Suzanne Tobias

Suzanne Perez Tobias: Plan now for holiday minimalism

We live in a society of excess.

This is why I am writing a column about holiday shopping in early October, before I have sipped my first pumpkin spice latte or bought Halloween candy or decorated the front porch with pumpkins and mums.

(Clarification: I bought some fun-sized Snickers and Reese’s Cups last week, but they weren’t for Halloween. Or, well, I guess they were intended for trick-or-treaters but didn’t last that long. They lasted about a day and a half. I’ll buy more.)

More, more, more.

It’s part of our super-sized, value-pack, fast-track existence, and holiday shopping is no exception. Undoubtedly, some of you have started or even finished your holiday shopping already, filling basements, attics, closets or lay-away departments with more goodies than your children or grandchildren really need.

That’s why I’m resurrecting a gift-giving strategy I adopted last holiday season – and sharing the idea earlier this year, in case you’d like to consider it as well:

Want. Need. Wear. Read.

When shopping for our children last Christmas, my husband and I limited their gifts to one item from each of the four categories: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

Plus stockings, which are the kids’ favorite part of Christmas morning anyway. Plus one new board game, which is my favorite part.

The plan worked even better than I had hoped. My shopping trips were focused, thoughtful and relaxed. With few exceptions, I was able to find everything on my list at locally owned shops. I didn’t worry about making sure each child got the same number of gifts or that our spending levels were exactly even.

And Christmas morning, while still full of surprises and smiles, was lower-key, slower-paced, more enjoyable.

After I wrote about the gift-giving plan last year, I heard from several parents and grandparents who said they planned to try the “want, need, wear, read” strategy themselves. If you’d like to try it, too, here are some things to consider as you brainstorm and venture forth:

Something they want: This is probably the easiest of the four to identify – the newest toy, Lego set or electronic gadget, tickets to a concert or sporting event, a new record or iTunes gift card. Basically, it’s whatever they might ask Santa for that doesn’t fit into one of the other categories.

Something they need: In our family, this sparked interesting discussions about wants vs. needs. Hannah got a new trash can (long story, but she was pleased); Jack got a laptop he needed for school work (and Minecraft, apparently). Other possibilities: gas card, wall calendar, a new pillow or bed linens, a computer or cellphone case, new guitar strings, kitchen gadgets, sporting equipment, office supplies.

Something to wear: Jack tried to beg off this category altogether last year, saying he didn’t care about clothes. But a Sheldon Cooper-style T-shirt from “The Big Bang Theory,” one of his favorite television shows, ended up being one of his favorite gifts. Other possibilities: a sweatshirt, jersey or hat featuring your child’s favorite sports team; a fun scarf; sunglasses; new shoes or slippers; or the ever-popular cozy pajamas.

Something to read: It’s hard to pick just one book. I fudged the rules last year and, for each child, packaged two books as one. (It’s cheating, but I promise the Want-Need-Wear-Read Police won’t raid your house Christmas morning and haul you to jail. At least they haven’t yet.) The poetry anthology I chose for Hannah last year was personal, meaningful, and one of the best gifts I’ve ever given. Other possibilities: a Bible, picture book, cookbook, travel journal, comic book or magazine subscription.

There’s plenty of time between now and the holidays. Plenty of ways to simplify, spend like crazy or something in between, whatever your preference. Plenty of wants and needs. How you approach them is up to you.

I have a plan.