An alternative for those of you who don’t love malls…

I love, love, love holiday shopping. I love, love, love finding just the right gift for someone.

I love it when I find something that’s so exactly right that the person gives a little gasp and goes and takes it out of the box right then and there or puts it on or laughs and says “where on earth did you find this?”

It’s one of the supreme joys of life, I think.

But – and this is kind of a big but – I don’t like malls so much. Lots of people get really energized and into the holiday spirit when they go into a mall, but I don’t. I’ve tried, but for some reason, malls generally make me a little bit sad and kind of hungry.

So this is what I do each year (and I’m telling you this because I did it yesterday, and it was enormously fun): Each year, the wave of holiday catalogs comes starting in late October or November and I stash them away in a special out-of-the-way place where they stay until the time is just right (generally a cold and snowy day just before Thanksgiving) and then I pull out this towering pile of paper that I feel pretty guilty about even getting in the mail (even though I pretty much get only the ones I order from and I recycle when I’m done. Does that help? A little? I know it probably doesn’t. Catalog shopping is a secret guilty pleasure of mine. You could get together with friends and pool your catalogs, though, so you aren’t each getting all of this paper. Or just shop your favorite stores online and opt out of the catalogs. That would be the greenest thing to do, I suppose.)

Anyway, I make some really good gourmet coffee in my little coffee press and take out a stash of the very best chocolate and I get a blanket and I pull out the Catalog Tower, and I begin.

I have a legal pad that lists everyone I need to buy for and I sit cross-legged and I jot notes and tear pages and put these catalogs, one by one, in the recycling bin. Then I go back through my list and pare it down until I have something that’s just exactly right for everyone.

This takes awhile. Usually way longer than I plan for. But it’s fun. And I have coffee. And chocolates.

Right in the middle of all this, my kids get home from school and so I kind of panic a little because this isn’t the kind of project that you want to put away before you’re done. I’ve got torn pages and notes all over the place. So Ty gets home and orders a pizza and takes the kids outside to shovel snow. Meanwhile, I finish the list and call in the husband and kids and show them all the things I’m thinking for their grandparents and their aunts and their uncles and sweet little cousins so they can give me some feedback, after which there are adjustments (mostly additions.) And then I finalize the list and make a new list – this one organized by store.

And this list is really important because now I wait for these merchants to offer something really good: preferably a percent off and free shipping, and then I shop.

It’s best if I can get all of this list-making done before Thanksgiving, so I can watch the Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales. These are two great days of deals, so you’ll definitely want to stay tuned to your favorite online stores on those two days, but if the preseason is any indication, merchants will be running big online discounts throughout the holiday shopping season.

Here are the merchants I’ll be buying from this holiday season (with links to their coupon pages, if available):

Lilly’s Kids
Plow & Hearth
National Geographic
LL Bean
Uncommon Goods
Harry and David

I think the reason I like shopping this way is the fact that my focus is completely on the process and the person I’m buying for – and not on Mrs. Field’s and her brownies or whether I’m missing a better deal somewhere else, or whether my kids are going to get the swine flu from the escalators. Also, I buy only what’s on my list, so I can still get really good gifts without spending too much.

I realize this shopping method is not for everyone. My husband, for example, prefers to directly support the merchants in our town. And so the day before Christmas, he takes the kids shopping (mostly for gifts for me. whee!) down Main Street, where the merchants give the kids fancy wrapped chocolates and hot cocoa to enjoy while they wrap the gifts for them. That’s how he likes to shop. And I like that he likes to do that because it gives me a little quiet time before the chaos to wrap presents and drink egg nog.

Oh how I love Christmas (especially when I remember to start getting ready early enough!)

Now I can get started thinking about Thanksgiving…