Keep it local. Keep it small.

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I had dinner recently with my sister and some friends – they talked about how we are coming to the season when everyone is stressed out and miserable. I was puzzled and asked who is miserable and stressed out? They all gave me “the look,” then nodded soberly and told me that I live in a different world from the rest of humans – I don’t understand that EVERYBODY else is stressed out about Christmas shopping, they say. I don’t buy it – literally and figuratively, I guess. If everyone is stressed, I’m sad to hear it. But I believe a lot of people spend some quality time with people they love, and enjoy the traditions and trappings of the season without going nuts. It is a choice.

In this time when many people have so much, perhaps it is time to stop the madness. Join with me to stop the escalation. I am not suggesting we send the economy into a death plunge, or that we stop sharing. I think we should lower expectations and stress and try to have some fun out there.

Let’s think more creatively – and beyond electronics – about how and what we are doing. Pool all the gift money and plan a party as a gift to all your friends. Spending time together is the gift. Have a cookie-baking event with neighbors and share the goods. Visit the holiday rooms at the Art Institute. Tour the Purcell-Cutts House or the Swedish Institute all decked out. My neighbors and I celebrate Festivus every year (Festivus for the rest of us!) but I probably shouldn’t mention that. Give fancy food or bath products, a good bottle of wine or a trip to the theater. My goal is for us all to buy each other gift certificates to nice restaurants where we will go together throughout the year to redeem them.

The traditions are infinitely more important than the things. Did you not receive socks and pajamas and oranges when you were a kid? OK, if you are young you didn’t, but if you are older, you did. We were happy, or accepting of that, I think. Let’s all change our expectations. Do we really need or want all that new …stuff.

Consider the implication to your wallet, your psyche and your environment while finding things for those you love.

First, the list of questions to ask yourself when shopping:

• Does my friend really need and want this?

• Is it made from renewable or nonrenewable resources?

• Is it made of recycled materials and is it recyclable?

• How long will it last and how will we dispose of it?

• Can it be maintained and repaired?

• Is it overpackaged?

• Is it worth the time I worked to pay for it and its cost to the environment?

shop locally

Part of the solution is to shop locally. Really local. I bet you can get anything you want within a few miles of your house. Better yet, try walking to your shopping – no harried trips to megamalls a freeway away. Think of the gas, time, energy and aggravation saved. And I bet there are shops at Lyn-Lake or Bryant Corners or Uptown that you don’t even know about.

Next, involve fun somehow. Stroll around, stop for a drink or a nosh somewhere. How fun does this sound? Bring a friend. Make the season merry, not just one day merry.

Choosing the gift: keeping in mind the questions that will keep you from buying wasteful, polluting, unnecessary or unwanted gifts, consider these categories:

Consumables

The idea of consumable gifts is that they will be appreciated, and can be used up and enjoyed without taking up space. The list is endless:

• Fancy food or gift baskets (Lunds and Rainbow)

• Special bottle of wine or champagne for the New Year’s Eve party later (Hennepin-Lake Liquors)

• Spices or unusual oils for a cook (Penzey’s Spices, Kitchen Window)

• Poinsettia, amaryllis bulbs, paperwhites, flowers, houseplant (Urban Earth Co-op, Bayberry Flowers, Luna Vinca)

• Bath and beauty products (Walgreens)

utilitarian

It might seem unexciting, but many a homeowner or new renter will appreciate useful things like screwdrivers or hammers, or help toward an expensive paint job.

• Hardware (Bryant Hardware, Remodeler’s Choice, Knob Hill)

• Paint (Lathrop Paint Supply, Hirshfields)

• Shiny New Clothes (Calhoun Square, American Apparel, Schatzlein, Larue’s, Urban Outfitters)

• Vintage Clothes (Ragstock, Tatters, The Corner Store)

• Grocery Gift Certificates (Rainbow and Lunds)

• Socks (Sox Appeal)

hobbies

• Wild Birds: seed and feeders, supplies (Bryant Hardware)

• Pets (Calhoun Pet Supply, 4 Paws Boutique)

• Books (Magers & Quinn, BookSmart)

• Music (Cheapo Discs, Treehouse Records)

• Art and Framing Supplies (Art Materials, FrameUps, The Great Frame Up)

• Archival photo supplies, albums (Picturebook)

household

• Fluorescent light bulbs (Moen Electric)

• Furniture (Design Within Reach, Welcome Home Futon)

entertainment

• Movie Gift Certificates (Lagoon, Uptown)

• Video Rental: pre-paid (Uptown Video)

• Restaurant Gift Certificates (too many to mention; walk around and you’ll find it)

• Cooking classes (Kitchen Window)

• Theater Gift Certificates (Jungle, Intermedia Arts, Pangea, Comedy Sportz)

Misc. Fun things

• Comic Books (Comic Book College)

• Robots, toys (Robot Love)

• Guitars and stuff (Twin Town)

• If you feel the need to travel, try Burch Pharmacy at Hennepin and Franklin (take the bus up Hennepin). We call this Burchdale in my family. I defy you to need something you can’t find there. They have toys and games and all manner of gifty things.

packaging

Don’t buy more than is necessary, and think about whether you really need the bag they want to give you. Then, wrapping the gift–you know what I’m going to say. Wrapping paper is not recyclable in Minneapolis, but we all love it. Try to wean yourself. Buy paper made from recycled content. At least re-use it! Gift bags can be used over and over. Or consider wrapping in a cotton bag that can later be used for the groceries, or in a towel or other permanent gift. Have the kids decorate butcher paper or paper bags. Shred it for reusing in gift baskets. Make gift certificate envelopes out of last year’s paper. Consider that over 4.4 million tons of holiday gift wrap, shopping bags, and holiday catalogs are sent straight to the landfills each year. Let’s change our expectations.

Save the Christmas cards and use for gift tags next year – cut off the front picture and write on the back.

donation

Last, but already on many lists, is those who do not have all that stuff. The Joyce Food Shelf serves a lot of people and needs a lot of help.

Please spend your money to support your neighbor-merchants, your time with your loved ones, and consider your planet as you do that. Cool the planet, cool the stress. My holiday wish to you – live small, be happy.

Mary Ann Knox loves the trappings of Christmas and makes a mean eggnog.

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