The search for the perfect Christmas gift…

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For many of us, Christmas obliges us to make a bunch of decisions about presents. And if your family is anything like mine, choosing gifts can be difficult. There’s usually at least one person in each family who doesn’t know what they want, creating headaches for everyone. And on the other end of the spectrum is the person whose wish list is full of unaffordable ideas that would render the family penniless. At this time of year my inbox is also jammed with emails from companies, clamouring for my attention as they tout their amazing range of Christmas gift ideas. It isn’t hard to feel pressured and confused and depleted of the joy that should be a part of this holiday season. Some of us just can’t wait for it all to be over.

So what to do? Well here are a few hacks to help you with the last of your Christmas shopping and to remind you of what really matters this holiday season.

Don’t fixate on the perfect gift

Like pretty much every other choice you’ll make, there is no ‘perfect’ gift out there. Optimisation can become an obsession for some of us. We pursue hints and leads like we’re hunting for Osama bin Laden, and then work ourselves into a lather when we realise that the gift is either unavailable or unaffordable. Start by taking that burden off yourself – your focus is to choose a good gift, not to fight your way through the hordes of Christmas shoppers trying to find the elusive holy grail of presents.

Establish some parameters

Managing expectations is key. That might include being up-front about how much you’ll spend, much like you do with a ‘Kris Kringle’ or ‘Secret Santa’ arrangement. You don’t want to exchange gifts only to find that the person you gave a $30 present to has spent hundreds of dollars on their gift to you. Some families apply the principle that each person will get one gift, and try to make that gift something special. Others go for quantity over quality, enjoying the excitement of opening lots of inexpensive gifts. And some years there just might not be the money available – in which case you might make a pledge to only give home-made gifts. If that’s the choice, don’t fret that you’re not a master craftsman. My sister used to make amazing Christmas cakes that were both delicious and remarkably long-lasting (it must have been all the rum that preserved them!)

What do they value?

Values should be a key driver for all important decisions. If you don’t know what to get for a gift, have a think about what the person values. Do they value peace and quiet? Maybe gift them some – a night away somewhere quiet, a voucher for a day spa, or even a homemade voucher for a quiet morning while you take the kids out. If they value family, maybe organise a photographer to take some family pictures, or give them an activity that the whole family can do together, like an escape room challenge. Values-based gifts don’t need to be expensive and can really hit the mark.

What about their goals?

Goals are the other key drivers for decisions. If the person has a goal to get healthy, how about you get them a voucher for a sports store or, if you can afford it, a series of sessions with a personal trainer? If their aim is to get a book published (I just plucked that one from the air in case my family is reading), then maybe buy them a ‘How to get published’ guide. Everybody has some kind of goal, even if they don’t talk about it all the time. Taking the time to reflect on this is a good step towards finding a present that they will value.

It really is the thought that counts

The homemade gifts from my kids are honestly some of the things I treasure the most. I still have a bunch of cards from my children in a storage box. They are personal, they were made with love and they are extremely cute and often hilarious! Encourage your own kids to make cards with personalised messages and pictures – it can also be a fun craft activity and can be a way of using up the scraps of wrapping paper that are inevitably left over after you’ve wrapped your gifts. And think about how to replicate this with the gifts you give. I have a few coffee mugs with photos of the family – I love these and enjoy showing them off at work. Inexpensive, personal and meaningful.

And enjoy the things you really value

And finally, just enjoy the holiday season. Once the frenzy of opening gifts is over, and you’re surrounded by piles of paper and ribbon, what’s left? If Christmas has special religious significance for you, focus on that. If you just enjoy the opportunity to catch up with relatives you only see once a year, take pleasure in that. One thing I’ve learnt is that while material things can communicate love and appreciation, and can sometimes bring us joy and pleasure, they are rarely the things we deeply treasure and value. Life is short. This might be your last Christmas with some of your loved ones. I desperately wish I could have my parents back this holiday season, but that’s a wish that even Santa can’t help with.

Hug your loved ones, have a laugh together over a glass of eggnog or special Christmas-blend punch, and may this holiday season be full of meaning and joy!

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