How to Maximize Joy (and Reduce Stress) in Holiday-Gift Crafting (A Guest Post from Tara Swiger)

15 Nov 2013

Everything is better by Christmas tree light. #quiltsbychristmas

My friend Tara Swiger offers this guest post, which has a message I think we all need to hear right about now (poised as we are on the launchpad of the Holiday Juggernaut). Make yourself some tea and enjoy this sanity break. Over to you, Tara!

'Tis the season of gifting, crafting, baking and staying up way too late trying to finish it all. 

Or is it?

Four strips down, 7 to go! #quiltsbychristmas

I'm committed to making  making my (and your) holidays (and life!) more sane, so I'd like to revisit the expectations and the intention behind it all. As a crafter, it's easy to lose sight of what propels you (love of crafting) to make holiday gifts and fall into pinning and fretting and comparing.  We can snap out of this by focusing on why we're doing it. 

If the goal of both crafting and gift-giving is  to bring more joy, peace and love into your season, your growing to-do list and mile-high expectations about what you'll craft and give this holiday (and how everything will be just. right.) is getting in the way of enjoying it all. 

Caturday means napping in the middle of the action.

So let's clear out the expectations and bring peace, joy and love back into your crafting (and gifting). Here are three suggestions for de-stressing your gift-crafting:

1. Find the enthusiasm.

I considered suggesting that you pare down your gifting list... but you know what's more fun? Finding the gifts you're really excited to give! 

To get a clear view of what you plan on giving this year, write it allll down*. Write down every person or thing you're going to give a gift to, from the office Secret Santa to every gift for every night of Hanukkah. 

Now take a good long look at that list. You might spot some people you really don't need to give a gift to, which is fine - take 'em off! But instead of looking at cutting, focus in on the people you are most delighted to give a gift to. Who always appreciates a handmade gift? Who is the most enthusiastic box-opener? (My mom wins this award. There's nothing better than her delight at opening a box to discover a handmade gift.)

Now take a look at those you're not enthusiastic about. Do you really need to give them a gift? Perhaps they're ready to retire reciprocal giving as well? (This is true for every other adult in my family.)

(Wondering how to bring it up? It's easy!  A few years ago my dad called me up to thank me for the Christmas gifts, and then said, "Just so you know, we're not doing gifts anymore, so don't feel like you need to send us any more!" Ah! Sweet release!)

The goal here isn't to give less, but to have more time, attention and even money to spend on the people who you truly long to shower with love. 

Strips: sewn. Now: ironing.

2. Accept that not everyone values handmade.

I know, it's pretty unbelievable. But not everyone on your list, even those who you are enthusiastic about giving to, will value your handmade gift as much as you value the time, energy, sweat and tears (you don't cry over ripping out seams?) that you put into it. 

Go through your gift-giving list and put a star by those you know really appreciate the handmade. (In my experience the only people who truly appreciate it are other crafters, or people who watch you crafting every night - i.e, partners and some very astute children). These are the people to focus your crafting on. 

I'd love to insist that you only craft for those who will appreciate it, but no one can resist a baby in a handknit sweater, even if the mother isn't the most appreciative. So craft for whoever you like, but with realistic expectations. Imagine the gift-giving moment falls flat ("oh...thanks?") and decide from there if it's worth it. 

Beau approves of the quilt. As long as I don't want to move it.

3. Get input from the recipient.


Whether you ask directly ("Would you like a handknit hat?") or secretly compile notes (on color preference, size, etc), get as much information as you can before you decide what to make*. Notice the handmade gifts the recipient actually uses. Pay attention to what she admires in stores (or on passing strangers). If secrecy isn't important, have the recipient help you pick the pattern, colors, etc. for maximum insurance. 

This knowledge will allow you to craft in peace, without constantly wondering -- Will she like it? What if she hates it?!

I keep a note in Evernote where I add anything a recipient points to and make a note of what a new bride or mom registers for (colors, patterns, etc), for future gifting. Diane has awesome ideas for keeping track of all this in Quilting Happiness

* Holiday Sanity was created for exactly this kind of list-making, gift-planning, and sneaky note-taking. 

And now... I have days of this ahead of me. #handquilting #quiltsbychristmas

Even if you follow the above suggestions religiously, remember to release your expectations for any gift. You can't control the outcome. You can only control the joy you feel when making and giving. (For more on how to deal with the uncontrollable, read this.)

For optimal emotional health, go on and release your expectations before you give the gift. Get clear vision of what you would like to happen and how you'll deal with it if the ideal scenario doesn't unfold. If there's something specific you'd like (a picture of the baby in the sweater?), ask for it clearly.

The quilt reveal! (As held by the brothers)

The key to staying sane as a gift crafter is to focus on all the joy you have in the making, and to untangle that joy from what the gift recipient does with it. Remember - you crafted the gift because you love crafting! 

Your turn: Who are you most enthusiastic to give to? Who most appreciates your handmade gifts?