I'm a cautious shopper by nature, but the holidays make me more so. What I buy is as important to me as where I buy it, and I make it a point to support local businesses -- the corner bookstore, my favorite housewares place a couple blocks from my home, and even small online outfits. But when it comes down to it, I'm just not big on stuff. I favor gifts people can and will use, and by "use," I mean "up," "often," or "over a lifetime." After all, no one wants to imagine landfills filled with tokens of their affection. So here is my guide on how to avoid some of the clutter that comes with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, birthdays, and everything in between.
Consumables: I'm a big giver of foodstuffs, anything from homemade cookies, jams, dipping oils, bottles of wine, and fruit of the month club subscriptions. I often give nice bath soaps and lotions, too. (These also happen to be the gifts I like best to receive ... hint, hint.)
Sharables: Items you can share are high on my list as well. These includes games that can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere, anytime – for instance, when the power goes out. More than a few of my family "hurrications" (most recently, Hurrication Sandy) have been spent playing Shoots & Ladders, Scrabble, Chess, and Pictionary. Books can be shared and passed down to others, too. I read stories aloud to my children long after they learned to read themselves, and reading to each other is a wonderful way to spend a stormy afternoon. Books on tape are also a great way to get through a long car ride and pass on to others before a big trip.
Sports: Getting your loved ones off the couch is always a good idea, so be sure to put a few sports items on your shopping list. Lessons for activities like dancing, yoga, tennis, snowboarding, or whatever they are into are also sure to please.
Life Lessons: My twenty-something sons are living on their own now. So in addition to basic kitchen supplies (some are new and some are my hand-me-downs), I plan to give them each a few cooking lessons. The secret to good cooking is good preparation, so I’m looking for an instructor that starts each session by looking through recipes, highlighting items that my boys should keep in their pantries, and showing them the best ways to shop for the ingredients they'll need to make a fresh, homemade meal.
Music: If you are not sure your kids’ dreams of being tuba players in the school marching band will last, rent them one for a few months to see how they like it.
Make Memories: Every Christmas I used to send my mom to a Broadway show, and I still love being able to give tickets to events and experiences. You can cultivate your child’s interest in music and the arts with tickets to a museum, the symphony, a visiting chamber orchestra, or a rock concert. This, of course, works for sporting events, zoos, and summer camps, too.
The Gift of Charity: Possibly the most useful, shareable gift I can think of is one to a charitable organization. If you know the person well, you can make a donation in their name to a charity of your choosing, or you can let them pick their own through the Network for Good.
Image: Stephanie Keeney