Our Gift-Giving Makeover


I love gifts. I love choosing, wrapping, and giving gifts. I also love receiving gifts. If you follow the book The Five Love Languages, you will understand that gift-giving is the primary way I express affection. So Christmas gift shopping and wrapping is a fun, if significant, task that I undertake each year.

Our kids are pretty grateful. They are genuinely excited to receive a gift and are appreciative to the gift-giver. They know that writing thank you notes is an expected part of receiving a gift, even if there is occasional grumbling. 

But this summer, as we prepared to head back to school, we tackled some closet cleaning and toy sorting. I was aghast to find that several Christmas gifts untouched in their original packaging in the kids’ closets.

Maybe part of it is a function of shared custody, with the kids living at our house only 50% of the time. Maybe it’s because we have too many toys. Or maybe it’s because our kids love to play outside whenever we will let them. And when they are stuck indoors, they love to create art projects and use Play-Doh at the kitchen table. The gifts they receive are always great for the ages and interest levels. But they are going to waste on a shelf and that makes me sick–and embarrassed–inside. 

So we had to make a change. We have now begun to seek out experiences to give the kids instead of toys and things. Even though it was my idea, I still have to remind myself that just because the gift isn’t a toy doesn’t make less of a gift. I had to get more creative about what I was buying and wrapping.

Gift-Giving Makeover: Birthday Edition

For our daughter’s 9th birthday, she and her dad went to see a stage performance of Cinderella. She loved the quality time with her dad! And for our son’s 7th birthday, the four of us went to see Disney on Ice (I think his favorite part was the smoothie we bought from concessions). Last year, we cut way back on Christmas gifts and unveiled our plan for a summer trip to Disney as their main Christmas gift. I was delighted that my in-laws took this same approach for my birthday last year, gifting me tickets to see the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Yuletide. But even with these changes, we had a stockpile of unopened toys in the closet. Something had to change.

I am blessed with a large family who all want to celebrate the kids’ birthdays and Christmas with gifts. This year, I gently spread the word that we have more than enough toys. We have so much STUFF. We need less, not more. So I asked that they consider gift cards to restaurants the kids love (we try to limit how much we eat out). Whether it’s ice cream at Dairy Queen, a gift card for a pizza with the toppings of their choice, or sandwiches at Jimmy John’s, our kids loved the chance for an extra treat they wouldn’t have otherwise had. There were still a few toys and other things to open, though. After all, they are only little for a while. I know the days of requests for toys won’t last long!

Gift-Giving Makeover: As they get older

I’m keeping a list of neat opportunities to consider for the future. Perhaps we will give a cooking class certificate wrapped with a kitchen gadget, tickets to a sporting event wrapped up with a team t-shirt, or an overnight at a hotel with a great pool or water park. Indianapolis is home to lots of great activities for all ages. Golf courses, Indy Car loops around the track, the Children’s Museum, the Indianapolis Zoo, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Repertory Theater, Dance Kaleidoscope, Indiana Pacers, Indianapolis Colts, Indianapolis Indians, Indy Eleven, Indy Fuel–the list is long! Consider a pair of tickets to an event or a game, a subscription, or a special lesson or behind the scenes interaction.

This year, Santa will bring a few toys for each of our kids. Their Christmas gift from us as parents is a “Mystery Trip”. We will drive a short distance (3 hours or less), eat pizza, sleep and swim at a hotel, and visit a local museum. We hope to make that an annual gift as they get older, adjusting the location and activities to fit their ages (and our budget).

If you want to see how this could work for your family, here’s a great blog post and an article to get started. My favorite article shares a great list of non-toy gift ideas for all ages. What non-toy, non-clutter gift ideas have you discovered or received?