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3 Ways to Give the Perfect Gift & the 2 Best Things to Do with Gifts We Don't Want.

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I had a conversation with another mother yesterday while at the yoga studio.

She brought up something that many people think, but don't always verbalize. Our discussion was about how holiday gift giving and receiving is joyful, but that no one truly wants unnecessary "stuff" cluttering up the house after the excitement of the season has calmed down.

Here are things we can do both prevent giving unwanted gifts, as well as ideas on what to do with presents that we won't use.

For those unwanted gifts:

1. Give to a shelter.

With me at the yoga studio that day was my out-of-town twin sister. She's a social worker. Thus, she easily suggested donating duplicate or unwanted toys to a women's shelter, like one she once worked at.

New toys are typically welcomed by children staying in shelters, as are items like warm hats and gloves. Check with your local shelters to find out what is needed.

2. Return them.

Sometimes gifts aren't returnable to the giver or the store of purchase (no receipt, sensitive person you'd rather not offend, etc). In this case, one thing I've done in the past is take the item, with the price tags still on, to any store selling it. I've discovered that most major retailers will take an item, even without a receipt, for credit at the lowest price it was last sold for in the store. My daughter has then used this store credit to happily pick out something else.

You'll notice I didn't suggest re-gifting. I'm not a huge believer in re-gifting for several reasons. The first is that if we don't want it, then we're simply tossing it off to be someone else's "problem," and the two suggestions already offered will have to be repeated anyway, just by someone new. Additionally--well, actually, let's just get on to the first suggestion in our next list.

How to give gifts that will be used:

1. Be thoughtful.

This seems obvious, but, really, being thoughtful usually means stepping outside of the boxes we subconsciously place our imaginations into when choosing a gift--pun intended.

Typically, we'll think about "things" people need, like socks (which, by the way, I love giving and receiving warm, high-quality socks) or something we know they'll love, but not buy for themselves (like jewelry--also one of my favorite things to both give and receive). Yet while these ideas are fruitful, if you, like I, have that one has-everything-buys-what-they-need person you want to give something special to, then think differently.

Alternatives are services or subscriptions. (I've given coffee and olive oil subscriptions, for instance.)

The main rule of thumb I use when trying to buy a thoughtful gift for everyone on my list is, "Am I buying something just to cross a name off, or is this genuinely what I want to get?" Answering this question honestly has led me to essentially buy one nice gift for those people I exchange with.

2. Don't buy a gift.

This, at first, might seem rude if you've always exchanged with a particular friend or family member.

That said, families grow and change, and it can become no longer ideal to buy for every cousin or uncle or friend if we now have nieces, children and grandchildren to shop for.

Instead of gifts, if the loved one lives close by, spend time together. Go out to eat or spend an evening entertaining them at home. Many people seriously do appreciate a well-worded card or, in this day of texting, a real-live phone call sharing some holiday love can be deeply appreciated.

After all, the holidays really aren't about the gifts, are they? We say this, but putting it into practice, for me, has been a game-changer for my own holiday attitude in general.

3. Ask.

And for those people we want to shop for, but can't come up with something, then, for the love of God, ask.

Yes, this might spoil some surprises or seem unromantic, but asking someone for a list of wanted items or a preferred color is better if, ultimately, they open something they'll love and use.

So, like I tell my kids, use your words and ask.

The holidays should be joyful, but, if we're being sincere, for many of us they are stressful too. Even good stress--like getting decorations up, and wrapping, having guests over, and our kids being home on break--is still stress.

I want my children to look forward to the holidays, not dread them because mom and dad were overwhelmed.

Buying simple gifts with meaning behind them, and significantly limiting my shopping list of who I buy for--and of how many gifts I get each person--are hands-downs the easiest ways I've grown into welcoming this time of year--and letting go of the holiday-frenzy I've felt in seasons past.

This year is my daughter's first time making a list; it's the first year I've decided to have her sit down and put in writing some of the things she'd like to unwrap.

Partly, I've put this off because I wanted her to be aware that the holidays truly are not materialistic, but, mainly, it's because she intrinsically knows this and looks most forward to the childlike joys of baking together, singing favorite songs, and welcoming family into her home. However, now I'll be helping out my own mom who has already asked for a list (like in my previously mentioned tip).

Do you have a suggestion that other readers could benefit from on how you manage gift giving and receiving? If so, I'd love to hear from you in comments.