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Staff file photo by Erin O. Smith / Ornaments from a Christmas tree at Merchants on Main in December 2019 in Chattanooga.

Got some last minute gift-giving to attend to? Don't we all. But come on! Isn't there enough stuff in the world already? Didn't you and your sister just have a competition to see who could clean out their closets first? How much junk did you unload in a yard sale last summer? Aren't the best gifts the ones that come from our hearts and minds?

The clear answer to that last question is yes and yes, so let's put our hearts and minds to work.

It's no secret that I'm a big newspaper fan, and this recent Washington Post story beginning stopped me short: "'Tis the season of joy, hot chocolate and, it turns out, an avalanche of consumer waste." Yeah.

The report goes on: "Bows, bags and other holiday material add 1 million tons of trash to landfills each week, according to the Environmental Protection Agency." All that just to give each other another sweater that will be worn once or twice and then recycled to Goodwill or sold for a few dollars at a yard sale.

Here's an idea. Give an experience instead, one that will create a sweet memory.

That might mean concert tickets to shows at the Tivoli or Memorial Auditorium. Maybe it's season tickets to watch the Lookouts. Maybe it's a yoga course. Perhaps it's as simple — and loving — as two days of babysitting.

It could be as easy as exchanging a few clicks. You click on MasterClass and PayPal, then later your son clicks himself into a class with someone he's told you he really admires — like Carlos Santana. Or maybe you buy him a year's free pass of classes, and online he can learn about everything from music to cooking to politics and economics. There are plenty of local classes and activities, too. Browse the websites of Southern Lit Alliance or Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, just to name two.

Maybe your mom is like me and loves to garden. Pay her way through four months of classes to become one of the Master Gardeners of Hamilton County. (The learning curve is steep and the deadline to apply is Jan. 7!) Or gift her a year's membership in the Tennessee Valley Wild Ones organization, a more laid-back group of gardeners whose motto is "Healing the Earth one yard at a time." They have everything from webinars to hands-on learning to the best garden tours ever.

Does your spouse get misty-eyed every time one of those animal rescue commercials comes on TV? Make a donation in his name and give him the cup or the stuffed animal or whatever it is they're giving away to remind you, and them, that you're helping. Better yet, make it local. Here. Now. Help and learn at Chattanooga's Humane Educational Society or the McKamey Animal Center.

Do you have a history buff on your list? Opportunities abound at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park — from walks and programs about Native American villages on Moccasin Bend to slavery's underground railroad to local Civil War battles and Reconstruction.

And did we say ancestors? Chattanoogans love genealogy. To find help and ideas, start at the Chattanooga Public Library in the Local History Department on the third floor.

Might your grandkids — or your granddad — like some piano or guitar lessons? They're available at big box music stores, but if you're really serious, give UTC's music department a call.

Do you know someone who needs a new light fixture installed or a beat-up door replaced? Spring for a new one and hire a local handyman to do the install. This is a twofer — you'll make your favorite aunt happy and give a local worker more grocery money.

Don't forget the folks touched by natural disasters like the tornadoes in Tennessee and Kentucky last week. There are plenty of "GoFundMe" sites like the one set up last week by Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, aiming to raise $100,000 for his hometown. If you're not into GoFundMe, there's the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, both of which are always active in local disasters.

Finally, give yourself a gift — one that will keep on giving. Get involved in your community — and not just in its volunteerism or recreation. Get involved in its politics. Not necessarily by running for office. That's really not where the action is. Get involved in moving politicians. Take some observations from the Hamilton County Voters Coalition which recently helped "move" the Hamilton County Commission and still are working to make sure the Hamilton County Election Commission pays attention. Don't get mad, get active.

Now that I've made my point about gifts from the heart and mind for the heart and mind, it's a good bet that you've still bought some junk to put under the tree.

But don't let that slip mean you contribute still more to the tons of material headed to the landfill. If you didn't save wrappings from Christmases past, don't buy more. Wrap your gifts in newspaper — Sunday funnies make them colorful. So will last Sunday's broadsheet newspaper wrapping page designed by 11-year-old Cora Stowe, the Thrasher Elementary fifth-grader who took first place in this year's Lin Parker Wrapping Paper Design Contest.

Speaking of the newspaper, it's another super gift. Give a subscription that let's your friend or loved one stay up to the minute with an iPad — provided by the Chattanooga Times Free Press — to read the digital edition of the paper.

This gift is good for the environment too, because by mid-2022 we won't be printing Monday through Saturday papers any more — only a Sunday print edition. Yet every day, you can read the same news and more on your new iPad. Meaning we (and you) will not be sending tons of newsprint to the recycle bin each year. Hearts and minds.

Giving is fun.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Feliz Navidad ...

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