We used to be one of those overboard families on birthdays and Christmas.
Then we ran into major financial trouble, and we had to start seriously reassessing how we were doing things.
This ultimately led to us adopting the Four Christmas Gift Rule.
Then this past spring, a professional organizer helped me get my act together (and get rid of a whole bunch of crap in the process), and that was really the moment I realized we just have too much stuff.
And stuff wasn’t making any of us happy.
But it was definitely pissing me off, because nobody was taking care of all their stuff, and I was the one who was cleaning all of it up.
Then I read this article about how traveling brings you much more long term joy than stuff does, and I wrote this post encouraging people to buy less stuff and DO more stuff with their families over the holidays.
And then I thought, I should ask everyone what kinds of things they do or gifts they give that aren’t actual “things” that people can get and/or do rather than piling more crap their kids won’t even thank them for and will no longer play with once December 27th or 28th rolls around into their houses .
And you guys gave me some great ideas.
So I have compiled them here for you. And maybe you can pick one or two in lieu of some of those gifts you were going to get your kids for Christmas this year.
Two side notes before I get to the list…
One, if you are an over-the-top family at Christmas and you are ready to scale back and make a change and do more stuff rather than buy more stuff, you might want to give your kids a heads up. Prepare them for the change. There is a good chance they will push back at first or complain. They may even cry. (This reaction is an indication that maybe they aren’t focusing on what they are receiving and rather how much, and maybe a change is a really good thing). They will get over their disappointment. And you will all be happier in the long run!
Two, since we got rid of cable, our kids don’t ask for a whole lot of toys and junk because they aren’t seeing any commercials! You have no idea how influential those f*$%ers are until they aren’t even a presence in your life anymore! (So if you are on the fence about cutting the cable cord, there is one more bullet point in the “pro” column).
Okay. Now onto the list!
1. Sports lessons
These things are expensive! It is not a bad idea for your kids to comprehend how much money these types of things cost. And sometimes it’s nice to give something a trial run to see if you want to commit to it. A month of karate lessons. Ice skating lessons. Swim lessons. These are great gifts!
“We never know what toys to get for our nieces and nephew. This year we are getting our oldest niece a month introduction to karate which includes 2 lessons a week and her uniform.”
“My oldest son has chosen a Chicago Bears game and next year wants to go to either the Bulls or Blackhawks.”
4. Tickets to a concert or the theater
“When I was a young one (many moons a ago) my uncle took my brothers, my cousins, and me to a play every year for Christmas. Sometimes at a local theater in my home town and when we were a bit older, in Boston. It was always a favorite for all of us.”
“I like to get my nephew (9 years old) tickets to see a show at one of a few local theaters. This year, it will probably be The Lion King. A few years ago we saw Blue Man Group, and we have been to various local community theater productions. I love the idea of exposing him to live theater and he looks forward to the shows.”
“We are taking our daughter to see Disney on Ice!”
5. Spend a day in the city
We live less than an hour from NYC, and we still have yet to take the kids in to see the following suggestions. But now that Number 7 is five, I think we may be ready to give it a go! (And I’m sure there are plenty of great things to do in other cities as well).
“So spoiled by living in NYC. We always spend a day looking at the dept store windows at Saks and Bergdoof and Goodman… Rockefeller tree… Sometimes, we go to the Met too. The markets at Union sq and Columbus Circle.”
“Our kiddos know their big Christmas present is our annual trip to Chicago where we enjoy Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier, sightseeing, etc.”
“The NY Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show is really beautiful.”
“We live in the Boston/Providence area. Lots to do. Christmas train to see lights at Edaville Railroad in Carver, see the famous Jordan Marsh window displays now at Jordan’s Furniture, Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village.”
“Mine is a little high, but we purchase tickets to a professional game – basketball or hockey and spend the night in the city over break. We get to see the decorations, stay in a fancy hotel, eat a great breakfast, and the boy gets to see an NBA game!!”
“We live in Wisconsin. For a Christmas gift for all nieces and nephews my sister in law plans a “family day”. We choose a muesum to go to in Milwaukee typically or in the area. We all pitch in and make a lunch and then go spend the day doing the activities.”
“Anyone in Illinois I would suggest Festival of Lights in East Peoria. It is not that expensive, and it is cheap to stay in Peoria, IL. Lots of fun shopping and eating.”
6. Go skiing for the weekend
If you coordinated this gift with a relative who wanted to get something for your kids, they could spring for a couple of ski lessons for while you are there!
“My mother gave the older children ski passes.”
7. Go to an indoor water park.
I love this one, and we can’t swing it this year, but hopefully next year. Many of my friends have been to Great Wolf Lodge, and now they have them all over the country! So maybe a trip to Disney isn’t realistic for your family. But I know my kids would flip if we surprised them with a weekend at an indoor water park!
“We take our kids, grown and with kids of their own, for a water park adventure. We started it three years ago, and it’s the best thing ever. No one needs more crap, more stuff, more whatever. It also allows us to have some personal time with each and every one of my lovely children. It’s about time, not things.” (Grammy and Papa… are you reading this one? 😉 )
“Some friends of ours get a family pass for the indoor waterpark at the ski resort near our town. Not all of us are downhill skiers! They have 3 boys and they get a 3-month pass, enjoying the indoor tropical warmth during the winter!”
8. One-on-one time with a relative
I need to convince my brother on this one, but I’d love to stick a couple kids on a plane and send them down to Georgia to visit with their uncle 🙂
“Two years ago I gave my parents and my in laws a calendar with 4 weekends throughout the year crossed off. I told them they et to do whatever they want with our kids that weekend. (And i got time to myself!!!!!) One weekend my dad took my daughter on a princess date. She wore her princess dress and they walked to the shelter belt at the end of their road to watch the monarch butterflies migrate. Such great pictures!”
9. Spend New Year’s in a hotel
I love this idea! Even better if you do it with another family!
“Last year my husband and I booked a couple of rooms at a hotel for New Years Eve. It wasn’t expensive at all. About 99 per room. The grandkids swam in the pool, we played board games in the lobby and the hotel ( Hampton Inn) had snacks and noise markers at mid night. Great family time and the kids still talk about it. This was in Cape Cod.” (Grammy and Papa… are you also reading this one? 😀 )
“We got our kids (us too) season passes to six flags for Christmas, also thinking I’m going to grab some passes to some of the Chicago attractions, and of course a zoo pass.. all for Christmas, so over having tons of toys around…”
“We’ve done pool passes for the following summer, Hershey Park season passes, etc. This year we are thinking Ski lift season passes.”
11. Family pass/membership to the local rec center/gym/trampoline park
My kids love the trampoline parks and play areas, but they are expensive!
“We usually get a family pass for the local rec Center from grandparents for Christmas, and enjoy swimming, skating, the field houses and gym year round:). And hoping to add a family pass for the local ski hill to Santa’s sack this year!”
“In the past we have got a family membership to the zoo, passes for an indoor trampoline park, museum passes…”
12. Art/cooking/knitting/ etc. classes
Last year Number 4 learned how to knit as one of her Christmas gifts, and she has been dying to take cooking classes. That would be a perfect gift for her!
“Paint studio, do a drop in class with kids, or same with a pottery painting place…”
There you go!
Twelve great suggestions to help you kids have more experiences and less junk.
And take it from this mom ( I love my Canadians):
“I am in Ottawa Canada. I started 3 years ago telling family members that any toys/junk bought for our three kids would be donated to charity immediately after Christmas as we need no more in our house. Thus far some of the experiences my kids have benefited from are, hip hop lessons, cooking lessons, lunch and movie with Grandma, a shopping trip to the USA, a clay painting class, many trips to local kid “fun centers” and my absolute favorite of all time!!!! A 1 year unlimited membership to a play center for all 3 kids. Could bring them and let them run wild and I could get some peace!!!!! I’m all for this less waste and not having more junk in my house.”
Katherine Perry says
I was disappointed in the content of this article as I was hoping for ideas that were not so myopic. What about donations to worthwhile causes in the kids’ names? A trip into their community to volunteer with and help others in sustaining themselves and/or the environment?
B. Corr says
I think the idea was to be engaged in an activity together and create memories. Each person’s ideas of what to do for an outting would be based on individual interests. My kiddos regularly volunteer with family members but they also love fun outtings at many of the types of places in this article. As their parent I feel it creates balance in their lives. Assuming people can’t have different ideas and ways to create memories is actually “myopic”.
Linda G says
Yeah. I tried that for years. Who listened to me? No one. We wound up with the crap because everyone wants to give something “tangible”. Good luck.
Holly Elliott says
I told my Mom that my daughter needs NO toys, she seriously doesn’t play with them. But she LOVES outings and being on the go. I recommended getting her experiences, but I knew that my Mom would say, “But that’s not fun to open.” SO…for Dance lessons, get her a leotard to open with the certificate. A zoo membership, get her a t-shirt from the zoo. The Children’s Museum Membership – get her a book from their gift shop, relating to one of the exhibits (we are in Indianapolis and have a world renowned Children’s Museum). Art class, get her some paints and paper, or a fun apron to wear at class. That way she’d have something tangible to open with it, but it wasn’t just stuff that she won’t play with or use.
Glenda Melnic says
That’s a great idea!
Kathryn Morris says
After my friend and her 8 year old daughter visited us in Florida from the UK, I got her daughter a manatee ‘adoption’.
It came with photos, lots of information and a small cuddly manatee.
She told everyone it was her favorite gift and I renewed it every year for about three years.