For those of us blessed with everything we truly need, frenzied holiday shopping can be a soul-deadening enterprise. Stores have been decked out for Christmas since Halloween, and for months now a barrage of television commercials have been exhorting our children to want ever more new toys and gadgets. Now, with only a few days left, last-minute shoppers may be tempted to throw money in desperation at anything they can put a bow on.

While homemade gifts or baked goods from your kids may be meaningful presents for Grandma, they may not be as appreciated by your client or your sister-in-law--and there's not a lot of time for baking now anyway. So what to do? Evaluate your giving habits; are you giving out of habit, because you want to impress someone, or because you truly wish to? Survey your family and friends; they may be feeling just as overwhelmed as you are right now, and more than happy to simplify or make a gift to charity instead. And if you do shop, you can still do it more consciously: Buy products which are responsibly made, or which benefit a cause. Here are some ideas for rethinking your buying and giving strategy--even if you only have a few days left.

1. Give to disaster relief instead. In the year of the South Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Pakistan, getting everyone to do this may be the best idea of all. Young children can be excluded of course, but many grownups are perfectly happy to forgo sweaters, DVDs, bath oil or gift certificates as a means to be more generous to those in dire need. Oxfam, the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the International Rescue Committee are all good organizations to contact.

2. Give gifts that foster ongoing involvement and awareness. For children in particular, organizations like Heifer Project or the Whale Center of New England provide opportunities to learn about the issues they support. Heifer's gift catalog allows you to purchase a cow, goat, water buffalo or flock of chickens to give to a partner village in any of 50 countries around the world. The milk, eggs or offspring of these animals are used for food and for income generation, allowing recipients to become self-sufficient. Donors to the Whale Center can 'adopt' a humpback whale, receiving a photo, newsletter and CD of whale calls, all while supporting the conservation and educational work of the center.

3. Buy fair-trade, organic, sweatshop-free, and eco-friendly products. This is one of the easiest ways to shop your conscience. Crafts and clothing purchased from such sites as Global Mamas, Marketplace India, Global Exchange, and A Greater Gift/Serrv International are unique, beautiful, moderately-priced and sustainably-produced. For a wide selection of edibles and gift baskets go to Diamond Organics; they guarantee overnight delivery for everything organic, including meats, wines, candy, condiments, and more. If time is tight, consider gift certificates from these organizations.

Why not consider buying nothing?

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  • 4. Shop where you can donate at the same time. For example, Shop through the Amnesty International and Amazon will donate 5-10% of proceeds to Amnesty's human rights campaigns. Purchase World Wildlife Fund Beanie Babies directly from Ty Toys, and 6% of proceeds will go to the wildlife organization.
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