Our Non-Toy Christmas

posted by Andrea | 09/21/2016
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non toy christmas

Last week marked the official “100 days until Christmas”… and believe it or not, I’m actually finished Christmas shopping for my kids!

I never planned to finish so early — and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t even realize how many gifts I had stocked away until last week when I purchased a few more things from our local Just Between Friends sale.

After the sale, I decided to quickly look through everything I had for the kids’ gifts (after they were all soundly sleeping for the night) and I was shocked to see I only had one “toy” item for Simon and 1 “toy” item for James — otherwise every other gift was something besides a toy.

Then, the very next day, I got 2 emails and a Facebook question asking how I deal with all the toy gifts around the holiday season… so today, I’m talking about toy gifts (or rather, the lack of toy gifts)!

First of all, I should mention that compared to many people we know, we don’t give our kids many gifts for birthdays or Christmas (usually just 1 birthday gift and a few smaller Christmas gifts). This is not because Dave and I are anti-gifts or because we can’t afford gifts, but rather, it’s because of the following factors…

  • they are very young and still don’t really grasp the concept of “gifts”. They are just as excited about a book or clothes or candy or a cardboard box!
  • they don’t NEED anything — we have more than enough toys, books, games, clothes, crafts, and more!
  • we often give them things throughout the year — not just birthdays and Christmas (for example, we got a new kiddie pool this summer and gave it to them right away, and we recently got new shoes for everyone and let them start wearing them right away)
  • they get quite a few gifts from relatives 🙂

Second, we hardly spend any money on our kids’ gifts — this is a conscious effort on my part because I much prefer buying used whenever I possibly can (read why in this post).

I certainly do NOT think there is anything wrong with spending a bunch of money on gifts for your children (or for anyone) if you have the money and if that is a way you enjoy showing your love. However, our kids are hard on their toys and clothing, so if I buy it used for $1 or $2, I’m a much nicer mom because I don’t stress over them ruining something expensive. They can play with it until it’s worn out and then we’ll throw it away or donate it if it’s still usable.

Finally, I want to mention that we do NOT worry about making sure our gifts are “fair” for each child. We don’t stress about giving each one the same number of gifts or spending the same amount of money on each person. We just give them things we know they will like, things they need, and things they will enjoy.

Anyway, I’ve been asked for non-toy gift suggestions so many time over the past couple of years that I figured it was time to write about it again. First I’ll share what we’re giving our kids for Christmas this year, then I’ll share a few more non-toy gift ideas at the end of the post.

NOTE: not all the items are pictured below as some were in a spot I couldn’t get to while they were sleeping.

NORA:

**We will probably give Nora the wedding dress and the frozen shirt for her birthday in November, but I included them in the picture anyway.

  • Dress-up clothes (a waitress costume and a wedding dress — I’m guessing it was a flower girl dress — for $3 each at a second-hand sale)
  • Playdough “tools” (got this for $5 on Craigslist and it has a TON of accessories — I will buy NEW playdough to go with it!)
  • Beads to make jewelry (I randomly found these on clearance at our grocery store for $2)
  • Boogie board (from Costco — and the only “new” item I purchased for her. This will be for her to keep in the car to “write numbers and make lists”)
  • A Frozen t-shirt (from Craigslist for $1)
  • Unicorn Backpack (I used gift cards to buy backpacks for each kid and we’ll use them for vacations and traveling)

SIMON:

  • Dress-up clothes (a police uniform for $3 from the second-hand sale)
  • Personalized dump truck book (I got this for free with a Groupon deal last month)
  • A huge yellow dump truck (from a neighbor’s garage sale for $2)
  • Coloring book (from the dollar store)
  • Slippers (got them on clearance last year but they were way too big for him so I saved them)
  • Raccoon Backpack

JAMES:

  • Dress-up clothes (some of Simon’s old things that are still too big 🙂 )
  • Set of small wooden trains ($1 from a local thrift store)
  • Pj’s (from our neighbors garage sale for $1)
  • Lift-the-flap books (he got them as a baby gift from relatives but I saved them since he couldn’t use them as a baby and he LOVES these type of books now)
  • Chameleon Backpack

STOCKING STUFFERS:

** Most of these stocking stuffers were (or will be) purchased from Hollar.com for only a copule bucks.

  • candy and snacks (fruit snacks, granola bars, Tootsie Rolls, M&M’s suckers, etc.)
  • Christmas ornament
  • socks and underwear
  • markers, colored pencils, or crayons (I stocked up during after school sales)
  • tiny flashlights (they love these things!)
  • nail polish and chapstick for Nora
  • new loofahs for their baths
  • “coupons” for Culver’s Custard

Thanks to the gift cards that allowed me to get all 3 backpacks for free, I only spent around $50 for everything listed above — and $20 of that was for the Boogie Board (which I have been wanting to get for Nora for a long time already).

Talk about some frugal Christmas gifts! 

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Obviously, the main reason I can get away with such frugal gifts is because my kids are really young and don’t understand “new” versus “used”. In fact, aside from one trip to Buy Buy Baby to return something, they have never even seen a real toy store. I’m fairly confident Nora thinks our local thrift store IS a toy store.

That said, I was fairly impressed with the how easy it was to go almost completely “toy-free” for 3 children under 5!

Even if you don’t want to buy used gifts (or give hand-me-down gifts) I feel very confident you could easily give several super fun gifts that don’t require walking down a single toy aisle.

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Of course, there is nothing wrong with giving kids a few toys for their birthday or for Christmas, but if you’re specifically looking for some non-toy gift suggestions, here are a few of my favorites.

A few non-toy gift ideas:

  • clothing
  • shoes
  • pj’s and slippers
  • jewelry or watch
  • hats, scarves, gloves, sunglasses, or other accessories
  • backpacks, bags, purses, wallets, etc.
  • new water bottle or lunch bag
  • books
  • movies or DVD’s
  • musical instruments
  • Christmas ornament or yearly decorative item
  • games or puzzles
  • arts and crafts
  • sidewalk chalk and bubbles
  • toiletries, makeup, hair products, hair accessories, nail polish
  • food, candy, or other treats
  • educational kits (science experiments, nature explorations, etc)
  • dress-up clothing
  • fun neck pillow or blanket for in the car
  • something new for their bedroom (poster, decoration, pillows, comforter, lamp, etc)
  • restaurant gift cards, movie tickets, or “coupons” for a family night out
  • a special event with a parent or friend
  • savings bond or cash into a specific bank account

If you’re looking for more gift-giving inspiration, check out some of the other posts (links below) I’ve written about gifts over the past 6 years!

 

RELATED POSTS:

75+ of our favorite non-toy toys.

50+ clutter-free gifts for ALL ages.

Clutter-free gifts for kids.

My thoughts on giving used gifts.

Clutter-free experience gift ideas.

Clutter-free acts of service gift ideas.

More acts of service gift ideas.

Creative and clutter-free ways to give cash.

Creative and clutter-free ways to give gift cards.

Clutter-free food gift ideas.

More clutter-free food gift ideas.

Ideas for charitable donations (for the person on your list who literally has everything)

Clutter-free wedding and bridal shower gift ideas (just in case you have any over the holiday season)

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If you’re still running stuck, just Google or search Pinterest for “non-toy gifts” and you’ll find endless suggestions!

Like I mentioned above, the point of this post is NOT to say we shouldn’t buy toys for our kids — but rather to offer some ideas and inspiration for those of you who know your kids will get so many toys from relatives that you need to come up with a few other ideas for your own gifts.

With a little bit of planning, I feel very confident you (and your children) will thoroughly enjoy the upcoming holiday season, even without a boatload of new toys…

What are your favorite non-toy gifts?

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29 comments

  1. Kiersten

    09/26/2016

    I have no kids but my mom always had a certain “formula” for Christmas and birthdays. She still does it even though my brother and I are in our mid twenties. We got three things for Christmas- one thing we need, one thing we want, and one surprise. Everything my mom got us was practical. We never got anything frivolous or any toys just because. I always liked how my mom did holidays so practically.
    Kiersten @Autumn Country Girl

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I love this idea Kiersten! Thanks for sharing it — I might just “steal” it as inspiration for our kid’s future holiday gifts!!

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  2. Cathy

    09/22/2016

    Our daughter gets a lot of presents at Christmas from her grandparents, so we have given an experience gift before. Also, to split it up if there are a lot gifts we’ve done the grandparent gifts christmas eve and our family gifts christmas morning. When they are small and can get overwhelming for them!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we love splitting up the gifts so they open a few now, a few later, etc. Otherwise it’s just too much for them all at once!

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  3. Karen

    09/22/2016

    I loved this post! Just curious, do you guys do Santa. How does it work in your family?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    We don’t really have a system for that yet. I think Nora already knows that Santa isn’t real — and I honestly don’t even think Simon even knows about Santa yet. We aren’t “anti santa” and we have fun Santa decorations… but we also don’t do a specific gift from “santa”.

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  4. Nellie

    09/22/2016

    Aren’t books, clothes and shoes as well as candy gifts? My son, now aged 23, has always preferred books (and woolen socks) over any other gifts, and still does. We also consider cake and balloons gifts.
    However, nowadays we sing each other songs instead of giving tangible gifts. We either have a specific wish or it’s up to the givers to chose. This year, for my son’s birthday, we sang a song that he loved when he was three years old. It brought back so many fond memories. He is very talented but the rest of the family are more or less decent singers.
    We will be practising a christmas carol together and try to sing (more or less) in harmony. It doesn’t matter how it turns out, we will have had a lot of fun practising and have even more fun singing for (pestering 😉 family and friends with our performance. I can’t wait…

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  5. Trisha G

    09/21/2016

    This year for my daughter’s 4th birthday, she had two parties, one with my in-laws and one with my family. For the first one, we gave her a new big girl bed and a Disney Princess cash register and a few clothes. My MIL happened to give her a dress and sandals. The only toy she had was the register for a week until the next party and she absolutely loved it! It was fun to see her being able to concentrate on just the one toy and really enjoy it because she wasn’t bogged down with so many choices. She played with it all the time. So I’m thinking less toys and more practical items from here on since she wasn’t disappointed at all and they already have so. many. toys.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I’m always a fan of less toys and more practical gift items. My kids always seem to end up with lots of toys even if I don’t buy them any 🙂

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  6. Michelle

    09/21/2016

    I really do not like giving toys as gifts as my grandchildren already have “Toys R Us” in their homes. What I have done for the past few years for birthdays and Christmases is give them experiences. We have given them tickets for Disney on Ice performances, Sky Zone tickets, circus tickets, Adventure Park tickets where they can do ropes courses and ziplines, and other similar experiences. This year I am thinking about tickets to the Monster Truck Jam. They love getting these since it’s not something their parents can afford to do as a family outing. Also, instead of the adults in our family spending money on each other, each family takes the money they would spend on others and we all go to an indoor waterpark for an overnight stay. We really love not having the stress of finding the “perfect” gift, of not having items that take up precious space in our homes, and we get to enjoy each other’s company and watching the kids have a great time. Plus we’re making memories.

    [Reply]

    ShellyL Reply:

    I absolutely love this! I’m always wanting to take my kids somewhere fun but it’s hard on a family budget. I wish our parents would do this instead of toys or even clothes as we already have plenty. Great idea!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes! Dave’s parents started doing a week at a cottage as the whole family’s christmas gift. We didn’t do any gifts except little inexpensive gifts between the little cousins (sidewalk chalk, matchbox cars, markers, etc.)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    LOVE the water park idea Michelle — we don’t do adult gifts anymore either (except from the kids to my parents and Dave’s parents). We don’t need anything anyway!

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  7. Tracie H

    09/21/2016

    First, I love your blog. I look forward to reading it everyday. Second, keep doing what you are doing! My kids are 16 and 18 and they get presents from thrift stores every single year. I would go so far as to say that they look forward to them, because they understand that what we save goes straight to experiences that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

    You can buy a leather desk chair that was on my son’s wish list for $3.99 at your local thrift store like I did yesterday, but you generally can’t get a trip to Japan at your local Goodwill. Haha! I’ll keep my eyes open though! Great job!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Tracie! and WOW — what an awesome deal on the chair for your son!

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  8. Leanne

    09/21/2016

    Last year, we realized we spent way too much money on our 3 boys’ Christmas… they are at the ages now, where they want everything…BUT, they also know that most of the time the answer is no…
    and this year we put them in private school after homeschooling…so that has changed our budget a bit!!
    so, this year… they may get a small thing from us with stocking stuffers, but then we are leaving the day after Christmas to visit the Creation Museum and the Ark and spend time as a family… in a hotel… with a pool…
    and those are the kind of gifts that never get broken 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Love this Leanne! I’m sure your kids will too!
    Also, are you LOVING having your kids in school this year? A little bit of breathing room for you??

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  9. Sue

    09/21/2016

    We get way too many toys.. and with birthdays in October and December we get slammed. One thing we have done as they have gotten older. We take a family trip.. and they understand that this is part of their “Presents” Christmas/birthdays
    Also we have told family that they love gift cards to the movies. So I am not shelling out over 25.00 just to get in to see the show.

    it gets a bit harder as they get older. but it all works out.

    Sue in NJ

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    YES! Sometimes I feel like it’s just non-stop gifts, toys, candy, etc. from Halloween through Easter — Halloween is the end of October, Nora’s birthday is the end of November, Christmas is the end of December (however, we have 2 Christmas parties later in January too ), Valentines is February, then Simon’s birthday is the beginning of March, and we have certain relatives who insist on giving the kids Easter gifts now too!

    We buy almost nothing for our kids and yet I feel like I’m in a constant state of purging from October through April. At least our children have lots of people who love to spoil them 🙂

    [Reply]

  10. Deni

    09/21/2016

    You have motivated me to start Christmas now! I would love to have everything purchased by Thanksgiving so that we can truly enjoy the meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Black Friday will now be a tradition of putting up the tree and decorating. Thanks for all you do, Andrea…you are such an inspiration 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    My goal was always to be finished before Thanksgiving too — but I have not made that goal the last few years (last year, I didn’t even start Christmas shopping until AFTER Thanksgiving!)

    This year, I’m on my way to reaching that goal again!

    [Reply]

  11. Melissa Frederick

    09/21/2016

    Can you give more info on the book you got for Simon? My son is a few months younger than him and also obsessed with all construction type vehicles.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    The book was free through a Groupon credit I had… however, the book was actually created through the Dinklebook website. I think it’s pretty expensive if you just buy a book from their website, but it is a cute book! I can’t wait for him to open it with the truck!

    [Reply]

  12. Jen Rysdam

    09/21/2016

    You will love the Boogie Board Jot! We got them last Christmas for our kids- 4, 4, 8 and they love them. One of the best purchases ever- and I felt the same way- it was a lot to spend, but they have gotten beaten up and used a ton and still work great! We are also into giving our kids experiences. For example, our son got to go to his first major league baseball game last week (his birthday present from July). On the way there he told my husband that “this may be the greatest moment of his life.” Clearly something he’ll remember more than a toy that probably would have already broken or he would have already forgotten about. We love finding simple things that give our kids joy, that we know will get used over and over again, and will create lifelong memories! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Aww, that’s sweet Jen! And glad to hear you guys like the Boogie Boards! I’m excited for Nora to get it 🙂

    [Reply]

  13. Leigh

    09/21/2016

    One thing I usually get is a kids DVD (almost always used) to add to our collection for our van to watch on very long drives. This year it is The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe From the JBF sale, along with matching coloring books ($0.25 from the thrift store).

    We have found one toy they really really want is better than a bunch of stuff they like.
    We also like the family gift, last year it was Magnatiles.

    My kids love those backpacks and my three year old usually has hers with her with whatever her three favorite toys of the moment are.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Glad to hear you like the backpacks! And wow — what a great deal on the DVD and coloring books!

    [Reply]

  14. Erin Lambert

    09/21/2016

    We are considering “experience gifts” this year. So things that they can do or we can do as a family. Maybe a stay at Great Wolf Lodge, a trip to a museum, a painting class, etc.
    These will (hopefully) allow them to create memories that will stay with them forever.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Those sound like great gifts! I think experience gifts are easier to go when kids get a little older — and we will most definitely be doing things like that once our kids are a bit older.

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