My Dirty Christmas Trick

KBB_christmas_giftsHave you ever noticed that just before Christmas people seem to do more? You’re scrambling to finish projects at the office, you’re making plans to visit families and friends and meanwhile at your place, you’re cooking and decorating and shoveling your driveway all the while thinking, whenever am I going to find the time to do my holiday shopping?

I feel exhausted just writing about it so I’m going to have to share my dirty little Christmas secret:

I don’t do most of my holiday shopping during the holidays.

“Shut the front door!” you’re thinking. “You can’t possibly be one of those incredibly anal-retentive people that shop for Christmas during the rest of the year!” But I’m here to tell you that I totally am.

Don’t get me wrong; I love to shop during the holidays. But in reality, shopping just at Christmas time isn’t always feasible. Shopping year-round can make you less rushed and more organized once the holiday season hits. It also gives me a better idea of how much money I’m spending. It also allows me to keep track of the all the gifts I’m buying so I can be more careful with my money, which comes in handy when I get a little too happy after hitting up the eggnog.

As the holidays approach, there is a way to stay organized when it comes to your Christmas shopping and it involves just one simple thing.

Make a list!

Planning your shopping trip ahead of time is a lot easier than you might think, and it may spare you the hysterical feeling that sets in when you see how crowded the stores are. Here’s how I go about doing it.

Make It Enjoyable.

Sit down and get yourself into a Christmas mood! Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some carols, or be a giant nerd like me and use red and green pens. Whatever. But you need to set aside approximately half an hour of time and it shouldn’t be right before you go out shopping. It also shouldn’t be on Christmas Eve.

Channel Your Inner Santa.

Make a list of people to whom you usually give gifts. There’s no feeling guilty- there is no hard and fast rule for deciding who goes on your list. Maybe you and your bestie have a rule never to buy each other anything, or you’re just really sick and tired of buying Great Uncle Sam a necktie every year. Either way, this decision is totally yours and it’s up to you to be realistic about how many (or how few) people you buy gifts for. Christmas is not just about gift giving.

Check Your Wallet.

Think about the gifts you bought last year. Jot down a number next to each person’s name. Remember, you’re not putting a price tag on your friendship with someone- this exercise is more about getting an idea of how much you’re going to be spending. I have found doing this step earlier in the year incredibly helpful as it gives me an idea of how much I have to save for Christmas and makes me think about starting to scout for good deals on certain items.

Be a Super Sleuth.

Go down your list, and start jotting down gift ideas next to each person’s name. Think about the hobbies, needs, or wants of each of the people you’re buying gifts for. Get creative. Don’t rule out things like gift cards, magazine subscriptions or charitable contributions where appropriate.

It may also be helpful to consider the needs of the person to whom you are giving a gift. If a friend has moved it may be a good idea to ask a few carefully worded questions to find out what they might need for their house. A well-traveled uncle may appreciate a new set of luggage tags, or a new address book complete with up-to-date addresses of family members. Try to remember events throughout the year- like that time when your mother lost her leather-driving gloves, or that movie your brother thought was awesome.

Search for online stores for people’s wishlists, or ask partners or siblings for suggestions. Sometimes when you’re particularly clueless, it helps to do a little detective work in order to find a gift that’s truly meaningful.

Ready, Set…Shop!

Now you’re all set to start your Christmas shopping. Just make sure you tuck your list in your wallet or Filofax when you go, or send it in an email to yourself to keep track of it on your phone. Make notes as you about where you spotted certain items so you comparison shop, or jot down other ideas as you find inspiration in the stores.

And don’t worry about getting every item on your list- after all, there’s always next year!

Looking for more solutions to keep you organized over the holidays? I’ve got some more here. Or comment below and share with us your secret on how to stay sane during this busy time of year!

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Making a List-So You Don’t Have to Check It Twice!

KBB_making_a_listAfter taking a quick survey of friends, family members and café baristas (those last interviews were a little awkward), I figured out that everyone struggles when sending out Christmas cards each year. One woman even confessed that last year she sent hers on Boxing Day- not a great plan considering that’s still a holiday for postal workers.

Even though most people know me as a great advocate of anything involving written correspondence, I think they would be surprised to find that I actually struggle with Christmas cards as well. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing them- fun pens and a glass of wine usually help with that- it’s just the sheer amount of cards that make the task so intimidating.

So what do you do when faced with a stack of blank cards?

Make like Santa Claus, and make a list.

I know, some days I think I should change my middle name to “List” (my middle initial is already L) but making a Christmas card list is easy- just write down all the names of the people to whom you send or give Christmas cards. (If you’ve already done this for your Christmas gifts, make sure you reference that list as well. Here’s how to make one here.) Make sure you include names of spouses and/or children (I think it’s nice to include everyone!).

I make this task easier every year by keeping track of all the names and addresses of people who have sent me cards the year before. There’s a copy on my computer and a copy in my command central binder for easy reference.

Find some way to differentiate between the cards that you’ll send in the mail and the cards that you’ll be delivering in person. Don’t forget to further separate your mailing list between cards that are sent nationally and internationally. Check with your local post office to see the recommended due dates for national and international mailings.

To make the process easier on myself every year, I usually keep a running total of the number of people on my list so I know how many Christmas cards to buy (although it’s always good to have extra) and so I can calculate how much I will need to spend on postage and budget accordingly. You may even want to invest in return address labels, or keep an updated file for mailing labels on your computer ready.

Then it’s just a matter of getting the creative juices flowing with a little eggnog, some carols and a Christmas cookie or two. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare. Write about the weather, any major events that have happened to you or your family in the past year, and ask after their families and lives as well. Keep it sweet and simple.

Make sure if you’ve moved that you include a copy of your new address inside the card and on the envelope so people know where to reach you in the future. This is a great opportunity to ask for other addresses that are missing in your address book as well.

Lastly, please make sure you keep in mind the beliefs of all the people on your Christmas card list! Not everyone appreciates an über-religious card, and some people do not appreciate a Christmas card altogether. There’s nothing more embarrassing than realizing the “neutral holiday greeting card” that you’re about to give your Jewish boyfriend’s parents has a giant glittering Santa on it. (True story-it happened to a friend of mine years ago.)

Maybe you should have checked that list twice, after all.

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Now that you’ve checked your greeting cards off of your to-do list, you’re ready to tackle another project! Find more great ideas for organizing projects on my busy page.