Not gonna lie sometimes Christmas presents stress me out. I’ve realized more and more that clutter drives me crazy. I HATE cleaning. So while of course I’m grateful for gifts for myself and the kids, there have been points where I have looked at the pile after the fact and thought, “Oh my gosh where am I going to put all of this??? How am I going to maintain this???” And then unfortunately the kids tend to play with some toys for like a day or two and then never touch them again.
I know I’m not the only person that feels this way because I keep seeing post after post in various mom groups on Facebook with other women asking how to tell their relatives to back off on buying so much stuff.
Grandparents tend to be the biggest offenders in this regard. Again, we LOVE you, and we love that you love our kids, and it’s beautiful that you want to be so generous. It’s just that sometimes that generosity can inadvertently turn into a burden.
I spent some time thinking about WHY this is happening and WHY so many of us in the current parenting generation are feeling this way. Here’s what I figured:
Our parents are Baby Boomers, raised by those who were impacted by the great depression. Money was tighter, family sizes were larger, toys cost more relative to available dispensable income, and in general values were a bit different.
I feel like there’s this collective memory of when times were hard. Of scrimping and saving to be able to afford a couple of presents for the kids. For me growing up, there were nearly 20 grandchildren on one side of the family, my grandparents couldn’t very well spoil each of us. We all got one small thing or a little bit of cash. But flash forward to now, in general our parents are in a better situation than our grandparents were in, the cost of toys has reduced relative to the level of dispensable income, and family size has reduced. My kids have one cousin on my side of the family, three on the other. So there’s more available money divided by fewer people.
Admittedly, 3 years ago Christmas pushed me into some major anxiety attacks. To be fair, I was only a few months post partum so that was certainly a factor in my heightened anxiety level. We live close to both of our parents which is AWESOME but also means that we do Christmas on our own, with my parents, and with my in-laws. So my kids open presents at least 3 different times. My son was 2 at the time and on our second round of present opening he got through a couple presents and then it was taking forever, he quit caring, he just wanted to play outside, the baby needed to nap, and I just got incredibly overwhelmed. My little brother took my son outside to play, and I disappeared to put the baby down and just thought, “This isn’t about Jesus, and it isn’t even fun anymore.” And then we still had more presents to open that day AND the next day.
By the end of it we had this huge pile of stuff, that I was of course so grateful for, but also was looking at and dreading figuring out where on earth to put it in my cluttered house that I was already struggling to maintain.
So after that I started trying to figure out how we could make some changes to refocus Christmas. It boiled down to spending the month of December focusing on Jesus and then significantly simplifying gifts.
While I try to find a Christ-centered tie in for everything we do around Christmas time, I’m certainly not opposed to doing things just for fun. Family traditions are good and important. One of the principles for a successful family outlined in the Family Proclamation is wholesome recreational activities. But, when it gets to the point where it’s not about Jesus and it’s more stressful than fun, it has turned into commercialism at it’s worst.
Watch for my post upcoming post on kid friendly ways to focus on Jesus throughout the month. But here’s some gift giving ideas to keep down the clutter!
If it has more than 5 pieces walk away!
That same anxiety ridden Christmas I mentioned earlier, a dear relative (may she now rest in peace) got us one of those magic trax cars. The track is made of over 100 INDIVIDUAL pieces. So if I turn my back for say 30 seconds, I now have over 100 little itty bitty pieces of track to clean up. It looked really cool, and yes my kid loved it, but it is the bane of my existence. The kids can’t put it together by themselves, put it away by themselves, or be trusted to play with it by themselves.
Consider how much time it would take to clean up if it got dumped, and if it will still work if pieces go missing.
If you’re not going to just walk away from it, at least ASK! Are you up for more legos in your house? Are you ok with this make up kit with over 30 pieces? Does Barbie need a completely new wardrobe?
Pay attention to suggested ages
Here’s the thing- if you buy my kids a toy that is above their developmental level, then you have actually purchased ME a toy. I’m gonna guarantee you that it wasn’t on my Christmas list.
Think fewer larger
Focus on fewer larger items. Disclaimer- always ask first to make sure there is space! Kids don’t need a million dolls, but a few dolls play well together in a doll house. We don’t need any more legos, but a lego table would be awesome for storage and creating. You can only play with a couple of hot wheels at a time, but having a cool track for them (that doesn’t rip apart into a million pieces) is awesome.
But larger doesn’t have to just be size or toys- which leads me to my next point
Focus on Experiences!!!
Memberships are amazing! We get free entertainment, out of the house, and no TV. Seriously the best. And the thing is that so many places are a bit too expensive to justify paying the one time entry fee, especially if we can’t spend a ton of time. But, most memberships pay for themselves in about 3 visits and then you can also just come and go without feeling like it has to be an all day excursion to get your money’s worth. So while a one time visit is a bit much to budget in for the monthly entertainment budget, a membership is typically within a gift budget especially if you combine kid budgets. Or even if the membership is still out of budget, one time visits as gifts are still awesome and create no clutter!
Here’s some memberships/experiences to research in your area:
- indoor play places
- amusement parks
- State Parks Pass
- National Parks Pass
- Concerts, plays, and other performances
- Pogo passes
The other thing I am seeing a lot of people do is use their Christmas budget to plan a family vacation. Most don’t necessarily go at Christmas time, but make the announcement the present. If you’re the grandparent you could definitely contribute towards the trip. Most amusement parks sell gift cards, so you could just buy a gift card for the amount you would have spent. Even if it’s not enough to cover a significant portion of the trip, every little bit helps, or it could be used for food/souvenirs.
Now experiences are all good and fine, but let’s be honest, membership cards and gift cards aren’t super exciting to open. And a trip is not something physical that can be wrapped.
For starters, my kids have still been super excited when they open up a print out with fun animals announcing that they get to go to the zoo. But, you can also find simple related items for unwrapping:
- A little animal toy for a zoo or aquarium pass
- I found fun color changing cups from the children’s museum to put the membership card in and wrapped those
- For a trip give them something they will need for the trip:
- a snorkel/ swimsuit/ towel
- matching Disney shirts
- something to do in the car for a road trip
- a book about the place you will be visiting
Subscriptions- the gift that keeps on giving
This is a similar idea as experiences and another things that creates limited to no clutter. Here’s some ideas:
- Disney +- wrap up some dress up clothes for their favorite characters
- Living Scriptures streaming, or another of the various Religious/ family friendly streaming services with VeggieTales, Owlegories, etc.- wrap a children’s scripture picture book
- KiwiCo, Little Passports, or BookRoo subscription box- if you order in time you might be able to wrap up their first box!
For adults consider:
- a streaming service
- Deseret Book plus
- there’s seriously a subscription box for any and every interest from hot sauce to fashion and cheese to camping
*When I got my husband an Audible subscription I bought him a super random book from a thrift store for $1 and put the confirmation email about the subscription inside the book. Then we re-donated the book, so it was fun to open but didn’t clutter the house!
Lessons and Clubs
Help pay for a few months of dues for sports, music lessons, or various clubs. Or buy them equipment for their interest:
- sports dues or equipment
- music lessons or the next level of books/music for the lessons
- accessories for their instrument (reeds, valve oil, etc.)
- cub scouts/girl scouts dues, uniforms, etc.
- Camps and other activities
Make Needs Fun
A month or so ago I saw a post in a mom group asking about Christmas presents for her toddler. Here were her stipulations. They already have too many books and toys to handle (I feel ya), she’s anti-screen time (good for you!), and they don’t live near any zoos or museums, etc. I was like wait, no TV AND no zoo- WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY???? And you just destroyed my whole gift giving suggestion list!
So I thought about it and then came up with this suggestion- get them things they need, but make them more fun:
- electric toothbrush with fun characters
- a fun hair brush
- Fun soap/ bubble bath bottles- you know that one with a character head on top that’s way overpriced. Hint- you can refill it with cheap soap after it’s empty!
- Fun socks/ underwear
No- not that kind! This is along the same lines as making needs fun. If you want to fill out and have a few more fun things to open look into food items that you wouldn’t typically buy. Stuff that is less cost effective, but more fun!
- Target has Unicorn, Paw Patrol, and maybe one other specialty Mac and Cheese from Kraft
- At another grocery store this week I spotted some Unicorn and Dragon pudding cups
- Fruit snacks come in almost every shape and character imaginable
- Popcornopolis has tons have specialty popcorn flavors
- Then there’s also just normal but favorite treats and snacks
Less is More
Those last two categories can be nice to fill out a few more things to open, especially if you did put most of the budget towards a larger item. But- don’t go crazy with filler things just for the sake of having lots of things to open. There’s definitely a balance to find, but I think better to steer on the less side than on the too much side. Leave them wanting more, rather than creating present opening burn out.
I’m sure there are some people out there, especially those that have gift giving/ receiving as one of their main love languages who do appreciate having lots of things to open, but for those of us that do not have gifts as a top love language, it can actually begin to cause stress and I know that no gift giver wants to do that.
Again, I hope I don’t come off as ungrateful. Of course those of us that feel this way are very grateful, but we’re also practical and recognize our and our family’s needs and boundaries. Best rule of thumb is to stick to a list and ask.
And finally, if you’re in a position to be very generous with your family, make sure you are also being generous with your time and resources to bless others who are not as fortunate. Stay tuned for a post on keeping December a Christ centered month, and how to incorporate Light the World for young kids.