Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Many Happy Returns

Contrary to popular belief, the holiday shopping season is far from over, for me the fun has just begun. Now that all the gifts are unwrapped, I am left with a pile of things not on Santas list leading to a post holiday moral dilemma. What is the proper etiquette for returning gifts? Certain rules make returning acceptable, usually involving an exchange rather than a return. A good rule of thumb is trading for size, fit or even color. However, after receiving three identical hooded sweatshirts embroidered with my initial, this rule would need review. These three gifts led me to a holiday epiphany, my name is Mary and I return gifts that I do not need.
All three gifts were sent along with a gift receipt or as I like to call it the gift givers get out of jail free card. The gift receipt which must have been created by a non committal shopper not only assuages the guilt of the receiver but also creates credibility for the gift giver. It also allows the person returning the gift to receive full purchase price. Without the gift receipt, the retailer will give the current price of the item which might be considerably less.
When receiving the second of the hooded sweatshirts, I was told there is a gift receipt if it does not work out, for some reason. Having a sweatshirt, not work out seemed like a strong opinion for active wear. Even so, the idea of non committal gift giving was completely liberating. It was as if I was granted permission for rejecting a gift that was carefully chosen with me in mind.
But more than being able to return the gifts without guilt, I began to wonder how the gifts were chosen to begin with. Like most people I know, the holiday gift giving list includes familiar friends, family and coworkers, most of which are bought for year in and year out. The pressure to come up with a unique gift on an annual basis can be daunting. Many people have come to rely on the gift card as a way to avoid this pressure. Others that I know will keep these gifts on what they affectionately refer to as the regift pile, a compilation of gifts that might be repurposed for another occasion. I believe this practice will ultimately lead to an endless chain of one gift being passed back and forth over and over until we ultimately receive what we started with. The Panettone cake is a likely candidate that seems to be making its way around our holiday households. So why not break the circle by bringing the gift back to the source? I relish this time of year to take advantage of post holiday shopping with a pile of credit in my pocket. Viva the gift receipt!
Now, while I am happy to head off to the store to make returns, there is a sensitivity issue that exists when about to haul off your well intended friends gifts to the store. Certainly you will have to account for the uncomfortable conversations that might come up when your husbands boss asks how you like the reindeer topped wine carafe that she bought you last year. Thanking her for the thoughtful gift and letting her know that the gift was put to good use is the best way out of this sticky situation. As for other returns, I usually head them off at the pass and tell them if something did not fit or if it needed to be exchanged. This type of tactful disclosure is always appreciated.
And for a return free holiday in the future, I would recommend a few guidelines that will help to minimize returns:
1. Get ahead of holiday shopping by buying gifts for friends and family when you see them, instead of waiting till the last minute
2. Make your intentions clear to those you plan to exchange with and be candid with those you are not exchanging with
3. Try a holiday grab bag for families where each person chooses one name. Thanksgiving can be a great time to do this.
4. Always ask retailers about return policies before purchasing, so if the gift needs to be exchanged, the process will be easier
5. Include a gift receipt to make returns hassle-free

Monday, December 11, 2006

Get your holiday in order!

The most special time of the year can be less stressful and more organized! Here are tips to keep your holiday in order

1. A holiday baking party does triple duty—bonding, baking and gifting. Even the non-bakers can take part by packaging all the yummy treats.
2. Do you have a great shop on the way to work or a gourmet store that you pass on the way to your childs soccer game? Make your commute work for you by stopping along the way instead of making an extra trip.
3. Take time to breathe! Try a 15 minute meditation or walk around the block to create space in your day.
4. Be realistic about how much time you have by respecting your schedule. Confusion comes when too many choices distract us.
5. Do not practice the one for you, one for me shopping approach. Stick to being Santas little helper instead.
6. Create your own team of elves by including everyone in crafts, baking and decorating. You might just start a new family tradition.
7. Re-use, recycle, but never re-gift! A gift should be given from the heart and chosen with care. It is acceptable to pass along something to someone who needs it, but never pass along anothers gift as your own.
8. Watch your excesses. This is the time to indulge, so stay hydrated by drinking one glass of water per holiday cocktail or eggnog.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Get organized for the holidays now

Now is the perfect time to bring order to the holidays with these great tips! The key is to know your limitations and stick to your plan…
1. Be a Bah Humbug Learn to say no thank you early to invitations instead of procrastinating. You cannot be in two places at one time, so choose only the must attends to avoid holiday burnout.
2. Discuss family commitments early and let your plans be known. Dividing time between families can be stressful; alternating holidays is one solution to avoid spending your holiday on the road.
3. For holiday travelers, keep a duplicate bag of toiletries in your suitcase and pack early. This will put you ahead of last minute mishaps. By taking a trial run, you will also identify any items needed for the trip.
4. Evening is a great time to unwind with some easy holiday prep. Use your appointment television time for holiday correspondence and gift wrapping.
5. Customized holiday cards are just one click away with Just send your favorite photograph, pick your design and have cards created especially for you. Deadline for this year is December 5 for Christmas delivery.
6. Stick to your exercise program. Now is the time you really need the energy that working out provides.
7. Consider a charitable donation as a gift. Slip a message into a holiday card and your gift giving is done all in one!
8. We all have that phone call or report that we procrastinate over, instead of doing. Make that task your first of the day, taking the weight of your mind for the rest of the day.
9. Do not get caught up in holiday dressing. Do you really need a new black cocktail dress when the three you have hanging in your closet will suit the occasion perfectly?
10. Instead of sending gifts to friends, plan a get together in lieu of gifts. Anyone for a yoga class and green tea date?