This Thing I'm Doing: No Holiday Shopping in December

About Christina

Hey, family! You might not want to read this post because there are Christmas present spoiliers contained below. You've been warned!

In our family (who really should stop reading this post now or be seriously unsurprised when they open their presents) we celebrate Christmas. And celebrate it. And celebrate it. And celebrate it. My Smartner and I both come from blended families consisting of his mom and stepdad, his dad and stepmom, my mom and stepdad, and my dad and stepmom. That's four Christmases, for those of you who haven't done the math or seen the movie, plus the one we have at home with The Daughters, which officially makes five (FIVE!). Five (FIVE!) Christmases. That's a lot of cheer, and that's also a lot of work. And because the Smartner's career requires insane hours almost all of the time, the work of preparing for five (FIVE!) Christmases belongs almost entirely to me.

Which might explain why I have one hero during the holidays:

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Since having The Daughters, however, I can't let my Grinch-flag fly, so to speak, because the last thing I want to do is ruin Christmas for them. They're little, remember, and so the magic is real for them, and I really want it to remain so for as long as possible. So, rather than try to change our many, many, MANY traditions (which I've tried to do in the past and stepped on a lot of toes - sorry, toes!) or bitch about them uselessly and irritatingly, I've dedicated my time and effort toward accepting that which I cannot change and hacking the living shit out of it to make it tolerable and even joyful.

Not this kind of hack... YET. (Image credit)

I wrote on the previous Smarty Mommies blog long, long ago about an attempt to limit my time spent on Christmas obligations to 10 hours. While I still think the general concept is good, the 10 your limit didn't do enough to give me more time, breathing space, and leisure during the holidays. I did manage to keep the time spent on holiday tasks reasonably in check, but the fact that they coincided with all of the things I wanted to do within the same month still led to overscheduling and overstress.

So, this year I went further with the Christmas task- and time-management and am both limiting my hours devoted to holiday chores AND I completed all of my gift shopping shockingly early. Like, most of it was done by Halloween, and all of it was finished by Thanksgiving, including photo holiday cards and calendars. Early. What I'm tempted to call Crazy Early but can't because it's not as if the arrival of the insane holiday season is any kind of surprise. We all know that December, with its special meaning and work, is coming, so why do we cram all of the shopping and prep work for the holidays into the few weeks before they commence? Some find it festive to begin their shopping after Thanksgiving, but I find it stressful and inefficient. It has felt so, so good to have abandoned the panic of December holiday shopping and coasted into December knowing that all I have to do this month is The Fun Stuff. For example, I feel great about hosting a short-notice gathering of friends next week to work on crafty endeavors and catch up, and I have no reservations about spending a weekend this month in Portland with a good friend. I have the time and freedom to enjoy myself more during the holiday season now that all my shopping obligations are met.

Here's how it's worked. Like most good systems, it's shockingly simple and just requires commitment to it.

Step 1: List, baby, List! (Last chance, family! Abandon hope all ye who read beyond this line!)

Yeah, one of the presents is listed as "Fart Game." We're a classy family, people!

At the beginning of last year, I made a list in my household binder of all the people we usually give gifts to. Throughout the year, I've kept notes on it of gifts I've purchased or gift ideas as I've come across them. True to the 10-hour time-limit spirit, I haven't overthought the purchases or ideas; if something seems reasonable and suits the recipient, then it's done.

For our holiday cards and the final month of our photo calendar (which we give to 10 different people, thus ticking off 10 gifts with the click of an "order" button), this year we staged a Christmas photo shoot in early November to meet my December 1st deadline. This meant we didn't benefit from Black Friday sales on matching Christmas jammies or photo and calendar orders like we usually do, but it was worth the extra money to not sweat deadlines in December. Everything arrived well before Thanksgiving, which means I can address our dozens and dozens of cards at a leisurely pace rather than in one or two frenzied nights like usual.

Step 2: Hoard, baby, hoard!

Including, but not limited to, "Fart Game." That's right. We got mad Fart Game.

See that suitcase? The enormous black one that we rarely use because it's so huge? Right now it's full of holiday presents and has been for weeks. The minute we buy a gift for someone, we add it to the list before tucking the present away in the Bag o' Tricks in the closet. Done and done.

I've been repeating to myself throughout this process that December is for DOING Christmas things, and the rest of the year is for PROCURING Christmas things. So far it seems that having done the procuring in advance makes the doing so much more enjoyable. It just could be that this system reforms this grinch entirely.

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But probably not.