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3 Ways to Finish Your Christmas Shopping Today

Several years ago my husband and I were playing Taboo with a group of friends. We were the only white people in the group, so naturally, when one of the other players cries, “White people have these under their Christmas tree!,” all eyes were on us. Brady and I looked at each other quizically. “Presents?”

Nope. Model trains.

Win some; lose some.

But if presents are still lacking around your tree, the stress is likely inflating like one of those yard Santas. The calendar is full, the kids are almost out of school, you’re traveling soon (or have company arriving) and that “plenty of time” you had to make something or find the perfect gift has evaporated.

If this is you, I have good news. You can finish your Christmas shopping today. And enjoy it.

I’ve used all 3 of these simplifying practices below. And while finishing is great (I mean really, really, great), having the joy back in gift-giving is even better.

I’m no longer looking for the perfect gift, and yet somehow, the gifts end up being perfect.

1. Choose one or two brick and mortar stores and get inspired

Carefully choose a physical store (or two, as long as they’re close together) and commit to buying for everyone in just those two stores.

You might have to pull your creative strings a bit, but those a-ha! moments make it enjoyable. You begin to see how each person might enjoy an item you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. That element of surprise a great feeling.

I did this with Crate & Barrel and Anthropologie one year. My budget was less than $30 per person. Though I didn’t have to sell my eyes to afford them, none of the gifts felt cheap and each felt special.

Other options include bookstores (cookbooks, games, magazines, stationery), toy stores (outdoor games and activities, building materials, creative bits, board games ranging from easy and complex), and any kind of boutique (unusual, artful gifts for an array of interests and ages).

Ask your friends for their faves and don’t overlook museum gift shops. Avoid department stores and big box stores simply because they have too many options and aren’t lovely to look at.

2. Choose an online shop or two and have everything delivered (often for free)

This option is slightly hazardous and much less charming than number one.

But for those of us living overseas, folks living far from great gift shops, and others whose life circumstances preclude seasonal strolling, online shopping is our proverbial Gandalf: a piece of magic arriving precisely as he intends to.

Again, go for nice stores you’re familiar with or boutique stores with a variety of unique gifts. Try uncommongoods, Kikkerland, or a shop like those from number 1 above.

You can also google “best online stores for unique gifts.” Just don’t get lost on the internet, ‘kay? Pinky promise?

But there are downsides.

Scrolling makes your brain go sideways and the inability to experience the items sensorily before purchasing inflates decision-making anxiety.

Most shops have a generous return policy, though, and since you’ll only be buying at one or two, you can factor return shipping into your budget quite simply. And if you purchase from a shop with a brick-and-mortar counterpart you can usually return items in person the first week of the year. But don’t choose Amazon for this. There are far, far too many options.

3. Choose a narrow category or item and let the fun begin

This is by far my favorite.

You can shop in person or online and with such a narrow playground you can find some really cool things. Plus you feel like recipients kind of get what you’ve done and therefore are less likely to be finicky about their gifts. Is that really the case? I’m not sure. But my anxiety about it is soothed and that’s a good thing.

You really can go with anything here.

If you want a bit more wiggle room, choose a wide category like outdoors, accessories, or food & kitchen. If you want to expedite things and find more unique options, zoom in and go for yard games, earrings & socks, or beverage stuff. Others? Subscriptions, bottle openers, handmade items (handmade by others, that is), food gifts, gifts for being crafty, sloths, blankets, or experiences. (Yes, experiences! Think state parks passes or tickets to a museum.)

You can use Amazon for this one, but make sure you’ve narrowed the possibilities significantly before you open your browser.

Some final tips

• Make it fun for you. You can’t control if someone likes what you get them, but you can control your experience. Pick places and things you like.

• Dramatically narrow your options. Are you turning in circles or scrolling endlessly? Feeling overwhelmed? Restrict yourself a little further. One time I was back-and-forthing in a shop and suddenly thought, “Don’t choose something ordinary!” And that solved it. Identifying which possibilities were unique was simple. And fast.

• Buy nice versions of something simple. I once bought Anthropologie dish towels for an impossible-to-shop-for-aunt. They were the one gift she ever said anything about. She loved them. Go for luxurious socks or a select coffee mug (Etsy is great for these).

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  1. Anna

    I love this advice! So helpful for a perfectionist shopper like myself who will spend too much time and get overly stressed about Christmas shopping. I’m saving this away for next year too.

  2. Anna

    It’s great to support small, local, woman- or person-of-color-owned businesses, too. And remember that donations to non-profits people would like are always lovely, especially in times of difficulty like these. Ethical gifting is a great way to simplify your holidays.

    • Amber Black

      Anna – yes! As owners of a small business that helps fund our non-profit work, I can attest to how much simple small purchases (especially the part where they get shared with others) make a difference to the makers. Your $20 may not matter much to Target, but it means a lot to a small business.

      And now you’ve got me thinking about non-profit giving and how it can feel so much more complicated than it needs to be. hmmm…

  3. Eva @ Fantastic Handyman

    Thank you for sharing these awesome tips. I already feel overwhelmed as I’m far from done with the Christmas shopping. I needed to remind myself that I should have fun while doing it.

  4. Hannah Beth Reid

    These are great suggestions! As a mom of 4 young children, I am not in the position to stroll thru stores, so online shopping is my best friend! This year I have gone off-Amazon for many gifts, including Etsy and some friends and family who are distributors of products, therefore benefiting their family as well as the recipient of my gift.
    Thank you for sharing these helpful tips and advice! My favorite is #3 to choose a category. One year, in my teens, I made everyone I knew a pillowcase (the extent of my confident sewing abilities). It was very fun to select a fabric for each person and the making seemed easy because it was the same basic process over and over again. And one or two trips to the fabric store was very manageable. Plus, wrapping was easier because they were all the same size!

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