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Presents of Mind

A clutterless gift guide, for those of us who have too much stuff

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THE HOLIDAYS ARE coming, the goose is getting fat, and some of us are already starting to panic. Like millions of other Americans, you might be one of those who are frequently overwhelmed by all the clutter in your oh-so-modern life: the stacks of paper, jumbled closets crammed with barely accessible jumbles of doodads and don't-dads, surfaces covered with stuff, stuff, and more stuff.

And now Christmas and Chanukah are right around the corner, with promises of an impending influx of new stuff from well-meaning relatives who don't realize you've never figured out what to do with the junk they sent you last year.

If you are a compulsive clutterer--and who isn't?--then you already know what the experts have said for years: a loaded Christmas gift is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

"Christmas is a hard time for clutterers," says Mike Nelson, author of Stop Clutter From Stealing Your Life. Nelson is a reformed clutterer himself and the founder of Clutterless Recovery Groups Inc. (www.clutterless.org), a national organization for those with a psychological block to getting rid of stuff. (Which is most of us. You, too. Come on, admit it!). "In the same way that chronic overeaters suffer heightened temptations during the holidays," explains Nelson, "clutterers can become overwhelmed around Christmas."

In other words, with so much new stuff around the house (things that carry a strong emotional element--like those sea-shell shaped throw pillows from Great Grandma, who's really a very nice person) Christmas only magnifies a clutterer's problems.

So then, what do you give the clutterer who has everything? And what should a clutterer put on the their Wish List?

According to Nelson, "A good gift is anything that doesn't take up physical space." Easier said than done? Not at all. It seems the world is full of unique holiday gifts that don't actually exist (like those stars you can have named after a loved one), or barely exist (like a share or two of stock in a favorite company), or only exist for a very short time, then disappear forever (like a nice 20-dollar bill). To locate such clutter-resistant gifts, you have only to know where to look. Here then is a short-but-sweet shopping guide for the clutterless gift giver.

Pretty Paper

"A gift certificate is a great gift in today's cluttered-up world," says Nelson. "Especially certificates for a nice dinner or some useful service, like a massage or an oil change." Truth is, gift certificates--once viewed as the tacky last-resort of the lazy shopper--have become a perfectly acceptable gift giving option. Nearly everybody who sells anything, from ice cream vendors and gardeners and interior decorators to piano teachers and veterinarians and chiropractors, will provide their services in the form of a per-paid, redeemable gift certificate. Think up a service your loved one can use, check the Yellow Pages, and ask about certificates.

Less Trouble for Santa

The planet is cluttered with cute Animal Adoption programs, in which, for a fee, a person can become the virtual "parent" of every kind of exotic critter from wombats to a ocelots. All essentially clutterless, there is no better such program for Christmas than the Adopt-a-Reindeer program offered by the Cairngorm Reindeer center in Aviemore, Scotland (www.reindeer-company.demon.co.uk/adopt.htm). Boasting a vast, free-roaming herd of Father Christmas' favorite four-hoofed beasties, the Cairngorm reindeer preserve uses all adoption moneys to care for the critters. For a mere 28 pounds (about $40 American), individual reindeers can be "adopted," with annual reports sent out to each "parent" detailing the conditions of the adopted animal. Having one's own reindeer is more fun than getting a new puppy, and, under these circumstances, a lot less mess.

Making Space

For those with limited interior space, give the gift of outer space: a trip to the planet Mars. Sort of. In 2003, NASA will be launching twin Mars Rovers toward the red planet. Once on the surface, these scientifically souped-up dune buggies will wander about examining stuff, relaying the findings to those happy eggheads at NASA. The cool thing is that on each Rover will be a compact disc containing the names of several million Earth Dwellers, just in case the Martians find the probe and want to know who the heck is responsible. To place your loved one's name on the Mars Rover CD, all you need to is log onto the NASA "Send Your Name to Mars" site (spacekids.hq.nasa.gov/2003). Each name is assigned an official serial number (this reporter is #2056738), and all names are stored in a searchable database that your loved one can use to find their own name, as well as other names--Ray Bradbury, for instance, and seven different people named Spock--which will also be flying to Mars. As such, this is the perfect, completely clutterless gift (and it's FREE!), but the clutter quotient can be upped, if only slightly, by printing out a very sharp, very frameable certificate proving that the holder's name will be walking the skies and landing on Mars in January 2004. Either way you choose, the Mars Rover name project makes a unique and imaginative gift. Besides, it's fairly safe to assume your loved one does not already have one.

Ducks in Row

The ultimate gift for a compulsive clutterer is the gift of a more organized living space. To help out, an army of Professional Organizers is standing by to offer their services (and yes, they too usually offer gift certificates). "Ultimately," says Nelson, "a clutterer will need to confront his or her reasons for being a clutterer. But at some point it's nice to get some advice from a professional." Such professionals usually charge about $100 an hour. For those on a budget, Nelson has a thriftier suggestion.

"My book makes a great gift," he says. Not being one to advocate the acquiring of more new things, Nelson adds a simple suggestion as to how to give your loved one the book without adding to their clutter. "Make them get rid of one book before you give it to them," he says.

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From the November 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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