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All-Year Holiday Shopping : Many find they can maximize purchasing power and minimize hassles by starting the gift search now.

January 07, 1994|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray writes regularly for The Times

Those who don't start their Christmas shopping until Dec. 24 might be amazed that some people have al ready started collecting and wrapping gifts for the '94 holidays.

For Carol Brewer, 47, a stylist at Hair Pros in Agoura Hills, it's not the drive to be organized that motivates her to start hunting for the right gift even before last year's are packed away. It's her love of shopping that calls her to the malls.

"It gives me a reason to shop without feeling guilty," she said. "I love to go to the malls at least once a week--checking out the sales and looking for bargains--and if I'm shopping for Christmas, I'm going for a good purpose."

Brewer is after more than just ties, nightgowns and leather wallets. She also searches for craft items on sale, such as clear Christmas tree balls that she can fill with potpourri, or material or yarn she can make into quilts for relatives.

She gathers the items in a space under her water bed, where they are kept until the gift-giving season returns. "It's kind of like a hope chest for others," she said.

Ruth Crystal, a Tarzana-based organization expert and member of the National Assn. of Professional Organizers, said she is finding an increasing number of people who look at holiday shopping as a yearlong effort to maximize their purchasing power and minimize the last-minute hassles of finding a gift.

Most early shoppers don't buy the big presents early--bread machines, video toys or electronics--but stick to such smaller items as costume jewelry, baskets of soap, note cards and books. The early birds also don't usually buy the extra-special gifts--for their spouses or partners--early. The urge to select the perfect present typically supersedes the drive to shop early, she said.

The trick is to not let a commitment to efficiency or the love of a great bargain turn you into a pack rat. "It's a fine line between being super-organized and being a compulsive shopper, someone who picks up everything on sale without a thought in mind about who it is for," she said. Crystal suggested that early shoppers make lists of the people for whom they are buying, and check off the names as the items are found.

Crystal also suggested that shoppers opt for only what can fit easily into their storage space. While she has seen some people who literally reserve an entire room of their house to store the fruits of their shopping forays, most people have only under-the-bed or in-the-linen closet spots in which to keep their finds.

Crystal recommended using a large plastic crate or basket in a pre-selected spot--the back of a closet, a shelf in the pantry or a corner of a room--to hold the items as they are purchased. She uses a sticker to mark the name of the person for which the item is intended, because she often forgets such details as the months go by.

For many, shopping months before Christmas is more than a way to save money and prevent the shopping chaos in December. It's a challenge. Said Crystal: "It's a game you're playing with yourself. It's the thrill of knowing you saved $15 on a gift."

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