A Clutter-Free Christmas (Part 2)

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Merry Christmas! It’s Christmas Eve, and I hope that you have all of your gifts wrapped and are just about to “settle down for a long winter’s nap”. What a whirlwind this time of the year can be! Sometimes it seems like we anticipate this time of the year for so long, and then in the blink of an eye, it’s over. As you begin to put away your decorations and start to work on some New Year’s resolutions, let’s reflect just a bit on the Christmas gifts we receive.

In Part 1 of this post, I began by discussing our widespread problem with clutter. I think most of us would agree that the majority of Americans have way too much stuff. We are far better at accumulating items than we are at disposing of them. As a result, our houses are often filled to the brim with things, many of which we no longer need or want. At the end of the last post, I gave a few simple ideas for making sure that we don’t contribute to other people’s clutter when we choose Christmas gifts.

What about the recipients of gifts? When the holiday season approaches, we know that we are about to receive even more stuff. Rarely do we ever think ahead enough to clear out some space for these new items. If the gift we receive is something we really need or want, it’s usually fairly easy to figure out what to do with it. But what about when we receive something we don’t really need or want? How do we keep from adding to our piles of clutter? What should we do with it? Here are a few suggestions to help you out.

  1. Exchange it. If there are still tags on the item and you know where it was purchased, exchange it for something you do need or want. Most stores will take exchanges without a receipt. If you are lucky enough to have a receipt, you can use the money refunded to pick out something from anywhere you like. I really believe most gift givers would rather you have something you want than to hang on to something you don’t want purely out of guilt.
  2. Donate it. You’ve heard the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It could be that the item you received but didn’t need would mean the world to someone else. For example, someone who already has a huge collection of craft supplies may not be overly excited about receiving yet another box of colored pencils, but the local elementary school students would love to have it.
  3. Keep it. If the item is truly one of a kind but you can’t imagine ever using it, you might want to save it for next year’s White Elephant gift exchange in which you are challenged to bring an unwanted item from home, the funnier the better. Or if you just aren’t sure whether you want it, you could try keeping it temporarily. Put a date on the box or on your calendar a few months ahead. If you haven’t figured out a use for it by then, get rid of it guilt-free by one of these other methods.
  4. Regift it. But be careful. If you are as forgetful as I am, you might want to attach a note to it with the date you received it, who it’s from, and in what setting it was given to you. You certainly don’t want to wrap it up for a work colleague who was at last year’s party, where this gift was given by the boss to every employee. Some may frown on the idea of regifting. My opinion is that if it’s done with the recipient’s taste and interests in mind, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Without a doubt, the only thing you should NOT do with an unwanted gift is to just add it to your accumulated clutter. This is the easiest thing to do and what most often happens. I truly believe in the mantra “Clutter is postponed decisions”. This phrase, trademarked over 30 years ago by legendary organizer Barbara Hemphill, has never rung more true to me since I began working as an organizer. Hundreds of postponed decisions over the years created our clutter problem. Don’t keep adding to it. In fact, why not make a decision to not only stop adding to the clutter, but also to take some time this winter to deal with the clutter? It can be a very eye-opening and rewarding experience.

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A Clutter-Free Christmas

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“Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot.
But the Grinch who lived just north of Whoville did not!
The Grinch hated Christmas, the whole Christmas season.
Please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason.”

-Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Of all the characters in all the Christmas specials I watched every year as a child, I feel a certain kinship to the Grinch. Both of us desperately want to stop Christmas from coming. After celebrating Thanksgiving, I find myself wanting to second the Grinch’s lament, “must stop Christmas from coming!  But how?” 

Everyone suspected that the most likely reason the Grinch hated Christmas was that his heart was two sizes too small. Hopefully my reason is very different. While the Christmas season brings with it many wonderful things (lots of time with family and friends, special celebrations, delicious food, etc.), it also brings with it a slew of items to add to my already full To Do List (mailing out Christmas cards, shopping for gifts, baking, etc.). During the holidays, it can feel like we are taking on an extra (albeit unpaid) part-time job, a job that we might not have really wanted in the first place.

Purchasing Christmas gifts is the toughest part for me. I want to be sure that I am buying something the recipient will be able to use and enjoy. I try to get to know the person well enough that I can make an intelligent choice. I often ask for gift ideas to aid in my search. But sometimes, try as I might to find the perfect gift, I know that I might not be successful. I can’t stand the thought of my gift adding to the volume of clutter in a person’s home.

Let’s face it. Most Americans have far too much stuff. Our drawers, cabinets, closets, garages, attics, and storage units are likely bulging with the vast array of items we have accumulated over the years. At least some percentage are items we no longer need or want but for whatever reason, we haven’t yet gotten rid of. Then when the holidays roll around, we get more stuff! As a gift giver, we don’t want to add to someone else’s clutter. As a gift recipient, we don’t want to add to our own clutter.

So what’s the answer? Is there hope? I believe I have some ideas that will help. This blog post focuses on our role as a gift giver, and offers 3 solutions for how to avoid adding to someone else’s clutter at Christmas. My next blog post will focus on our role as a recipient of gifts, and will offer solutions for how to avoid adding to your own clutter at Christmas.

How can we ensure that our gifts don’t end up as clutter? I have 3 suggestions that might help:

  1. Value experiences over things. The vast majority of gifts will soon be forgotten, but the memory of a special experience might last much longer. Try giving a ticket to a concert, play, movie, or other performance that your friend might enjoy. Better yet, let them share that experience with you or with someone else who is special to them by gifting them with 2 tickets. Give a membership to a gym, a zoo, or a museum. Give money towards a special vacation. Contribute toward art or music lessons. Cater to their interests. Help them participate in something they might not otherwise get to experience.
  2. Let them pick out their own gift. Find out what stores, restaurants, or websites they like, and get them a gift card for it. Although it may not seem as rewarding as giving a physical item, with a gift card, we are giving the recipient the power of choice. If we choose the right place, they should be able to find something they like. In some situations, giving money can be more practical. There are plenty of creative ways to present it, and the options for using it are endless.
  3. If the recipient has everything they need and feels strongly about a charity, donate to that charity in their honor. This not only benefits the recipient because it supports their cause, but it also enables others to benefit as well. This donation can be in the form of money, time, or a gift of yourself, such as a blood donation.

These suggestions can be used for an individual or for a group. For instance, an extended family might decide that instead of giving gifts to each other, they will use that money to go on a trip together. The time they share during that trip can make lifelong memories. A group of coworkers or a club might decide that instead of giving gifts to each other, they will donate that money to a local organization that serves the needy. Or they could participate together in a service project to benefit a local charity.

We will never be able to stop Christmas from coming. And we may not be able to pick out the perfect gift every time. But if we make the effort to be more thoughtful and intentional in our gift giving, I believe we can make our Christmas a little more merry.