Family, Kids & Relationships

How to buy fewer gifts for your kids, without skimping on the holiday magic

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Many parents struggle with the sheer volume of gift giving that’s expected at this time of year. There are plenty of reasons to feel this way: the financial burden, the environmental impact of consumerism, concern that your kids will get “spoiled,” or just being overwhelmed by the idea of adding more stuff to your already cluttered home. Could fewer gifts be better?

Gifts might normally be a major focus of Christmas or other year-end holidays for your family, and it’s tempting to try to get bigger, better, and more gifts for your kids when you can. But there are plenty of other ways to make the holiday happier and more meaningful, without destroying your budget, the planet, or your kids’ appreciation for the simpler things in life.

However, just suddenly reducing the size of the pile of boxes under the tree doesn’t seem realistic. Won’t the kids be disappointed? Will it feel like you’re skimping on the holiday cheer?

Know that you’re not alone, and lots of families are trying to have a more conscious, less materialistic holiday season. To support your intentions, here are some practical things you can try to reduce the number/type of gifts your kids expect — and ultimately receive — from you.

Talk to your kids about the reason for the change

If your kids are at an age where they would notice you getting them fewer or different sorts of gifts than usual, you can have an honest conversation with them about your values and intentions for this year. You can ask kids for ideas of how to make good choices as a family this holiday. Santa’s concern for the Earth or for equality among all children could even be the reason that gifting will be a little different than in previous years.

Stick to the 4-gift rule: Want, Need, Wear, Read

The four-gift rule is a simple way to limit the number of gifts that kids expect. Simply get them one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read. This approach to family gifting has become popular in recent years, so your kids might not be alone if you choose to stick to the Want/Need/Wear/Read rule of thumb.

Do an inventory and purge ahead of the holiday

Chances are, your family has acquired so much stuff over the past year (or few years) that your kids have forgotten about some of it. Just before the holidays, enlist your kids in going through old toys, books, and clothing. Sort things into boxes of items to donate or regift, items to trash or recycle, and items to put into the current toy rotation. This inventory can help you get rid of some things, reunite kids with old favorites, and give them a sense of how much they already have.

Arrange a swap with friends or classmates

You can even do a more intentional swap with your group of parent friends or your kids’ classmates to find new homes for some of the toys, books, games/puzzles, or clothes that you don’t need anymore (or maybe never needed). Swaps and thrifting are becoming trendy in some circles and can even turn into fun social events.

Embrace “experience gifts”

Consider replacing one or two big material gifts for an “experience gift” that you can enjoy with your child. Think tickets to a show, an annual membership to a zoo or museum, or a hot cocoa party with all the toppings they ever wanted. The memories and bonding from the experience will have a longer-term positive impact than the excitement of a new toy.

Ask relatives to go in together on a bigger gift

If there’s a big-ticket item or experience that your child wants (or would appreciate more than a lot of smaller things), consider asking your family members to pitch in. One amazing gift from everyone could make for a very memorable holiday — especially for an older child who can appreciate a little delayed gratification.

Don’t compare your family to others

If you lean into living in the moment and creating joyful memories this holiday season, you won’t mind that your tree has much less stuff under it than, say, your sister-in-law’s. Start a new tradition or try something wacky together over the holidays, and your kid will have plenty of stories to tell their classmates when they go back to school.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.