I am a terrible gift-giver. I have never been good. I like to think that I am thoughtful and attentive when my friends are speaking, but my love language is so much more about quality time than giving gifts. Spur of the moment gifts that seem like acts of service? You bet I’ve got them down. Gifts because I thought about you when I saw something? Sure. But gifts for birthdays and Christmas? My worst fear.
It’s not that I don’t want to spend the money. It’s not that I don’t know what you like. And it’s not because I’m not giving. I grew up having made a Christmas or birthday list and essentially getting what was on my list and nothing else. So my conditioning is to believe that you should provide me a list so I know exactly what it is you want so that you are truly happy. This conditioning has led me to be a very stressed-out Christmas gift buyer. It has also led me to procrastinate until the last possible second. All of this makes a perfect Molotov cocktail of stress, anxiety, and lackluster presents that reaffirm my desire for a well-written list from friends and family.
However, I have found a few ways to combat these feelings.
First and foremost, whenever I go to a store and find something on sale that reminds me of someone I love, I contemplate buying that thing. That’s pretty common knowledge. Where I’ve faltered though, is that I would either buy the thing and give it to them as a random little surprise, or I would pass it up because it is nowhere near Christmas time. I’ve realized that not only does buying Christmas presents in March make sense, but it also helps me feel like my bank account isn’t completely drained come December 24th.
Secondly, children are tornadoes with their toys, which makes me feel like the $20 toy that won’t even make it until February is a complete waste of my money. I love to go thrift shopping, so throughout the year, if I find toys, books, or other items at garage sales or thrift stores that will work for the children in my life, I buy them. All of these get cleaned and then stored away in a special place in my house until Christmas comes. Nothing is better than knowing that all of my kids’ presents are already taken care of before November or December even roll around. Even better is knowing I only spent a fraction on presents they will still love and enjoy.
Third, if I am still feeling like I need to add more to their presents, or grandparents are asking what my kids might want, I take my kids to the store for a browsing session. This browsing session involves us going to the toy aisles, getting my kids out of the cart, and letting them look at the toys. Any that they are interested in for a certain amount of time, or any that they ask if we can buy, get put back on the shelf and I secretly snap a picture of it to include the price tag. I tell them we are just looking so that way we know what to write Santa for in our letters. We browse for about a half-hour which is more than enough time to go through the shelves and still pick up the bread and milk we inevitably need.
Then, when I get home and the kids are in bed, I send a few of the pictures to different family members and let them decide what they want to actually purchase. Any presents that I am interested in purchasing myself don’t get their picture sent out.
Better yet, when we do these browsing sessions, if my boys tell me that a certain present looks like something their cousins would like, I take a picture of that as well and markup the picture to include the name of the child who they thought of. Nothing like receiving a present that was picked out by your cousin specifically.
Lastly, I realize that toys only go so far. Tangible presents are great, but as I said, I am so much more about quality time than gift-giving. I try to think of experiences that I can gift to my friends and family that would be enjoyable for us to do together, with a spouse, or alone (because heaven knows some mamas just need alone time!). A pedicure together, a facial, passes to the zoo or aquarium, something that we can do that creates memories rather than just a mess in the playroom. For good friends, I like to give them a date night out, or a movie night in. For nieces and nephews, day passes to a fun location near their home. Something that may not last until February in a tangible sense, but something where they can go out and have a fun day.
And when all else fails: candy.