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So What If I Give My Kids Used Gifts for the Holidays?

Photograph by Twenty20

We celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, so let's do the math:

2 Kids + 8 Nights = 16 presents.

So let's say I average $20 per night, that's $320 alone for the first holiday.

It's possible to buy a gift for under $10, but you can guarantee it'll make everyone's life miserable watching it fall apart before the 8th night of Hanukkah. Been there, done that.

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Christmas arrives a couple of weeks after, and if there are less than 10 presents for each kid under the tree, Santa will have greatly failed my kids. Opening presents on Christmas morning is a three hour event for this Jew. Also, Christmas is when the "real" presents are expected: the Big Kahunas like the Pottery Barn bean bag that's been eyeballed all year ( $100+) and the "drive-able" fire truck. In other words, I need an entire extra month's salary to do the holidays right and not come out looking like a major Grinch.

So this year, I decided to try something different. I bought my kids a bunch of "gently used" second-hand toys for Hanukkah.

It wasn't an entirely fresh concept. When Aria was 3, I found a cool set of vintage plastic dolls, complete with doll house and furniture and gave it to her for Hanukkah. She went nuts for it. She still has them today, six years later. She was young enough not to recognize just how '80s the family was and it was a huge win-win for me ($12 for a massive bag of these peeps).

Could I get away with this without my kids noticing?

But as my kids got older, there was no way I could get away with this. Kids like shiny things in cool boxes, not used toys in a ziplock bag that have been sitting on a dusty shelf in a thrift store. They know what's hip and happening on the block. They want toys that are emphatically in vogue.

The older my kids have gotten, the more sophisticated (read: $$$) their lists Santa have grown. But this year I had to shop super conservatively. Here is what "super conservative" looks like: a trip to a consignment store where you trade used toys, baby items and clothes for credit or more used toys, baby items and clothes. I'm a huge fan of this barter system. I do it all the time with my own art and services. So why not do it when I really need it most in December?

I was like a kid in a candy shop, pulling down whatever I could find: a used box of Twister ($2), Build Your Very Own Volcano! ($9), Make a Birdhouse ($4) … the list goes on. I felt ecstatic. I was singing that "Reduce, reuse, recycle" song as I carefully studied re-taped boxes to see just how worn they were. "Could I get away with this without my kids noticing that what they were getting was not new?" I thought. The great news is when I brought my pile to cash register it turned out I had credit from some clothes I had dropped off during the summer. Total for five gifts?

$1.07.

The Twister box was a bit of a mess, but who needs the box anyway? It's not like you need to keep it for directions. This is when it occurred to me, why hide the fact that this loot is second-hand? Of course I would only present gifts that were fully in tact, with all their parts and fully functional. The store only carries quality used items, so that was a given. It's really only the packaging that shows a bit of wear and tear and in some cases, have never been opened at all. Why not celebrate it?

Let's be grateful that we are in a #blessed enough situation to even receive any gifts in the first place.

As I shopped, I started to ideate on all the amazing ways I could present this concept of inheritance and the value in the thing itself, not the wasteful packaging, to my kids. What started out as an attempt at cheap-o corner cutting evolved into a full on life manifesto. It's not the package but what's inside! Why contribute to more wastefulness? We have everything we need; the rest is just icing on the cake. And of course, let's be grateful that we are in a #blessed enough situation to even receive any gifts in the first place, gently used or not.

And it worked. Tonight's gifts were a huge hit. First of all they didn't even notice that the box was a bit torn and a page of a book a bit frayed. I realized the most fun part for the kids is opening gifts. The biggest complaints were about the new things that were sent from family members: the pajamas from Pottery Barn with ice cream cones on it, when Aria wanted donuts, the remote control ambulance that broke after 20 minutes. Twister, on the other hand, was a massive hit.

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I wanted to let them know that tonight's gifts were second-hand. I was a bit concerned with how they might react and prepared myself for variations of "Mom are you kidding? That's gross. I don't want something some other kid had!" But I stuck to my guns and was totally transparent about what at first was going to be a rouse and then became "how cool it was to embrace reduce, reuse, recycle for Hanukkah and Christmas."

Their response? A mild shrug. They were too busy playing a viscous game of Twister to care.

Explore More: advice, toys, holiday, Hanukkah, Christmas
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