Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Tips for the Gift Challenged and Some Holiday Resistance...

As we enter the 2nd week of December, the pressure starts to build to complete your holiday purchases, get them shipped on time (or wrapped on time), and make it to all those holiday functions. Unless you're a master procrastinator like me, in which case the pressure is on to simply start: start shopping for presents, get a tree, drag the Christmas boxes full of decorations down from the attic, get into the holiday spirit, etc. No doubt many of you took full advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday snag some serious bargains.

If you're like me, however, you're really dreading holiday shopping this year. I'm not even motivated to go out and return stuff, let alone start browsing for new buyables (for me or otherwise). Part of it is a massive guilt trip that has built up from months of over-spending, evidence of which is now staring me rudely in the face on my credit card bill -- including my J.Crew bill which I'm forced to pay today.

Another part of it though is an overwhelming desire to simplify this season and rebel against all "necessary" holiday duties. I've been so insanely busy (as you've already guessed from my long absence and sporadic posts) for the last 6 months, it's all I can do to eat and sleep enough these days. I actually took 2 entire days off for Thanksgiving. The first in months. I didn't check my work emails and I didn't even feel bad about it.

Instead, I felt a sudden urge to completely clean out my room and overhaul the contents of my entire closet, which I re-organized and effectively re-built. In truth, I was kind of forced to do this as my supposed-to-be-temporary Ikea garment rack that I had bought in a pinch 4 years ago -- which turned into a full-time open wardrobe for the majority of my work clothes -- finally breathed its last and dramatically collapsed in slow motion all over my bedroom floor. Mind you, I tried to resuscitate it twice by tightening the screws and uncurving the metal support bar that had warped profusely from years of abuse it was clearly not intended for.

But after the 3rd yelp I uttered in protest from my lower back, my husband came running in and literally dragged me away from the contraption, which he then cleared off and unhinged for good. It didn't help that it crashed onto several valuable pairs of recently purchased J.Crew heels (courtesy of all the recent discounts) which had now taken up permanent residence in 3 neat rows on the floor in front of said late garment rack (may it rest in peace).

Anyway, I spent the rest of Thanksgiving evening reorganizing, cleaning out, and making better use of the storage space that was still intact. Which continued into the following morning and finally concluded when I cleared out an entire storage shelf and proceeded to line up every pair of the floor-dwelling heels so they would no longer be a trip hazard. I even created a new shelf above the closet where I finally shoved all my work totes that had been lounging for 6 months on the guest bed. A week later, I purged another 4 shopping bags of stuff and brought the whole compilation to my favorite consignment store, Mint Condition Boutique (which, by the way, sells boatloads of the cutest stuff on earth, including lots of J.Crew pieces).

And while I have been admittedly productive in the last 2 weeks, please understand that -- amidst the weekly household chores and cleaning -- I simply don't have time to play domestic goddess these days aside from a few hours a month that I accidentally get due to a cancellation or lucky scheduling. Which incidentally happened today, providing me with an unexpected opportunity to catch up for coffee with dinagideon (see her post)... but I digress.

That's why I decided this year that I wouldn't -- *gasp* -- send out holiday cards. Before you scold me for lack of grace and proper etiquette, I would like to say in my defense that, each year for the past 8, I've bought, hand-written, addressed, stamped, sealed, and mailed no less than 80 cards each December. Which is of course tacked on to the holiday shopping duty that falls almost exclusively on me, plus the decorating, planning, and family dinner preparations that befall me as well. In the past, I couldn't really say no because DH was working multiple contracts and I was in a "slow time" come mid-December. But this year, with business still in full swing and clients in a rush to complete their agendas before the end of the year, well, I just don't have the time, and I frankly don't care what the domestic goddesses think about it.

Which brings me to the topic at hand. If there's one holiday duty you can't get out of, it's buying presents. Well, some people can get out of it (read: many husbands of dear readers, mine included). But if you're not spending the time dreaming up gift lists, hunting for parking at stores, wading through crowds, standing in line, toting heavy shopping bags, and rushing to wrap it all up in time, then you're at least spending the money for someone else to do it. And seeing as how time is money, I highly recommend either shopping online and having it all delivered to your doorstep (or, better yet, someone else's doorstep) or convincing someone else to take the whole shebang off your shoulders.

If you are opting for the first course of action, online shopping, this definitely spares you the fun of many of the above tribulations (plus the gag-inducing holiday soundtracks found in most stores this time of year - unless you're into that). Even so, online shopping can be almost as daunting as mall hopping. In fact, it can be even more daunting, as there are hundreds of potential gift and clothing sites to choose from. Where do you start? And what do you get for every person on your annually-increasing list? (Did you remember the babysitter? How about the person who takes care of your yard? Don't forget your kids' Tae Kwan Do teachers!)

Fortunately, help is here for both options. For those in the first camp who take the more efficient yet procrastination-inducing route of cyber shopping, my friend Cathy Phillips (who happens to be a professional shopper) thoughtfully put together a list of interesting and affordable sites that will please all genders, ages, and personalities. Because isn't it a yearly challenge to wow the seemingly unwowable people on your list?

Take my folks, for example. My mom, who shops up a storm herself, is always one step ahead of me in the new ideas department. She's probably already seen this gadget, that line of Italian soaps, or this pair of shoes on sale. And my dad, well, his perennial answer to the question of "what's on your list?" is "honey, I have everything I want. I don't need anything!" Which inevitably means racking my brain for the most creative yet not-too-expensive thing that is both interesting and easy to ship to Florida. And since said father is already the lucky recipient of the aforementioned super-shopper mom, I have even less options in the "interesting gifts for the person who has everything" department.

Cathy, who actually shops for a living (unlike many of us who think we do), also publishes a blog along with a fun e-newsletter full of style tips, news, and helpful ideas. Her latest e-newsletter features "Your Online Guide to Unique Gifts." And sure, a lot of people talk about where to get stuff "on a budget", but actually finding cool, likeable, and shippable stuff on said budget -- for all genders and ages -- is a whole other story.

For those in the second camp who are stressed beyond belief, busy with work/life, or absolutely despise shopping (or shopping during the holidays, anyway), Cathy offers an even better solution: Let her do everything. And I mean everything. Why? Because she's a personal shopper, and that's what personal shoppers do! Here's how it works: 1) Tell her who to buy for and what they're like, 2) Let her buy everything, 3) Let her wrap everything and deliver it to you, 4) Take all the credit, and 5) Actually enjoy the holidays for a change! So if you're in Northern Virginia (or D.C.), get in touch with Cathy and find out how she can take this entire massive burden off your shoulder. The time and sanity saved is worth the expense if you can afford it.

And for those who fully intend to buy everything themselves, below is a list of some unique gift sites that Cathy recommends. But hurry! The last day to ship for Christmas via FedEx Ground is Thursday, Dec. 17th and via FedEx Express it's Wednesday, Dec. 23rd. The week of December 14th is the busiest week of the year, so consider shipping next week to avoid the rush! Without further ado, here is Cathy's wisdom to help you shop for the unshoppable:

" If you haven't been sucked into Etsy yet, now's your chance. As "your place to buy and sell all things handmade" it's like an ebay for unique, handmade gifts. This site has so many wonderful things it can become a little overwhelming so make sure you sign up for an account where you can bookmark things you love and organize the pages of your favorite vendors easily. A perfect gift for a college student in a dorm room or a twenty-something in a rented apartment, this website sells self-adhesive, removable wall graphics. I would put this bird in my living room. They've now also teamed up with (another great place to look for gifts, they sell unique t-shirts) so you can vote on new designs as well. and Both of these sites carry art prints that you can use to decorate your iPhone, laptop, iPod, and more for that extra bit of indulgent style. I was turned onto these when I met a woman with this peacock design on her laptop and I just had to find out where she got it. This website is a great source for no frills baby toys. You can shop by category and age. My nephew might be receiving something from this adorable website. One of my favorite boutiques, I'm so glad you can shop online because we don't have one in the DC area. This is a great source for unique statement jewelry at a great price. The earrings pictured above are from this site for only $12! A source of fair trade jewelry, home decor and gifts from Africa, Asia and Latin America, you're sure to find a unique hostess gift for the holidays. A great gift for a distant relative or hostess. There are tons of treats and goodies, a good place to look for stocking stuffers as well. (Fun fact: this website is owned by Ralph Lauren's daughter, Dylan.) This is a great source for gifts for the teenager on your list or just the young at heart who want something funky. For the traveler on your list. Pick up travel accessories and in-flight entertainment for men, women and children. As the name alludes, this site is full of delightful little things you never knew you even wanted. I die for these animal carved wood bottle openers. Great gifts for your coworkers."

Okay, if DH can please climb up into the attic and bring down the Christmas boxes, then maybe, just maybe I can be compelled to at least dig out last year's remains of assorted holiday cards and send out a dozen... No promises though!