Can you be organized while being prepared?

By Mir
September 10, 2007

The lovely Jen sent this in last week:

Dear Mir-
You are so very pretty and I love your Want Not blog. I’ve gotten a number a good deals just from reading your advice — so smart and so pretty all in one package, I don’t know how you do it!

[Ed. note: The sucking up from my readers helps to fuel my energy. Heh.]

My question for you is about Christmas gifts. I know you suggest shopping for the holidays all year long and I’ve really tried to do that — this year even more than in the past. What I really want to know is how you keep it all straight. Do you have a running list of what you’ve bought and who it is for? Is it an elaborate spread sheet? Do you just throw it all in a closet and sort it out closer to the holiday? How do you know what you still need to get? Thanks for any tips you can pass along!

This is an excellent question, because gifts that you buy ahead of time and then forget about are no bargain whatsoever.

Here’s the thing: I can (and will) tell you what I do, but there’s all sorts of factors that are going to impact how to work out a good system for yourself. You have to consider how many people you’re buying for, how much space you have to store this stuff, and how particular you are about any given item (for example, is this doll suitable only for Little Susie or do you have three daughters, all of whom would love it?).

I’ve had the good fortune in both my last house and this house to have a dedicated space with plenty of shelving on which to store my “gift closet” stuff. Because I have plenty of room, I have different sections set aside for different things. One set of shelves is “kid stuff.” One set of shelves is “teacher and other thank-you gifts.” One set is specifically Christmas stuff. And so on. So in answer to your question, no, I don’t have any sort of elaborate spreadsheet (nor any other kind of paper accounting) of what I have. I just… put it on the right shelves.

If you don’t have enough room to be able to pretty much see everything you’re storing, then yes—by all means, figure out some sort of tracking method. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great plan handy that I can share with you, on that.

What I do have is some general philosophy tips on stocking up, that you are free to utilize or not as you so choose. Some of them may work for you, and some may not.

Set an end date for your “general shopping.” When it comes to Christmas (or the other “big gift event” of your choosing), I absolutely advocate buying throughout the year. But at a certain point you will need to stop and take inventory and see if you have everything you need. In general I aim to have my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving, because you could not pay me to step foot in a store between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My general rule is that the first week in October I check out my stash and determine what I still need. I am often done by then. But it I’m not, I figure out what I need and finish shopping in October. (I resume general shopping in January when everything goes on clearance.)

Don’t be particular unless you have someone particular in mind. I buy almost everything with multiple recipients in mind. That is, I hardly ever buy something specifically for a single person unless I know it something they really want and I’m sure I need a gift for that person. For example: I often buy toys on clearance. If I don’t end up giving them to my kids, I give them out as birthday party gifts or we donate them. I try to make sure they’re things that will have broad appeal. When my kids ask for specific things, I first check to make sure I’m still needing a gift (a birthday is coming up, or I’m not done shopping for Christmas), and then I might buy it.

Don’t buy perishable unless you know where and when it’s being given. This should be a no-brainer. When accumulating teacher and other “little” gifts, don’t buy things that are perishable. There is no bigger deal-buster than having to throw something away because it got lost in the back somewhere and is now past a consume-by date. My only exception to this rule are the Numi tea sets that often get clearanced at Amazon. I put them right in front so I can’t miss them, and given them out often (people always seem to rave about them).

Don’t spend more than what you would donate. Every December I clean out my gift closet. We use little things in Christmas shoeboxes and donate the larger toys to Toys for Tots and the Angel Tree. I purposely buy more than we’ll need for specific gifting so that I have stuff to donate. If you don’t have charity in mind, you have to keep a closer eye on both how much you spend and how much you accumulate. Plus, a little disorganization (something getting lost in a pile, for example) is a bigger problem if you’re not committed to considering this stash part of your charity endeavors, anyway.

As an occasion nears, start labeling. When Christmas or a birthday approaches, I just take leftover grocery bags and put names on them and start putting everyone’s stuff into bags. That’s an easy way to see that I have three presents for my son but only two for my daughter. I only do this when I’m nearing the end of my shopping, though. Otherwise, stuff stays piled up.

It’s rare that I have the experience of overbuying for someone specific, but on the unusual occasion that it happens, I save an item or two for the next event or I start donating. No biggie.

Now I know folks out there have their own great tips, too. Lay ’em on us!


  1. is a handy little (free) service that will keep track of gifts for you. It is super easy, and very handy (especially for Christmas, where I’m buying for a lot of people). I’ve used it for 3 years now, and it definitly makes life easier! I also have a specific area to store gifts, but as I don’t have a ton of room, this kind of keeps it all organized for me.

  2. I make a list in Excel of everyone for whom I plan to buy. I divide them up by gender and age groups. That way while I am browsing online and see a great deal (thanks to you, Mir!), I have a handy list to pull up to see who it would best fit. If it is a toy, I look in the kids section. If I don’t think anyone would like it, and it wouldn’t make a good generic birthday present for the gift closet, I pass. If I think someone will like it, I order it, and put the name of the toy on the list beside the name of the person to whom I will give it. When it arrives, I just stick it in the closet to sort out using my list later. Closer to time I check out my list and see what else I need to get. If I get industrious, I might print the list out and carry it with me when I go shopping just in case I see something on sale. It worked well last year. I haven’t started on it this year.

  3. I also list an approximate dollar amount next to the gift so I can keep up with how much I am spending.

  4. I keep a little notebook in my purse. In there I list the people that I need to buy for. Under each name goes the list of things I have bought already. Sometimes I also include something that I am in search of for that person and a star next to it so I know that I haven’t purchased that item yet.

    I keep this list in my purse so that I always have it handy when I’m out shopping.

  5. Numi teas? Wow!
    Thanks for that link!
    I can think of 4 people of the top of my head….

  6. Yea! I might actually be organized this Christmas, thanks to all of your wonderful tips!

  7. Last year I got a bunch of those screaming Super Monkeys you linked to for work gifts. Now I know that no matter what I get this year, they’ll say, “it’s no super monkey!” because those were the best gifts ever! But if you do have any ideas for little work gifts please Please pass them on. For me that also means no foods because of allergies and no “christmas” because of different religions — see, it’s not so easy! Ah, for the golden age of the super monkey.

  8. I, too, use a spreadsheet to keep track of everyone I need to buy. However, I put down on the list what I want to buy for each person, as I often think of things for people and then look for deals on those items. As the ideas shift around, I change my spreadsheet, so I know what I need to buy and for whom. When I am done with a particular item, I change the color of the text to show that it’s been purchased. When I’m done with a particular person’s gift(s), I change the background color to red to show that I am finished shopping for that person. We shop by budgeted amounts, so I go up to the dollar amount we have set for certain people. (This is for Christmas shopping only, as I do it throughout the year. I like to have it entirely done by Thanksgiving at the LATEST.)

  9. I keep my list in a composition book. Then, as I wrap the presents, I write who received what so I do not duplicate things for the next couple of years.

  10. Keep in mind that your receipt will expire (from most places, anyway) in 30, 60 or 90 days. If anything was wrong with a particular item, it may make a return or exchange difficult. I hate that.

  11. I loved this pretty, pretty post. I do most of the same things, and was happy to get the heads-up on Numi tea sets–I’ll buy some in the future.

  12. lacking closet space, I save my advance goodies in the attic. I love my Excel spreadsheets for my gradebook, but I use a tiny purse notebook for gifts. In fact, I depend on it because we have four birthdays and Christmas all within 7 weeks.

  13. Awww, you guys are no fun! What’s wrong with shopping the week before Christmas?? (just kidding!!)

Bargain Hunt





Want Not Archives

Creative Commons License

Pin It on Pinterest