If you just found me, please join us for an intense, philosophical discussion on the meaning of Christmas, modern commercialism, and why Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is only a good movie if you watched it the first time as a child. Which I did not so IMHO it’s super boring.
Wait, that’s a future post I’m planning. Just thinking out loud.
This one is actually Part 2 in my Christmas gift-giving tips and tricks mini-series.
To sum up Part 1, we agreed that:(*1)
- Although traveling to De-Nial sounds like a primo way to escape Christmas insanity, it just delays the inevitable.
Also, they have Christmas cruises there anyway, so you can’t hide.
- It’s best to suck it up and get a true picture of who you’re giving gifts to right from the start.
- Organizing gift lists makes it easier think. And also to find better gifts for people we like the most.(*2)
If you haven’t read Part 1 and haven’t thought much about gifts yet, check it out here.
Oh! Before we go on, if you’re coming from Part 1 – did you let the dog out? Don’t count on that newspaper bop on the nose bit to keep your floors dry. Because he thinks that’s the best game ever.
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It’s Not Often I Get To Use the Word “Stable” When Discussing My Family
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Now let’s move on to Part 2, where we’ll figure out how to:
- Track all those orders from God knows where.
- Find that elusive receipt when you realize you and Grandma miscommunicated – now you have two Shetland ponies and only one stable.
Side note: You really need to stop spoiling that child.
- Keep junior sleuths from finding their new toys.
- Not lose those same new toys when you hide them “in the perfect place” from your little (and big) snoopy-snoops.
Oh, that’s where that Super Nintendo cartridge went. Ah, well, little Johnny’s only 40 now and plus aren’t vintage games making a come-back anyway?
If you can do all that, you can do anything.(*3)
Maybe Not a Quill Pen. That’s Just Silly.
Okay, so to stay on top of all the orders and packages, what you’re spending, and what you need to follow up on, it generally boils down to three things.
- Get it all out of your brain (pencil, laptop, phone, quill pen).
- Keep it all in one place.
- Keep everything accessible and safe (by safe, I just mean your notes aren’t discovered or deleted and the gifts don’t get ruined or thrown out).
I accomplish this by setting up a basic chart in Google Sheets. If you don’t like Sheets, just make sure your notes are all together and you’re able to get to them quickly.
Save Your Headspace For Finding Places To Put That Tiresome Little Elf You Got Roped Into Moving Around Every Night(*4)
Use the spreadsheet to keep tabs on each person’s gifts. You’ll track:
- What you’re buying and for whom
- Where it’s coming from
- How much you’re spending
- Whether it’s been shipped
- Whether you received it
- If it still needs to be wrapped
- If you need to follow up
- If it needs to have anything special done to it, plus any other notes
That might sounds like a lot – well, because it is. But as painful as it can to be track stuff like this on paper, try keeping it all in your head.
Not a pretty picture.
What a Gift List Looks Like When Your Kids Are Too Old For Toys R Us 🙁
To show you what I mean, here’s a look at mine.
Before you do anything else with the tracker, set a time to update it. Like a calendar, it’s no good if you don’t use it. Once a week works – more often as it gets closer to Christmas.
Now that you’re set up to manage the moving parts, let’s proceed, shall we?
We’ll start with shopping online. Easy-peasy, right?
It might seem so, but there’s mucho room for errors, lost packages, and broken stuff. Keeping an eye out for trouble can save you heartache later. So:
- Each time you place an order, “star” the email confirmation from the company and archive it.
Less in your inbox means less chance of overlooking other important emails, and it keeps the noseys from peeking.
Don’t worry, you can filter by starred items later, whenever you need to view them. If you don’t know how to do that, let me know in the comments below. I’ll help you.
- Also star each email informing you that your order shipped.
- And star anything with a bonus. By bonuses, I mean free gift cards or coupons you earned with your purchase (like Kohl’s cash, which, BTW, annoys me to no end).
- If the purchase bonuses specify usage dates or expiration dates, note those on your spreadsheet.
Then also put the dates on your calendar (if that word is foreign to you, check out this post) so you don’t accidentally waste the bonus.
Waste it on purpose if you’re so inclined, just don’t do it accidentally.
- If the bonus is something to pass on to the recipient, like a special video game code from pre-purchasing a game, write that on your tracker. Then you’ll remember to print and wrap it with the gift.
- If your email program doesn’t let you “star” emails to filter later, just forward any emails to yourself with a keyword (I use the characters YYY – for more on this, click here), and then archive them.
Cheesecake Bites, Chocolate Torte, Peanut Butter Fudge – Shall I Continue? I Could Go All Day. Chocolate Pretzels, Apple Pie, Barley Candy…I’M Like the Diabetic Version of Bubba Gump(*5).
Now [excitedly rubbing hands together] let’s get down to organizing the actual, physical stuff, regardless of where it was purchased.
Sorry, I get giddy when I picture the family room full of gifts I chose for my loved ones. Like I said in Part 1, I do love giving Christmas gifts.
Unfortunately, I’m not quite as giddy on December 26th when the family room is filled to the ceiling with all new crap. Which might explain my annual post-Christmas coma.
Although, it’s true – the cinnamon rolls, Dove Promises, Sunkist fruit gems, oatmeal lace cookies, sugar cookies, ginger cookies, chocolate chip cookies (okay, all the cookies), Christmas crack, and bacon may also play a part, but clutter doesn’t help.
Fantastic, now I’ve gone and made myself hungry. Let’s get back to organizing while I eat these carrots I have here.
Yum. Carrots. Just like eating cookies.
Only not at all.
Where was I? Oh yeah, organizing all the cool stuff you’re buying.
In Other Words, Storing the Jet Ski In Your Pantry Was a Bad Idea(*6)
To keep your packages and gifts organized:
- Designate a closet, cabinet, room, or other area for gifts. Preferably somewhere lockable (keep track of that key).
Note that your gift storage space doesn’t have to be “only” for gifts. You most likely don’t live in a mansion, so storage space might be iffy.
If you do, why not have your nanny take care of all this? You’ll be on a tropical island at Christmas anyway, so what do you care?
But if you don’t, just make it somewhere out of the way and not filled with items your family uses every day.
- If you buy gifts all year long, use a smaller space and upgrade at Christmastime.
For example, I currently move everything from my year-round gift/mom-junk closet to my husband’s office by the time I’m done shopping (aka when the credit card melts).
In years past, we’ve also used the basement and guest bathroom.
You’d be shocked how many toys, tchotchkes, Bath & Body Works lotions, and useless novelty gifts one bathtub can hold!(*7)
The important point is that you keep as many gifts in one place as you can. No stashing here and there.
- Even when the gifts are in your hidden area, cover them with a blanket. Then if you get distracted and leave a door open, or if someone “accidentally” strolls by…
Six times is not an accident, darling husband. I’m on to you.
… while you’re in there working, it’s another layer of surprise insurance.
Unrefrigerated Swiss Colony Truffles Are Worth a Bout of Ptomaine(*8) Poisoning. I Will Take My Chances.
- Resist the urge to impulsively open packages the second they arrive. Even if you’re just bringing bags in from your car post-brick-and-mortar shopping trip. Instead, be more focused to avoid annoyances later.
Because how many times have you “peeked” inside a box, knowing you didn’t really have time to deal with the contents, only to stash the opened box in a nearby closet, or the gift card on top the fridge? Which then leads to a round of that emotionally fulfilling game, “Let’s Tear the House Apart Because Mom Once Again Let Her Lack of Executive Functioning Affect Her Rational Decision-Making and Now She Can’t Find the Nose Hair Clippers She Bought Uncle Jimbo.”
- First, take a minute and double-check that the shopping bags only contain gifts.
Otherwise, you’ll be turning your kitchen inside out on cookie baking night, looking for that green decorating sugar the grocery clerk logically bagged with the stocking candy
Logical after I found it, anyway – not so much beforehand.
- Also make sure none of the gifts need refrigeration.
- Then take everything directly to your designated space.
- “Process” them every day or every couple of days (remind yourself with a phone alarm and calendar note).
“Process” sounds like I’m giving you a big job to do. I promise, I’m not. By “process,” I just mean open, check, and then sort them. In an intentional way.
You will thank me later.
But it’s okay if you forget to thank me in person. I know you already did in your heart.
Are Sea Monkeys Still Even a Thing?
When you start processing, have a couple of big envelopes or gallon Ziploc bags in the storage area.
You’ll also need your phone and/or your spreadsheet. As you open each bag or box:
- Put all gift cards, scratch-offs, movie tickets, stickers, video game codes, sea monkey vouchers, and any other easily lost, tiny, flat, expensive (well, sea monkeys are cheap(*9) but still) gifts in one of the big envelopes.
If there’s a coupon or something else you’ll need before Christmas, put it in there, too. Or even better, put the coupon in your action / pending box, if you have one. But nowhere else.
Don’t get cute with this stuff – you have too much on your mind right now.
- While you’re at it, take a photo of the receipt that comes with gift cards.
I always thought those were for the recipient to prove the gift card has money on it, in case it didn’t work at the register. I found out last year that if you lose the card but still have the receipt, you may be able to get your money back.
Did you know that? Let me know below – am I the only one who keeps them right with the gift card?
And subsequently loses them right along with the gift card?
- Put any backup paperwork (receipts, packing lists, seller notes) in the other envelope or bag.
- Check return policies if you didn’t already, and make a note of anything weird. More about that in the next post.
- Either keep your spreadsheet handy to update as you go, or do as I do and use the voice app on your phone to record what you’re doing and catch it up later.
I hate writing by hand, so I love this feature. It works better than voice-to-text, which doesn’t always pick up what I’m putting down.
I’m 99% sure I didn’t open a parcel with “friday mirror bicycle jumpers” in it. Wait, did I?
Or keep a notebook with a pen tied to it in your gift area, scribble your notes, and tear the page out to update your spreadsheet. If you do this, take the page directly to your paperwork area.
Do I need to tell you not to take the notebook out of the closet?
I think you know better.
- Put small gifts, such as video games, DVDs, and other easily misplaced items in a box so they don’t get lost in the clutter.
- Either sort gifts by person as you go, or wait until you’ve purchased several things and are ready to get a visual. Your choice.
- Put stocking stuffers aside in one big bag or box.
Once I have enough to get a good idea of what goes in each stocking, I sort them into plastic grocery bags by person and loosely tie them shut each time so nothing falls out.
- Do not throw out any bags or packaging material until you have double- and triple-checked them for scraps of important paper, like tickets, receipts and gift cards.
This Will Be the One Time Your Offspring Unloads Groceries From the Trunk Without Being Asked. The One Time.
That takes care of keeping up with most of the incoming stuff. But how do you keep sneaky people out of the packages?
- If you need to keep something secret and you’re afraid it will come in an obvious box, have it shipped to a relative or friend nearby. Make sure you let them know. Use your name c/o their name and address so that they don’t accidentally open it.
Set calendar and phone alarms as reminders to check with them twice a week or more to see if you need to pick up packages.
Put the gifts directly in your designated storage area when you get them home. Don’t leave them in your car! You will forget about them.
- To keep your spouse from accidentally opening something you bought them, create a shipping address in your Amazon and other accounts that says something like [HUBBY’S NAME] DON’T OPEN THIS!!!. I do this for Ebay also.
- While it can be awesome when Amazon suggests items based on what you’ve been looking at (see my notes about the Amazon rabbit hole in Part 1), it makes it impossible to keep secrets with a shared account.
So in case you didn’t know, they offer a linked household account where each spouse can have a separate account on the same Prime membership.
I’d tell you all about it, but I’d probably get the details wrong (I usually know just enough to be dangerous), so email them for more information.
- Speaking of digital tattletales – my family shares a Prime Photo account that automatically backs up our phone pictures into the cloud. Which is mostly helpful. But…
One year I took a screenshot of a pricey gamer mouse for my son, one of his main gifts. He happened to look in the photo account for something else and…D’oh!
As much as I like to think the cloud is my friend, sometimes he’s the kind of friend who tells other people your own private business. So watch for that.
- If you’re trying to hide your stash from small, curious children, ask a friend or neighbor to “trade” storage.
My middle son used to wander the house, randomly peering in closets, bathtubs and nooks and crannies all through the year. Not looking for anything in particular. He just made his rounds, like the 4-year-old version of a retired old man with loads of time on his hands.
So yeah, his gifts went to the neighbor’s house.
If you’re reading this, I love you, baby, but you were born strange.
- And, finally, I taught my children early on that anything they see in advance goes back. They thought I meant it (as if I’d go to all that trouble).
I’m just like Santa. If Santa were a grouchy, impatient, middle-aged lady with no heart.
Just When You Were Starting to Feel Better About It All…
- Tracking everything in writing (virtual or otherwise)
- Keeping everything all in one place by:
- Putting papers in an envelope right away,
- Only opening packages in a specific area, and
- Taking measures to protect your gifts from prying eyes
…gift-buying can be a little less crazy.
And trust me, if you can do all those things, you will be so, so impressed with yourself. You’ll be all like, “yeah, I’m killing this Christmas thing.”
Of course, then you’ll remember you still need to find time to clean, choose outfits for the Christmas photo, pick up a bottle of wine for your friend’s party, figure out a menu for the holiday meal, bake cupcakes for three class parties, replace the bottle of wine you bought for your friend’s party, dig out all the pieces to the ceramic village, scrape melted wax off your favorite wreath accidentally stored in the attic with the candles, replace the bottle of wine you bought for your friend’s party again (just buy a case and call it a day), send cards to 40 people you barely know anymore, plan two cookie-baking nights, and trim the tree.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to go there just yet.
But don’t worry, I can help. If thinking about the season causes more anxiety than joy, let me know below what areas most drive you to the brink. I’m planning more posts on taming Christmas soon. I can’t say I’ve got it all figured out, but our family Christmas is a far cry from the Clark Griswoldesque “try to do everything while watching it all fall apart around you” stress fests of my past.
And if nothing else, at least now you can find the receipt to return that extra pony, right??
Now I’m off to search for anything-but-carrots, so I’ll see you over in Part 3 to finish up this series.
(*1) I’m not really sure if we agreed, but in my world, everyone always agrees with me so we’ll go with that.
(*2) We didn’t say it, but we were all thinking it.
(*3) Not really, but I’ve been told to be more positive so I figure that means lying more.
(*4) Thank God that Elf on the Shelf thing didn’t come out until my kids were older. I know I would have jumped on it and regretted another mentally taxing tradition for years to come.
(*5) I know you’re reading this, Carrie, and are considering punching me in the mouth for implying sugar causes diabetes, because it totally doesn’t, but I am drawing from an extremely shallow well of funniness and need to use artistic / poetic / pathetic license here in order to offer up the tiniest bit of weak humor so please bear with me and if you promise not to actually follow through on aforementioned punching, I will buy your next bottle of Pear Arbor Mist and also defend your right to call it wine (it’s okay – as you know, I occasionally indulge in wine with copious amounts of Splenda in it so I completely support all of your wine delusions), which will make it not only free for you but also the correct flavor, as opposed to the one Mike purchased for you because I, as your friend, hear you, unlike your husband, who only pretends to listen and who, thanks to that statement, now might actually be the one who will punch me in the mouth, except he needs to know that punching me might damage his bagpipe-playing fingers (I assume there are such things as bagpipe-playing fingers or else I may actually be in some trouble here which you would think would inspire me to simply remove the entire diabetes reference, but no, despite the initial “she-might-be-a-genius-it’s-so-sad-she-has-totally-fallen-short-of-her-potential” first impression I may present, I’m not really that smart).
(*6) Actually, if you bought a JetSki, you probably shouldn’t really store it in a gift closet or even a guest bedroom either. I’m not sure why I used that as an example. You’re creative, though. Just use your imagination.
(*7) A lot.
(*8) I realize ptomaine is no longer a thing, but it’s a funny word and I like it. Plus I’m the one who risked my life to eat chocolate (for real) so I get some leeway here.
I also once took a chance on getting rabies to eat a cheesecake, but that’s a story for another time.
And I ate a pan of brownies full of glass shards.
Relax, I ate around the glass. I’m not stupid.
I’m going to stop talking now.
(*9) And usually arrive dead – just a side note.
(*9) I’m betting the asterisks number for each footnote are wonky and don’t match up. It’s okay. It’s all mostly nonsense anyway.