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Even though Christmas is a short week and a half away, I must confess that I am not completely finished with my shopping yet. This happens every year and I always get so frustrated with myself for leaving a couple of gifts until the last minute! Why I can’t kick the habit I do not know (you’d think writing a blog about organizing would motivate me!).

In any case, as I anxiously try to figure out these last couple of gifts to buy, I have come up with a list of common mistakes made when attempting last-minute shopping. I’ve made some of these mistakes and perhaps you have too. What are they? Read on.

christmas-cactus

Mistake #1: Attempting last-minute shopping

Okay, so I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but this is truly something to avoid at all costs. Some people claim they find amazing eleventh hour deals and perhaps they do, but I’m sure these deals come at a price: extreme stress.

My brother had all his Christmas presents purchased and wrapped before Thanksgiving and now he’s resting easy while many others are frantically searching for that perfect gift in crowded malls where products are picked over, people are cranky, and so are you. I’m not to the point yet where I am frantic, but it would be nice to not have to worry right now when I also have to bake, wrap, pack, and plan.

Mistake #2: Buying a gift just for the sake of buying a gift

This is a tough one. Have you ever bought a gift for someone just because you had to? Of course, we’ve all done this at some point. I have really grown to dislike this concept. I’ve met people recently who have a novel approach to gift buying: they only buy a gift for a person if they actually have something in mind. Furthermore, they may do it anytime of the year, not necessarily at Christmas.

I know, I know, what do you do if you will feel terrible not giving that person anything for Christmas? Well, consider this: perhaps if you have so much trouble year after year buying gifts for a particular person, you should consider just talking with them and mutually agreeing to stop exchanging presents. Gifts should be meaningful, not forced. And who wants to receive a gift they don’t even want anyway?

Mistake #3: Relying on the gift card

This approach is often a preferred solution to mistake #2. What is easier than buying a gift card? Then the recipient can take it to their favorite store and buy whatever they want. Now, I admit I’ve bought and received gift cards with success. But there are times when gift cards go too far.

For several years my cousins and I would have a name-picking gift exchange, brought on by our parents. At first it was a lot of fun—we were young and good friends and we had ideas of what to get each other. But then we started growing up, drifting apart, and the ideas stopped. Enter gift cards, the easy solution to having no idea what to get a person. But the problem was, several of my cousins went this route, to the point where we were just exchanging gift cards. Now that’s just silly if you ask me. We no longer exchange presents anymore, by the way.

Mistake #4: Spending more because you’re desperate

I made this mistake just a few days ago, which gave me the idea in the first place for this post. I was trying to find one last gift for a particular person and when I found it, I was met with a dilemma. It was a CD, but it was priced at $18. I NEVER pay $18 for a CD! But for some reason I felt justified doing so this time around because, gosh, it’s Christmas and I needed a gift!

The problem is, if you do this for everything, you will undermine all the frugal shopping choices you made throughout the year. The last thing you want to do is try to shop responsibly all year long, but then somehow forget your spending policies around Christmas time. If you normally only spend $10 on a new blouse, then don’t buy a $50 blouse for your Aunt Martha just because you need something to buy her, you didn’t plan ahead, or you are just giving up.

Reader Reflection

I don’t want this post to sound negative or pessimistic. On the contrary, I’d like it be though-provoking and cause you to consider how you shop in these last days before Christmas. Even if you can’t make significant changes this year, you can decide for next year and hopefully end up in a better situation. Have any of you encountered the four different shopping mistakes I mentioned above? Do you have any advice to give or stories to share?

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Last week I continued the series I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas with several tasty tips about making food gifts. Today we’re going to head in a slightly abstract direction and focus on gifts we can make using our words. What do I mean by this? Well, sometimes we have something we’d like to say. Sometimes we have something we should say. And sometimes we have something we just can’t quite bring ourselves to say out loud, but we still want to get our point across somehow.

Enter the beauty of words. Words are less scary. Words allow us to be transparent. Words allow us to be eloquent. Words last forever. Christmas is an excellent time to be encouraging, open, and honest with someone we care about. So let’s start brainstorming great gift ideas that use our words!

letter

Brainstorming ideas about ways to use our words

You don’t need to be a professional writer or a learned poet to be able to express yourself using words. Just be yourself and be honest. Here are a few ways you might want to use your words this Christmas:

  • Tell a person you love them
  • Ask your special someone to marry you
  • Thank someone for who they are
  • Encourage someone who is sad
  • Encourage someone who is sick or fighting disease
  • Thank a military officer for their service
  • Thank your parents for doing a great job
  • Tell a story about a memorable event
  • Make someone laugh

Brainstorming ideas about how to make our words into gifts

  • Write a letter
  • Make a scrapbook
  • Write captions for memorable photographs
  • Design a t-shirt
  • Send a homemade card
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation
  • Write a poem

An example of a homemade gift using words

As I said above, you don’t need to be an expert writer to write what you want to say! All that matters is what you say and the fact that you took the effort to say it at all. That being said, we of course can still try to be creative! For this week’s homemade gift example, I’d like to share two poems (so to speak) I wrote for different people several years ago. I’m not a poet, so that should encourage you! I just felt moved to say certain things, so the words seemed to flow. If you have important things to say of your own, just grab a pen and a piece of paper and see what happens. Now, onto my poems.

My first poem I wrote over a decade ago for my Grandmother who, at the time, had recently suffered from a heart attack. I am happy to report that she is still alive today, but it was a real scare at the time. I was devastated because I really loved my Grandma and didn’t want her to die. The reason I decided to write a poem was because I really wanted to tell my Grandma how much I loved her. I’m not going to share the entire poem because it’s kind of long, but here is just an excerpt from the very end to give you a general idea:

Walking in a plain room eager to calm your fears
You see your grandma, all smiles, and try to hold back your tears.
Running to embrace her, she tells you she’s fine
“That’s what you always say,” you draw the line.

Soon, it seems like only yesterday
Your grandma was up and about even though here she lay.
The attack was minor they tell you, and you know she’ll be here to stay
At least you can love your grandma for one more day.

The second poem I’d like to share is related because I wrote it for my Grandpa four years after I gave the above poem to my Grandma. My Grandma suffered yet another heart attack and this time it was more serious. She had to have bypass surgery and my Grandpa was a real trooper during her trials and long road to recovery. I wanted to thank him and encourage him, so I chose to write another poem:

Sometimes life serves us with trials and tribulations
Someone we love is pulled away, the future uncertain
Life becomes difficult, painful, broken

Times like these require
determination, courage, sacrifice, support

Grandpa, you were there every step of the way
Thank you for having determination
Thank you for displaying courage
Thank you for making sacrifices
Thank you for providing support
And most of all, thank you for loving…

I love you

Both poems I typed up and framed as a nice way to present them to my grandparents.  Don’t be afraid to great creative when it comes to presentation!  Consider also using photos to complement your words.

Now I feel a little transparent sharing these poems today, but my hope is that you can be inspired to say the things you’d like to say to the people you love and care for. Take it from me, you never know if you will have another chance!

Reader Reflection

Have you ever made homemade gifts using your words? Feel free to share any ideas here.

Coming up next week

Next week will feature the final installment of I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas and we’ll get ideas for gifts using our services!

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Last week I continued the series I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas with some fun tips about making special gifts that use plants. I’m excited today to get to talk about something completely different, food! It’s hard to go wrong with food gifts because who doesn’t love to eat and enjoy something homemade and delicious! And another great thing about a homemade food gift is that it is consumable, which ultimately means less clutter. So food gifts can actually help your recipient stay more organized in a manner of speaking! Let’s start by brainstorming a little when it comes to gifts that can be made using food.

making-cookies

Brainstorming food gift ideas

Whether you are an expert chef or you just know how to bake a frozen pizza, there are several great homemade food gift ideas to choose from that will suit your lifestyle and skills. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Bake and decorate special Christmas cookies
  • Make fun Christmas candy or other holiday dessert
  • Prepare a homemade spice blend
  • Share some of your summer garden harvest canned or frozen goods
  • Make a special homemade soup and freeze small containers to give away
  • Arrange a food gift basket
  • Prepare a collection of favorite or easy recipes
  • Make homemade hot chocolate or other beverage mix
  • Prepare base recipes in containers to give away

An example of a homemade gift using food

The sky is the limit with food gift ideas, but I’d like to focus on one in particular that makes a perfect gift for people who are busy, people who don’t cook much, or people who don’t know how to cook very well. That gift idea is the last one on the above list: preparing base recipes in containers you can give away.

To get started you just need to find any good recipe (baked desserts are best) and prepare only part of it, the dry ingredients. Place the mix in a decorative jar or other container that seals well. All the recipient has to do in turn is add the wet ingredients and bake. cookiesYou will need to provide a list of the necessary wet ingredients, in addition to baking instructions. An easy and creative way to do this is to print a small label for the container. You might also choose to add a personalized message too!

Mixing all the dry ingredients together ahead of time into a nice base recipe is great for at least three reasons. First, preparing dry ingredients it is often tedious and perhaps the hardest part of any given recipe so you end up doing a significant portion of the work for your recipient. Second, certain people who don’t cook much might not even have special dry ingredients on hand, so you’ve saved them a trip to the store. Third, you will save the recipient a lot of time because adding a couple of wet ingredients to your base recipe takes hardly any time at all!

Now let’s take a look at some examples. A popular choice is to prepare a base recipe for cookies or brownies. But think outside the box a little too and consider food like homemade bread, quickbreads, or even cornbread. Consider making more than one base recipe for any given recipient so they don’t run out too quickly.

Cornbread base recipe
(from the back of the Quaker Yellow Corn Meal Box)
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
¾ cup Quaker Enriched Corn Meal
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

In your directions you would have the recipient simply add 1 cup of skim milk, ¼ cup of vegetable oil, and one beaten egg. Bake mix in a greased 9-inch pan at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. It’s a piece of cake! Well, more like a piece of cornbread.

Homemade food gift ideas from around the web

There are many great ideas on the Internet when it comes to creative homemade food gifts. Here are just a few I’ve found:

Reader Reflection

Have you ever made homemade gifts using food? Feel free to share any ideas here.

Coming up next week

Next week we will learn about creative gifts you can make using your words!

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Last week I continued the series I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas with some tips about making gifts that use photos. Today I would like to switch gears only slightly and offer a few ideas for gifts using general arts and crafts. If you’re like me and love using all sorts of arts and crafts, then you will undoubtedly know that there are endless options when it comes to creating homemade gifts. In the same way, so many options can often be a little overwhelming, especially if you don’t feel particularly creative. So let’s brainstorm together and get started making homemade gifts using arts and crafts.

beads

Brainstorming arts and crafts gift ideas

Since there are so many gifts you can make using such materials, I thought a list would be best to get our creative minds rolling. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Make an ornament
  • Draw a picture
  • Paint a picture
  • Make paper-mâché
  • Sew something
  • Knit a sweater
  • Crochet a scarf
  • Make a fleece blanket
  • Sculpt something
  • Make pottery
  • Decorate a picture frame
  • Carve wood
  • Make a candle
  • Do a cross-stitch
  • Make jewelry

An example of a homemade gift using arts and crafts

I have used a number of the above examples of crafty gifts in past holidays, but one I have used with a considerable amount of success is homemade jewelry, or more specifically, beaded necklaces. Homemade beaded necklaces make excellent gifts, mostly for women, and have a very special quality to them. On top of that, they are actually quite easy and fun to make! I’d like to offer a simple step-by-step process below so you too can make your own beaded necklace.

beaded-necklaces

  • Step 1: Purchase your supplies. You will need the following to make a beaded necklace: beads (any you choose!), necklace wire or string, 2 end clasps, 2 crimper beads, a needle-nose pliers, and a scissors. You don’t even need to go to a specialty beading store to get beads these days. In fact, even though I like to explore bead stores, I often buy inexpensive beads from stores like Walmart. Another option to make the process less complicated is to buy a necklace set that includes everything you need except the scissors and pliers. In that case, however, you have limited options for choosing the design since it is chosen for you.
  • Step 2: Choose your necklace length and cut your wire/string. It is important to cut your necklace length a few inches longer than you desire, so you have some extra room to work with for stringing your clasps or in case you make a mistake. I make necklaces using wire and my favorite length is just longer than a choker (about 13-15 inches). So in my case I would cut the wire to the length of about 17-21 inches to start with.
  • Step 3: Attach a clasp to one end of the wire/string. First take one of your two crimper beads and string it onto your wire/string. Next follow that with one of your two clasps (it doesn’t matter which one). Loop the end of the wire/string back through the crimper bead and pull tightly. You want to leave about an inch of wire/string sticking out past the crimper bead. Once you have it correctly positioned, take your pliers and squeeze the crimper bead tightly until the wire cannot move anymore through the bead. You have now clasped one end of your necklace.clasp-and-crimper-step-1 clasp-and-crimper-step-2 clasp-and-crimper-step-3
  • Step 4: Make a plan for your necklace design. It’s best to simply create a pattern you will stick with throughout the beading process. Be sure to consider the length of your necklace when choosing your pattern.
  • Step 5: Bead your necklace. Carefully string the beads according to your pattern. In the beginning, you will be placing beads through a little of your extra wire/string that is sticking out of your crimper bead. You may also choose to cut this piece off. Once you reach the end of the wire/string, leave about an inch or two of room for the final clasp.
  • Step 6: Attach the closing clasp to finish your necklace. Using the same process as in step 3, necklace-claspssimply take your second crimper bead and slide it next to the last bead on your wire/string. Then add the other clasp. String the wire/string through the crimper bead and any nearby beads, being careful to pull it tightly so as not to leave any slack. Then, as before, take your pliers and squeeze the crimper bead until it is flat. Cut off any extra wire/string sticking out and you have finished your necklace!

Homemade arts and crafts gift ideas from around the web

Several blogs are participating in a great series called Holidays By Hand and so far there have been wonderful ideas for homemade gifts using arts and crafts:

Don’t forget to ask Google too!  Here are just a couple of ideas I found in a search today:

Reader Reflection

Have you ever made homemade gifts using arts and crafts? Feel free to share any ideas here.

Coming up next week

Next week we will switch gears a bit and talk about homemade gift ideas using plants!

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Last week I introduced the new series, I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas and today for its first official installment, I’d like to feature homemade gifts using photos. I am a professional photographer, but you do not need to even be a photographer at all to use photos in your homemade gifts. The possibilities are endless when it comes to pictures: photo albums, collages, scrapbooks, posters, prints, cards, magnets, frames, the list goes on. How do you creatively choose a homemade photo gift that suits your style? Read on.

taking-a-photo

Brainstorming photo gift ideas

As I said above, there are literally countless ways you can use photos in homemade gifts, but where do you start? Here are some tips to help you brainstorm:

  • Recall events. Remember weddings, graduations, parties, vacations, special trips, weekend getaways, holidays, celebrations, and any other fun events. Nothing helps a person reminisce about a special event like photos.
  • Spotlight a person. Highlight a person’s character or review a season or aspect of their life. Find pictures that tell a story about who that person is.
  • Get sentimental. Show someone how much you care by using photos to describe your feelings. Demonstrate how much you love them, or how proud you are of them.

Getting started making homemade photo gifts

Once you’ve got an idea, you need to create it! Here are some general guidelines you can follow when it comes time to actually make your photo gift:

  • Sort through your own collection of digital images or get photos from family and friends
  • Scan prints of old photos onto your computer
  • Use a photo editing program to manipulate your photos or add text
  • If you have a photo printer, print at home
  • If you don’t have a way to print from home, then use an inexpensive online photo service
  • Buy any necessary supporting materials, like an album, scrapbook, or frame
  • Use special arts and crafts supplies to enhance your work
  • Put it all together and be creative!

An example of a homemade photo gift

I make photo gifts for friends and family for all occasions, not just Christmas. There’s just so much potential and photos really do speak a thousand words. Plus, I have a collection of close to 50,000 photos that continues to grow—I will never run out of ideas! To help you think of your own photo ideas I’d like to spotlight a photo collage I made for my parents a few years ago that is a simple concept anyone can adapt.

The concept relies on family resemblance, something pretty much every family can count on. In my family, I tend to look more like my dad, while my brother tends to look more like my mom. Furthermore, as far as personality goes, I seemed to have turned out more like my dad, while my brother seems to have turned out more like my mom.   I decided to take advantage of this and search for pictures that would creatively illustrate this phenomenon. After perusing old family photos and scanning what I needed, I used my photo editing program, Paint Shop Pro, and created a collage digitally with text (but you can just as easily print the individual photos and make a scrapbook-type collage with paper & glue). Finally, I printed the collage and framed it. My parents loved it!

family-photo-collage

Homemade photo gift ideas from around the web

As I said in my introduction to this series, each week I’d like to provide some useful links to other resources on the internet for homemade gift ideas. Here are a few I found that creatively use photos:

Reader Reflection

Have you ever made homemade gifts using photos? Feel free to share any ideas here.

Coming up next week

This week we talked about homemade photo gifts, and next week we’ll look at some creative homemade gift ideas using other arts and crafts.

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