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How to Do Your Holiday Shopping Without Wanting to Take Your Own Life

Written by Brett Kelly of the Cranking Widgets Blog (feed).

How to Do Your Holiday Shopping Without Wanting to Take Your Own Life

Every year, around early to mid-November, I realize that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. This realization quickly gives way to the fact that Christmas is just slightly farther down the road, but approaching quickly. Then, the panic sets in...

Yep, shopping. While I love giving gifts to my friends and family, I absolutely despise the very notion of holiday shopping. Going to the local mall and wandering around aimlessly amongst the throngs of like-minded yule-tiders. Poking around in nameless gift stores filled with engravable flasks and non-descript jewelry boxes. Receiving (and often uttering) threats of physical violence or death over a simple parking space.

There simply must be a better way.

Well, friends, there is. And the good news is, many of you have already (at least partially) figured it out.

The problem of holiday shopping can be boiled down to two major points:

1. Figuring out what to buy for somebody
2. Acquiring the gift itself

Obviously, the first point is typically the most difficult and frustrating. Everybody has heard about (or has been described as) a person who's "impossible to shop for". These folks generally either have a very short list of things they enjoy or have enough cheddar lying around to pretty much buy everything they want. Either way, it presents a bit of a problem, but not an insurmountable one. What I typically do for people like these is choose something that I like and that could conceivably be of interest to the recipient.

For example, I'm a coffee guy. Coffee isn't exactly a specialized interest, so a nice bag of coffee beans or a cool piece of equipment would make a great gift for most people (except those who actively avoid coffee, of course). The important thing to remember is that it doesn't necessarily have to be something that they will absolutely enjoy. Take a chance and expose your loved one to something new. They might not like it, but they might love it.

Now, as for the rest of the people on your list (the people who wouldn't be categorized as "impossible to shop for"), here's a very good way to at least get the ball rolling on gift ideas:

For each person, pull out a blank sheet of paper and write their name in the middle of it, then circle it. Now, start writing words or phrases to describe that person (including their interests). Productivity nerds will recognize this as being a mind-map. Write as long as you have to until you've got a solid birds-eye overview of the person. Now, looking at the notes you've made, try to boil it down to a list of interests and/or distinguishing characteristics. If my wife were to perform this exercise with myself as the subject, she might end up with a list like this:

  • Computers
  • Programming
  • Coffee
  • Scotch
  • Learning
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Music
  • Board Games

Now, all of these are potential sources of gift ideas. Many of the more straight-forward areas (like coffee, for example) will probably be less likely to yield a quality gift. Your really solid ideas will almost always come from the more open-ended aspects. If your loved one likes to read (and isn't married to a specific topic, like World War II or Candlemaking), buy them a book that you like! Again, the gift will be a gamble, in a sense.

But, as the saying goes, it's the thought that counts. Even if the recipient doesn't like the gift, you put some thought into it. They can hardly ask for more than that :)

As far as actually acquiring the gift once you've decided what it is, obviously buying online is the best way. The obvious advantages being the ease of purchase and the control you have over how and where the item is delivered. Getting all of your shopping done from the comfort of your own home is an attractive option, to be sure. But what if, for whatever reason, you can't get everything on your list from an online store? What if you must visit the dreaded mall?

Well, while this is definitely not going to be an enjoyable experience, there are things you can do to minimize the hassle of visiting a mall or shopping center during holiday shopping season:

1. Go on a weekday, preferrably in the morning - If you can take the morning off of work (or maybe an early lunch), it'd be a good idea to do so. The majority of the masses do their shopping on the weekends, so this could go a long way in relieving your holiday shopping stress.

2. Know *exactly* what you're going there to buy - Showing up at the mall with a list of people (instead of a list of products) is a sure-fire way to spending several hours in utter frustration. This is precisely what most people do, which is why there's such a general sense of melancholy among your fellow shoppers.

3. "Trident Shopping" - Hitting a series of stores in a linear fashion is sometimes a necessity. Most of the time, however, you have the option of a multi-pronged assault. Grab your list and 2-3 willing friends (heck, maybe they have shopping to do as well). Separate your shopping center into sections and distribute the list(s) among the shoppers. Envision your success and strike with surgical precision. Correctly executing this maneuver can put you inside the mall for *far* less time than shopping solo

It's really a shame that holiday gift giving has become such a pain in the ass. It's less about the joy of giving and more about the headache and stress of getting all the right gifts. Hopefully this guide will help ease your suffering, even if only a little. Happy Holidays!

Photo by A Different Perspective

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Online purchases and their ecological footprint

I know that holiday shopping can be hell, but I think the answer lies in shopping early, shopping at off hours (ie, 1pm on the saturday before Christmas is a bad time), and as the author states, knowing what you want to buy.

Online purchases have a gigantic carbon footprint (ie lots of fuel is spent to fly them to your house) and employ all kinds of packaging that will soon end up in the landfill. (Has anyone else ever gotten a small paperback book from Amazon wrapped up in layers of cardboard and bubblewrap about ten times its size?)

Of course I'm not saying I don't ever shop online... but I think it's irresponsible not to consider the ecological footprint. Just my two cents.

Because, really for the holidays, I think we'd all like there not to be global warming nor landfills eating up the earth, no?

Holiday Shopping

From now until January, I've declared town a no-go area. It is the last thing I'd want to do to feel the spirit of the season!

Everyone's getting their gifts ordered online. My brother makes it super-easy with his Amazon wishlist, magazine subs for Mum, and for the rest, some kind of voucher (like golf lessons for Dad).

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