Rethinking Gift Giving

My children do not need more toys.  Yet, I still provide gift ideas as they ask.  Recently I saw this article called The Gift of Not Giving a Thing.   It's worth the read! I wanted to take the time to really expand upon the idea of rethinking gift giving.

I admit, I like to give practical gifts.  Something to be used, appreciated, and maybe even enjoyed.  But what we really need more of is each other.

Below are just a few alternate ideas for children's gifts.  Don't think that it is only for young children; teens and adults need our attention, too!  (This was written with children in mind, but we all need more of one another.)

Bake with a Child (or YOUR Parent)  
Though I bake with my children on a regular basis, it's very special to do it with a child who does not live with you.  I actually did this years ago when I was a teacher (with no children of my own).  One of my dear students was having a difficult year with family medical problems.  Honestly, I don't remember how I approached her parents, but they seemed to think some one-on-one time for the two of us would be lovely.  We spent a couple hours baking (and eating) cookies, and then I sent her home with some, too.  It's a special memory for me.  If you intend to do this as a Christmas gift, you could provide a recipe book or the recipe, or the key ingredient (chocolate chips!) to be unwrapped.  You could even give them a child-size apron, like this one made from a hand towel!  (Note: Obviously one-on-one time should only be done with a child who knows you and trusts you.  The situation with my former student would likely not happen in this day and age.  Consider adapting it to a few special-to-you children instead of one.)

Visit a Park, Museum, Show, or Zoo
Want to introduce a child to "real" art?  A live giraffe?  Nature?   You could give the child a postcard print of a piece of art found at a museum you'll visit, a book about sea animals before visiting an aquarium, or a tree, bird, or nature guide prior to a walk in the park.  Take lots of pictures of your adventure to create a collage to include in a follow-up note!  A few years ago, friends were having their third child.  We asked if we could take their older children to the park instead of giving them a gift.  The baby and parents stayed home and relaxed while we gave the big kids some extra attention and picnicked in the park.  Gifting a membership is another possibility!  This could certainly be a nice gift for adults in your life, too. We have treated some family members to the show called Sight and Sound. We all

An Overnight Stay
As a child, I loved going to Gramma's house overnight.  We didn't really do anything extraordinary; it was just special to be together.  We do not have family near us.  It's tough because I have all these little nieces and nephews who are growing up and barely know Aunt Annette.  (That's a mouthful!)  I look forward to the time when I can invite these children to my home for a weekend.  This past summer a cousin, still in high school, did come to our home for a few days.  We had a great time together, though I think my children tired her out!  We cooked and baked together since she is interested in learning new recipes.  I introduced her to a couple of fun books...It was great fun!  I do know that working parents' schedules are not as flexible, but Christmas vacation and spring break might provide another alternative to a weekend.  If you want to kick it up a notch, you could take someone to a bed and breakfast, just remember to leave the tech gadgets behind.

Activity Opportunities
Little League, football, gymnastics, swim, ballet, soccer and other activities are costly to join, even for a season!  Our school charges for after school activities (instead of providing an aftercare program), so our first grader has not had the chance to enjoy any.  Providing the funds needed for an activity would be a great gift.  (Unfortunately, not all activities coincide with gift-giving times...)

Girl Time/Guy Time
Consider some special time at the batting cages, arcade, salon, or bookstore!  Even a breakfast or snack at your local coffee shop or bakery would be a treat for most children.  The best part is that the child in you can have lots of fun, too!  A grandmother I know gave her granddaughter special sewing lessons as a Christmas gift!

Adult Time
If you are considering the adults in your life, consider how to spend time with them or treat them to something they would not buy for themselves.  We took four generations to a Sight and Sound show of Jonah a year or two ago.  My friend explained to her son that she didn't want any gifts, just for him to call her once a week.  My father and I had an unusual lunch with just the two of us (and Little Sister) last summer when I was in town visiting.  It was wonderful!

Homemade Gifts
Though it IS a gift, homemade gifts are an alternative to traditional gifts.  Have a Little House fan?  Make her a pioneer outfit...or just the bonnet.  Star Wars fan?  Star Wars peg people!  Knit a hat, sew a purse, paint a picture....Or create a special play area like a children's construction site.  We have also made photo bookmarks for loved ones.  Homemade gifts never go out of style, though not every person appreciates them.  (Thankfully, my friends and family do!)

Education Fund
Being ever practical, I would love for family members to contribute to our children's education funds.  It might not be fun or create a special memory, but it would be helpful!

Don't forget that you can still give a standard gift like a puzzle or basketball and still enjoy it together!  My mother-in-law gave Big Sister a kit where you build miniature things from paper cut-outs.  It was a bit above Big Sister's abilities, but they completed it together over many Grandma visits.  When Grandma wasn't here, it was set aside.

This list is as much for me as it is for you.  I would love more ideas!  Would you leave your ideas and read others in the comments below?  I can't wait to see what you say!  How do you keep it meaningful?

Rethinking Gift Giving is part of our Preparing for a Less-Stressed Christmas.

Photo Christmas Card Alternatives: What to do when you cannot get a nice picture of your family.
Preparing Christmas Cards: Several ideas to prepare now for Christmas cards without actually putting them together yet.
Alternative Gift Giving: Give more time of yourself and experiences instead of more "stuff."
Christmas Gift Planning: Plan now for giving later.
Children's Christmas Letter Printable: Use a simple form letter to find out what the children really want for Christmas this year.

Would you join this Christmas journey with me? See all of the Less-Stressed Christmas posts.
~ Annette {This Simple Mom}


  1. I go back and forth with these arguments. On the one hand, I do agree that buying "stuff" for the sake of buying "stuff" isn't exactly a very kind gesture. Esp. not if you just feel obligated to give a person SOMETHING.

    I know that not everyone is very good at giving gifts (which is something that they should then practice doing to improve - but that's another argument all together!) and sometimes you wish a person would have given you nothing at all, rather than the thing they chose. (I know how that goes also.)

    In our family, we DO give gifts of time and activity. Jonathan's siblings, especially, are fond of that. Bookworm1's uncle gave him a coupon for "Three Hours of Lego Time", inviting him over to their house to play Legos for three whole hours. Not only was it an activity that he LOVED but he got to spend time with his Uncle and he had a FABULOUS time! So I think giving gifts of time and activity are GREAT - so long as you think about what theperson would actually LIKE to do. (Lego time was perfect in our case. ;)

    In all things though, I think it's really about thinking about what the other person would LIKE to receive (and would find meaningful). One of our wedding gifts was a donation in our name to an animal shelter. 1.) we're not animal people and 2.) we really had need of a few practical things when setting up our house. We thanked the person for the gift but I found it all together tasteless and obnoxious.

    So being considerate in thinking about what the other person wants -- even if it's not what YOU want to do - seems appropriate as well.

  2. (Wow. That comment went a bit long!)

  3. I've gotten some very positive feedback and some confused feedback from this idea. The positive folks aren't just looking for an *out* but are glad to have the pressure relieved and to be a bit more creative. The confused folks apparently just read the title and didn't read the details. They've asked if they can still buy Rosie gifts this year and I answer with a big YES! I just wanted to offer alternatives. Rosie is taking piano right now and a month of lessons or a new music book would be an awesome gift yet not overly expensive. Naturally in the spirit of things we could set aside the piano money for a family night out. (we can be a cheap family out.) Even at the end you suggested still giving a gift, but having it be something the giver and receiver can do together. You totally *got* this one.

  4. ....and I forgot to made me think about my gift giving too. We've been really trying to give *consumables* (food baskets, movie tickets, etc) to adults for several years now, but have found ourselves just trading the same type of gift! I really just wanted to get the word out that we'd be approaching it differently this year so it was ok for others to do the same!

    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement. I feel like with certain family that it is just like trading the same type of gift like you said. I really do appreciate gifts bc I buy little for myself/the house unless it is needed.

      Honestly, I don't know how this will work out for our family giving/getting, but it may be a process...

  5. We don't give any gifts at Christmas time as for one reason we have to send them all which makes it too expensive. A couple of years ago we made a donation to an African School for desks in my nephew and nieces name ~ they were thrilled as they felt that they did something wonderful to help these children have desks to study on. If I do buy any gifts it is more of a basket for the families with games, drinks, popcorn etc..

  6. These gift ideas are good. I told with the idea of going gift free eventually, but my in laws get me nice gifts so I want to get them something and my daughter is only one and I know that if she becomes a toddler and elementary schooler she will wonder why she doesn't get regular gifts if we don't give them. I think it depends too on the child. If the child doesn't get a lot throughout the year, presents under the tree are exhiliarating.

  7. Great ideas Annette! I've been trying to do this more with my kids that last few years and encouraging friends or family to rethink their gifts to my kids as well. We used to exchange gifts among 3 families with kids all the same ages, but we collectively decided last year to do something fun together instead. We did it for new years instead of Christmas to help separate it from all the gifts, but none of the kids even noticed! Pinning your post and will be sharing it over the next while :)


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