Yesterday, I wrote about how I was converted from a Grinch to someone who loves Christmas. One of my reasons for my previous Grinch-like tendencies was the stress of Christmas shopping. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like shopping. And for some reason, despite being an organized person, I can’t bring myself to shop for Christmas ahead of time. It’s almost as if it would be contrary to the Holiday spirit.

This year, I did most of my Christmas shopping on the 21st of December, the last weekend before Christmas day. I still have a few last minute items I need to pick up, but of course, that will be done on Christmas Eve. Just because.

In my last-minute Christmas shopping sprint, I discovered the secret to last minute shopping without stress, and it turns out it’s something anyone can do.

Before I share a few tips with you, a quick word about the most obvious tip left off the list: “Don’t wait until the last minute.” Of course, if you followed that one, you wouldn’t need these tips in the first place, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume that only superhumans are capable of shopping for Christmas ahead of time, and that the rest of us mere mortals need some help.

Here’s hoping this helps.

1. Plan what to buy ahead of time

I can hear it now, “but if I had planned what to buy ahead of time, I wouldn’t be in this mess now.” Yes and no. When I say plan ahead of time, I’m not telling you to plan months in advance. Besides that would be a pretty useless tip the day before Christmas.

No, all I’m saying here is that you should know what you’re going to buy before going into the store. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quick list jotted down the morning of, or something you prepare mentally in the car before walking into the store, as long as you know what you need the moment you walk into that store. I can’t count the number of times I’ve fallen into the trap of saying, “I’ll just walk around and something will pop out at me.”

The truth is, it never does.

In the stress of shopping in the moment, your mind is so focused on that stress that it will miss even the most perfect gift. So, take advantage of a few moments of quiet before walking into the store and brainstorm a list of possible gifts, or better yet, use that fantastic tool, “the internet,” to research some ideas. Either way, always make sure you know what you’re getting before you get into that store, otherwise it will feel like you’re running through a labyrinth looking for an exit you can’t find with a minotaur hot on your tail.

2. Give yourself twice as much time as you need

Again, I don’t mean to give yourself days or weeks. If you did that, you wouldn’t be reading this. You’d be sitting by a fire with your feet up and a cup of eggnog in your hand.

No, I mean, give yourself plenty of time on that fateful day. If you’re going to do your Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve, then at least acknowledge that it is going to take most of your day. Plan your day around the fact that this shopping will take longer than any other shopping you do all year long.

Whatever amount of time you think it’s going to take you to get all your shopping done, double it. If you think it’ll take an hour, prepare for two. If you think it’ll take four, put aside the day for it.

The reasons for this are twofold. First, if you acknowledge right off the top that this is going to take a while, you remove the stress of rushing to get things done in a timely manner. You can lean into the shopping and take as much time as you need. All those other rushed shoppers around you that need to get to their next errand? You can let them by instead of having to wrestle with them to be the next in line at the register. Lack of time is the primary cause of stress.

The second reason this is important is because it removes all possibility of the negative emotion that comes with feeling like you’ve failed at something, such as getting your shopping done quickly. And if anything, it opens up the possibility that if you do happen to finish earlier than your extra-generous time allotment, you have a little spare time in your schedule. You can now use this time to relax, to get a jump on other errands, or anything else you want. What you do isn’t nearly as important as the feeling of having completed what you needed to get done in no time at all.

3. Be extra polite

One of the things I always hated about Christmas shopping were the crowds. Not just because I don’t like crowds generally, but also because the people who are Christmas shopping all seem like they would rather be getting extensive dental work done. They are a miserable, unhappy lot.

Or so I thought.

This year, I decided I was going to use some of the extra time I had allotted myself to do my Christmas shopping to be extra polite. At any possible collision between shopping carts, I insisted the other person go first. If someone was blocking the aisle, I waited patiently, and then offered a smile when they realized what they had done. I helped a lady get a particularly heavy gift into the trunk of her car (that kid is going to be REALLY happy on Christmas morning).

Aside from the fact that being nice to people actually felt good (and it does), this attitude also caused a strange sort of Christmas miracle to happen. For the first time in my life, the people I saw around me that were shopping for Christmas were smiling, saying please and thank you, wishing happy holidays, and just being pleasant human beings.

Is this just a coincidence? Maybe. But I’d rather chalk it up to the fact that people can sense each other’s emotions, and if you are giving off negative vibes, the people around you will feel that and reflect them back to you. Whereas, if you decide that you’re going to make an effort to be extra polite and nice, those good vibes will get mirrored back at you as well.

4. Be present and enjoy the moment

If you’re anything like me, I know what you’re thinking, “How am I supposed to enjoy one of the most stressful moments of the year?”

Well, for starters, if you followed the first three tips, the moment shouldn’t be as stressful as it has been in the past.

Plus, if you really do take a moment to enjoy and remember what this is all about, you’ll find a lot to appreciate. Start with the decorations that are everywhere. Some of these are gaudy and horrible, but many are quite beautiful, and you’ll only see these types of things once per year. Then there is the Christmas music that follows you everywhere. By now, you might be tired of hearing these songs, but come late January, you’ll miss them. So appreciate them while you have them.

And then there’s all the people, running around like headless chickens searching for gifts. Just like you. Think about the fact that each and every single person around you is an individual with a family and friends. Each person is doing their best to find that gift that will show the people they love just how much they mean to them.

It’s easy to get cynical about Christmas and talk about how it’s just a big commercial holiday that encourages consumerism and the economy. Sure, that’s true to some extent, but at the same time, once all the craziness dies down, and the credit card bills are paid off, what it’s about is giving to those you love, and that’s what each of the hundreds of thousands of people around you are trying to do. That’s a lot of love by a lot of people at a single moment. That’s something special, so take a moment and enjoy that moment.

5. Treat yourself

Regardless of whether the first four tips worked for you or not, I am a firm believer in this fifth one. Christmas shopping is mainly about other people, which is what should make it more fun than it really is, but it’s easy to get sucked into the trap of thinking that you’re doing all this for others and you get nothing out of it. Well, you do get the happiness that comes with giving, but in addition to that, you shouldn’t feel bad about also getting yourself a little (or big) something to show your appreciation for yourself.

It’s difficult to be happy for others when you can’t even be happy yourself, and so sometimes, just a little treat is enough to pick you up. It can be something as small as a gingerbread latte. Call it a reward. Call it the one Christmas gift you know you’ll love. Call it whatever you want, but remember to treat yourself.

For me, it was as simple as grabbing a book for myself while I was at the bookstore picking up a gift for my better half. It wasn’t much, but when I got home, there was something for me in that pile of gifts to wrap, and that was kind of nice.

6. Hum Christmas carols (optional)

Okay, so this one might be a little far-fetched, especially if you’re coming from a place where you really hated Christmas shopping, but if you’re really into the spirt, give humming a few Christmas carols a try.

Yesterday, I found myself standing at a crosswalk, waiting for the signal to change, two shopping bags in either hand, humming, “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas,” while snowflakes floated down from the sky and people rushed all around me.

Who knew Christmas shopping could be so fun?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!


Image courtesy of Brandy Shaul.