“Tis the season to go shopping. Shop. Shop. Shop. Shop. Shop. Then, go get more!”

Parking lots are jammed. Sidewalks are slippery. Stores are crowded. What is the family holiday shopper to do?  

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. Christmas is my family tradition, and other holiday traditions may find helpful ideas here too. I listen to the same sentimental Christmas music over and over until my spouse is ready to hide the CDs. I thrill to the scent of cinnamon candles burning, and I melt in the glow of the holiday twinkle lights I put around the inside of my children’s bedroom windows. I just dread the shopping.

I worry about what to get everybody this year. Will I find the right gifts?  Will I spend too little or too much for each person?  Will I remember to buy for everyone I am “supposed” to?  Will the stores have what I am looking for?  Will they have the right sizes?  Will I get everything bought, wrapped, and mailed in time to enjoy any holiday fun with my family, or will I still be scrambling and stressing to the bitter end?

Here are some thoughts that help me tackle these concerns.

Simplify Christmas shopping by keeping wish lists throughout the year for you and for family members. I had heard that the average American household spends about $2,000 each Christmas. If we really spend that much, maybe we could spend it on things people really want and need. I try to write down gift ideas family members mention as they come up during the year. If my spouse eyes up a power tool when we are in the hardware store in the spring, I go home and write down the model before I forget. If my children enthusiastically describe a toy they saw at a friend’s house in the fall, I quickly jot it down.

I am also not afraid to copy my Aunt Patty’s common sense shopping-for-the-masses strategy. Here was her trick: Apply a one-size-fits-all gift to as many people on your list as possible. Come up with one neat idea, possibly one of the gifts of the year that everyone is advertising, and then get it for everyone. Here are ideas my aunt used over the years: fruit baskets, calendars, books, and pajamas.

When I shop, I try to make it as easy as possible. Let your fingers, not your feet, do the work—on the phone or on the Internet. Call ahead to be sure a store has what you want. Order as much as you can through mail-order catalogs or the Internet. In addition to avoiding the crowds and wasting precious travel time, you can find out right away if the size you need is available, and you can shop this way any time of the day or night when it is convenient for you (and the children are asleep). My other personal preference is to shop very locally, buying from local merchants in my own community. Community support begins at home.

Rules? There are gift-giving rules?!

Do you buy into any of the unwritten gift buying “rules” out there?  No?  What about these: If someone buys a gift for you, do you rush out and get them a gift too? (Oh, sorry, I left yours at home today. I’ll bring it tomorrow.) If you buy for someone one year does that set up the expectation that you buy for that person every year after that?  Do you try to spend the same amount of money for someone that you think they will spend on you?

Do you try to spend the same amount on all people who fall into the same category of your life—like all the grandchildren, siblings, nieces or nephews? Do you ever buy someone the perfect gift and then worry: Did I already get this for him or her last year?  (Keep notes of what you get people each year in your Christmas folder to prevent agonizing about that.) Do you ever find the perfect gift for someone and then fret that you didn’t spend enough? Did you put the perfect gift back and get something bigger (something you suspect they won’t enjoy as much), or do you run out to get a supplemental “filler” gift just to spend “enough?”

Consider shifting your holiday shopping perspective if you related to any of the rule traps above. If you don’t see yourself following any of these “rules,” I congratulate you. If you did, maybe it is time to simplify your Christmas by bending some of these holiday shopping “rules” a little. The Christmas police won’t come take you away if you do, and holiday shopping might be a little simpler and more pleasant.

Clutter-free Christmas Gift Ideas

Sometimes enough is enough, and many of us are blessed to have more than enough. This year consider simple, non-material, functional gifts that people may appreciate more than “the usual” because these gifts won’t add to their closet clutter! Here are some ideas to get you started.

Teachers/Sunday school teachers/school bus drivers—Get together with several people to get one large item rather than pummeling them with knick-knacks. Or, try bookstore, restaurant, or shopping gift certificates accompanied by a kind note expressing your appreciation.

Families—If you have been buying for each person in a family, consider buying one gift for the entire family. Get a family game, DVD, or magazine subscription related to a hobby or activity you know they do as a family.

Adults—Make a donation in their name to charity, or try retaurant, theater, or shopping gift certificates, or lessons, or a magazine subscription for a hobby or interest that they have.

Seniors—Try donations, restaurant or grocery gift certificates, prepaid gas or phone cards if they go south in the winter, errand running, snow shoveling, the services of a handyman, audio books,  or a large-type version of a newspaper.

Teenagers/college students—Find a lesson or event pertaining to a hobby or interest they have, minutes for their cell phone, concert or sporting event tickets, or gift cards.

Children—Consider gift certificates so they get to choose, or give the gift of time doing something they enjoy with them, lessons (Parents appreciate help with things like lessons, sports equipment, or savings bonds for education.), or homemade craft/dress-up kits.

Everyone—Purchase disposable gifts including restaurant, grocery, gas gift cards, perfume, lotion, candles, and food. These can be used up instead of adding to anyone’s clutter collection.

Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs.

Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at www.clutterclearingchoices.com.