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Too Many Toys?

Photograph by Getty Images

Ready or not, Christmas is around the corner. For many, this brings excitement, but for others, it brings stress.

I'm speaking to several groups this holiday season about moving from stress to simplicity to splendor during the Christmas season. I thought it would be fun to take a little poll to see what stresses everyone out and which solutions they have discovered. I will be sharing tips to simplifying the season over the coming weeks.

Today, I share a common stressor: too many presents! One of the most common complaints I hear is this: "We have to clean out and purge toys before Christmas because the grandparents buy so much stuff."

Or: "We have asked relatives to simplify gift giving, but it is X's love language, and she just can't help herself. She brings bags and bags of toys each Christmas."

Or: "We can never think of anything to get our kids because they have so much stuff."

This may seem like something silly to be stressed about, but it's actually not so silly. When you are trying to model Christmas being about Christ and not material gifts, it's really hard when kids are bombarded with the gifts ... and what kid doesn't like loads and loads of presents?

A closely related stressor for many people is the materialism and consumerism of Christmas: the pressure of gift buying, the draining bank account, and the ungrateful attitudes that begin to develop.

If you have been a reader here for awhile, you know I love to talk about creating memories and traditions. When our kids were little, we asked the grandparents to try to limit the amount of toys they gave our kids. Toys were bursting through every crevice of our home, and the more our kids had, the less they actually played.

At the same time, we wanted them to have something that went beyond Christmas morning, something of value, something that could create a memory. We began incorporating more experience types of gifts.

About two weeks after Christmas, our kids were unable to list the toys they received. And they certainly couldn't identify who gave them what because there was so much stuff, nothing had much value. However, the gifts they clearly remember and still talk about are the ones that created memories.

I love memory-creating, experience-happening gifts. One year our kids received a day of snow-skiing lessons from the grandparents as a Christmas gift. They still talk about it, and it was five years ago.

One year Andrew received eight weeks of swimming lessons for his gift. He still talks about it.

One year our kids received season passes to the local amusement park. They enjoyed that gift for months and even created sweet memories with the grandparents.

Not only do we as parents love these gifts more, our kids, do as well. Even if they don't realize it now, they will later in life. When they outgrow the latest video game, the newest all-the-rage toy people wake at 3:00 am to fight for, they will not outgrow the memories they created with a gift that is a moment with you or an experience they can hold on to.

Alternative Christmas Gifts for Kids

  1. Lessons: sports, music, art, etc. Do you have a child who wants to play the guitar? Do you have a baseball player who wants a few batting lessons? Do you have a budding artist? Giving a lesson gift also instills gratitude and appreciation in a child as she recognizes the expense of things such as piano lessons rather than simply expecting that she is entitled to it.
  2. Sports registration: A season of team soccer and a pair of new cleats or a session of swim lessons and a swim bag. Sports registrations are expensive, and again this is another way to teach children to appreciate the gift of playing team sports rather than simply believing they are entitled to play.
  3. Movie passes with a box of candy and a popcorn bucket. We love taking our kids to the movie theater, but it's a rare treat for our family of five. Giving the gift of movie passes allows us to enjoy movie trips through the year we wouldn't normally be able to enjoy.
  4. Hotel night away: Use points earned from travel or credit cards to save more money on staycations. Keep the night inexpensive and not extravagant at all, really focusing on the simplicity of time together. Grab pizza, play games in the room, swim in the pool, and just enjoy spending time together away from home.
  5. Tickets to a favorite sporting event, such as MLB, NHL, NFL.
  6. Gift cards to favorite restaurants.
  7. A favorite camp: Camps are expensive, and many kids love summer camps. Camps give a gift kids will get to enjoy months after Christmas has passed.
  8. Books, books, more books. Now, I don't feel about books the way I do about toys ... I think one can't possibly have too many books, and books are a wonderful way for children to spend time together with their parents, as well.
  9. A special kid night: This takes a little creativity but creates a day or night so special to a child that she will always remember it. If you are a grandpa who likes to fish and one of your grandkids likes to fish, plan a special fishing date for the just the two of you: Wrap up a little tackle box of a few fishing supplies with a note inside for a private fishing date.
  10. Future project together: Are you a grandma who loves to sew? Plan a day to create a special project piece with your granddaughter. Wrap up all the supplies and a picture of what you will create together along with a little note about when you will do this. Are you a dad who loves woodworking? Gift a project date for you and your son to build a project together, just the two of you.
  11. Coupon book of 12 one-on-one dates for the year, one coupon a month. The activities should not be expensive or extravagant but should focus on doing something in particular with that child, such as a trip to a favorite ice cream shop, an evening walk or bike ride or even an early morning breakfast out while everyone else sleeps.
  12. A collection: coins, baseball cards or stamps. Collections are fun for kids, but even more fun when someone they love gets excited with them and takes part.
  13. Groupons for bowling or skating: Each year we purchase a Groupon to the local bowling alley.
  14. Family gifts: One year we received a popcorn machine from my dad, and one year he gave us a soda machine. These have been so much fun for our family to use on movie nights or when friends come over.
  15. Are you planning a trip next year? Find a way to include aspects of that trip into Christmas gifts. Are you planning a ski trip? Give ski lift tickets and new gloves as part of their gift.

Kids love time, moments and experiences. Kids also love stuff, but stuff doesn't give much beyond the moment. Time, memories, and experiences go far beyond Christmas.

As a bonus, when you give gifts that you don't necessarily buy at a store, you effectively combat the consumerism of Christmas while you spend less and give more.

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