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Carers' guide to Christmas shopping

There are many reasons why Christmas shopping can be challenging for carers. From finding the time alongside caring, to being able to physically leave our homes.

Sometimes, it's difficult to know what to buy the person we care for, depending on their disability, managing tight budgets, on top of having to come up with ideas for family and friends too.

Illustration of a person wearing a warm jumper, with snow flakes around them.

And finally - who is buying for us, if the person we care for is unable to? Carers in our community have been sharing their tips for overcoming Christmas shopping challenges.

Top biggest Christmas shopping challenges for carers

According to carers in our Mobilise community, these are the biggest challenges around Christmas shopping. But we don’t leave it there - carers have been sharing solutions - practical and emotional - to make the best of it.

This Christmas shopping guide wouldn’t be complete, without a section on “What to buy an unpaid carer” - or rather “What unpaid carers REALLY want for Christmas”. A helpful section we might like to share around with friends and family.

1. Knowing ‘what to buy’ for the person we care for

Many of us found this challenging.

Finding suitable gifts for the person we care for can feel challenging. The person we care for may have a degenerative disability. Meaning their needs are changing over time. They may have a cognitive or learning disability which means ‘traditional gifts’ are not appropriate. We may need to find adaptive gifts.

“My Dad never leaves the house, so doesn’t really need clothes. Plus he hasn’t accepted his disability. It makes it so hard to buy for him.”
“Our daughter has no concept of Christmas and doesn’t ‘play’ in a conventional sense. It’s more a problem for us I guess, as she is unaware - but we like her to have some gifts like her siblings.”

Gift ideas from the community

  • Bird feeders, to pop outside the window, if the person can’t go out much or is in a care home.

  • Sensory gifts, like body brushes for gentle massage, acrylic mirrors for reflections, ribbons, and streamers too.

  • Tickets to a ‘relaxed’ panto performance.

"Can't go wrong with cosy pajamas and woolly socks. She may be bedbound, but I can make her feel snuggly and a little glamorous”

Condition-specific gift shops

Some charities run gift shops, with their specific disability in mind.

Below are just a few recommended by members of our community. A Google search of ‘the condition + Christmas gifts’ will bring up more suggestions. E.g. “Dementia Christmas Gifts” or “Christmas gifts for someone with dementia/ sensory processing disorder/ autism/ learning disability”.

2. Coming up with additional gift ideas for family and friends to buy

A big headache for carers is that after we have struggled to come up with a gift idea for the person we care for. We then need to duplicate our thinking for family and friends who are also looking to buy a gift and struggling.

Gift ideas from the community

Here are some suggestions from other carers:

  • Create a ‘wishlist’ on a site like Amazon or Etsy. We don't have to buy everything on our wishlist. Rather, it's a good starting point to store our ideas in one place. It's also a helpful way to see if they go on sale as opposed to impulsively spending.

“I have an Amazon wishlist, which I just add things to as I think of them throughout the year. Helps reduce the pressure in the run up to Christmas. I then just pay for what I’m getting and share the rest of the list with friends and family.”

  • If possible, can we ask for money towards a more substantial gift?

“We sometimes just ask for money, to put towards a ‘big ticket’ item, like a new bubble tube, a swing or an off-road wheelchair”

3. Cost-effective gifts for paid carers and support workers

Those of us lucky enough to have a great team of paid support around us, often want to buy thoughtful gifts to show our appreciation.

Challenges we have include:

  • Not knowing enough about them, to know what would make a ‘good gift’

  • Finding enough money

“My daughter has a team of about 15 carers around her, across different settings. They all do a fabulous job but buying that many gifts really adds up - and I want to buy something meaningful to show how much we value them”

Gift ideas from the community

  • Buy a ‘job lot’ of the same thing

“I normally get five or six Panettone, which I use for people I don’t know all that well - or emergency gifts when I’ve forgotten someone! The good thing is they have a longish date on them, so they don't have to be eaten in a hurry with all the other Christmas food!”

  • Split multi-packs to save money

“I bought a multi-pack of beautiful natural soaps. I split them into individual bars and tied a sprig of rosemary to each. Just a small gift, but they looked pretty and a little hand-made”

We can also shop for gifts at stores that give us cashback to save some money. For example, Matalan, H&M and Quidco have reward cards. Matalan also sends money off vouchers connected to our loyalty card a few times a year which is good for buying presents.

4. Getting out of the house

For some of us, getting out of the house can be challenging.

That might be because we’re unable to leave the person we care for. Or it might be that the person we care for wants to come with us, which creates its own challenges.

Gift ideas from the community

  • Save time by getting it all from the supermarket. Larger ones sell all kinds of things now, meaning we can pick up gifts alongside our groceries.

“I get my gifts when I go food shopping. This is great for me. I can grab clothes, books, plant pots, books, CDs and lots more. I also get the points back on my card!”

  • Take advantage of the online world. We can pretty much get everything we need online now and have it sent directly to someone else’s front door. Some companies even offer gift wrapping

  • Use the WelcoMe app. It can make trips out together (with the person we care for) easier. It’s a way of letting a business know we’re coming and what support we/ the person we care for will need.

And this year, Mobilise are making it possible for us each to send another carer in our community a Christmas card. Write your own festive message for another carer, and you might even receive one back ❤️.

  • Create homemade gifts. But only if we’re inclined and have time! For some of us, getting creative is part of our wellbeing toolkit. We can often surprise ourselves with what we’re capable of making. ‘Doing it yourself’ can be a therapeutic activity at home which takes us away from our caring role for a bit. It can be cost-effective and if we’re planning on being super creative, it can teach us a new skill.

10 DIY Christmas Gifts People ACTUALLY Want!

65 Best Christmas Food Gift Ideas

We can also try out these affordable creative DIY gift ideas from mini pallet coasters, to personalised decorative wall art designs.

5. Buying on behalf of the person we care for

When the person we care for also wishes to buy gifts for others, it can often fall to us to support them in this task. And depending on their disability, they might not always understand what are appropriate gifts, or may be trying to buy a gift for a person who has passed away. This can be an emotionally heavy situation for us.

There is no denying that this can be tough. Some carers suggested that just ‘going along’ with the idea was enough. That they didn’t always have to buy gifts.

For other carers, getting a ‘gift list’ from each person our cared-for wishes to buy for, could help to keep things on track.

6. Low budget and free gift ideas

As carers in the Mobilise community have generously shared, low budget gift ideas can be anywhere from buying multi-packs to save money, to choosing stores that offer rewards and redeemable points.

But we also acknowledge that not all carers have the means to spend money on gifts. So we've also come up with free gift idea options to consider.

1. Bringing the good ol' pen to paper

Words have the power to lift people's moods, bring out good emotions, and offer personal reassurance. Simple ways we can gift people the power of words can be through writing meaningful poems or messages. Here are a few of popular heart warming poems to get our brains thinking.

2. Baking

The great thing about baking is we can make lots of it! Baking for someone doesn't have to look as extravagant as the goodies shown in the 65 Christmas Food Gift ideas video. If we have the basic ingredients at home for baking, there are many ways we can get creative after. After all, who can say no to baked goods right? 😉

3. Regifting

There is nothing wrong with regifting something we don't use. It's just a way of us showing that we want that item to go to a loving home. And it's a good option for looking after the environment (as it is our wallets). Have a look around your home - is there anything we own that we think may be better loved by someone else we have specifically in mind?

What unpaid carers REALLY want for Christmas

Carers in the Mobilise community have shared some of the things they would appreciate as gifts!

1. Time off

No doubt this was the top answer. Carers want a break. Whether that’s a couple of hours or a full-blown night away. If you’re a friend or family member of an unpaid carer - what ‘time’ could you gift? And if you’re looking for more ideas, our guide to friends and family support is a great starting point.

2. Relaxation gifts for ‘me-time’

Carers in our community suggested that toiletries, such as for luxurious bubble baths, are always welcome for self-care. Giving unpaid carers gifts that allow them to take time out for themselves. See idea number one above!

3. A cleaner for the day (or a couple of hours!)

Who wouldn’t want to have a cleaner for the day? So we can put our feet up and not think about changing the bedsheets, taking out the bin, or doing the dishes.

Perhaps we can create a home-made gift voucher offering to ‘take their place’ for a few hours. A way for us to show that we care about them and want them to enjoy a day just for themselves.

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