How to have the (simpler) Christmas you want for your kids while not offending others (or at least not too many others)

I used to anticipate Christmas. Now, having a child, it makes me sweat. What are people going to buy my child? How do I stick to my simpler values for Wade’s childhood while maintaining relationships? Pursuing simplicity during Christmas is like trying to join the opposite ends of two magnets, with tweezers, blind-folded.

  1. Communicate your desire to your family and friends. While keeping it short, tell them why you want a simpler childhood for your child. I tried to communicate the value of free play and open-ended activities. A great read is Simplicity Parenting. This book reveals how our toy culture creates anxiety and discontent in our children and how in contrast, play stimulates our children’s minds and creativity. I won’t lie – your conversation may be awkward. But you should try to explain your simpler philosophy for childhood one time. You may be pleasantly surprised with the result!
  2. Be okay with filtering what your child does receive. Your family and friends may not follow your request. Don’t be afraid to give away, donate (or trash) items that are unused or don’t fit your family’s values. Be a gracious receiver, but don’t let guilt make you amass an unwanted toy collection. Some parents have a one-in one-out rule with their kids. Others periodically clean out toys and have their children be a part of this process. Remember you are the parent; you are the filter.
  3. Compile a list of appropriate toys or non-physical gift ideas. Many people insist on giving gifts and will ignore the “your presence is enough” mantra, so give them some ideas rather than fight it. Ideas could include:
    1. Expendable gift cards like museum memberships, children’s performances, favorite restaurant or ice cream shop
    2. Contributions towards a play kit, for example:
      1. Creative Play Kit – create a list of (consumable) items like construction paper, pom-poms, glitter, pens.
      2. Dress-up Kit – ask folks to donate an unique clothing item, hat etc
      3. Fort Kit – create a list of fort materials for purchase, tubes, colored sheet etc.
    3. Money or scholarships – this is a less sexy gift and most folks will balk, but it’s still a wonderful idea. My son Wade is 16 months and already has a budding bank account thanks to a few family members. When I was 33 I cashed in the bonds my grandma bought when I was born. I used the money to buy a piece of furniture.
    4. Donation towards a specific item – Why not have a few people pitch-in for a really nice bike? Or if your child is very young, a Learning Tower?
  4. Take the focus off gifts. Instead of spending all Christmas morning or birthday party opening presents, engage in a new activity tradition. Have a euchre tournament, talent show, chutes and ladders contest etc. Make Christmas dinner together as a family. Decorate cookies to give to friends.

As mentioned above, one of my favorite “references” on simpler living is the Simplicity Parenting book and blog. I encourage you check out both. This blog post is particularly helpful for the gifting season. It has great ideas on how to remain simple while navigating parties, Christmas, birthdays etc.

What are your ideas for maintaining simplicity during the holidays?


the best gift is still wonder


2 thoughts on “How to have the (simpler) Christmas you want for your kids while not offending others (or at least not too many others)

  1. These are great ideas, Jen! I have found, especially with Mia (at the ripe old age of 6) that the toys with all the bells and whistles are the ones that lose their appeal quickest. I can always depend on crafts, books, dress-up, play-doh, etc. Your suggestion for a museum membership made me chuckle. Last year after someone asked for suggestions, I communicated that we would really like a membership to the children’s museum. That person evidently thought getting the membership was too difficult or time consuming and instead gave the money directly to Mia, not specifying what it was for. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that when I took that money from her, crushing grand plans to the toy store, a museum membership suddenly became a whole lot less exciting than if she had opened an envelope with her “own” membership inside.

    • Oh Lara – that is funny and sad 🙂 I think what you said is right – rather than a special gift, it became a consolation prize. The bells and whistles – it is true for Wade too, though younger than Mia. I have a few great toys we love but mostly its boxes, containers, and tools 🙂 I think sometimes the greatest temptation is for me to buy things b/c I get bored with “our play!”

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