So, which are you? The organised one, who has already written the cards, bought the presents, maybe even wrapped them? Or the one who hasn't even thought about it yet, the one who thinks even the opening bars to "Last Christmas" on the radio is just a bit too early, no matter how much you love George Michael? I'm definitely in the latter camp, but spending as much time at the shops as I do with my clients, I'm distinctly starting to feel like I'm lagging behind.
So, if you haven't so much as checked your supplies of sellotape yet, I've written for you my top 10 Christmas Shopping Hacks - ideas to help save you time, save you money, save waste, and possibly even save your sanity. I’ve also gleaned some incredibly useful tips from the amazing Jo Cooke, professional declutterer at Tapioca Tidy and author of the book “Understanding Hoarding” (available on Amazon). If you're in need of a bit of that then here’s my top 10:
1. Make a list. Stick to list.
BEFORE you set foot inside a shop, think about the person you are buying the gift for, what they would like, what they might need, and then go and look for those specific things. If you go shopping without a list, you might come home with a Christmas Gift Set, which is mostly cardboard and usually involves some kind of novelty key-ring or slippers. No one wants those. Jo gives a great piece of advice if you’re stuck for ideas of what to get someone; “When you are thinking about what you want to buy for family and friends, think of the famous designer William Morris who quoted "have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." From my experience, my children hate buying things that are practical and useful so to get new towels or bed linen for Christmas is received with thanks.” Jo also suggests this list of ideas for what to buy someone as a gift, “Buy something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read” which is a great piece of advice and also rhymes. Genius.
If in doubt, buy things that are lovely that your recipient can use. For example, you could make them up a hamper of their favourite foods. Or make them a voucher for something they will really treasure, like lunch out in the New Year, or an offer of babysitting for new parents. Jo agrees; “Buy experiences - in addition to offering to organising a meal in the new year or baby sitting, a voucher for a massage, spa treatment or cookery course might be well received.” Think about what that person could really enjoy - I guarantee it’s unlikely to be in the Christmas gift suggestions shop displays. Jo also suggests asking the recipient what they would actually like: “My sister for instance wanting vouchers to go towards a new Ipad. Gift vouchers may seem impersonal but they are "useful" and a safe bet.”
Once you have your list, stick to your list. Simple.
2. Set a budget.
How much do you spend on Christmas every year? Do you actually know for sure, or are you just guessing? I ask people all the time, and most don’t know the actual cost of their High Street splurges. Buying gifts for others feels really good, but you don’t want to wake up in January with a credit card hangover. Decide how much you can afford to spend before you get to the shops, and how much you’ll spend on each person, then stick to it. No buts.
3. DO NOT buy someone clothes.
This one is an unbreakable vow, and it comes from someone who has seen inside countless wardrobes. Many times I have unearthed an item from a wardrobe to be told “I can’t get rid of that, my husband bought it for me for Christmas”, despite the fact that they’ve never worn it (and are never likely to as it looks like something Spandau Ballet rejected circa 1982). Clothes are so personal, that the person wearing the clothes MUST be the one to choose them. If you buy someone clothes, unless you happen to just get lucky, you’re unlikely to have a successful purchase and it will result in an item of clothing lying abandoned in a wardrobe, only to see the light of day whenever you go and visit them when they’ll proclaim “Oh, I love this, I wear it all the time!” while the tag is still swinging from the back. There are a few golden caveats to this rule, which Jo also suggests, and include small cosy items such as socks, pyjamas, gloves, hats and scarves, maybe even dressing gowns, but that’s about it.
4. Try making something, or buy locally from a small business.
I’m a big fan of small businesses (after all, I am one), because if you help a local small business, the money stays in the local economy. It saves on carbon footprints, air miles, and all round global warming. And small businesses are very likely to buy from other small businesses. It’s far more likely to get you something unique, artisan and special that way too. If you’re feeling especially creative, you could always try making something. Some of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received have been things that someone has made for me. If you’re a dab hand in the kitchen, maybe you could do cakes, or jams; perhaps knitting blankets is your thing, or maybe sewing. It could be something very simple, but it has a meaning that you just can’t get at the shops.
5. Have a look in charity shops or on eBay
If the finances are looking a bit stretched, you could have a look in charity shops first, or even trawl on eBay. I see things all the time that are brand new with the not insubstantial price tag attached. You could pick up a designer handbag, or a basket which would make a lovely hamper. I once found my dad a beautiful wooden marquetry box to keep his pens in. Make sure it’s in line with your list and budget though, otherwise you’ll end up cluttering up your home with all these apparent “treasures”. Remember, they are only treasures if someone is going to actually, well, treasure them.
6. Limit the time you spend at the shops
There’s a reason there are few windows in department stores. And when was the last time you saw a clock in a shop? They don’t want you to realize how much time has passed, and sometimes you come blinking out into the street hours later assuming you’ve been in some sort of retail coma. To keep your Christmas shopping manageable and enjoyable, limit the time.
Shopping is an assault on the senses – lights, music, people, items to look at, decisions to be made. And this sensory overload for our brains and bodies is, well, frankly, exhausting. Add to that the extra busyness of the December rush and the time pressure of finding something before the big day, overlay that with the large hot chocolate and mince pie sugar crash you’re currently suffering, and shopping becomes a mind numbing chore that leaves you buying everyone slippers and running for the nearest bar. Even the most retail adept human can only cope with a maximum of 2 hours of Christmas shopping. Stop there and call it a day. Your nervous system will thank me for it (you’re welcome, by the way).
7. Plan when to go
Shopping on a Saturday in the run up to Christmas is painful. Someone treads on your toe on the escalator (sorry) or pokes their umbrella in your eye outside Boots (pardon me), or stops dead in front of you outside M&S and you go ploughing into the back of them. If you can, avoid Saturdays. We need you to be cool, calm and collected for an enjoyable shopping trip, not battered, bruised and bedraggled. If you can, go mid-week and either first thing or at the end of the day. The daredevils among you might think leaving things until the last minute is the way to do it (this includes my husband who is, I am sure, not alone amongst husbands wandering around the high streets of the UK in a daze at 3 o’clock on Christmas Eve), but adding that kind of pressure to your trip is sure to trip you up (slippers! Oh how lovely, you shouldn’t have. No, you really shouldn’t. You did keep the receipt?)
8. Shop Online
Okay, so I know you are going to complain about packaging and delivery fuel when you order online, and yes, there is that to consider, as well as the fact that most online shopping is unlikely to conform to your shop local ethos. But, for those of you who seriously loathe shopping, who get sensory overload just parking up at the shopping centre, and who turn into a shopping zombie dishing out your credit card left right and centre, shopping online could be the solution. Armed with your list (tick), and your budget (tick), online shopping can help you compare prices and deals, and allows you to be really specific about the kind of things you want. And you can still find unique and hand made pieces, and many local businesses will have websites that sell vouchers or products, or you can even call them up and order over the phone. And all without leaving the house. Christmas shopping in your pyjamas?
It might just be the answer.
A word of caution. Don’t do this after a glass or two of wine. I have a client who shops online after a Friday night tipple, and then she can’t remember what she’s ordered. She says it’s like her birthday when the parcels arrive as the contents are a genuine surprise. As you can imagine, mixed results.
9. Keep receipts.
Yes, I know, you’re convinced that Aunt Marge will love that cat covered padded lap tray you’ve bought. It’s perfect for her. No one is doubting your skill at choosing well. But what if someone else buys her an identical one? Or she actually prefers sheep to cats? Or she’s planning on using the table more and won’t have a need for trays. To save your well thought out gift cluttering up aunt Marges cupboard, include a gift receipt, and make sure she knows it’s OK with you if she does want to return it and get that hot water bottle she so badly needs (the one with sheep on the cover).
10. Buy yourself something
This one is just a little self love tip. We all spend so much time thinking about and planning for Christmas, buying, wrapping and gifting presents, that we often forget to think about ourselves or what we might like. Buy yourself something you really want. It doesn’t have to be big, just a small but perfectly lovely gesture to yourself to say “you’re doing a great job”. It doesn’t have to be a ‘thing’ either, it might be a voucher for a class or workshop in the new year for something you’ve always wanted to learn or do. Whatever it is, it at least means you’re guaranteed to get one thing you actually want this Christmas (Oh wow, a sheep covered lap tray! Just what I wanted!).