Simple Gifts

Purchasing Christmas gifts can be one of the most intimidating responsibilities of the Christmas season.  I love to give gifts, but I think shopping is as enjoyable as cleaning the oven.  Fortunately my love of giving gifts outweighs my strong dislike of shopping!  Here are some of the tips I use to simplify my Christmas gift list. Keep a list.

I haven’t fully embraced the digital age (or the prices of the electronics!) so I still use the notebook planner system.  When I am able to write down important dates and events, I don’t have to keep them in my brain and I can stay more organized.  In the back of the planner, I keep one section devoted to a yearly Christmas list.  When someone mentions that they need or would really like to have a specific item, I write it down in my “Christmas List” section.  When I go to my mother-in-law’s house and she says her cookie sheet needs to be replaced, I write it down.  When I am inspired with a gift idea for a daughter, I write it down.  When Christmas arrives, I have a head start on my shopping list.

Set a limit.

I remember the first time I heard about families who gave their children only three Christmas presents.  I never imagined I’d be one.  After all I love to give gifts, especially to my children, but one Christmas convinced me that my generosity wasn’t always best for my children.  The Christmas our oldest was four, she opened one present after another and loudly demanded, “What’s next?!”  We had sacrificed so she could have a remarkable Christmas and it seemed that she was less than grateful.  The next year we instituted The Three-Present Tradition—technically they receive four since there is something small in their stocking.  Though the number of presents has decreased, my girls are very grateful for what they receive.  The expectations are clear and no one is disappointed.  It also causes me to evaluate my purchases more carefully.  Recently the girls were talking about Christmas traditions and said they would like to continue The Three-Present Tradition with their families--if it was ok with their husbands.

Make a budget.

Before you go shopping, determine how much you plan to spend on Christmas presents.  No matter how many presents you buy for your children or other family members, it’s easy to go “hog wild.”  You see something that you know your family member would love and then you look at the price tag.  Well, it’s more than you wanted to spend but you rationalize that the recipient just has to have it.  Soon your Christmas budget has been thrown out the window and you’re paying for Christmas until March!

Know the rules.

If you exchange presents with your extended family, find out what the exchange looks like—individual gifts for everyone, individual gifts for children, or family gifts.  It is a little awkward, but you may also want to discuss a budget limit so that everyone is on the same page.  Again, communicated expectations make for fewer disappointments.

Shop all year.

Since I don’t like to shop and rarely find myself at a retail establishment that doesn’t sell canned food, I shop for Christmas all year long.  If I happen to be in a store in February, I look for winter clothes sales.  During the summer, I found a great deal on Christmas plates to hold my homemade goodies.  Consider seasonal sales, going-out-of-business sales, or home parties as great opportunities to do some early Christmas shopping.  When we’re on vacation, I keep my eyes open for unique gifts.  Gift shops are sometimes expensive, but may have the perfect gift.  On our vacation this year, we spent a day at Springs Folk Festival where we found handmade items from wood, leather, textiles, pewter and other metals.  I picked up several pewter Christmas ornaments that were significantly less than Hallmark prices.  Several years ago, I purchased cloisonné jewelry during a missions trip to China.  Shopping year ‘round can save money and ease the December budget by spreading expenses over several months.

Be creative.

Handmade gifts are unique and personal.  It just doesn’t seem like Christmas to me if I’m not making some of my gifts.  In last year’s December newsletter I wrote an article entitled, "Gifts from the Heart," a collection of handmade gifts that I’ve made over the years for family and friends.  You may also find ideas for handmade gifts at organizedchristmas.com.

Simplify.

One way to simplify is to give family gifts.  Two families have been the inspiration for simplifying some of our gift giving.  Each year the Bowen family gives us homemade cinnamon twists, one for each member of our family and the Shedd family, originally from Ohio, makes homemade buck-eye (chocolate and peanut butter) candies, one for each member of our family.  Each family has gifted us these same treats for nearly ten years and yet we still anticipate these treasures.  Recently, we started our own tradition of giving homemade peppermint bark to families.

Another way to simplify is to buy in bulk.  When I find something that I really like, I sometimes buy a bunch!  When giving gifts to everyone in a group, like a Bible study or a group of Sunday School volunteers, it works well to give the same gift to everyone.  This year I found a great sale on a leather-bound devotional book, so my husband will be giving it to all of the men he is mentoring.  Last Christmas, I made a dozen pair of star earrings for my friends.  Giving the same gift saves planning time and shopping time.

Prepare to wrap.

I love to give gifts that look beautiful but I hate to wrap and I’m opposed to using gift bags for everything.  One way to make things easier is to be organized and prepared.  Before Thanksgiving, I purchase boxes, tissue paper, wrapping paper and matching wired ribbon from a $1 retailer.  Sometimes I buy the sticker gift tags and other times I use decorative scissors to cut gift tags out of cardstock.  At home, I have a large plastic tub to store boxes, gift bags, tissue paper, and gift tags—the front for year-round and the back for Christmas.  I keep an extra pair of scissors and scotch tape with the wrapping supplies so that everything is easily accessible.  When I have to wrap, everything is in one place.

May your Christmas shopping and wrapping be full of peace and joy!

Back-to-School Memories

Planning for school is quite a task—choosing curriculum, ordering books, purchasing supplies.  It takes a lot of time and thought.  My mother never homeschooled her five children, but her job to prepare us for school was just as challenging.  She had an incredibly organized system to accomplish that goal, but the process never took precedence over making each of us children feel special.
 
A TRADITION IS BORN

In early August we took inventory of our clothing.  Mom sat on the edge of my bed with notepad in hand, recording my needs with the most beautiful cursive writing.  Ours was an extremely frugal family and often my list was short since I had an older sister whose hand-me-downs supplied most of my wardrobe.  My sister was much taller than I and the clothes never fit perfectly, but Mom altered them often by ripping out the seams and remaking the garment using the worn material.  There was one exception and that was the outfit for the first day of school.  Mom always made sure that we had something new to wear.

Our first stop was the upstairs sewing room where we’d pour over boxes of patterns and stacks of fabric my mother had bought inexpensively at a local warehouse.  I’d choose a pattern and fabric for my new shirt, skirt, gauchos, or pants.  If the fabric inventory was low or mom didn’t have a pattern in my size, we went to the fabric store, sat side-by-side paging through pattern books, and searched the remnant table for the perfect piece of fabric.

A few weeks later, with list in hand, Mom and I went school shopping for the things she could not sew.  This was a highlight of my year!  With four siblings, I recognized the treasure of having Mom all to myself for a few hours.  We generally started at Kmart (before the Wal-Mart years) and purchased the “foundational garments” mom couldn’t make.  Sometimes we bought shoes but our family most often went to a friend’s store to purchase everyone’s shoes at the same time.  We bought new notebooks, folders, notebook paper, a new box of 64 Crayola crayons complete with sharpener (I still love the smell of those crayons!), and whatever else we needed that year—a lock for a locker, an assignment book, or a book bag (pre-backpack years).  When every item on the list had been crossed off, Mom let us pick out something special that we wanted.  Once I chose a set of watercolors.  Another time we got a treat from the Kmart food counter—cherry red Icees with pictures of polar bears on the cup.  When I came home with my bags of treasures, I presented them to my siblings and later to my dad when he got home from work.

Our shopping days changed a bit over the years.  When I was in eighth grade, we went to the outlets in Redding, PA.  The following year when I was in high school, there were only three children at home and money wasn’t quite as tight.  We began to buy jeans and a few other things at the mall, but Mom still sewed whatever she could.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but she managed to make stylish clothes by combining several patterns for one garment or allowing us to help design our own pattern.  On our last school shopping trip, for college, she helped me find a rug remnant and coordinating comforters for my dorm room.  I remember little of the items we purchased over the years, but I still feel the warmth of uninterrupted time with Mom.

EMBRACING THE TRADITION

Now I am making precious back-to-school memories with our four daughters.  The first year I began to homeschool, I had a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and a six-week-old.  I wasn’t really thinking about shopping.  I was just glad to have my curriculum!  School days were short and we had many opportunities to shop for new clothes or school supplies we needed.  As the girls got older, I recognized the need to spend one-on-one time with them and my heart remembered those special shopping days with Mom.

We adopted the tradition of back-to-school shopping days, but with a Moore family twist.  We still take inventory of clothing, pass along the hand-me-downs (a rare thing since all the girls are now nearly the same size!) and I make a list of what each one needs.  We also take inventory of what school supplies each daughter has and will need in the coming school year.  I schedule a day for each daughter and together we “conquer the list.”  There is no sewing room or fabric or patterns.  I high-tail it to Wal-Mart!  We collect our school supplies first, and then we pick up any “foundational garments” and hit the sales racks.  Depending on what’s on the list, we may end up at our favorite thrift shop.  In our area of Virginia, it’s not always easy to find winter clothes in August, so we often finish our shopping later in the season.

Like my mom, I let the girls choose something they’d like—something that isn’t a necessity.  Over the years, Abigail chose a bendable pink ruler, Anna chose a collapsible ruler, Elisabeth chose a paint-by-number picture of a horse, and Victoria chose a beautifully decorated journal notebook.  If it fits in the budget, we may get some ice cream or even have lunch at a fast food restaurant.  Most of all I make opportunity laugh and to listen.  I don’t want it to be a totally serious time, but if it seems appropriate I’ll ask what they liked or disliked about the school year before, what they’re looking forward to, and what they’re thinking about for the future.  And like days gone by, when we return home one sister joyfully shares her newly-purchased treasures with the other sisters.

This year I thought we’d try something different.  Since time was limited because of our Guatemala missions trip, I thought we’d do a joint shopping day at an outlet center sometime in the fall.  It seemed like a good idea at the time since two are at the community college and didn’t really need much in the way of supplies or clothing.  But here I am, three weeks into school, feeling the loss of those special moments with my girls.  I don’t miss the shopping, but it’s not really about shopping.  I miss the one-on-one time with my daughters, one way I can communicate to them how precious and valuable they are to me.  It doesn't matter that we’ve already started school.  I’ll squeeze in some time with my girls between Chemistry and Algebra 2, and thank my mom for taking time to make back-to-school memories with me.