How to Feel Pretty Good About Your Holiday Shopping This Year

So you survived Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Or maybe you avoided them all together. Either way,  jingly hats off to you! Still… unless you’re a super-organized supermom, there’s likely more holiday shopping to be done.

For some, shopping for holiday gifts is a fun challenge, perhaps even akin to a sportz thing, complete with a playbook and special shoes, or a plan for stalking eBay to snag an impossible-to-find toy. But for others, the thought of filling your cart to the brim year after year — especially this year — can be more daunting than delightful.

If you don’t want to feel like you’re giving all your money to THE MAN only to fill your house with stuff you don’t really want, there are a few ways you can spend a little smarter this season — while still creating all that sparkly, twinkly holiday magic.

Focus on experiences instead of things.

Whether your kids already have entirely too much stuff, or you just want to stop acquiring so much stuff, consider gifting experiences instead of toys. Granted, this is a little trickier to pull off in pandemic times when activities are limited. But they’ll be back, and the idea is this: When presented as a gift and treated as a special occasion, zoo or museum memberships, or even a fancy lunch and pedicure date are wonderful gifts for kids — especially if it means undivided attention and quality time with Mom or Dad. If you still want them to have something to open, pairing a single meaningful physical item with an experience can make the whole shebang memorable. Think: a telescope with space camp, a personalized apron or chef’s hat with a cooking class, etc.

Have a purge party.

Okay, “purge party” sounds more like a bad Lifetime movie than a new holiday tradition, but whatever you call it, make a night (or afternoon) of getting rid of stuff before you acquire even more of it. Make cookies, put on festive music, and have your kids go through their clothes and toys to set aside some for donation. You can set a goal (10 toys each!) or make it a challenge (whichever kid donates the most toys gets to put the star on the tree / flip the switch on the lights / whatever). They may whine about it at first, but they’ll thank you in 20 years when they realize you saved them from becoming hoarders.

Buy from places that give back.

Okay, maybe your kid has no interest in a hand-embroidered blanket made from ethically sourced, beet-dyed linen, or even one of those wooden Waldorf toys all the minimalist Instagram moms are always posting about. Sometimes you just need a Barbie or one of those goddamn Vtech toys with the horrible music that haunts you in your sleep. Luckily, most big-box stores put some portion of proceeds back into the community, whether through scholarships, donations, or other charitable activities. So before you head out for your holiday shopping, check the store’s corporate website (also, you know, just to be sure you’re not accidentally supporting something you might not want to support). Oh, and if you’re already ordering stuff on Amazon, you might as well use AmazonSmile, which gives 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible items to a charity of your choice.

Shop small, local, etc.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you hear this all the time, I know. But there are all kinds of reasons to do your holiday shopping at locally owned-and-operated stores, especially right now. In addition to supporting small businesses and your local economy, buying from independent retailers can help reduce your environmental footprint, whether it’s through sustainably made goods, less excessive packaging, minimizing transportation, etc. The benefits of shopping locally go beyond the feel-good stuff, too. Small shops are more likely to have one-of-a-kind gifts you won’t get at a big-box retailer — for example, pop into an independent bookstore and you may find a children’s book signed by the author. Oh, you don’t have time to leisurely make your way from adorable storefront to adorable storefront this season? No biggie. It’s easy to shop small online, too. Etsy is a great place to start, but you can pretty much find sustainable/fair trade/independent anything on the web these days.

Also, just give back.

If you still want to go crazy and buy your kids ALL THE THINGS, hey, we’re not here to judge you. But if you can afford to do that, ask yourself if there’s some room in your budget to make sure less fortunate kids have some gifts to open this year, too. You can keep it simple by dropping gifts in a Toys for Tots box, or making a monetary donation to a charity that helps low-income families. And if you want to get your kids in on the do-gooding, consider adopting a family this holiday season (a quick web search should turn up plenty of local organizations that will pair you with a family in need).

Don’t wait until the last minute. (like, seriously, don’t)

You know when you skip lunch and smell pizza and then eat the whole thing? And then maybe you throw back some ice cream because your day of healthy eating is already totally shot? Well, the same thing happens with holiday shopping. If you wait until the last minute to get it done, you’re much more likely to overbuy and/or overspend. You do not want to be that manic lady running around Target throwing everything in your cart without thinking and/or freaking out when the ONE thing you actually needed to buy is out of stock. And we will totally judge you (but just a little, because we’ve all been there) if you pay $30 for express shipping on some hard-to-find L.O.L. doll.

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Emily Farris lives in Kansas City, MO with her burly husband, toddler son, and two rowdy rescue mutts. She's written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and The Cut. When not busy cleaning up somebody's pee, she's posting about drinks and home decor on Instagram @thatemilyfarris.