Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Give Them Something They Don't Have to Dust

I’ve been slacking off lately, what with the holiday preparations and all. Kidding. About the holiday preparations, but not the slacking off. In light of this realization, I’ve decided to dedicate the next four posts to holiday preparations – presents, decorating, food, and staying sane – in that order.  

What to give? I first need to preface this by sharing my philosophy that we all have plenty of “stuff”. Very few of us truly need anything. But many of us delight in giving gifts during the holiday. I would be one of them. I love to see the faces of my loved ones when they open my gifts. In fact, I even love wrapping the gifts. I keep extensive lists on my phone throughout the year of ideas I come across that would be perfect for a certain person. So I’m all about gift giving, but I’m fundamentally against stuff accumulating.

Here are my gift giving guidelines:

  1. The smaller the better (in size not substance).
  2. Perishables before permanence.
  3. Experiences are WAY better than anything you have to dust.
  4. You can never go wrong with books.
  5. It is ALWAYS the thought that counts.
So, with those thoughts in mind, I’ll share a few of my favorite gifts. Feel free to copy, adapt, or ignore.

  1. Charitable gifts. These are always a good idea because they are in line with all of my guidelines. But as I’ve said, I love the wrapping of objects and a small piece of paper proclaiming that money has been given in the recipients name, just doesn’t cut it. Here’s a few ways I’ve gotten around that:
-         Give used books along with a donation to any cause, one that promotes literacy if you like thematic gifts. I spent a year saving each book I read, underlining the parts I liked, making notes in it, and then affixing a post-it with the name of the person I thought would most like it so I’d remember come Christmas. I bundled the books up with a pretty ribbon and tag, with a note saying I’d made a donation in their name instead of buying new books.

-         Give a gift of animals through the Heifer Project along with cookies in the shape of the animal given or a drawing or clay figure representing the animal.

-         For teachers, give a bundle of pencils or package of paper clips (or just about any school supply, they can always use them) with a donation to an organization that promotes education. I did this last year for the I Have A Dream Foundation, and the teachers were truly touched. I did something similar for the music instructors with a charity that promoted the arts. 

  1. Family Picture gifts. These work because relatives, particularly grandparents, are happy to get updated pics. Besides the lovely framed photos, you can:
-         Make a bookmark with pictures, notes, illustrations of the kids, yourself, whomever would delight the receiver. Laminate it, punch a hole in it and add a decorative ribbon (you can add beads or charms to the ribbons for extra flair)

-         Calendar of family photos. This can be simple using an online service like snapfish, or fancy if you have the time to scrapbook each page. I’ve been doing this for years and since it easily eats up multiple days, it’s a gift of my time as much as the pictures. I enjoy the process and reflect on the faces in the pictures and the people I’m making them for as I create.

-         Family Picture Book. My sister-in-law gave my kids a small spiral bound blank book filled with pictures of their cousins doing all kinds of activities. Simple things like cooking, playing sports, and making funny faces. It was narrated and laminated. My kids enjoyed reading that book nearly every day for years. We still have it but it’s so mashed and stained, I didn’t want to post a picture because it wouldn’t do the idea justice. 

  1. Baked gifts. This is an old standby, but people always appreciate it, especially single, young, or elderly people who don’t have the inclination, time, or energy to bake holiday treats themselves.
-         Truffles are easy to make and always impress. Here is the recipe for Oreo Truffles (although I coat mine with white chocolate - much better). Every year I have given these, people beg me for the recipe. Disclaimer: this is in no way a healthy or organic gift!

-         Granola is a healthy alternative to cookies and candy. It is easy to make. I’ve posted my granola recipe in a previous blog post. Fill pint jars and cut a small piece of fabric or decorative paper to dress up the lid.

-         Bread is a simple and much appreciated gift also. I started doing this instead of candy for a friend who is diabetic, but everyone who has received a fresh, homemade loaf of bread has loved it. Easy to do, especially if you have a breadmaker (but I take the dough out and bake it in a traditional bread pan so it’s a normal shape and not that odd hat size loaf)

-         Infused Oils and Vinegars. This requires that you purchase an appropriate bottle, but they are relatively inexpensive and you can be fancy and paint on them or just dress them up with a ribbon. Recipes for simple infusions (rosemary olive oil, raspberry vinegar) are all over the internet, but most require only that you leave the additive in the oil for a period of time, so get started on this one soon if you want to give infused treats! 

  1. Experiences. These are my favorite gifts because they take up no space and they force us to go do something, sometimes things we’d never do if someone else didn’t pay for it.
-         Tickets to see plays, musicals, concerts given with a flyer for the venue or a small trinket that goes with the theme or a bag of popcorn (white-chocolate covered is my favorite!)

-         Gift certificate for bowling, ice skating, laser tag, mini golf, whatever floats your boat with a box of twizzlers, mittens, golf tee or something useful that is in keeping with the activity.

-         Prepaid lessons – guitar, sailing, archery, drawing, painting along with a guitar pick, sunscreen, pencils, etc.

-         Subscriptions to magazines, wine-of-the-month club, flowers-of-the-month club, or better yet a CSA membership!

  1. Homemade gift certificates. I add this one trepidaciously (I think I invented that word!) because I am aware that many of these well-meaning certificates or coupons don’t ever actually come to fruition. I am in possession of coupons for clean rooms, dishes done, etc. which I’ve never been able to use because there always seem to be fine print involved (“I’m too tired,” “but I have homework”). Still, these are great stocking stuffers. I use them in our advent boxes (25 little boxes they open each day of advent).
-         Get-out-of-kitchen chores free for one night card

-         Ride to the movies for you and three of your friends (notice this is only a free ride, not a free movie)

-         Choose your own dinner coupon (must be redeemed at least 48 hours in advance of said dinner) 

I’m sure many of you have ideas about holiday gift giving. If you’d be willing to share them, please add them as comments on the blog site (rather than responding on Facebook or in e-mail to me as most of the comments come in). That way more people can read them. I know it’s an extra step, and who needs extra steps at this busy time, but think of it as your gift to the rest of us, or to the universe in general. 

One more comment I must add: Please consider using something other than paper to wrap your gifts. I posted about our simple fabric wrapping that saves time, money, and the planet. If you have other wrapping ideas, again please share them to the blog.

Next week: Simple holiday decorations that don’t blow the bank or take up half the basement in the off season.

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to testify, as a recipient, as to the wonderfulness of Cara's ideas. I look forward to my calendars and have saved every one (as well as the bookmarks), even when I got rid of most of my stuff when I moved from KC to CA.

    As a long distance Nana, I appreciate her willingness to receive the gifts I choose from the kid's Amazon gift lists, wrap them for me and put them under the tree. As they get older, that gets easier, they seem to prefer gift cards! So, my suggestion is: give grandma a little help by not expecting a big box of gift wrapped stuff. I already gave Cara her Christmas gift when we were shopping together at the Dansk outlet during my October visit. This was another low stress gifting solution: go shopping and out to lunch together in October and call it Christmas - because time together really is the best gift.

    From her mother in law, Margot
    Isn't she amazing!!