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Global supply chain horror stories have some of us running scared about being able to find—and receive in time—thoughtful gifts for those on our list this Christmas. Usually by now, I’ve finished most of my shopping, but this time around, I’ve barely begun. I normally have so many ideas, months in advance, but this year, I’m struggling.

While talking to one of my best friends, Diane Tarantini, she shared what her family is doing again this year for Christmas, and it made me wish my family would follow their lead. Every year, the Tarantinis chooses a theme for their gifts to each other.

“It makes shopping and gift-opening more interesting,” said Diane.

Last year, their theme was local. Another year, each person chose a color and all the gifts to them had to be in that color. Once, the requirement was that all gifts had to come from a thrift shop, and another year they had a rule that gifts had to be something homemade.

This year, their family’s theme is “relax.”

I’m envisioning ambient music, books and magazines, bath bombs. Maybe a gift certificate for a massage, or a class on giving massages.

While it may seem as though adhering to a theme could make shopping more difficult, I suspect it would be just the opposite. The forced focus of having to find something within those parameters might make the field of gift possibilities smaller and easier to navigate. There have been times I’ve been in a big box store, trying to decide between too many options, and end up leaving with nothing. This might help avoid that.

Most of my extended family members have nearly finished their shopping, so it wouldn’t work to switch now to a theme, but since my daughter hadn’t yet started, it wasn’t too late for us. Celeste is saving for a new place, and I just started a job that required a completely new wardrobe, so I suggested we go with a frugality theme, agreeing to only give gifts we find second hand.

Celeste lives right by a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and Don and I live between a few of the best Goodwills in Atlanta, with plenty of thrift stores and flea markets to choose from, so the challenge is fun.

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The problem has been the hilarious temptations I keep facing, having to fight the allure of gifting my girl with a black velvet clown painting or a plastic-faced Santas or some oddly flat taxidermy projects.

I imagine it says much about the kind of parent I’ve been that such things would be enticing at all, but I know my girl well enough to know she’s fighting the same urge.

Don and I visited a flea market over the weekend that had such a bizarre array of gift possibilities that I texted Celeste: “We’re Christmas shopping at the flea market and I’m starting to think your real present this year might be all the stuff we DON’T buy you.”

She suggested we start taking pictures so she can be even more grateful.

I guess there is no reason an individual can’t choose their own theme and go with it. For instance, I have a writer friend who gives nothing but books to those on her list. One year, she gave everyone the book that meant the absolute most to her, the one she says changed her life. Other years, she has selected specific titles based on a memory or an inside joke she had with almost everyone on her list.

Another friend does board games for the kids and makes a point of spending time during the visit to learn and play the game.

Next Christmas, I definitely want to try to get everyone on board with choosing a theme, or maybe even do multiple themes, writing down a variety of suggestions and drawing them out of a hat.

As for this year, I might choose my own. I just need to decide between bad taxidermy and black velvet paintings.

Karin Fuller can be reached at

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