It’s About Time

Ruth Wong

Never too early to
simplify holiday gift list

What is one of the things my clients have the most difficulty parting with? Can you guess?

The answer: A gift they've received that they don't need or use.

Although it's only July, it's not too soon to think about the holidays, for holiday gift giving can account for many of the "white elephants" that clutter our homes and offices.

Were Shakespeare living today, Hamlet's soliloquy might go: "To give or not to give, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the end to buy, to spend, perchance to end up giving something totally unwanted -- aye, there's the rub!"

I'd like to share some ideas on how to prevent the giving of "white elephants" and instead give gifts that are useful and desired.

Sometimes what's desired is to not exchange gifts at all. This is especially the case when those on your gift list already have everything, and you end up buying just to buy.

That was the case with one side of my family. Last year a sister-in-law suggested that instead of exchanging the usual gifts, family members exchange names of charities that we'd like donations sent to.

What a refreshing idea that was! I happily sent donations to charities such as the Fresno Rescue Mission, Oregon Food Bank, and the National Geographic Afghan Girls Fund, among others. What a good feeling it was knowing that these gifts would be used to help the needy.

A few years ago, a friend on the mainland suggested we stop sending each other token Christmas gifts. Instead of being offended, I found myself feeling relieved! I knew we'd continue to be good friends without the gifts.

This year, I've suggested to my Moms in Touch prayer group that we forego the holiday gifts and instead go out for tea together. They agreed that being able to enjoy each other's company would be the best gift of all!

Some families simplify the number of gifts needed by drawing names. Each year my friend Jean Furuya organizes her extended family's gift exchange by sending out a letter to all who want to participate. A maximum dollar amount is chosen, and each participant fills out a "Gift List" form on which he/she lists at least three gift choices, with any information to make shopping easier, such as size, color, store, or even preferred restaurants for gift certificates.

Each form is put into a a sealed envelope with the name of the requester on it and returned to Jean by Nov. 15. Jean then mails out an envelope to each participant. The gifts are exchanged at a family Christmas party.

I have a core group of friends and relatives who do prefer to exchange gifts, and that's fine. It's always a good idea to ask the recipients what's on their wish lists. And hopefully, they'll ask you what's on yours!

You might consider giving a "gift of time." One year a friend surprised me with a jar of delicious hamburger soup. How welcome that was in the midst of the busy season!

I passed on the favor by giving other friends a gift of time by delivering dinner on a tray (curry, rice, fruit salad and dessert). That was 20 years ago and they remember it still!

If all else fails and you do end up with a white elephant or two, you can try this fun game that has been a tradition in Sherry Chock Wong's' family: On Christmas day, the extended family gathers and each brings a wrapped "white elephant" gift they've received.

They line up all the wrapped gifts and each takes a number. No. 1 chooses the first gift and unwraps it. No. 2 chooses a wrapped gift, unwraps it, and can either keep it or trade with No. 1's gift. And so on. She says there's one white elephant that keeps recycling year after year! The "real" gifts are exchanged that night.

Your assignment is to rethink your gift giving, so you can make your holidays simpler, enjoyable and more meaningful.

Happy simplifying! See you in two weeks!

"It's About Time," by Ruth Wong, owner of Organization Plus, runs the fourth Friday of each month. Contact her at "It's About Time," care of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813; or e-mail


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