Growing up in a family with five kids, two parents and a dog, the holiday season is an enduring memory of tradition and presents—lots of presents with wrapping paper at least a foot deep. To this day, I am not sure how my parents pulled off knowing exactly what we all wanted, being able to surprise us by keeping things hidden and then paying for it all on a middle-class paycheck.

Some of the gifts were practical, like my Girl Scout uniform or a winter coat, but I remember receiving a gorgeous Italian shoulder bag that my Mom had found on sale. I loved it because it was just a little different from what my friends carried.

My brothers and sister and I were instructed to give my parents a list of three things and we were told that we may get one or all three, depending on what they were able to find and afford. The idea was carried down to my children, who took it a step further by attaching print ads to the list, which not only gave information on where the item could be located but at what price. Even now I get a list (minus the pictures) that helps guide me through the holiday shopping experience of electronics, movies and Ga Ga music.

Of course there are stories of imperfect gift selections, like the four tires my Dad bought for my Mom that were stacked under the tree, or the used shoes covered in mud that I accidentally gave my husband.

Gift giving has changed with the millennium and the availability of gift cards, E-Bay, the internet and the practice of regifting. Shopping for the perfect gift has given way to convenience and sometimes, the ordinary. 

Here are some tips on finding the right gift for the right person:

  • Make a list and use it as your base. Get clues about what a person wants and personalize it with your perspective.
  • Buy in themes. For instance, a fashionista is thrilled with anything related to fashion and design—books, stationary, the box set of Project Runway, etc.
  • Shop locally where most of the stores are independently owned and offer unique merchandise. You’ll receive personalized service when dealing directly with the owner or trained staff.
  • Gift wrap is important. It doesn’t have to be costly—it’s amazing what you can do with something as basic as newspaper and colorful ribbon. Most boutique businesses gift wrap free of charge.
  • Buy things you would like to receive, even though you’re not going to keep it for yourself (repeat after me: you are not keeping it for yourself). Buying things you like can translate into things your friends would like.
  • Stay away from regifting—If YOU don’t want it chances are others won’t either.
  • Plan a day of shopping with lunch and/or a cocktail. Make this a fun experience.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, but dress festively. It will put you and others in the holiday mood.
  • Don’t stress getting a package there on time. Believe me; the gift will be just as fabulous on December 26th.
  • Recapture the meaning of giving. A smile, a laugh or a hug is what it’s all about, when there is a certain joy in getting it right.

All I want for Christmas is…I’m working on my list!