A million years ago, I worked at The Body Shop. The Christmases I spent there were a crazy whirlwind of White Musk, gift boxes, shrink wrap and heat guns. Without fail, on Christmas eve you’d get the desperate (but soon to be satisfied) customer scrambling for a gift. Also without fail, there’d be the frenzied customer that left you with their gift to wrap, but who sadly forgot to return for it. Yep, the nightmare before Christmas.

I was forever perplexed how customers would leave their present shopping to the last minute – it wasn’t as if they moved Christmas day on us each year? My older and wiser self has a little more compassion and understands the best laid plans sometimes go awry, and the best of us can experience the last minute panic of finding a gift.

But there is an organising system that can save you time, money and your peace of mind. More importantly, it can help you bypass Christmas Eve and The Body Shop. It’s called a present box.

The gift(s) that keep on giving

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a present box is a place to store gifts you collect throughout the year to give to friends, family and acquaintances for any event, big or small. 

I can’t recall when I started my present box, but I can tell you it’s saved me about a thousand times! While I still do love a clutter-free gift idea, there is something satisfying about opening up the present box and finding long lost and precious treasures. It’s exciting to see a gem you forgot about or one you have been waiting with anticipation to give someone special.

However, while my present box is a saving grace most of the time, there are some dubious items that I’m unlikely to give to anyone. Like the novelty chopsticks I’ve had for a few Christmases that are only good for a Kris Kringle. I made a rookie mistake; instead of saving money and time, I wasted money on a random gift that I need to spend time getting rid of. 

So, in the spirit of giving, I’m sharing my tips to keep you from the same fate of the dreaded chopsticks. Instead, they’ll help you build and use a present box that keeps on giving back to you.

6 tips to create the ideal present box

1. Buy with intent

Avoid buying random items in the hope someone might like them (i.e. chopsticks), only to discover nobody will (exceptions to this rule are in tip 6). Instead, list the family, friends, colleagues, carers or acquaintances you’ll need to buy gifts for in the year and brainstorm ideas (including clutter-free gifts) for them. Keep your list in your wallet, bag or phone for easy access and inspiration when you’re out.

2. Buy on sale

If you know what you’re looking for, it’s easier to wait for the sales.

3. Label all gifts when you buy them

You’d be surprised when you open your present box a few months on and you have no idea why you bought a particular gift (chopsticks anyone?). Labelling also prevents you ending up in that awkward situation when you accidently regift an item you put into the present box to the person who originally gave it to you.

4. Remember you’ve bought the gift

It happens to the best of us; realising a gift is already in the box after spending money on a second one. To avoid this, draw up the coming year on a piece of paper and add all occasions you’ll need a gift for in each month (for example, in August I’ve got Mum’s birthday). Keep it somewhere visible (mine’s on the door of my pantry) and mark off the occasion when you’ve put a gift for it in the box.

5. Review your present box through the year

I recommend doing this at least twice a year to remind you what you have (see above!).

6. Keep two token gifts for emergencies – sometimes you’ll need them!  

A present box can be a godsend when you don’t have time to buy a bunch of flowers or box of chocolates. Keep only a few gifts (preferably unisex) to prevent them becoming your version of chopsticks that end up costing you money and real estate for no gain. My go-to gifts are hanging ceramic wardrobe scents (small but beautiful), leather-bound notebooks (good unisex gift), a beautiful mug (Marimekko is a fave) and children’s books.

Remember, it’s the people in our lives, not the gifts we give them that are most important. Having a present box, however, can take the mental, physical and financial stress out of finding and giving a gift that reflects how much the person means to us.