2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Experiences

Today begins our annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Between now and November 26, we will share numerous articles on uncluttered giving that can be used this season. Most of these ideas also will apply to gift giving throughout the year, irrespective of the occasion.

Giving an experience gift ensures there’s nothing for the recipient to unclutter, and it’s a great kind of gift to give to someone who really doesn’t need or want any more stuff. I have a friend who said one of the best gifts she ever got was an annual membership to a local museum.

Last year, Erin provided suggestions for many types of experience gifts — and here are some more ideas. My examples will be U.S.-based, but similar items can probably be found in many other parts of the world.

City tours

Here are a few of the tours available in San Francisco; your area may well have equally interesting options.

  • Food-related tours: Gourmet Walks, San Francisco Food Tours, Foodie Adventures
  • Neighborhood-related tours: All About Chinatown, Chinatown Alleyway Tours
  • Architecture-related tours: San Francisco Architecture Walking Tour, Victorian Home Walk
  • Novelty vehicle tours: Fire Engine Tours — I know a little boy who would have loved this!
  • Golf

    If you’ve got a golfer on your gift list, you might choose a gift card good at over 4,000 golf courses nationwide.


    Here’s just one possibility: a zip line experience. You can find these in many places; two examples are Zipline New York and Zipline Canopy Tours of Blue Ridge, Georgia.

    Spa experiences: massages, facials, pedicures, etc.

    Treat someone to some pampering and relaxation! Almost any business offering these services will have a gift certificate available, and sometimes you can buy them online.

    Here are just a few examples: Massage LA (which serves Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon); Queen Jane Day Spa (which serves New York City); and Nirvana Holistic Spa (which serves Washington D.C. and Portland, Oregon).

    Consultations with specialists

    If you know the recipient would appreciate such a consultation, it could be a great gift. Give someone a consultation with an image consultant, a garden coach, etc.

    Combination gifts: books plus experiences

    This can work well for those who don’t want to give a purely intangible gift. Here are a few examples to get you thinking.

  • Give a gift certificate for a Segway tour, along with the book Reinventing the Wheel: A Story of Genius, Innovation, and Grand Ambition.
  • Give the book Pug Hill, where the protagonist is an art restorer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — along with a membership to that museum.
  • Give a child (or an adult) a membership to your local zoo, along with a related book. There are many choices, from the board book Touch and Feel Zoo to the intriguing-sounding The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes: And Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and their Patients.
  • Give the gift of a stock car ride along, and bundle it with the book The Physics of NASCAR: How to Make Steel + Gas + Rubber = Speed
  • Want more gift-giving ideas? Explore Unclutterer’s full 2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

    Uncluttered Valentine’s Day gift ideas

    We’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day in two days. Haven’t bought your loved ones anything yet? Don’t panic. OK, maybe a little panic. You’ve got 48 hours! The following are some nice gift ideas that will express your feelings and keep you out of the dog house, all without creating a pile of clutter that must be dealt with at some point:

    1. Create an unexpected playlist. Many Gen-X’ers out there remember the labor-intensive, excruciating process of creating a mix tape for a loved one. The careful selection of exactly the right songs, placed in precisely the proper order to create a crescendo of meaning and feeling. Only the right mix of sentiment, fun, humor, and truth would do. And it all had to fit perfectly on a 60-minute cassette. The harder you worked, the more your recipient meant to you.

      Today, the process is less labor intensive (raise your hand if you remember holding a tape recorder up to the radio to capture a song), but just as meaningful. If your loved one has an Mp3 player like an iPod, sneak into his or her iTunes account and create a playlist of songs that speak to your relationship. Give it a fun name and sync the results to her device. Her commute to work, etc. just got that much more pleasant.

    2. Get the car detailed. My wife did this for me last year and I was elated. I keep my car tidy but I can’t get it anywhere near as nice-looking as a well-equipped professional can. Some detailers will even travel to you for on-site cleaning. While the kids did eventually track sand and Goldfish crackers into the car again, it was a nice few weeks before they did and extremely appreciated.
    3. Gather favorite photos. I admit that I still like looking at paper photos more than their digital counterparts. Holding a picture in my hand is nicer than sitting in front of a screen or even holding a tablet or a smartphone. That might be a function of my age, but I suspect some of you feel that, too. It’s also nice to browse a well-ordered album, and there are several companies that produce great-looking photo books. Shutterfly does a great job, as does Apple, if you use its iPhoto software. I’ve ordered several photo books from Apple and they look great.
    4. Get a landscaping consultation. I love “fiddling in the yard” as I call it but I’ll admit that I don’t really know what I’m doing. Last summer, I spent about an hour talking with some folks at a local nursery and learned so much. Most landscaping companies offer free consultations, so consider that if your better half enjoys gardening or landscaping. Also, check with local colleges, universities, or adult education organizations for classes in landscaping or really anything that will encourage an interest or hobby.
    5. Re-live a first date. In 1986, I took my very first date to see Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I’m not eager to see that movie again, but I suspect it’d bring back some pleasant memories if I did. It’d be great fun to take your significant other back to the restaurant, theatre, hot dog stand (etc.) that marked the beginning of your relationship.
    6. Digitize home movies. This one will take some planning, but it’ll be worth it. Many people have boxes of 8mm movies sitting around or old VHS tapes. The simplest method of digitizing them is to set up the projector (many rental stores will have one if you don’t) and a digital camera. Roll the film, record with your digital camera and then import it into your computer.

      When recording, keep these tips in mind. Make sure the room is as dark as possible. Position your digital camera on a tripod and keep it as close to the reel-to-reel projector as possible, so that the angle is nearly identical. Zoom into the projected image as closely as possible. Finally, manually set the camera’s focus, as the auto focus could have trouble in this scenario.

    Happy (early) Valentine’s Day!

    Last-minute holiday preparation ideas

    There are just five more days until Christmas. If you celebrate the holiday, are you finished with all your planning? Do you still have last-minute things you need to take care of? A few gifts on your list that you haven’t purchased yet? If so, you’re not alone. Many people tend to wait until the Saturday before Christmas to finish up their holiday shopping. Whether you get a thrill from getting it all done on Christmas Eve or you’ve just been a bit busy, here are some last-minute tips to help you get ready for the big day.

    Shopping for gifts

    Last-minute presents can actually be quite meaningful to the recipient even though they weren’t purchased ahead of time. Experience gifts are great because you can get creative (print your own pet sitting certificate, have someone sing a holiday song for your loved one ) and you don’t necessarily have to wrap them which will save you a bit of time. Other ideas include:

    • Baked goods
    • Digital book or digital magazine subscription
    • Erin’s audiobook Unclutter Your Life in One Week or any audiobook your recipient might enjoy
    • Gift card to a favorite restaurant or place to visit

    If you choose to buy a physical gift, you can avoid the stores and shop online. Many online retailers offer a variety of shipping options, but be sure to confirm that they can indeed deliver your order by December 24. And, as usual, stick to your list so you don’t overbuy and clutter your home with unnecessary gifts.

    Decorating your home or office

    Holiday decor will bring a festive mood to any room. But, when you’re short on time, it probably won’t be possible to decorate your entire home or office, so select a few areas that you can easily add a few decorative items. A handful of candy canes in a glass bowl can be a simple (and yummy) way to bring a little holiday cheer to a space. Your efforts don’t have to be incredibly involved.

    Preparing for holiday parties

    If you plan on entertaining and hosting your own holiday party, consider asking your guests to bring their favorite dish or beverage. That will save some time on grocery shopping and reduce the time you spend cooking and cleaning up afterward. When you are in the kitchen, it will probably be helpful for you to cook something you’ve had success with making in the past so you don’t try to figure out how to make something new. And, if you’re going to have overnight guests, be sure you have clean towels, bed linens, and toiletries on hand — but now is not the time to redecorate the guest room.

    Check out our 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide for more ideas, and remember, no matter what you have left to get done, you also need to have fun and enjoy your time with friends and family.

    2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Wrap up

    As the last post in our 2012 Holiday Gift Guide, we wanted to do a round up of all of our posts in this year’s guide. Our hope is that the 2012 Guide has inspired you to give uncluttered presents this season and throughout the coming year:

    If you’re looking for even more inspiration, check out our previous guides:

    And, from all of us at Unclutterer, we hope you have a sane and clutter-free holiday season!

    2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Software

    It’s amazing how much organizing/productivity software there is. It’s even more incredible that software has become a valid gift option. When I was a kid, getting software for Christmas meant you got a game. Today, there’s an app for just about anything you want to do. Below is a list of can’t-miss apps to keep your family and loved ones organized and productive in the new year, or to add to your wish list:

    1. An Evernote Premium account. Evernote is my external brain. I use it for “cold storage” of reference material. That is, information that doesn’t require action but will be useful in the future. Evernote is great because it automatically syncs your information across almost any device with an Internet connection. It has very powerful search function, tagging, and more that makes it easy to find what you’re searching for in your stuff. The $45 premium account enables larger uploads, offline notebooks, improved upload speeds and collaboration with other users.
    2. Dropbox Pro account. Dropbox is so useful I almost think it should be installed on computers by default. The online storage solution is a fantastic way to backup important documents and share them with others. With Dropbox, you can access your stuff from nearly any Internet-connected computer. The pro account starts at $9.99 per month for 100 GB of online storage. I use it every single day.
    3. This Life pro account. I wrote about This Life earlier this year and I’m still enjoying it. This Life lets you organize and share your photos and videos easily and with a beautiful interface. Uploading photos is easy, as is creating “Stories.” This Life Stories collections of photos that you’d like to group together, like those of a certain person, trip, location, time period or whatever you desire. It’s browser-based so, like the other applications I’ve suggested to far, it doesn’t’ matter if you own a Mac or a Windows machine. There’s also a great app for the iPhone and iPad. The Family Plan lets you upload and share 50,000 photos or 25 hours of HD video (1080p) for $14.99 per month.
    4. Backup software. This is the gift that keeps on saving, not giving. As a Mac user I recommend Dolly Drive. Named for Dolly the cloned sheep (get it?), Dolly Drive uses Apple’s own Time Machine software to save your backup remotely, or “in the cloud.” I’ve been using it for years now and it’s always worked. Local backups are important – like a hard drive in your house or office – but remote backups are even more so. Dolly Drive puts your backup on their own server. That way, a laptop can back up anytime, even when it’s not in your home. Dolly Drive starts at just $3 per month. Windows users should consider Carbonite for similar, remote, automatic backups that start at $59/year. And, Erin swears by Backblaze. Irrespective of the program you choose, backup your computer and make sure your loved one’s computers are backed up, too.
    5. OmniFocus from The Omni Group. Forgive me while I recommend a Mac-only app here. OmniFocus is the big daddy of project management apps on the Mac. It’s so flexible and powerful that I can only touch the surface of its capabilities in this post. It was built with David Allen’s Getting Things Done system in mind, but you needn’t follow that method to use OmniFocus. Easily create projects and their associated tasks. Break them down by category, context or location. Keyboard support is extensive, so you can flip from one function to another easily. My favorite features let you focus on one project at a time, hiding everything else on the screen, while review mode let’s you see what’s outstanding at a glance. OmniFocus is $79.99.
    6. BreakTime and Focus Booster. I work best when I schedule in break times. BreakTime is the app I use for this purpose. It’s a Mac app that sits in your menu bar and counts down timed work sessions and break sessions. I work for 25 minutes and then take a break for five. Then, I repeat the process. It keeps me moving and allows for some time to “goof off,” walk around, etc. If you’re not a Mac user, consider Focus Booster. BreakTime costs $4.99 and Focus Booster is free.

    I’ve got one bonus item that isn’t software, but it is a piece of technology:

    I’m recommending the Emergent Task Planner notebook. I use one of these every day. It allows you to list the most important tasks you wish to accomplish, estimate how long they’ll take, recored how long they actually take and recored notes/incoming stuff or ideas that pop up while you work. There’s even a small, travel sized edition. I really do use this every day.

    The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

    2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Helpful (and fun) products

    Giving gifts can be lots of fun for both the recipient and the giver. And, although you can elect to give presents that are service related, there’s nothing like watching someone enthusiastically tear open a package you picked out just for them. If you have a tough time finding the right gift (one that will be liked and appreciated), I find that it helps to pick presents that match the recipient’s personality.

    And, when possible, why not select something that’s helpful and fun? Not every present has to bring a smile to their face, but if it helps them get stuff done and makes them chuckle, they’re likely to use it often. Of course, you can buy yourself a whimsical and useful present, too. For a bit of inspiration, check out these interesting gifts that put the fun in functional.

    For gadget lovers

    1. Coffee Cup Inverter with USB Charging Port. Who doesn’t charge their gadgets while they’re driving? This coffee cup fits in your car’s cup holder (though you have to remember this it’s not really a coffee cup) and it also comes with two power outlets.
    2. USB Hubman. The USB Hubman (or the USB Hubdog or the 4-legged Octopus) is fun way to add an extra port to connect your devices. It’s small (great stocking stuffer) and lightweight, so it can be the perfect gift for those on the go.
    3. Makey Makey Invention Kit. This is an inventors kit that almost anyone can use. It requires no tools and can be connected to everyday items to give commands to your computer (via a USB cable).

    For cooking and entertaining

    1. Joseph Joseph Elevate 6-Piece Heat-Resistant Utensil Set. This six-piece set is colorful and weighted so that the business end is raised (and doesn’t touch the counter). Store them in a utensil drawer or purchase the Carousel Set.
    2. Joseph Joseph Rinse and chop Chopping Board and Colander. Another cool and colorful item from Joseph Joseph that the chefs in your life are bound to love because it serves two purposes: it’s a chopping board and a colander in one (folding hinges do the trick). And, because it can lay flat, it’s can be stored easily when not in use.

    For the office

    1. Falling bookend. Bookends may sound boring, but this model by Artori will add a touch of drama to any bookshelf (check out the Portal 2 bookends, too).
    2. Gnome-Be-Gone Office Fisherman. This office gnome captures paper clips with his magnetic fishing rod and keeps a (neat) stash of business cards, too.
    3. There is one more that product I just couldn’t resist telling you about. Though the price is well beyond what I think is reasonable, it gets lots of cool points for doing it’s job in a unique way. Take a look at the QLOCKTWO. It’s a wall clock that has no hands and no numbers. Just words that tell you what time it is (“It’s a quarter past eight”). The QLOCKTWO comes in a variety of colors and supports twelve languages (the QLOCKTWO TOUCH has a snooze button).

    The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

    2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Ultimate uncluttered gift

    Since we began putting together our annual gift-giving guides in 2007, we have always included an ultimate gift in our series. The idea of the ultimate gift is focused on uncluttering and/or organizing and it is sometimes at the high end of the price spectrum for our gift guides. It’s a gift you might give to a loved one, but it also might be an item you add to your wish list.

    In 2007, we recommended the Fujitsu ScanSnap (PC and Mac). In 2008, we chose the Kindle. In 2009, it was my book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week (now also in audio format). In 2010, we went with the Intellishred paper shredder (now called the Powershred). And, in 2011, we went off script a little and recommended hiring a professional organizer with a list of recommendations.

    After much thought and deliberation, we have decided to return to the world of the physical and suggest a tangible item. Like last year, though, it’s a bit unorthodox. It’s not necessarily something you can unwrap, but I’m sure if you are creative you could find a way to put something wrapable under the tree (like a screw or small piece of it).

    The 2012 Ultimate Gift is a closet makeover.

    Over the past few months, we’ve become fans of Rubbermaid’s Configurations system for its price (much lower than Elfa’s) and quality. The arrangement options and sizes are numerous, and we believe a well organized closet is a thing of beauty. In addition to bedroom closets and office closets, don’t forget your pantry, coat closet, and supply closets in your garage and/or basement. When uncluttered and organized, these areas can increase functionality significantly, such as with my old “Mary Poppins” closet in our previous house:

    Also, the system has attachments like pull-out baskets, chests of drawers, tie and belt valets, angled shoe shelves, sliding pant racks, as well as preassembled kits for your pantry and clothing closets.

    This is a gift you would want to consult with the recipient before giving, but I think in many cases it would be very well received. As I mentioned before, it is a non-traditional gift, but non-traditional doesn’t mean bad. A beautiful, new, organized closet would be a truly wonderful way to start the new year.

    The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

    2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for children

    Kids excel at many things, including the acquisition of stuff. From books to LEGO bricks, and dolls to video games, it all piles up and leads to the inevitable question: Where should they put this? There’s a larger question at work here, too: do they need all this stuff? Listed below are a few gift ideas to help children answer both questions. And don’t worry, they’ll enjoy opening these gifts, too.

    1. A notebook. My nine-year-old is a real “Forgetful Flower” (she takes after her father). So I’ve gotten her to adopt a habit of mine: writing things down in a notebook. Filednotes Brand sells this super-cute “Summer Camp” 3-pack of brightly-colored notebooks that comes with a three matching pencils and an oversized rubber band that make a great stocking stuffer. My daughter uses hers to write down classroom assignments.
    2. Labels from Mabel’s Labels. These super-cute labels clearly display your child’s name, come in many sizes, colors and themes (dinosaur, nature, etc.) and stick to just about anything. We’ve placed them on clothes sent to camp, inside baseball hats and other sports equipment, lunch boxes and more. They also make dog-tag style bag tags (older kids won’t be embarrassed to use them) perfect for hockey equipment, laundry, etc. We’ve even put the clothing labels through several washings and they’ve remained intact.
    3. The IRIS LEGO 6-Case Workstation and Storage Unit is awesome. Shallow, color-coded drawers make it easy to find the pieces you want. The top of the unit itself is a LEGO surface, so it doubles as a play area. LEGO bricks seem to reproduce on their own that his unit keeps their population under control.
    4. Wall-mounted sports storage racks. I love these great-looking racks for storing/displaying snowboards, wakeboards, surfboards, skateboards and skis. Teenagers will like them because their gear looks cool presented like this. You’ll like them because it gets that stuff up off the floor.
    5. Nintendo DS game organizer. These game cartridges are so tiny and they love to disappear. This organizer holds 12 cartridges and offers easy access. There are similar storage devices for all handheld gaming systems. Include a new game with the organizer, and it will make most any kid happy.
    6. Lap desks. In dark and bright models, a lap desk can be incredibly useful gift for a kid who likes to do homework on the couch or in a comfy chair. My kids covered theirs with strips of Duck Tape in crazy patterns for a custom look.

    Younger children who aren’t yet into skateboarding, gaming systems, or homework might enjoy books that have underlying themes on uncluttering and organizing:

    1. Room Enough for Daisy by Debbie Waldman. Little Daisy has so many toys, she wishes for a larger bedroom to accommodate them all. Eventually, her mom convinces her to donate some items to a rummage sale. Cindy Revell’s illustrations are really cute.
    2. Too Many Toys by David Shannon. David’s books are fantastic, starting with the hilariously relatable “No, David!” Too Many Toys has a similar theme to Room Enough for Daisy, in that David is required to thin his massive collection of toys. It’s a fun story that my kids think is funny and I find quite charming.
    3. Mr. Messy, part of the Mr./Mrs. series by Roger Hargreaves, is an untidy fellow until he meets Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy.
    4. More by I. C. Springman is about a hoarding magpie whose friends teach him the value of “enough.” Again, the illustrations are great and the minimal text great for new readers.

    I’ve got one last tip to share. My wife and I have two kids. To make things easy on Christmas morning, we wrap gifts strategically. Presents to Child A from mom and dad are wrapped in Paper A. Those to Kid B are in Paper B. Finally, gifts from Santa are magically in a third paper. This way, we avoid the “Who is this from?” question as well as “Is this mine?” It works very well for us.

    The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

    2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Experiences

    One of the most obvious and uncluttered gifts you can give is an experience gift. Unlike a tangible gift that takes up space and might go unused, an experience gift won’t clutter up someone’s home or office. Best of all, experiences usually make the gift recipient happier than a tangible gift and their satisfaction of the gift may even improve over time (see “Stuff won’t make you happy, experiences will“).

    Experience gifts are things your gift recipient can do alone, but I think it’s nice when the gift is given with the expectation that you will enjoy the gift together. Time is precious, and spending it with someone you care about is almost always well received. Granted, with an ongoing experience gift (like an annual museum membership), you may not participate in the experience together every time — but going together at least once can be a nice addition to the gift.

    This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some ideas for experience gifts —

    • Memberships or annual passes: Zoos, arboretums, museums, theme parks, water parks and swimming pools, and national/state park admissions passes.
    • Tickets: Plays, movies, operas, the symphony, rock concerts, air shows, festivals, and sporting events.
    • Education: Sky diving lesson, cooking class, wine tasting, ski lesson, race car driving opportunity, and music or foreign language lessons.
    • Adventures: Foot the bill for a road trip, airline tickets, hot air balloon ride, afternoon of deep sea sport fishing, and participation fees for races you can run together.
    • Social Coupons: Coupons you make for redeemable experiences like slumber parties with your grandkids and/or nieces and nephews, once-a-month date night or happy hour (12 coupons in all) with significant other or friend, walks along the beach or local trails, trips to favorite ice cream shop, afternoon of kayaking together, or whatever you enjoy doing with your loved ones.

    If you like the idea of someone opening a gift, you can put the tickets or coupons or even a clue about the experience gift in a box for your recipient to open. Having a small box to open also suggests to your gift recipient that you thought more about the gift you’re giving than just as an after thought as you were signing the card.

    For more experience ideas, check out books like 101 Things To Do Before You Die by Richard Horne and 1,000 Places To See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz. Books such as these offer many great ideas for things to do and places to visit.

    The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

    2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Services for the home

    Maintaining a home is a long-term endeavor that’s not without some high costs. Purchasing a service that helps your loved one cover those costs and keep their home functioning smoothly and/or looking great is a gift that will usually be met with high doses of gratitude. I’ve shared five home maintenance services that when purchased individually (one time only) or in bulk (across several months), can mean a great deal to the person or family receiving them. For many of the services listed below, visit HomeAdvisor.com or Angie’s List to find a local provider.

    • Professional organizing. A professional organizer (or group of organizers) can help restore order, and help establish maintenance systems. This is a present that can last long after the organizer has finished working on the project. You can find a professional organizer by visiting the National Association of Professional Organizers’ website.
    • Cleaning. When you think of cleaning, your first thought might be a maid service or carpet cleaning (both are amazing gifts). However, there are other areas of cleaning that some of us would just rather pass on to a professional, such as cleaning (or replacing) the gutters or power washing the siding on your home and washing exterior windows.
    • Laundry. Having the laundry done is a service I know I would love to have year round. Because it’s a process that needs to be done on a regular basis, having a laundry service that picks up dirty clothing and returns them clean and nicely folded would save quite a bit of time. If there are young children in the home who use cloth diapers, diaper cleaning companies can provide a similar service.
    • Handyman/handywoman services. A person who can come in and fix all the things that need repairing (or finish those long standing projects) can be a welcome present. A handyman/handywoman can also do exterior and interior painting as well as touch up painting in high-traffic areas (entryways, hallways, walls along staircases, children’s play areas).
    • Lawn and garden. A lawn and garden service can help design/create an herb, vegetable, flowering, or container garden (great for small spaces) that suits the homeowners’ needs/wants. They can also offer monthly or annual maintenance plans to ensure that the lawn (no matter how big or small) is healthy year round. Some larger companies also offer design-build services, like building a retaining wall or installing a new driveway.

    If you want your gift recipient to unwrap something in addition to the service certificate, you could include a book like The Home Owner’s Journal by Colleen Jenkins or a nice tea your friend or family member can enjoy while not doing work around the house.

    Whether you’re giving a gift to the unclutterers in your life or simply want to give something other than a tangible item, there are several options for presents that can be more than just a nice surprise — they can also help the recipient get stuff done. Of course, it’s important to be mindful of your budget as you think about the service you think will be most helpful to your friends and family members.

    The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

    2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Budgeting and planning

    Today begins our annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Between now and November 21, we will share numerous articles on uncluttered giving that can be used this season. Most of these ideas also will apply to gift giving throughout the year, irrespective of the occasion.

    Do the holidays creep up on you and give an unwelcome jolt? Unless you like unpleasant surprises (like forgetting someone on your list), treat the holidays like any other project — one deserving of a well laid out plan with a timelines and a reasonable budget. That way, you’ll know what to expect and have a guide to ensure that you don’t overspend or overlook important people or events. That means that you can …

    Start planning early

    The benefit of planning early will be less stress and more time to enjoy the gift giving season. Though your first thought may be about the list of people you intend to give gifts to, there are other things to consider as well, like how much money you will spend, whether or not you will be hosting a party or attending one (or more) holiday events, along with the type of gifts you’ll give.

    As you start thinking about all the things you need (or want) to do, get them out of your head and record them on a spreadsheet, in your paper journal, or in an online notebook. Put your plans in buckets or categories (who you’ll buy gifts for, gifts to purchase/make, specialty stores to visit, sales to take advantage of) and also consider what worked last year to see what you’d like to repeat and things you prefer to do differently. Include gifting traditions that you want to keep and and new ones that you’d like to try out. Will you need help so that your plans can go off without a hitch? Will you share the expense of certain gifts?

    With so much to think about and do, it can get overwhelming, so the next step would be to:

    Set your monetary budget

    Figuring out how much you can afford to spend will likely drive the types of activities you engage in, as well as how much you spend on presents. The website LearnVest.com suggests that you use the 50/20/30 rule to determine how much of your take home pay will be put toward three categories of expenses:

    • 50 percent for essential expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries)
    • 20 percent for financial priorities (debt payments, savings contributions)
    • 30 percent for lifestyle choices (hobbies, pets, cable/internet)

    Though this rule pertains to your general budget, it can also help you determine how much you will put toward holiday spending, which seems to fall in the “lifestyle choices” category. Since that is an area you tend to have more control over, you can make some adjustments (reduce the number of times you eat out per month, cut back on expenses related to hobbies) so that you can put money toward your holiday fund.

    As you crunch the numbers, think about whether you’ll have a per person budget ($50 for significant others, $25 for friends or children’s teachers, $15 dollars for neighbors, $10 for co-workers) or a flat amount for everyone. Will you forgo gifts for some people and send them cards instead? How will you handle charitable giving? You’ll also need to think about the number of holiday parties you’ll attend as you may be expected to give each host a gift.

    Budget your time

    Not only is budgeting your money important, but so is budgeting your time. Whether you purchase gifts or make them, you’ll need to figure out how much time you can realistically devote to shopping, crafting, or baking (and wrapping, too). Will you schedule time after work, on weekends, or both? Will you purchase generic presents (like gift cards) or select items that match the recipients wants/needs/personality? Will you send holiday cards to some people in lieu of a gift? Are the stores with special sales in close proximity to your home or office? Whatever you decide to do, plan how you’ll use your time so you don’t end up feeling stressed by rushing around at the last minute.

    One way to save some time is to stop guessing which things to buy. Ask your friends and family members what they want. You can do that easily by using websites like Amazon, WishListr.com, or SeeWhatTheyWant.com to find out exactly what your loved ones are hoping to receive. With each of these sites, you’ll be able to see what has already been bought and reduce the risk of duplicate purchases. Alternatively, you can use the Gift Planning Checklist from Lifehacker.com to keep track of the gifts you’ve already bought. As you think about how you’ll budget your time, look for opportunities to divide and conquer — share your holiday chores with others who can help you with the shopping or crafting duties.

    Now that Christmas is six weeks away, this is a great time to pull your thoughts together to create a budget and plan so that you can have a stress free and festive holiday season. Over the next nine days, we’ll supply you with numerous uncluttered gift ideas to inspire your planning list to help reduce even more of your stress — so stay tuned.

    The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

    How to receive gifts when you’re uncluttering

    Who doesn’t love receiving gifts? If you’re like me, you tear them open enthusiastically to see the fantastic things that await you. Gifts can be tangible reminders that someone was thinking of us or wanted to help us celebrate a special occasion. In fact, the person giving the gift likely gains a good dose of positive feelings by the act of giving. It’s hard to think of a downside to getting a present.

    …except perhaps when your space is limited. And, when you’re uncluttering. If you’re focused on reducing your stash of stuff and having “a place for everything and everything in it’s place,” you might find yourself reluctant to bring something new into your home. On the other hand, refusing (even if you do so graciously) can result in the gift-giver (and you) having hurt feelings. To better navigate these delicate situations and to avoid mistunderstandings, first…

    Talk about your uncluttering plans

    …with everyone. When you decide to make a change in your life, like eating healthier, you probably tend to tell those closest to you. That way, they’re not surprised when you decide to eat in or order healthier fare from the menu. A nice side effect of telling the people in your life about your plans is that they can help motivate you and try to help you reach your goal.

    Why not do the same when you’re uncluttering? Let your friends, family members, and colleagues know you’re being very purposeful (or even ruthless) about the types and number of things that you will keep. They genuinely care about you and want to see you succeed. So, rather than stop them from giving you a gift, tell them you’re minimizing the tangible things you purchase and receive, and instead …

    Suggest experience gifts

    Have you been meaning to go to the new play that opened a few months ago? Or, perhaps you really want to see your favorite musical group the next time they come to town? Or, maybe you’d like to get in one last road trip with friends before the summer comes to a final close? If there’s a special event or new experience that you’d like to try (like driving your dream car or riding in a hot air balloon), don’t keep it a secret. These types of gifts still let the important people in your life celebrate special moments with you, and you won’t have to carve out storage space for something new.

    Ask for a gift for others in need

    Knowing that you’re helping someone without getting anything in return can often be very rewarding. In lieu of receiving a physical gift, ask friends and family members to donate to a charity you love. You could also spend some time together volunteering to help others in need (local meal center/food bank, animal shelter). This would be an opportunity to do something good for someone else and spend time with each other.

    Accept gifts you receive

    It’s not likely that you’ll never again receive a physical gift. When those occasions arise, graciously accept the gift, send a thank you note, and then take some time to decide how useful the item is to you. You may need to create a “deciding space” in your home to store gifts so you can figure out if you will keep them (perhaps in a well frequented closet so that you don’t forget about them). At first, you might not think that you’d find the gifts helpful, but they could end up being just what you needed. If, after a second look, the gift really doesn’t suit you or your current lifestyle, donate the gift to a charitable organization or regift it to someone you believe would really use it (letting that person know they’re welcome to pass it along if they don’t need it).

    If you do receive gifts as you’re purging and uncluttering, remember that gift-giving is an emotional experience. The person giving is probably excited about giving you a present and has the best of intentions. He/she is not trying to thwart your plans to simplify, and just might not know that you’re doing things a little differently. Start by having conversation with those in your inner circle about your uncluttering plans. Over time, they will likely adjust to a new way of sharing special moments and experiences with you.