Reducing the Stress of Christmas Shopping

Thursday, 20 November 2014

It's almost the end of the year and that means Christmas will be here before we know it! As an overachieving type of person, I've always been pretty organised with my present-buying, but no more so than since I've been working just off Oxford Street, slap bang in the middle of one of London's biggest shopping areas.

You might think that this is a happy coincidence which makes shopping easier ~ a quick few lunchtime pop-outs and you're done, right? Oh no, no, no sir, you would be so very wrong there! For as soon as mid-November hits, the whole area becomes a frenzied mess of workers all trying to get their shopping done in their lunch hours or after work. Throw a few hundred "Christmas Tourists" into the melee and it's a pretty explosive retail cocktail I can tell you. Hideous! Hell like! Traumatic! Yes, indeed.

So, over the last few years I've started using a few tried and tested tricks for getting my Christmas shopping done and dusted without having to battle the crowds. As a result, you'll find me chilling with a hot chocolate during my lunch break at this time of year!

Here's what I do:

1. Make a list
Obvious, but in my opinion more than essential for keeping track of things. I always have a Christmas list: the people I need to buy for and any immediate ideas I have/requests that I know about. I use the same format every year so I can easily see what's what.

2. Check what you already have
Christmas cards left over from last year? Wrapping paper? Gifts picked up during the year because they are just perfect for the recipient? Gather what you have and save time, waste and money!

3. Make an idea-gathering trip
We usually have a relaxed amble around the shops on a couple of Saturdays early in November to get the creative juices flowing and help us to see what's around and what might make nice presents for our family & friends. I find once I've got a few ideas in my head, others quickly come to mind, making the whole process a little bit easier.

4. Ask for ideas
It's always a bit of a shame when you receive a gift that's not really your cup of tea, which you know you'll never use. I think there's no harm in asking people what they would like or if there's anything they need. You don't necessarily need the finer details, but 'a fruit bowl for the kitchen' for example is a loose enough brief to allow you to choose something special, still knowing that it will be well received.

5. Research Online
After we've done our November recce of the shops I usually spend some time looking online, based on the ideas we've gathered. So much less hassle than dragging from shop to shop and you can easily compare items via store websites.

6. Pre-order or have deliveries made to your home or office
Rather than flog through the crowds in stores like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, I like to pre-order online and collect in store. Great if you are easily able to get to the shops, equally so if you can have items delivered to work or when you are at home.

7. Consider Secret Santa
If you have a large family and lots of people to buy for, why not consider a Secret Santa style Christmas? For the last few years we've done this with our Colombian family. Everyone's name goes into a hat and they are then randomly matched with someone else who they buy for. Usually we all give a small suggested list of things we might like to help our Secret Santa (or Amigo Secreto in Spanish). The budget can be whatever you agree within the group. We find it works well ~ it's fun and if you're travelling overseas it's seriously good news for your baggage allowance, believe me!

8. Get to the Post Office Early
If you need to send gifts or Christmas cards, I recommend buying your stamps well in advance as queues at the PO can get grim in the run up to Christmas. Check in advance how many cards you plan to send and buy what you need accordingly.

9. Make Present Wrapping an Event
I like to pick a Sunday afternoon, stick on some Christmas music, make myself a drink and grab a mince pie or two, then get down to some relaxed, but productive present wrapping. So much better than wrestling with the sellotape on the bathroom floor the night before you're giving your gifts! Enlist a cute helper too, if you have one!

10. Sit Back & Enjoy!
The best thing about getting ahead of yourself and being a bit tactical about Christmas is when you walk past queues of stressed-looking people and you don't need to join them, when a friend asks you to go to a gallery on a December Saturday and you are free to go. Call me over-organised, but it works for me!

How do you approach Christmas shopping? Do you, like me, do all you can to avoid the stress of it or do you love the last-minute buzzy thrill of the season? I'd love to know!


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