Clutter Free Christmas Gifts?

marylizDecember 11, 2007

I'm feeling kinda frazzled this moment and maybe I just need to vent. But I also would like to know if anyone has some practical advice, or at least consoling words.

I am always so confident when I make a gift for someone. It is nicer than anything I could ever afford to buy. Some of my gifts have been real winners. But some have been met with a lukewarm "thank you." I think it really depends on the person. For some people, I get the distinct impression that I might as well have bought something from a store, that was churned out by a machine. They simply do not value hand made items.

So this year, for those people who just don't "get it," I bought gifts at online stores, typed a message, requested gift wrap, had it shipped directly to their house, and SAVED MYSELF A TON OF TIME. Then I can work on a project for myself! Problem solved, right?

My confidence for picking out pre-made gifts is minimal. How do I know if they already have one? I really wanted to do some of the "clutter-free" gifts advocated by the FlyLady, but if they live a million miles away, how do you buy them concert tickets or even a gift certificate to their favorite car wash? I guess consumables (like FOOD) might be the best.

I need some additional hints, I suppose. Have any?

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The last 2 years, we've gotten dad-in-law, who lives 1000 miles from us, theater tix. I've called the theater, had the tix sent to me, then I put them in a card and fedex it. We've given annual memberships to zoos and museums this way, too. This year, my sister is giving my husband a gift certificate to his favorite restaurant. She called the restaurant, made the arrangements and I'm going to pick it up so that it'll be under the tree. DH is also receiving a gift certificate to our local movie theater which was purchased by an out of towner. Again, it's being sent to the out of towner and then they'll turn it around and mail it to DH.

Long distance purchases have never been a problem for us.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2007 at 9:17PM
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i much prefer gifts that have been hand made. At Christmas i normally make some jam, chutney, salsa, cookies, pate and a few other goodies and give these in a basket to friends. the fact that i have taken the time and effort to do this normally means so much to friends. On the other hand, i have friends who i find difficult to buy for and always wonder if they like the gifts. A couple this year will be receiving gift certificates for a massage, other friends a gift card to breakfast and then to the pottery place to decorate plates (family thing, mom, dad and three kids), another friend will be receiving theater tickets, and a young friend will get a gift certificate for a 20 minute helicopter ride. I think most people appreciate things they would not get for themselves. Anyway, happy holidays to all

    Bookmark   December 11, 2007 at 9:57PM
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1 thing I like to give/receive is subscriptions to a favorite magazine type. If you know the specific title great, if not, you probably know they like to cook etc, so can chose something. They get a gift all year, and when done with it, they can pass it on, keep it, or toss it. No clutter, or stuff in colors they don't like, styles they won't wear, can't use.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 7:46AM
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OMG, I wrote a book! Sorry (but I'm not going to go back and cut it, LOL)!

I do not think it is possible to be absolutely sure about any gift --in terms of suitability or in terms of whether it will become clutter-- you give to someone you don't know really well.

And I'm not sure that "handmade" is any different than "premade" in that regard. You are just as likely to get the color wrong, or to give something they already have enough of.

Except that sometimes "handmade" has some other drawbacks:

-Sometimes that doesn't mean "well made." It depends on who's making it, how good they are, how hard the handicraft is, etc.

-It ups the guilt quotient. If you buy me a blanket and it's not the right color, or if I have too many as it is, I can give it away without a lot of guilt. But if you MAKE me a quilt or afghan, and I don't particularly like it, then I feel really awful about giving it away. Because you put so much of your time and energy and creativity into it.

-Handicrafts can sometimes have a certain coarseness or primitiveness in their finish--machine-knit hats are made w/ much thinner needles, for example, which gives a very different look than even the smallest needle a human knitter would use. That's a huge part of their charm to many people. Speaking only for myself, I'm not a fan of the coarser look that often comes w/ handmade objects; I like a sleeker aesthetic. Oh, I appreciate the work, but the fact that I don't particularly like it just makes me feel even crummier, because someone put so much of their creativity into it.

-Sometimes handmade gifts say much more about the maker than they do about the recipient. The person who makes chutney to give to everyone is not giving chutney because it's the perfect gift for a specific person. In the case of something like chutney, it's not such a big deal--but if someone likes to make country-style quilts, and they give me one, they've just told me that they don't care what *I* like, they couldn't be bothered to find out or notice anything about me.; they're giving me what *they* like. Because I don't like country decor, and that wouldn't be hard to realize from my home or my clothing, or to find out from someone who knows me better.

I have spoken here in the past of my own frustration with gift-giving and gift-receiving. I have nearly everything I need; the things I truly would like, either slight luxuries or actual useful items, nobody outside my own family in my own HOME could possibly know. They are not around me often enough or casually enough to hear me say, "wow, what a great pizza cutter! I need one of these." So I dread receiving gifts from the extended family.

And because of that, I dread GIVING them, because I'm afraid they'll react the same way I do.

The pressure I have put on myself has ruined the Christmas spirit for me (well, the secular part of it anyway). I feel like every gift must be a hit, and because it simply can't be, then I feel awful.

So would say, STOP PUTTING SO MUCH PRESSURE ON THE GIFT, and on yourself. Sometimes people won't like it. Oh, well--they know you thought of them, w/ love and effort, and THAT is the message you want your gift to bring, right? That's really the only reason you give it, isn't it? So that they have something around (for however long) that reminds them you care about them.

It'd be nice if every year you could give them something that would do that all year long, but honestly, they don't have room in their homes for that.

We lost a dear, dear friend a couple of years ago, and just this weekend we were commenting on the objects we have that she gave us. We were close for more than 17 years, and she bought Christmas and birthday presents for all 4 of us at birthdays and Christmas, and those objects we still have and treasure number about 12 (13, if you count the andirons as 2).

So not all her gifts were "keepers"--but we have permanent reminders of her love. It is not NECESSARY for every gift to linger; as long as a few of them do.

Also, be realistic about your relationships w/ people. We've received gifts from people we weren't close to that are not around anymore, or that--unlike the gifts Jean gave us--don't evoke such a warm feeling when we use them. But that's because those people are NOT JEAN. We aren't close to them. So when we're' reminded of them by using their gifts, it's just not the same. It's not SUPPOSED to be. In the case of the relatives you're mildly fond of but not close to, just giving them something that makes them feel loved and hangs around for a day is enough.

(I don't think you can possibly go wrong w/ a gift certificate for a massage! In fact, I may investigate that one for a couple of people I know)

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 9:57AM
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Thanks for all the advice, and feel free to offer more.

Maybe I could use the online yellow pages to "scope out the neighborhood" ... locate a likely restaurant or car wash or whatever ... call a few businesses ... find out if they have gift certificates.

Perhaps, like you, I might have come up with creative ways to obtain the gift certificate. I guess it just takes a little more planning.

I also like the idea of a magazine subscription. We tried to do that for one of our nephews this year, but he had already been given a subscription to a running magazine for his birthday. So he gets a wall calendar featuring pictures of fighter jets. My husband picked that out. In fact, he bought a lot of calendars as gifts this year, with pictures to reflect the recipient's interests.

I myself don't think of picture calendars as a particularly good gift because a person only needs one or two, and might already have them in the form of the calendar function built into their desktop computer, or a PDA, or a pocket appointment calendar printed on paper. (I already have each of those, and use each one differently.)

Someone else might think the same picture wall calendar is absolutely beautiful hanging on the wall, and actually use it to keep track of upcoming events, and enjoy turning to a new photo each month.

It's kinda like chutney. You either like it or you don't. I have received some delicious home made preserves over the years. I'd rather have that than another wall calendar. But I still appreciate it when a person tries to find a wall calendar with photos that I will enjoy looking at every time I walk by. (Incidentally, I think hubby got me a calendar, too. But we also recently got new bicycles, so I really don't need anything else!)

I guess the bottom line is that you can never be too sure that your gift will be appreciated, unless you know the person well. If you know them well enough, once in a while you can practically bring them to tears with the beautiful or thoughtful or useful gift you choose. Gratitude is nice, but I never expect that reaction. I'm just trying to figure out something they can actually use.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 11:39AM
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But I still appreciate it when a person tries to find

This is true. Hold to that.

Even if someone doesn't use that wall calendar, they will appreciate that you tried. THAT is the point, and that is enough.

And you are right that sometimes you will hit the mark, dead on, with your present. But you are not required to do that every time. And sometimes you don't know what it is that will be so powerful. You'll think it was just a pizza cutter you picked up at a Pampered Chef party because she admired yours, and your friend will start to cry because it means that someone was actually LISTENING to her.

I didn't mean to knock batches of chutney, btw

And I've come to appreciate the gifts that say merely "I thought about you enough to realize that I should give you a present, so here's a present that's basically nice" instead of saying "I thought about you so carefully that I got the perfect present for you." Not everything must be so perfectly tailored. It is indeed a compliment and a gesture of affection for someone to give me ANYTHING, even something that is obviously an obligatory present. It is still a friendly gesture, and I will appreciate it very much for what it is, and not burden that exchange w/ an expectation that it be something else.

Other possible non-clutter gifts:
-car detailing, for someone who is fond of their new wheels, perhaps.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 11:51AM
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I'll keep reading new posts here because I wish I KNEW. My entire family struggles with this. And, if you look at the landfills, most of America does, too. None of us has much storage space. The gifts that have been mentioned here, even things that sound inexpensive, like magazine subscriptions, are more expensive than we exchange with each other--family included (except for mom and dad).

I was happy for years, with the understanding with our family (except for mom and dad) that gifts would only be for children at the holidays. Then something changed and people started giving us gifts--and we just drifted back into it.

So, the clutter is back. We simply thank everyone, try to take in the feeling that they thought about us--as we did them--and take everything to Goodwill the next week. Because most of the time we don't need, want, or have a place to store it. But Goodwill can use it.

As much as possible we give food. My brother says "consummables are always appreciated and take up no space." That might be a huge jar of favorite peanuts from Sam's Club; a pretty glass jar filled with Sis-in-Law's all-time favorite candy Turtles, individually wrapped but purchased at the grocery store. Brother likes macadamia nuts but doesn't buy them all the time, so if he gets a jar of those wrapped up, he's a happy guy.

Other folks go through garden gloves like crazy, so at the hardware store or HD we pick up a few pairs for them. Those things are more token gifts that are specially chosen for each person, but nothing costs over $10. ever.

A friend once made a small donation to one of MY favorite charities in my name and that was one of my very favorite gifts ever.

Sue: Am I doing a book too? Sorry folks. I'm starting a new post for my last idea.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 4:18PM
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I think there are 2 separate things, even though related.

One is the problem with the seemingly obligatory, commercialized, holiday date-oriented giving (whether it be Christmas, Mother's Day, whatever) and the other is the art of getting a good present, or a good enough present, for someone you REALLY want to give a present to, whenever that may be.

The first item is a problem because it leads people to get or give too many things for the wrong reasons and all crunched up in a certain time frame, plus possible giving things to people you wouldn't normally "gift" except for such pressure. This is the kind of thing that might or might not be re-negotiated, either by consensus among the parties, or by just saying no to pressure-gifting, or some compromise one can live with.

The second can involve giving a bit more thought to what is trying to be accomplished (showing love? appreciation? helping someone outfit a new home, or carry out a hobby or passion? introducing a child or young person to something you value? ) and then collecting ideas and tips ( like some given here) to think outside the box, possibly coming up with more fun and more appreciated ways to accomplish the goals, and then, beyond that, trying not to over-analyze and worry!

To me Christmas is the worst, because it leads you to try to "present" a gift or gifts for EVERYONE you love, value, appreciate (or to whom you are obliged) all in a short time frame.

I like it when I can have relationships in which I can get someone a gift when it seems to be needed, or when it occurs to me, and not necessarily "save up" my idea until Christmas, for fear of not having another good idea, or being led to give a junky item.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 7:09PM
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My SIL likes "experience" gifts. I have given her theatre tickets, books of movie passes, a bus trip to Atlantic City for gambling, Blockbuster certificates with microwave popcorn, and a spa gift certificate for a facial,manicure and pedicure. This year I am giving her a pair of silk pajamas and a basket of beauty products, soap and a washcloth, bubble bath, body wash, lotion, cookies, a candle and a magazine.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 7:12PM
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A thought on the Calendars for gifts, the 1st Christmas my DS & DDIL were married I got them a really nice calendar, I went through it and wrote in the Birthdays and Anniversaries for our side of the family, (us, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and direct cousins, I didn't put in spouses of cousins, I can't keep track of all of them!) That particular year there were 2 family graduations, and I think a 50th anniversary so I listed those.
They are both military, and at that time, not stationed at the same base, she said that it helped her feel part of the family, since DS wasn't there to say "Oh, next week is Mom's birthday, lets get a card"


    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 6:47AM
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"I like it when I can have relationships in which I can get someone a gift when it seems to be needed, or when it occurs to me, and not necessarily "save up" my idea until Christmas, for fear of not having another good idea, or being led to give a junky item."

That's how I feel, too.
I don't understand it when people say: "I found the PERFECT Christmas gift for ________. They will love it!" and it is FEBRUARY.
If the gift is that perfect, and if I know they will enjoy it, I don't wait 10 months to give it them. I give it then.... and watch them smile and enjoy!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 9:47AM
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Luann has a great idea. Every once in a while, I will see something special for someone and buy it then and there and give it to them immedisately. The recipients are SO grateful, the look on their face just makes me so happy. These impromptu gifts are very much appreciated, rather than waiting for a birthday or Christmas to be nice to a loved one. Who made it a rule that you can't give a gift just "because"?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 1:22PM
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The problem is not that you can't give a gift "just because"--the merchants would never endorse that; it's more that you have give something at Christmas, whether or not you just gave someone something really needed or important 2 months ago.

Even though I don't NEED to say this (maybe), I will often give a gift and say, early Christmas! or here's my one bright idea; may not be any more after this one! or something; even I am sucked into being defensive about sometimes opting out of the the holiday madness.

I only wish I had fully established myself as being "eccentric" or some other way off the curve and just marched to my own drummer.

Our family tried one year to draw names so that we gave a gift to just one relative; I wrote a great letter explaining how we might want to try it, how that it was mostly for adult-to-adult and kid-to-adult giving and we could all still give stuff to "the kids", perhaps using 18 or so as a guide, wouldn't preclude someone's bursting out with a fit of creativity and making fudge for all, and that I/we would encourage freely giving throughout the year when the mood struck, etc--but several folks just ignored it and it fell apart.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 3:10PM
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Lena M

I guess I am lucky. My (adult) relatives all agree to bringing a single gift for a pile at our party, then drawing numbers and picking a gift in order. (Trades are allowed). Last year the theme was 'regifts' so there were many interesting items. This year there is a $2 limit (could be thrift store or dollar store). For us it replaces the stress and expense with a bit of fun.

Happy Holidays to all!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 5:16PM
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Wow....some great thoughts expressed here. I can identify with Talley-Sue and many others. I would say that you can't go wrong with hand-made ornaments, whatever form of yule you celebrate (christmas, hanukkah, etc.) but I guess you can because some people have their trees "just so". It is very hard to give gifts these days.

I am giving food (FUDGE!!) and bath products as thoughtful gestures but I am worried that someone will be on a strict diet or hates smelly stuff! I tried to assuage their guilt by including a little note saying "Caution: dietbusters contained within! Share or re-gift if you desire :) "

Teachers are really hard to buy for as well. I guess I will get the hang of this some time.

I feel that pressure, too, though. I feel like I am putting so much time into it that I want it to be PERFECT and if it is not, then what is the point? Oh well. If it were my husband in charge he would give an gift certificate (since they sell practically everything) and be done with it. "but honey....that is so impersonal !!" However, he gives his assistants and co-workers this every year and they LOVE it.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 5:19PM
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I would LOVE an amazon gift certificate. But to give to other people it would be so small an amount that it wouldn't be worth doing ($10.??). I always say that the people I buy for have everything they need and want. And if they don't, then I sure can't afford to buy it for them.

If they don't buy it for themselves, it's because they don't truly want it. So, I'm really stuck, too. It drives me to look high and low for some inexpensive item that I know they would enjoy IF ONLY they knew it existed! Way too much pressure.

My niece is a teacher and she loves it when her students give her Starbucks certificates. Most teachers apparently have reasons to go to there, or would if a cup of coffee weren't so outrageous.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 7:45PM
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TSue - your message was so right on! Just tonight, DH and I were discussing my 5 cut-glass bowls and what to do with them. I said something about when I die no one will remember the woman who gave them to me, which made me a little sad. Gifts are important just because of the person who gave them to you - it's so nice to think of that person whenever you use the gift.

However, I agree that it's not ever necessary to keep things you can't use. I like to give gifts that can be used up. I've given candles, birdseed, homemade cookies and jelly, pretty pillow cases, books, etc - anything that can be recycled. Now I'm into regifting. I'm hoping to do that with the bowls, if my kids want them. Otherwise, they go somewhere else.

BTW, I, too, have agonized over finding the perfect gift, making myself miserable in the process. You gals are right -perfect gifts are rare. I'm just aiming for satifying.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 11:39PM
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I think sometimes the Scrooge in me might be coming out too often. Or maybe it's the pragmatic part of me.

I'm getting more and more convinced that sometimes it's far more thoughtful to *not* give a gift, er, trinket. Many good points here. But a couple thoughts.

First, if people are truly trying to declutter, the trinket stuff has got to stop. And much has to go. Some are concerned about overfilled landfills, waste of resources, etc.

Second is privacy, security and junkmail. I'd be upset if someone subscribed me to a magazine and gave out a lot of personal information which they often require. When I send for things I use name variations so I can tell who's selling my name, address & phone # to other sources. Magazines are notorious for selling mailing lists. You'll commit that person to a lot of junk mail. At least, I'd see what their opinion is of it before doing that and maybe let them fill out the card.

I know about the difficulty of throwing out something that's been personalized. I had a gift once of a fold out frame with pictures and a clock. I didn't need another clock but put it on the desk. Eventually the clock and frame both broke so I tossed it. And was put on the dew-dew list when she saw it was gone. Course this is the same gal who kept giving me clothes that were too small. (Was it a hint?? LOL) What a waste! Hard to throw but I eventually gave a big stack to charity. I would have rather had a case of beer or a home-cooked meal.

I've been doing much more of the give a gift when I find the perfect thing at any time of year. Pay for a cell phone for a while, pick up the tab at dinner, nice bottle of wine, get a snowplow, or lawn mowing service for a while, etc. Pet food if they have pets (cat litter for a cat is also great) or possibly pick up some energy saving bulbs if they're trying to cut their electric bill. Weatherstripping items would be a great gift if needed, and help doing it would be much appreciated too. A gift doesn't have to be something that clutters. And sometimes instead of costing as time goes on (as in an electric clock they don't need) it can save them some funds (for example, the CFL bulbs). If a gift can truly keep giving, that's great in my book.

And through the year I keep notes if I see that they need or truly WANT something. Watch for a deal on it and enjoy the smile. And I smile that I didn't compound their feelings on things like clutter, waste, etc.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2007 at 1:13AM
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In the interest of no clutter, for a special couple/friends who are in their 70s, I bought matching paper plates and napkins in 2 sizes and am crocheting a dishcloth and towel, and a scented candle to top it all off.

For the husband, the bird food is a wonderful idea! Why couldn't I come up with that?????? Also maybe for DS who is impossible to buy for. Thanks so much.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2007 at 6:06AM
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cynic - I too consider myself a pragmatist, but I would be pretty disappointed if someone gave me a bag of kitty litter for Christmas.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2007 at 9:36AM
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I love the idea of giving experiences, but I find it tends to be expensive. But to me, those are memorable things.

We are moving toward giving more donations or philanthropic-type gifts. This year we are giving one sister-in-law a museum membership in her new city. My other SIL and BIL are getting gift certificates to It is a nonprofit where you make microloans to people in third-world countries who need money to build a business. Eventually, the loan is paid back. The lender can then opt to take back their initial investment, or reinvest it. It's a wonderful program. (I have no connection to or business interest in this organization; I just think it's fabulous). I think it's also a good way to teach teenagers about philanthropy -- and, once the loan is paid back, they can cash out and buy themselves something! For my husband's aunts, we are giving donations to their local collie and shetland sheepdog rescue organizations in their names. Heifer International is always nice; you can "buy" a flock of ducks or chicks, a cow, a llama, or other animals, in someone's name.

One of the most amazing gifts I ever saw given was handmade. My sister-in-law made my daughter, then 2 years old, a beautiful quilt. It is an "I-spy" quilt, with 500 pieces, and rhyming verse embroidered around the border. What love and attention went into that quilt! I hope she will cherish it her whole life; I know I am touched that my SIL took the time to make it for her.


Here is a link that might be useful: Kiva website

    Bookmark   December 19, 2007 at 9:37PM
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I video tape granddaughter who is 2yrs old and so cute. I burned DVDs for each great grandparent and the other grandmother and gave to them for Christmas. They LOVED it. Doesn't take up much space and they can watch them at their leisure. The great grandparents don't get around easily and they were thrilled. (so was the other grandmother)

    Bookmark   December 22, 2007 at 5:59PM
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This year hubby and I decided no gifts to each other because we spend over $500 on a new high def TV. But I went around the house, collected all the spare change in dishes, bowls,etc. I took it to a coin machine which normally charges 9 cents of every dollar, but it is no fee if you take payment in a gift certificate. I got a certificate to Amazon for $76.90 . Quite a haul from "loose change." I also got him new underwear and socks.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2007 at 7:01PM
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