Gift giving can be one of the biggest stresses of the holidays, beginning with deciding what to buy, where to buy it, followed by time spent wrapping and delivering it. Not any more! Once you have a gift list full of ideas, past lists for reference, and gift wrapping supplies on hand, holiday shopping can begin to take shape. A pretty wrapping paper, sparkly bow, and signed card are our goal - and done way before Christmas Eve.

No more back-of-the-envelope planning as you head out to the mall. Keep your list on hand and simplify the abundance of choices by sticking to one or two mall stores or online shops.

Organize Your Gift List

Begin by filling in a Gift Giving form, listing people to whom you plan to give a gift, ideas of what to get them, and a budget amount. (Yes, it's wise to think about money beforehand and shop creatively to stick to it). Use the same form from year to year, and you'll spend less time worrying about whether you remembered everyone. You'll find the more organized your records from last year are, the less trouble you will have thinking of new ideas this year.

Who do we put on the list? Start with the most important and closest family members: spouse, children, parents, siblings. Then add others as you have the time or energy. Use as many lines as you need for each person. 

How many people can you handle buying gifts for each year? Somewhere between six to ten people may be comfortable for some. Others in the midst of raising children may give to immediate and extended family totaling twenty to thirty people. When your list of names is manageable, you will enjoy the season more. Stop whatever is frustrating!

For everyone there comes a time when you need to simplify and not feel guilty about doing it. For example, agree with your family that when your nieces and nephews graduate from high school (or turn sixteen years old), you stop buying gifts for him or her. Or when the extended family gathering becomes too large, you might start drawing names so each person brings a nice gift for only one other person. Or you might move to giving birthday gifts, but minimize the holiday gift giving chaos.

The important thing is to learn your limits, and writing the list on paper gives you the perfect overview. Fine-tune it each year until you are comfortable with it.

Who Should I Put On My Gift List?

The rule of thumb is to include closest family and those with whom you have a history of exchanging gifts. Don't make it complicated by adding more people. Often a Christmas card and greeting is all that's needed. Above all, limit your list to a comfortable number of people.

Here is a list of memory jogger names. Put a check mark beside those you include in your gift list; put an X by those you do not.

 Husband
 Wife
 Daughter
 Son
 Mother
 Father
 Grandmother
 Grandfather
 Grandchildren
 Roommate(s)
 Sister
 Brother
 Mother-in-law  
 Father-in-law
 Sister-in-law
 Boss
 Secretary
 Teacher
 Baby Sitter
 Neighbors

List the names in the same order each year so you can easily refer to what you did last year. That way you don't have to wonder, What did I give them already? Now you know!

Look for the gift with a surprise element. It should be something the receiver likes, but not something expected. That's the magic of Christmas.

Celebrate the Reason for the Season

One tradition we've started is to put the reason for the season, the baby of Bethlehem, at the top of our Christmas gift list. We write "Jesus" on our list first and then ask God to show us what we can give back to him. You might want to do this too. You might help a down-and-out family in need of groceries, financially worthy charities locally or worldwide, or help with a community or church Christmas pageant. I find that when I put God first and give something of worth back to Him, He multiplies that gift and organizes my time so I can get everything important done. Write Jesus at the top of your Master Gift List. You'll be amazed at what happens each year.

Simplify with a Gift Theme

Simplify your gift shopping by visiting only certain types of stores for everyone on your list. Choose a giving "theme" for the year but get a different gift in that theme for each person so it is personalized. For example, all the women get jewelry, spa baskets, gift certificates or robes. Men get sporting event tickets, restaurant certificates, or tools. Sweaters, CDs, DVDs or books all make great themes, too.

A Dozen Gift Theme Ideas

1. Sweaters for everyone
2. Favorite restaurant or movie gift cards
3.Gloves and mittens
4. DVD's
5. CD's or books
6.Tickets to a play, musical, or retreat
7. Photo book or digital camera
8. A trip or the latest technology.
9. Favorite magazine plus a year's subscription
10. Chocolate, nuts, or gourmet food baskets
11. Spa, massage, or bath items
12. Jewelry, purse, or accessories

For Men
(Practical is generally better than sentimental.)

Tool Kit
Computer Software
Travel clock
TV, radio, cell phone
Favorite hobby gear
Sporting event tickets
Camping equipment
Hunting or fishing gear

For Women
(Personal is generally better than practical.)

Spa Basket or gift certificate
Clothes
Candles 
Cookbook
Chocolate anything
Jewelry

For Kids
(It's best to ask for a prioritized list!)

Age-appropriate toys
Clothes
Hobby or sports gear
Book, CD, or DVD
Adventure pass or certificate
Computer games
Movie tickets 

General

Calendar
Desk clock
Paperweight
Food basket
Chocolate or other candy 
Book or audio book

Important Gift Giving Strategies

Gift giving can either simplify or complicate your life. Keep it simple as you shop and make your plans. Take notes and you will get better each year. The sooner you get started the less stress you will encounter and the more likely you are to get a gift that is sure to make the receiver smile.

1. The mall or specialty stores. Shop where you get the best results. Keep track of where you buy most of your gifts from year to year and head there first. They will have new merchandise each year that will probably work well for you again.

2. Shopping online. Order your gifts online and use the "Ship Direct" option to send the gift to someone else in their household to wrap and hide for you. Offer to return the favor. Also, keep a list of online shopping items, including expected arrival dates, order confirmation numbers, and shipping costs.

3. Gifts to mail. Order your gifts online and "Ship Direct" to send them directly to the intended recipients. Be sure to purchase and ship the gifts by the first week of Decemeber to ensure their arriving on time. 

4. Practical vs. sentimental gifts. Buy practical gifts for practical people and sentimental gifts for sentimental people. This makes your gift more likely to hit the mark. For clues about which is which, note what they give you. For instance, if you usually get kitchen gadgets from your mother, that tells you she likes practical gifts.

5. Children's gifts. Shop for children first as their gift choices can run out of stock. Keep one gift slot for each child open until it's nearly Christmas, because they often think of something new they want based on holiday advertisements. They will probably be the most delighted with their gifts, so try to think about what a child would most like to open.

6. Handmade gifts. Make a schedule by mapping out on your calendar how much you can realistically accomplish each week before Christmas—whether it's a large project or a few small ornaments. Then schedule crafting times as appointments and stick to them. Major projects, such as a full-sized quilt, should be started earlier in the year and, hopefully, completed by Halloween so you can avoid the stress of trying to complete them during the holiday rush.

Remember a gift shows you had the person in your thoughts, and a note on your card tells them why you thought they'd like it. Gift giving is a skill to learn. Keep working to hit the mark of delight and satisfaction with the receiver.

Originally posted November 2008.


Excerpted from Simplify Your Holidays by Marcia Ramsland. Copyright (c) 2008 by Marcia Ramsland. Reprinted by permission of Thomas Nelson

Marcia Ramsland well knows as "The Organizing Pro" for her practical skills and tips to manage busy lives, has a flair for making organizing easy to achieve and fun. She is an international speaker and media personality appearing on TV, radio, and international magazines. She is the author of Simplify Your Life, Simplify Your Time, and Simplify Your Space, and believes anyone can get more organized and simplify. Visit www.organizingpro.com.