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Choosing gifts when everyone has too much stuff already.
We all have too much stuff.
In the Western world we seem to accumulate, and then cast off, mountains of possessions.
Every year, each Christmas, we buy each other more and more stuff. Last year it was estimated that people in the UK spent over £50 billion on Christmas gifts, much it destined to last only a few days before being binned or taken to a charity shop.
As someone who makes a living from designing, making and selling things for people to give you would think that this would make me happy. Yet somehow it doesn't.
I seem to have got to an age where getting more and more things that need to be stored in my house makes me uneasy. I can physically feel my shoulders tense at the thought.
I have been thinking about this a lot - coming up with tactics for giving gifts that will be appreciated - and trying to work it into the business too.
1. Take the hint.
This is maybe a longer term solution - but take to listening and planning more over time.
It isn't a mark of being a materialistic monster to be looking for the perfect Christmas gift in October, it is the mark of someone knowing that meaningful can take time.
Some of the things I have been given this year I adore - the floral plaster tiles by Rachel Dein, the Persian cookery books, the vintage horlicks jug - for as well as being beautiful they represent time spent, hints taken, conversations remembered.
I will have talked to my husband, my friend, my daughters about all these things over the year - and their listening, their acting, their thinking of me was a large part of the gift.
2. Make the gift an anchor.
There is something really special about someone unwrapping a gift you have chosen - especially if you are there as they undo the ribbon, even more especially if you don't see them that often.
Maybe this is why choosing Christmas gifts are quite stressful.
Every year I buy my nieces horse riding lessons - which is what they want and enjoy - but for me, I need to have something for them to physically open when I see them on Christmas day.
There needs to be an anchor to the gift.
This year I shall be giving them paint your own birdhouse kits and shall put the horse riding vouchers in the bag.
The anchor can be small and practical - the main gift elaborate, in the future, or simply a promise.
Lots of people use our mugs to act as an anchor gift - personalised with a quote or a drawing linked the main event.
Another idea is to have a cook book as anchor for a fancy meal out, or a book as anchor for a trip to a play . . .
3. Just get me something I can eat or drink . . .
This was the cry of a friend of mine - several decades older than me and living a fairly nomadic retirement. She was adamant that she didn't need any gifts from her nieces, nephews and friends but, if they insisted, it should be a gift that was easily consumed.
It did her well, her house was always full of amazing food and the widest variety of alcohol I had ever seen.
The luxury of an amazing bottle of wine or aged balsamic vinegar, of preserved lemons, a stack of luxury chocolate or home made sloe gin . .
4. Choose Quality .
By quality I don't mean price - I should say that quickly.
I mean that something is likely to be used and treasured, something that makes you feel wonderful everytime you use it.
I like to think of a little oasis of luxury.
Things that I personally would put in this category are - a soft scarf, a pen that writes beautifully, proper coffee beans, big bone china mugs, a good notebook, artisan chocolate, scented candles, decent matches.
Now that I've looked at this list and feel that it pretty much sums up my idea of the little things that make up a treat filled life.
5. Make something
I left this till last because I know it is the most difficult. Many people feel they aren't creative and that anything they actually make will be a pretty shonky gift.
I actually disagree with this but here I suggest a middle way.
Think of all the ways that things can be personalised. It is now easy to order photo books from your phone, many jewellers will incorporate names and dates, businesses like ours specialise in flexible designs which can be adapted and personalised.
Children's drawings and writing make wonderful gifts, free the fridge and get them printed onto a notebook or a cushion or a bag for grandparents. Children love this - it makes them feel incredibly special.
Even choosing elements of a design - the colours, the words, the pattern - involve children in a gift much more than flinging it into a basket in the supermarket or being told what they have bought.
Adults can choose a piece of music or lines from a song, places that mean something, the daft jokes that no-one else understands - and get them made into something useful and beautiful.
It is still creative even if you aren't physically making it - the value is in the thinking, the choosing, the ordering . . .