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The gift to be simple

‘Tis the season, for many American consumers, when closets, basements, and garages fill up with fabulous new toys and the latest gizmos.

Or it can also be a season to think another way. Is it time to take stock of what gets put to use, and what seemed like a brilliant purchase back then but now gathers dust? Does every task need a new or specialized gadget—hot dog toaster, avocado pitter? Or are there some things that can be done perfectly well in a simple or old-fashioned way?

Take, for example, sun tea. Some folks own an iced tea maker with customizable controls for regulating brewing strength, from mild to robust. Others make tea with a jar, water, and tea left to sit in the sun or in the refrigerator. Both end up with tea.

Can’t find the popcorn maker or sold it in the yard sale? You can still make delicious popcorn in a pan on the stove.

While a snow blower might be nice once in a while, some folks figure a shovel is probably “good enough” and less expensive—they can make do, and get some exercise to boot.

So here’s an old-fashioned holiday thought: Before tossing that fancy new gadget in your shopping cart or clicking “purchase,” consider: Does Aunt Jenny need this? Will she use it? Do my nieces and nephews already have enough stuff?

Hands-on fun with conversation

Instead of playing video games alone in front of a screen, a deck or two of cards can bring family and friends together, with all the generations playing Crazy Eights, Hearts, or Go Fish.

Instead of sitting still, get up and get moving—and invite a friend to join you. Go for a walk in the dark and count stars. Or hike in the daylight and try to identify trees and birds.

Take a mini vacation from electronics—unplug from the Internet, cell phones,  television, all the electronic gadgets you already have—for a day or a week. Sing with friends. Go fishing. Look at old photos. Read books. Do something creative—cook or paint or knit or build something. Spend a few hours visiting with someone you’ve been intending to go see.

Sharing specialty gadgets

Some tools and gadgets do make a big job easier. When a chunk of the tree lops off in a storm and crashes to the yard, a good chainsaw can have real value. But instead of buying one just for yourself, consider creative alternatives. Many extended families or neighbors make informal arrangements to share supplies or tools they don’t use regularly—one family owns the chainsaw, another the six-person tent, another the extra-big stock pot.

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