Gift-giving comes with built-in stressors: Will the recipient like it? If they don’t like it, will they feel misunderstood? Maybe their cousin already got them a lifetime supply of socks with clever sayings. Or maybe they’re the person who already has everything, so buying them anything at all feels risky and redundant. Add in holiday crowds and a fast-approaching deadline and the stress multiplies. You have to find the perfect gift for your significant other, your office Secret Santa and everyone in-between, all on a tight timeline. For some, hitting the mall can be stressful on the quietest day of the year. Hitting it mid-December can enervate even the savviest shoppers. We asked three expert shoppers to share their best tips for facing down a long list of gifts and a crowded arena. Here’s what they had to say.

Sarah Edwards
Edwards is an event producer, creative strategist, fashion icon and co-founder of the semiannual sartorial event, Fashion Week MN.

Make a connection. Shopping local and supporting local brands can mean paying a higher price point, but ultimately it translates into a more rewarding experience. “I think it’s fun when you can connect with whoever owns the shop,” Edwards says. Local, handmade, and one-of-a-kind gifts tend to be more enjoyable to receive, too.

Make it a family affair. If you’re shopping for your significant other, bring the kids along and talk to them about why we give during the holidays, Edwards says. This can transform the experience for you and make the gift selection process even more meaningful. No kids? Make a day of it with a friend or family member.

Design your day. Got a few boutique-filled neighborhoods you’ve been eyeing? Plan to hit different parts of town to turn a marathon shopping session into an mini-Twin Cities tour. An example route: start in Excelsior, hit Linden Hills, then finish in the North Loop (where you treat yourself to a fancy cocktail). It’s a pick-your-own adventure, complete with gifts!

Consider (gasp!) buying fewer gifts. Instead, bake for your neighbor, donate to a worthy cause in your sister’s name, write meaningful letters to the people who have made a difference in your life. There are so many wonderful ways to give without having to head out into the arena to get.

Patric Richardson
Richardson is the owner of Mona Williams boutique in the Mall of America and a local laundry celebrity.

Don’t fear store employees. When a sales associate asks whether they can help you find something, say yes, counsels Richardson. “In a weird way, your holiday is their holiday. They want you to be happy and your recipient to be happy,” he says. “My salespeople think it’s fun to find gifts for the hard to shop for people. You are not bothering them.” And if they select an item that isn’t quite right, don’t be deterred. Give them a second (and third) chance. A learning curve on their end is part of the process — and part of the fun.

Don’t fear the Mall of America. People have this perception of holidays (and weekends) at the Mall as pure chaos, like a Beatles concert with more strollers and worse music. “But the thing about Mall of America is that it is such a big place, even when there are a lot of people you can still get around,” says Richardson.

Think outside the (gift) box. Obviously, Richardson thinks of luxurious laundry-care products, which he argues can make someone’s domestic chores a little easier and more pleasant. If laundry logistics aren’t your recipients’ cup of tea, shop for one-of-a-kind vintage items or unusual-for-Minnesota gifts, says Richardson. His shop carries Bourbon candy from Kentucky, for instance.

Treat yourself. You don’t have to follow a one-for-them, one-for-me gift-giving game plan (though of course you can!), but “buy yourself a little something or stop and have a drink,” says Richardson. “Shopping should be fun. It’s not a race to get done; it’s a whole season and you should enjoy it beginning to end.”

Tris Nelson
Nelson is a personal shopper at Macy’s at Ridgedale.

Head for the department store. Her strategy for those in a hurry and with a long list is to head to larger department stores (of course she thinks Macy’s) that sell a wide range of products, including men’s, women’s, children’s, home goods and more. It’s the closest thing to one-stop shopping.

Work with a personal shopper. “It’s a free service with no minimums,” reminds Nelson, “and we’re here to help.” Personal shoppers can also save you time. Provide your price range and a bit about the person you’re buying for — their color preferences, interests, size, etc.— and a personal shopper will gather options and either have them waiting when you come in or send you pictures. At Macy’s, shipping is free.

Get a gift card. “If the person is an absolute challenge, get them a gift card,” Nelson says. People think of gift cards as impersonal, but they really aren’t, she says. What could be more personal than letting a person pick out what they really want?