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Don't Come Undone: Last-Minute Gifts Everyone Will Love

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I always have thought of myself as a fairly responsible, organized person. I did pretty well in school. I helped my mother raise my three younger siblings, and they turned out all right. I had a lot of pets, most of whom enjoyed long, happy lives.

The point is, I like to have a plan and I like to think of myself as sticking to that plan. Yet procrastination seems to have defined my life to a much greater extent than ample preplanning.

A prime example of this mismatch between what I expect to happen and what actually does happen occurs each December in my mad rush to collect Christmas gifts for my family and friends.

I start each January convincing myself that I will do what I know works best: collecting gifts throughout the year as things that I know my loved ones will enjoy appear. This prevents both the gifting of junk they don't like or need and the overcompensating overspending that often accompanies knowledge that you are giving something generic rather than spending time trying to find a personalized present.

By March, I've collected a few perfect gifts, and by May they are collecting dust in the dark recesses of my closet. By July, I've forgotten all about my charge, and the subject of gift giving does not arise again until Thanksgiving, when I remember, horrified, that I have one month to pull everything I need together.

This year, things are going to go a little bit differently. I do have a number of gifts still to find, but I categorically refuse to give everybody gift cards. Instead, I've come up with three healthy, inexpensive and effortlessly personal gifts that we can give to just about anybody with great satisfaction.

Here goes!

—Make something useful. A personalized pillbox to help the recipient organize and remember to take her vitamins. A scented potpourri satchel made from natural ingredients, such as cinnamon or vanilla, so your friend doesn't have to resort to toxic fumes wafting from chemical diffusers. Or even a homemade body scrub using coconut oil mixed with salt (or sugar, for a less abrasive rub) and the zest of your favorite citrus fruits in a lovely jar. Functional gifts never get thrown away.

—Give them something to eat. A delicious and healthy homemade muffin mix in a jar with cooking instructions written on a lovely little tag, perfect for Christmas morning. (I've got a great recipe made with wheat germ, available now at TheChew.com.) Spiced nuts combining your favorite sweet and savory spices. Individual sachets for mulling wine or cider. Spices for making chai, collected in a decorative Mason jar. Help them cut down on the $4-a-day latte fix and you could save them $1,000 in a year. Who doesn't love that?

—Give the gift of you. The first thing on almost everybody's mind in January is how to take off the unfortunate weight that creeps up on us during the holidays. One of the best gifts I ever have received was from a friend who bought us both a two-month gym membership and offered to go with me four times a week for that time. The date with her made it that much more difficult to hit snooze. Moreover, we got to have the time together. The sneaky part is that this was a gift for her as much as it was one for me. At the end of two months, I had my routine in place, but it was her gift of time that had gotten me started.

Daphne Oz is a co-host of ABC's "The Chew." To find out more about Daphne Oz and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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