Kids, Clutter, and Holiday Gifts

Most parents & grandparents enjoy giving gifts to little ones at the holidays. Isn’t that wonderful? Generosity is a tangible way to express love. However, many people feel that their space is already overcrowded, and the idea of bringing in more “stuff” is unsettling. Furthermore, when a large number of friends and family members contribute, it can feel like children get more than they can possibly enjoy. So what can parents do about kids, clutter, and holiday gifts?

Here is a four-step solution:

1. Take time during the days leading up to Christmas to clear out your space.
  • Walk through the house and gather items to pass on to someone in need. If your children are old enough, invite them to help. This could be clothing, books, toys… whatever they are willing to release. If children are reluctant, consider offering an incentive, such as “When we find 20 things to donate, we will all go get pizza!” If your children are excited about donating, have them join you on the trip to donate to a local charity.
  • This is also a good time to dispose of items that are no longer in good shape. Throw away old craft kits that are half-used and won’t get played with, trash broken toys, pitch the dried-up markers, etc.
  • If you can, sort through the drawers and closets to make space for clothing that might be coming in.
  • Also, plan now for where you will store gifts (especially large ones) that you know are coming. If you can, do a bit of rearranging so that it will be simple to settle gifts into your space once they are opened.
  • Lastly, set up a “donation box” somewhere in your home and encourage children (and anyone else in your space) to put anything they no longer want inside.
2. Limit the toys children get during the holidays.

There are many ways to set a limit, depending on what is important to you.

  • Establish a boundary that relates to your faith, such as, “Three gifts from the magi, three gifts for you.”
  • Conduct a family gift exchange where each person pulls a name out of a hat and only gives to that person. This can be especially effective with extended family, such as cousins.
  • If you sense too many gifts are accumulating, set a few aside you had purchased for a future celebration, such as an “A” on a test, an accomplishment, or to acknowledge a kind gesture. Children won’t miss what they didn’t know was coming, and it may be more special at another time.

The idea here is to put some sort of “cap” on how much a child receives at once.

You can also reduce the overwhelm by opening gifts over time, such as one or two on Christmas Eve or one each night of Hanukkah. Additionally, be sure to slow the pace of gift opening by having only one person at a time open a gift. This enhances everyone’s experience and appreciation of each gift.

3. Consider giving gifts that the child can look forward to.

Examples here include:

  • Coupons redeemable for special treats
  • Waivers for specified chores
  • A gift certificate for a hotel night away (bonus points if there is an indoor pool!), ice cream date, or any favored activity
  • Supplies for an upcoming vacation, summer camp, or trip
  • Tickets to a movie, museum, sporting event, concert, show, etc.
  • A voucher for the gift of time to do an activity of their choice
4. Create holiday traditions and memories that have nothing to do with gifts.

Over time, anticipated traditions often end up meaning more to children than the presents under the tree. Some ideas include:

-> Attend faith services and special events that align with your beliefs.

-> Put on a familiar holiday playlist or sing some favorite carols.

-> Make it an annual event to participate in a town tree or menorah lighting ceremony.

-> Take an annual trip in the car to look at lights around your town while everyone sips hot chocolate.

-> Count down the days before Christmas with a calendar or other system.

-> Watch holiday movies or television shows.

-> Bake cookies, decorate a gingerbread house, or prepare food gifts.

-> Serve your community by giving to Toys for Tots, Operation Christmas Child, or a local charity.

-> Hang a stocking on a child’s doorknob late on Christmas Eve with a special treat to munch on in the morning. Older children might enjoy a few printed games to keep them busy while they wait for everyone else to wake up.

-> Enjoy some special foods that you only eat during the holiday season, such as latkes during Hanukkah or a special coffee cake on Christmas morning. Remember that it doesn’t have to be fancy, just something familiar that people look forward to.

The possibilities are endless and will vary by the age and stage of your children.

 *     *     *

Gifts are not a bad thing or a commercial “sell out.” We all love to give and receive. But keeping “presents” within the larger context of a holiday celebration will provide enduring joy that lasts well into the new year.

What tips do you have for keeping gift-giving in perspective?

20 thoughts on “Kids, Clutter, and Holiday Gifts”

  1. What great ideas and when my girls were little we always set aside one weekend before Christmas time to go through their toys to donate items they no longer played with or outgrew to make room for the new things they may be getting. It was a great way to declutter, but also teach my kids the importance of giving back to others, as well.
    Janine Huldie recently posted…Best Cheap Christmas Gift Ideas for StudentsMy Profile

  2. Sooo many great ideas here! We’ve done a drawing/gift exchange with extended family (adults) for years and it works so well. The younger generation actually gets excited about the time when they’ll be old enough to join in (usually as soon as they’re out on their own and making their own money). I think it’s interesting too, that our almost-grown kids ask more for things like attending the Christmas Eve service or going to see local light shows than actual gifts. Great reminders that the season is not about how much you accumulate.
    Sara Skillen recently posted…Seven and The Ragged LaundryMy Profile

    1. Sometimes fewer physical items means a more meaningful holiday, right? I’m having this thought as I enjoy watching the birds on my bird feeder. Simple, but so much joy!

  3. Terrific ideas here, Seana. I love the suggestion to have the children help sort through toys to determine what gets donated. This helps to teach them how to cull their collection of things. Also, your ideas of putting some gifts aside for another day. It’s wonderful to be able to pull a new gift out from the closet as a reward or just as something new to do on a gloomy winter day. Then your idea of putting a ‘cap’ on the number of gifts coming in. As a grandparent who doesn’t see the grandchildren often, I understand the temptation to over-buy. My son has set a firm boundary on what comes in.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…3 Reasons It Is Hard To Stay OrganizedMy Profile

    1. I’m not a grandparent (yet), but I know it will be hard to limit the buying if/when it happens. However, I remember how crowded my space was when my children were little, so I will try and give only what is helpful.

  4. Super post! I love this approach. I always suggest purging just before/after Thanksgiving and making space — not only in the house, but in one’s head — for the desire for new things. Thanksgiving is themed for gratitude, and recognizing afterward how you can give others the chance to experience that same warm feeling…once they have things they need and perhaps want. For kids, there’s no better training for adulthood than learning to share their largesse.

    I love the idea of holding back some gifts for non-holiday reasons (as long as SOMEBODY writes a thank you note to the gift-givers).

    I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I’ve always been delighted by the idea of Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood” in English. It’s an Icelandic tradition of giving and receiving new books on Christmas Eve, cozying up with family, and reading into the night. It’s a tangible gift, but it’s an experiential one that brings everyone together. Low clutter, high experience, and it gives everyone in the family something toward which they can look forward, and then they can discuss their books as they read them, all through the holidays.
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Paper Doll Interviews Life Coach, Author, and Kid-Schlepper Allison TaskMy Profile

    1. My daughter would love to get books and read into the night. In fact, she might love it so much that I better not tell her or she might move to Iceland!

  5. Good way to be proactive. I used to do this with my kids. We’d make space for the new gifts before the holidays. I also used this statement when my kids wanted to keep the box from the new toy, “we have space for the toy or the box, which one do you want to keep?” I would allow them to cut out the information they wanted from the box and keep just that.
    Janet Schiesl recently posted…Quick Steps To a Fabulous ClosetMy Profile

  6. The best way to start is to do this as a grand parent. It is tempting to over purchase for your grand kids, keep in mind that overflow that creates in homes. Our home focuses on experiences that are traditions and travel. It makes for amazing memories!

    1. Lucky kids and grandkids to have someone like you for a grandmother.. and for more reasons than just the fact that you don’t clutter up their spaces. 🙂 Love your focus on experiences, traditions, and travel.

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