Here’s A Thought: Have a Running (Christmas) Gift List

Years ago, when my sisters were attending university in the US, they would get stopped going through the border on their way back to school in January. In addition to extra passengers and a year’s worth of clothing and supplies, they always had a trunk full of gifts for extended family. The border agent would chuckle and make some joke about people getting their gifts a bit late this year. And then my sisters would calmly explain these were actually gifts for next year.


I started Christmas shopping “late” this year. I usually start buying (and wrapping) items over the summer. But this time I’m committed to keeping things as minimal as possible. I want to buy things that are going to be appreciated and used – practical items, fun consumables, experiences, or something to honour special requests.

So far it’s going well. One of the biggest advantages – my digital list of gift ideas.


Hanging his Christmas Eve ornament – more on this fun tradition coming soon.

Last Christmas was one of my favourites. We weren’t sure if my parents were going to be able to join us because of provincial border closures. At the last minute (December 23rd to be exact) we learned they could come! It was an extra special celebration because I thought we would be spending Christmas alone (which would have been fine, but it’s always more fun to share the holidays with loved ones).

One major coup was streamlining meals. Instead of trying to cram all our favourite edible delights into a 3-4 day period around Christmas, we spread out the culinary experiences.

Christmas Day we had a nice breakfast, a simple (but delicious) charcuterie board + potato salad for lunch, and we put meatballs (a family favourite) in the slow cooker for supper. Then we headed off to Peggy’s Cove. It was 18 degrees Celcius – practically bathing suit weather – and it was so much fun to go on a Christmas Day adventure.

We have always done a turkey with all the fixings on Christmas Day, but meatballs were delicious and a lot less work (my Mom prepped them in advance and brought them over frozen)! Instead we cooked a turkey on Boxing Day and invited a widowed friend for an afternoon of food and card games, which was relaxing and delicious and fun.

Anyway…back to the aforementioned gift list. While we were en route to Peggy’s Cove I started writing down a dozen or so gift ideas for Christmas 2021. As in an event exactly 365 days away. Little hints people had dropped (a friend liked my long sundae spoons, Abby was interested in receiving a daytimer) or lingering ideas for items that hadn’t made it under the tree in 2020.

Throughout the year I’ve added to the list. I try to enter items as soon as I think of them and the triggers can come from anywhere at anytime – on the beach, in the middle of the night, during a rain storm (I kid you not, heavy rains just triggered me to go add – “Umbrella” to Levi’s wishlist; he’s been asking for one for months and I never wrote it down). *Update: I finally bought him an umbrella over the weekend, after I drafted this post*

I haven’t purchased all the items on my list* – some are no longer relevant and a few I sourced for birthdays instead – but it was so nice to sit down in November and place a big Amazon order for the Codenames game I realized my daughter wanted back on New Year’s Day, the silicone baking sheets my Mom had admired over Christmas 2020 and those long sundae spoons I’d been eyeing for a friend.

*I have been using the AnyList app for years and absolutely love it – I actually wrote another post about why I have so many running lists. This is the main screen of my account. It’s easy to add items to a list, and you just swipe to delete. At this point I have 17 items remaining on my Christmas list; at one point it was at 35. I think (?) there is a Pro account, but I’ve always just used the free portion and it has been more than sufficient.


I’m excited for people to open their gifts this Christmas. I think I’ve had some good ideas (can’t share yet because a few people getting gifts read this blog so any reveals will have to wait until the New Year).

But even with bits of wrapping paper still scattered on the floor, Christmas tunes pumping through the speakers, and a turkey roasting in the oven – I suspect this December 25th you’ll find me starting my list for Christmas 2022.

Bonus: Check out this podcast episode from Best of Both Worlds that talks about having an active gift list + the benefits of stockpiling a few extras (e.g. for impromptu birthday parties).

Header photo by Superkitina on Unsplash

14 thoughts on “Here’s A Thought: Have a Running (Christmas) Gift List”

  1. You make this sound so easy! I started keeping a running list that I add to all year… but for some reason, by the time I get to Christmas, it has been depleted by birthdays and Father’s/Mother’s Day. So perhaps I am better about adding to it at the beginning of the year.

    1. An important caveat here: I am not a big gift-giver (no Father’s Day/Mother’s Day/birthday gifts to my parents or in-laws, for example)…and no gifts to extended family (siblings, nieces/nephews) unless we’re celebrating together…which rarely happens.

      So I think it helps I don’t give a lot of gifts – for me at least, it may bother recipients that don’t get much from me?!

      As for kids/spouse birthdays and other special events, I do pick away at the list for these events but somehow – thus far at least – things seem to get replenished by Christmas?

  2. Yes for running lists. I do have one. unfortunately I always start too late or forget adding items. I wish I was more serious about it because I truly dislike getting presents. It puts so much pressure on and I always think my ideas are not fun. I guess the perfectionist is talking. Every year when I struggle with the gifts I pledge to listen more carefully during the year. Well, I haven’t really and so I start getting panicky again. It is a mazing that you start yours right at Christmas. Do you have any good tips on how to detect possible gift ideas? I am sure I am missing the hints most the time.

  3. This was mentioned on BOBW last week! I sort of do this – I have a note in my phone where I put gift ideas for our kids and then ideas of things to ask for from my MIL. We have majorly cut down on presents over the years which I am very happy about as I am a minimalist, like you. But it helps to gather ideas over a long period of time so you aren’t scrambling for ideas right before Christmas. I sent my idea lists to the grandparents in October and my mom said Christmas shopping hadn’t even crossed her mind yet! She’s not as much of a planner as I am, though. 😉 But at least the list was there when she was ready to start.

    I haven’t bought any of our boys’ gifts yet but I did buy the Christmas books that we’ll open during the season of advent. We got an advent calendar with little drawers last year and every 2nd or 3rd day, I put a piece of paper saying ‘open a present’ in the drawer. Last year I got Paul little matchbox cars but I am shifting to Christmas books going forward as I know we’ll read them over and over and over again! I know what we are buying Paul (refurbished iPad – feels weird to buy him a screen but it will be nice to have for car/plane trips and he’ll get limited time on it to play games). But we probably won’t buy gifts for Will besides some books for his stock this year since he will get a ton from my MIL! Last year we had our son open 2 presents/day and he probably opened gifts for 5+ days or something like that!

    1. We’ve definitely done very “light” years with presents and I think, overall, our kids get fewer things than most kids their age. I think we’ve had a really good year with getting the kids just things they will use/need/want (and that we approve of).

      I heard this on BOBW, too, after I’d written this blog post. Great minds think alike?

      And I totally understand getting a screen. We have an old Android phone we use for audiobooks a few nights a week for the kids (they consider it SUCH A TREAT!) and it has been great to have one that device that basically just for the kids.

  4. This is brilliant, because somehow right after Christmas I have all these great ideas for gifts that I wish I had gotten for people. I guess I never thought to start making a list because I assumed the gifts would no longer be relevant a year later- but you never know! Like you said, I can always delete items as needed. I wish I had done it for this year- so far the only presents I have are for my cats. Arg!

    1. The fact you have presents already for your cats made me laugh out loud!
      I definitely put down LOTS of ideas that never see the light of day (and buy things that weren’t on the list), but I also think that right after Christmas is when I have the most good ideas for some reason?

  5. I intended to do this…I even created a page in the back of my planner for this last year…but sadly, it was almost completely blank by the time November rolled around!! I DO give some gifts throughout the year though, so maybe that’s why – I used up my ideas! Haha. I give my parents Mother and Father’s Day gifts, and birthday gifts. And I usually try to give them something for their anniversary. I ‘m not saying it’s right or wrong, but in my case, I feel that my parents have been SO SO SO generous with me and my family, that I can’t even bear to not give them something. It feels like the least I can do. I know they don’t “need” it, and we spend lots of time together which is the most important thing. But they are just always very generous with gifts for us (and just, everything!), so I would hate to not at least try to reciprocate a little bit! My husband is the hardest one to buy for…I really need to make a point to jot things down when he mentions them, because they tend to be weird or difficult things that I don’t know about. (like maybe some tech thing or something). UGH. haha. Still need to figure out what to get him this year.

    1. I really think doing this on my phone helps; I don’t always have my planner with me but, sadly, I almost always have my phone. I had a spreadsheet on my computer for a while, but then when I thought of something I’d have to remember it until I was at my laptop again…which rarely worked.

      I don’t come from “gift-givers” and it is definitely NOT my love language. My parents didn’t have much money when I was growing up so Christmas was all about church (my Dad was a pastor) and family time and I have nothing but wonderful memories of my childhood Christmases. Gifts were simple, practical, homemade/thrifted most of the time. I have some good stories…

      I’ve tried to embody that spirit as much as possible. Also, because I’m frugal AND a minimalist, getting/giving a lot of gifts stresses me out – both the expense AND the clutter. So my kids don’t get a lot of grandparent gifts (the ones they get are very thoughtful, but they’re not constantly being inundated with things they won’t use).

      I don’t think I’ve ever given my parents a Mother’s/Father’s Day gift. I spend a lot of time talking to/sending pictures to my parents, helping them with tech issues, and visiting them in the summer and since they aren’t huge into gifts, it’s a great fit.

      I do have two more “favourites/gift-guides” coming this week: one for men and another for kiddos, so stay tuned. Also, there are some great ideas in the gift guides I’ve linked to…

      1. So interesting!! It is a little difficult in my family because gifts are MAJORLY my mom’s love language. Like, big time. Even if my parents just come to visit on a random Saturday in October, she wants to show up with a little “something” for the boys, etc. She spends way too much on their b-day and Christmas gifts… but it’s literally like she can’t help herself! She just loves giving gifts. We’ve kind of stopped trying to make her stop. 🙂 She also enjoys shopping, just for the fun of it (like hunting for a specific item for someone, etc.). Anyway, it makes it a little tricky on my end. I probably fall somewhere in the middle- I generally like giving/receiving gifts, within reason, and then I have an older sister who is definitely more on the minimalistic side- and really struggles to not hurt my mom’s feelings if she just doesn’t want all the “stuff” my mom wants to send for her kids! lol. And I think my mom struggles to understand the flip side- how could anyone not want all those gifts! Anyway! It’s an interesting topic for sure. We are not the family with 1 gift under the tree for each person though. 😉 hahaha.

        1. I have a friend who sounds a lot like your mom. She is ALWAYS on the hunt for the “perfect” gift and gives them frequently and in abundance. And she loves to receive gifts; it is definitely her love language.

          I think I enjoy giving gifts the older I get but ideas don’t necessarily come easily. I will also say – I think it takes less mental energy when the budget is bigger. For years when we were bootstrapping two small startups, it felt like SO much work to do Christmas gifts while being very conscious of keeping costs low. I think I ended up buying more filler stuff, where now I’d rather focus on less but better (“better” being 100% subjective here…but I’m trying to buy gifts that will last, are wanted, needed, or serve a real function. Bonus points if they are fun at the same time – for example, a really funky shower cap, a sequin notebook, a chic water bottle). Also, we give A LOT fewer gifts now; almost none outside our immediate family (gift cards to our mailman, crossing guard + bonus to our housecleaner + a few edible goodies to neighbours and a handful of Secret Santa type things and that’s it).

          It is hard knowing how to balance your own wants/love language with someone that is so different, so I can see it being difficult to navigate between your mom/older sister. For your family, it sounds absolutely wonderful! WHAT LUCKY GRANDKIDS. We have a few older couples who like to treat our kids and I think it is such a special way to give/receive love. We all need all the love we can get, and having it come in different ways from different people is part of what makes life extra special.

          Also, I say gifts aren’t my love language, but I wonder if they would be if I didn’t have such a great gift-giving husband. He always has some thoughtful gifts under the tree that make me feel loved/appreciated…!

  6. I swear note-taking apps like AnyList are the lifesavers of modern times. I used to just “jot down” stuff in my planner, but more often than not, thought of something, didn’t have my planner handy, and then forgot to write it down later… and then would find myself wracking my brain when I couldn’t remember later.

    Now, I can just pull out my phone, write things down and neatly organize it into different lists, too. I use Evernote for that purpose, but I might have to check out AnyList.

    1. I’ve been hearing lots of comments about Evernote lately; I suspect it’s just as good as AnyList! I’m looking for basic function (and only use the unpaid version of the app) but I’m sure there are lots of other similar apps with more “bells and whistles.” I think Trello is another popular one…I’ve been so happy with AnyList I just haven’t contemplated changing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *