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In Time for the Holidays: a Perfect, Stress-Free Gift

Charitable contributions can replace presents and help keep your closet neat.

November 01, 2003|Linda Morley | Linda Morley is a writer and advertising consultant in L.A.

I thought we had a few more weeks before the holiday onslaught, but the holiday catalogs are already piling up. So I'm making my stand now. There is something I've wanted to do for a long time, but laziness or cowardice always stopped me. So, what pushed me over? The raging fires? Guilt? The tax deduction? Nope, it was the stress.

I'd had my fill of navigating the mall in search of that perfect gift that would only end up stuck in the back of someone's closet by February. Enough of wrapping and shipping things to people who may not like them and certainly don't need them.

And those are just the usual holiday stresses. What finally got to me was the stress of having too much stuff.

Have you ever noticed how much time all your stuff takes up? First you've got to figure out how it works, then you have to find a place to put it. Then you've got to clean it, service it, upgrade it, program it or replace it. It's worse than getting a puppy.

So, here's what I did about my "post-traumatic-stuff syndrome": I took the money that I would normally spend on gifts and sent it to charitable organizations that needed it more than anybody on my list needed another silk scarf or dancing Santa lamp.

Note: This has yet to be tested in clinical trials, but it's far less risky than hormone therapy and, unlike dieting, the holidays are the perfect time to start. It has only five easy steps:

Step 1: Write the names of the people on your gift list and how much you plan to spend on each.

Step 2: Make a list of the charitable organizations (hereafter referred to as Orgs) whose work you support.

Step 3: Take all or some of the money that you planned to spend on the people on your list and send it to your favorite Orgs, in honor of those people. (Don't worry if it's not very much. What it does is huge.)

Step 4: Send your list-people a card saying something like, "In keeping with the spirit of the season, a contribution has been made in your honor to (the Org)." If the Org is not well known, you might want to add a few words about its work. Or ask your list-people for the names of their favorite Orgs.

Step 5: Ask your list-people to send any money they might have earmarked for you to their favorite Org, or yours: "I'll swap you the Cancer Society if you'll give me disaster relief."

And get the kids involved. Ask them what Orgs they'd like to support, or to help you with the gift cards. Next thing you know, your stuff heap will shrink, and so will your stress.

But wait, you might say, we can't suddenly go around snatching fire trucks and Barbies out of the kids' Christmas stockings. I'm not proposing that we stop exchanging gifts altogether. I'm just suggesting that we notice when enough is enough.

You can start slowly, a few this year, a few more the next. Just as kids can be weaned from the bottle, we can all be weaned from the fleeting pleasures of too much stuff.

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