma, and Zumiez for deals.  Geppetto’s Toys for beautiful toys.  Seasons 52, Eureka!, Corner Bakery, and Tender Greens are fab eateries. Westfield UTC has a stage for local performers, family lounge, car detailing while you shop, and an ice skate rink adjacent a large food court.  Beautifully designed.

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Final run of Maurice Sendak’s ‘Nutcracker’ in Seattle 2014

While in the Pacific Northwest,  I mostly shopped at small businesses on Poulsbo‘s Front Street.  Flicka Women’s Clothing Boutique has “on-trend styles for many different budgets.”  They carry Free People, Prairie Underground, Splendid, and Fjällräven packs.   It is my favorite shop in Poulsbo. Modern Mercantile has a beautiful selection of sophisticated and beachy clothing, jewelry, housewares, and stationary. Liberty Bay Books is packed full of gorgeous books in all categories.  They have games, toys, and coffee. The owners organize several events at the shop.  My daughter’s preschool class would walk down to the shop and have reading time here.  Wonderful shop. Truelux is fun!  Quirky, whimsical home decor and candles that are lotion.  Amazing.  Another Poulsbo favorite is Central Market. It is a grocery store, but oh, so much more.  This is a destination and it is incredible.  You’ll get it once you visit.  Just try and stick to your list.  The selection is an emotional experience. It is beautiful. Everyone is happy here.  They make it easy to hand over your pay check.

If you get hungry and opt to not eat at Central Market while you’re there, The Loft and ChocMo are highly recommended. To make the decision easier, if the sun is shining, head to the Loft – fantastic harbor-view patio.  Their burgers and beer taste even better outside on warm days.  ChocMo – Chocolate Bistro has locally sourced items, changing menu, small and intimate, and handcrafted chocolates.  Yum!

For destination shopping, I would hop on a ferry and drive to University Village near the University of Washington.  Open-air shopping, variety, and food options.  Paper Source, Anthropologie, Peek Kids,  and Land of Nod are my favorites.  I would love to work (and possibly live) in all of these shops…and not just for the employee discount.  We almost always ate at Elemental Wood Fired Pizza – sit at the bar and ask for some dough to play with.  Don’t forget to swing by Macy’s Santaland in downtown Seattle and see Santa!

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