Tis the season to be mindful

By Mir
October 17, 2006

I stopped at my local dollar store yesterday to pick up sandwich bags (yes, that’s about the only reason I go in there, and yes, I always end up buying more than that) and just beyond the garish Halloween displays right at the front there were… there were…

I can hardly say it, it’s so awful.

There were Christmas decorations. Stop it. STOP IT. It’s not even November yet!

Is it my imagination, or is the “Christmas season” sneaking ever-further backward? By the time my kids are grown, the season will be starting right after Memorial Day.

Anyway, it reminded me that I wanted to talk a little bit about the upcoming Season O’ Frenzy.

If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to get sucked into the whole “I must shop and shop and money is tight and rather than a joy this season is making me want to slit my wrists, right here amongst these bills” mindset. I’ve spoken here before about spreading out your gift-buying throughout the year so that you don’t end up feeling the crunch right when you’re wishing for a bit of extra cash.

I’ve also spoken before about making charity a part of your everyday life; not because it makes you a sainted person, but because it makes you a better person in your own life while helping the lives of others. I do tend to start twitching, just a little, when people talk about charity as if it’s just a holiday activity. Making it part of your everyday life is the ideal. But I can’t overlook the fact that many people find it easiest to think about (or start) in the holiday season.

My favorite holiday charity project is coming up, and I love to recommend it to others because it’s a very doable way to start giving. Stuffing a shoebox? That’s not expensive, or particularly hard, and I promise you that it’s surprisingly fun, particularly if it’s something you do with your kids. But again—there is no “one size fits all” approach to charity, and if that’s not something that appeals to you, find something else that does.

I also want to mention this deal again, both because it’s a great way to accumulate toys for donation and because Amazon keeps adding new stuff to the sale area. Whatever your favorite avenue of donation—whether it be Toys for Tots, children in Iraq, or a local organization working to provide for the needy kids in your area—there is unfortunately never a shortage of kids who don’t have any toys.

Here’s where I will try to squelch my urge to break out into a round of Kumbaya: Everyone thinks about kids during the holiday season, which is great. But most of them have parents who are lacking as well. Other adults are out there needing help, too. There are hundreds of little ways to keep charity in mind over the next few months, and I promise that it will help keep you from getting stressed out over things like whether or not you have enough cranberry sauce. Pinky swear.

Every time I post a free sample here? Order it. I don’t care if it’s not something you can use. Heck, if you won’t use it, all the better; donate it to someone who can.

Remember this coupon? It doesn’t expire until the end of January. Print out a pile of them. Every time I go for groceries or to Target, now, I pick up a free tube of toothpaste or a toothbrush. I got a few for my family, and now I’m getting extras—for shoeboxes, for my local soup kitchen, for the battered women’s shelter.

When shelf-stable foods are on deep discount at the store, stock up. You know the food drives will be starting up, soon, and no one wants the 6-year-old cans of beets in the back of your pantry. If you clip coupons, chances are that between those and store specials, you can be picking up sacks of food for pennies on the dollar.

Live in a cold climate? Our dollar stores are starting to stock hats and gloves. What if you spent your coffee money once a week on some of those, to donate? Most dollar stores also carry socks and underwear. Again, the cost to you is negligible, but it could be a bounty to someone else.

Lastly, I offer all of you a challenge, and I’ll post about it again next month: Get out there, this season. Pick a way to volunteer at least one day between now and Christmas. Come back and tell me about it, too. Last year my daughter and I rang the bell for Salvation Army one day and I have to tell you, I was prepared to hate every second of it. It was a surprisingly wonderful experience. (And a fabulous people-watching exercise, to boot, as some obviously wealthy people walked past pretending not to see us, while some people I would’ve guessed to be quite poor would stuff $20 bills into the bucket.) Soup kitchens need volunteers. Retirement homes need visitors. Hospitals need… well, I know they need people for various things. Get creative. There is the right opportunity out there for you.

Be mindful. You cannot get all worked up over everything being “just perfect” when your focus is on giving of yourself rather than on stuff. How will you help others this year?


  1. Thank you for the information about the shoebox project. I think that will be an excellent family holiday tradition to start with my girls and will help chase the “Bah Humbugs” away!

  2. Thank you. I have nothing else to say but thank you for reminding me what it’s really all about.

  3. As one who works as a staff member of a non-profit that relies on thousands of volunteers and millions in donations to achieve our mission, THANK YOU for reminding us all that there are so many needs out there that need to be addressed and that charity is best when year-round. Have you seen this website? It gives examples of ways to volunteer in as short as 5 minutes or as long as several hours/days.

  4. I like the shoebox idea – that’s actually manageable. Ditto on the toys to Iraq. So many volunteering opportunties aren’t manageable with little kids around.

    Thank you yet again, wise, pretty Mir!

  5. Scott: Thanks for the link. What a great resource!

  6. Awesome post with some great timely points! I just shipped off a shoebox of toys to Iraq last week (thanks to you) and I have 3 shoeboxes nearly ready for Operation Christmas Child. That is a project that my son and I LOVE to do each year! I am also thinking about donating blood. My hubby’s office had a canned food drive last week. I think that these are all seemingly small things that can make a big difference to someone, somewhere.

    P.S. Mir, I have recently grounded myself from buying any more zip-top type bags from dollar stores because they ALWAYS slice themselves open (=waste)!!! Whenever I run out, I always seem to be near a dollar store instead of a grocery store or Target, and later I kick myself. Urgh.

  7. I somehow missed the toothpaste/toothbrush coupon or I totally would have been doing that every time I shop. I always buy a few extra things when I shop and when I have a big bag, I drop them off at the church for them to give to people who need them. I would hope if I was needing things that people would help me out, so I try the best I can to give what I can afford (and sometimes what I can’t afford…whoops!) This site is amazing for finding the free samples to allow me to feel like I am helping a little more than would be possible without them. In case I don’t say it enough, you are so pretty, Mir!

  8. Another small hint for those who stay at hotels a lot.

    Women’s and homeless shelters can really use those travel-sized bottles of shampoo, lotion, etc. We bring all our extras home and donate them when we collect a gallon-size ziploc baggie of them.

  9. Awesome post, thank you!

    Target (in our neck o’the woods) already has Christmas stuff set up behind the Halloween stuff ::groan::

    I am Lamaze breathing through all the temptations, as I will NOT veer off course of a frugal, but warm and family filled holiday and for us, focusing on the reason behind CHRISTmas…

  10. Thanks for the reminder! My 14-year-old loves to ring a bell for the Salvation Army at Christmas. Just when I think I’m too tired or it’s too cold, his enthusiasm reminds me why we do it.

  11. Great post Mir! We always pick names from a mall Angel tree to shop for. They are usually the same age/sex as my own and we shop and wrap for the child together. I love the idea of ringing the bell and never thought of doing it with my children. We will this year!

  12. The Moms group I am in has the goal of doing 100 shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. One note we were told by a local organizer is to give fluoride free toothpaste. She said most of the kids who get the boxes have never seen toothpaste before and they eat it (which my child would do if I wasn’t standing right there, so no surprise). Just a tip I thought I’d pass on since you mentioned the toothpaste coupons and all. I also love to have each child pack a box for a child their own age and let them pick out the toys to put in.

  13. I volunteer nearly every day, for Perverted Justice. It’s work I’m proud of, work that makes me angry, work that drives me. While I appreciate the Christmas season where people open their hearts and wallets for others, it saddens me that it isn’t a year-round thing for everyone. Thank you for the reminder!

  14. I really enjoy doing the shoebox thing for Christmas. Sadly the people who need it most get bombarded at Christmas and get nothing the rest of the year. Thank you for reminding me that they need stuff all year round.

  15. Walmart has flip-flops for $2/pair. Great “gift” for groups that are going on mission trips and want to take shoes.

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