If you are new to Minimalism, the thought of having a Minimalist Christmas can be daunting.
And if you are endeavoring to have a Minimalist Christmas with kids… it can feel like you shouldn’t even bother!
But not only is it possible to have a Minimalist Christmas with Kids, but it is also incredibly rewarding.
So in this post, I am going to show you why I love having a Minimalist Christmas With Kids, and then I’m going to show you how we do it!
Why You Should Consider a Minimalist Christmas
1) It Is Easier
Let’s just start with the obvious, why don’t we?
Having a Minimalist Christmas is so. much. easier. then having a more traditional go-all-out type of Christmas.
I have so much less stress during the holidays now because I am not putting as much pressure on myself to make everything so elaborate.
2) It is Cheaper
And speaking of obvious reasons to go simple with the holidays… it’s also cheaper to have a Minimalist Christmas!
I’m going to put up a post soon about how much we budget for and spend on Christmas, and when I do that I’ll link it here, but be sure to subscribe if you want to see that!
3) You Won’t Have to Declutter After Christmas
If you’ve recently started (or ended) your decluttering journey, you don’t want to backtrack just because Christmas happened.
If you have a Simple Christmas, you won’t be back to square one after New Year’s Day.
4) The Kids Will Appreciate Simple Things
Ok, now let’s get into the more important reasons for having a Minimalist Christmas:
One of my favorite reasons for having a Minimalist Christmas with Kids is to teach them to appreciate simple things!
I know I’ve talked about this before in other posts, but it’s honestly one of my main reasons for having a minimalist lifestyle for my kids all year round:
I want my kids to appreciate the simple things in life… from enjoying simple toys to being excited about simple activities, and being able to entertain themselves in simple ways.
If you have extravagant holidays every year, it makes their expectations higher and it makes them less satisfied when things are low key.
5) The Kids Will Be Grateful
I have found this to be a really strange phenomenon with kids and gifts:
The less they get, the more grateful they are.
I can’t explain it, but I have seen it over and over again!
When our kids receive more gifts, they get into a “what’s next, what’s next” frenzy, and when they receive less, they get giddy about things like slippers. Seriously… our oldest’s reaction to the slippers is one of the best reactions we’ve ever gotten.
6) The Kids Will Use Their Gifts
This one is also strange and I can’t explain why this happens, but the girls play with, use, and generally enjoy their gifts more when they have less of them.
When they receive more, the gifts tend to get played with quickly and then forgotten.
How to Have a Minimalist Christmas With Kids
Alright, now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to do this.
The biggest concern that most parents have when they consider having a Minimalist Christmas is that they worry that their children will feel left out, or disappointed, or weird if they don’t have as extravagant of a Christmas as their friends do.
But by using these tricks, our girls have never felt left out… even though they receive far less for Christmas than their friends and cousins.
And when I say far less… I mean FAR less. It’s probably somewhere around half the amount of gifts.
So here’s how we do this!
1) Have a Talk With the Grandparents
I know it’s awkward. I know it’s uncomfortable.
But seriously, if you want to have a Minimalist Christmas and not feel like you are going to have to Declutter as soon as it’s over, you need to set expectations with grandparents and anyone else who buys gifts for your kids.
Let them know why you want to have a Minimalist Christmas for your kids, let them know what that looks like and means for your family, and you might even need to let them know what the word, the movement, the lifestyle of Minimalism is about.
The other reason you want to have this conversation is that some people will feel overshadowed by the grandparents if they are trying to give the kids minimal gifts and the grandparents still think that the status quo is the same. It’s not that they are trying to bum you out, they just don’t know any better unless you tell them.
Make sure you are open and honest about your desires and intentions for the holiday this year, and for years to come, and you will all be much happier. And *hopefully,* won’t feel like it is an ongoing fight with your parents and/or inlaws.
But once you have this conversation, don’t forget to include them in the process and let them know how they can still celebrate and enjoy the holidays with your family (see #8 below!).
2) Plan to enjoy the Experiences of the Holidays
There are so many wonderful experiences that go along with the holidays, many of which are *FREE*.
See if any churches have free concerts, go look at Christmas lights, find unique things that your city does to celebrate the holiday, and go sledding!
Some fun activities that cost a little bit of money are: cutting down your own tree in the forest (be sure to have a permit if you do this) or at a tree farm, going ice skating, making a gingerbread house, and making Christmas cookies.
If your budget allows for it, you can also check out some of the more expensive experiences that come around during the holidays.
We love going to the nutcracker (pre-covid of course), but we would find a community production of it instead of going to the expensive one downtown. This was a great way to save money, and I didn’t feel bad if a little one was fussy and I had to step out with them.
When I was growing up, and we were old enough to stay home without my parents, my parents would go Christmas shopping for the first time and have a date night. While they were out, my siblings and I would decorate the tree and the house, make Christmas cookies, and watch a Christmas movie together.
It was so much fun for us, and it cost my parents very little extra money.
If your kids are young, decorate the tree with them and have a fun family night all together at home.
Enjoying the experiences is a great way to make the holidays special without bringing extra clutter into your house.
3) Give Practical Gifts
This is always the first category that we look at when deciding what to get our girls.
Our oldest daughter can usually use a new pajama, a new coat, a fleece jacket, or a raincoat by the time Christmas rolls around. (Our younger daughter has plenty of hand-me-downs *second-child problems!*)
And we also like to get them any new socks/panties that they need and put them in their stockings.
4) Give Experiences as Gifts
The second thing that we look at getting them is an experience gift that they can use for at least a couple of months past Christmas.
In the past, this has been swimming lessons or museum memberships.
But this year the girls are requesting a zoo membership since our children’s museum and swimming lessons are still closed in our neck of the woods (thanks, Covid.)
5) Give Them Something They Want
And the last category that we typically give our girls is something they want.
I keep an ongoing amazon wish list for each girl and I keep them updated throughout the year. Anytime one of them mentions something that they would like or I have an idea of something I think they would use I add it to the list.
Then as birthdays or Christmas approaches, I go through the list and prune it to make sure that everything on the list is something that I would be happy with them having and that they would be thrilled to get.
I have a full post on Intentional Gift Ideas for Kids that you can check out for more ideas, but here are a couple of things to keep in mind when you decide which wants to fulfill.
Go for Classic Toys Over Trendy Toys
Things like classic blocks, legos, lincoln logs, and other toys that you know will stand the test of time are better than toys that are trendy and will go out of style quickly.
Think Quality Over Quantity
When Giving Gifts to your kids, give them one or two high-quality gifts instead of giving them a lot of low-quality gifts.
My oldest daughter’s wants this year could technically also fit in a need category: She recently started violin (and FYI, a 1/10 violin is THE CUTEST THING EVER!), and we are going to get her a music stand and a metronome for Christmas since she will be needing them and has been asking for them anyway!
We could just get her cheap ones so that we could give her more gifts, but instead, we will spend a little more money on them so that they will hopefully last for her whole musical career.
One of my younger daughter’s want gifts this year could also fit into the practical category, but she is obsessed with my mom’s hydro flask water bottle and I’ve found out that they have Kid’s size!
Give Family Gifts Like Games, Puzzles, and Books
The girls are obsessed with games, puzzles, and books because they have fun with them.
I’m obsessed with them because they are gifts that teach them to share and things that we can enjoy together as a family.
I saw that one of their friends got a create-your-own puzzle last Christmas so I have that on my younger daughter’s list. And I have a couple of books that I think my oldest would enjoy on her list.
With these gifts, I don’t worry too much about which child is getting which item because toys in our house are community property. Aside from their most special doll and stuffed animals, we don’t make a big deal about which things belong to which person, we just say all of our toys are for everyone to enjoy.
6) Decide on Minimal Stocking Stuffers
If you want to have a Minimalist Christmas, be sure that you don’t go crazy with the stocking stuffers.
Stocking stuffers can be an easy way for extra clutter to creep into the house in the form of cheap toys and trinkets.
One way to keep the junk out of the house is to give consumable and/or small practical gifts in the stockings.
Sometimes they also need new socks, but this year they are both set.
If they need any chapstick, we will also put some in their stockings… but they won’t be getting any this year either because we have so many chapsticks right now!
If you have older children, a wallet is another great stocking stuffer that would be useful all year round.
7) Make a List
Now that you have some ideas of what you want to give your kids, make a list of everything that you want them to receive this year.
If you are used to going overboard, try to restrain yourself.
The first Minimalist Christmas will be the most challenging, but you’ll get the hang of it!
We will only purchase one gift from each category unless there are multiple needs or multiple books. But I still list everything out that I would be ok with them receiving so I can let grandparents know what they can get them.
You probably noticed that *most* of the individual gifts for our oldest are practical ones and our younger daughter is getting more “fun” presents. There are a couple of reasons for this:
Our oldest is so excited to be taking violin lessons right now. She just started a couple of months ago and as soon as she got her book last week, she began asking for a music stand. She also has been asking for a metronome since her teacher has one and we do not. So while these gifts seem practical, she’s incredibly excited about getting them and they are still a really big want for her.
The music stand and metronome are quite a bit more money than we would typically spend on one child for Christmas, but since they are needs, we will still be getting them.
Our second daughter is two. When our oldest was two, she got stuffed animals and a doll bed too, so now she doesn’t need any more of those things since she already has hers.
8) Get Grandparents/Relatives Involved!
Now that you know how much is enough for this Christmas, figure out if you want to have grandparents/relatives give any of the gifts.
Almost as soon as I know what I want my girls to receive, I talk to my mom and see if she wants to get any of the things for the girls. Then I put down their names next to any of the items that they want to buy.
This works really well for us because I know that what my parents are getting won’t bring clutter into the house, it saves me money since I won’t have to buy everything on the list, and my parents will know that what they get the girls will be appreciated and wanted.
And if any other relatives ask what our girls want, I will give them an option or two from the list as well and put their name next to what they decide.
Here is what this looks like for us this year:
Zoo Membership (Any relatives who want to contribute money)
A lot of people don’t think that the words “Minimalism” and “Kids” can belong in the same sentence.
I mean, kids are supposed to add a lot of expense, stress, and… well…stuff to your life! And even if you were able to declutter all of your things while having kids at home, what are you supposed to do about birthdays??
Birthday Parties tend to focus on the accumulation of stuff and almost seem to have become a display of who can throw the most elaborate party these days.
So how could you navigate birthday parties as a minimalist mom?
Well, as a mom of two little kids, I can tell you that being a Minimalist with kids is not only possible, but it will reduce the amount of stress and expense in your life as well!
So I’m going to show you how this Minimalist, Budget-Conscious family does birthdays without missing out on any fun!
1. Skip The Decorations
Setting up and tearing down decorations takes a lot of time and money… and usually the child couldn’t care less about them.
Sure, they make a cute backdrop for the photos… but are they really adding to the enjoyment that anyone is having at the party?
Unless your child loves to decorate and enjoys seeing the decorations, just skip it!
And if your child does love to decorate, give them a small budget and let them do the decorating themselves or with the help of a parent.
It may not be Pinterest perfect, but it will bring them joy.
We have never done any more than one bag of balloons blown up that we got at the dollar store, and our kids didn’t notice anything missing.
2. Forget the Party Favors
Kids don’t need a reward for coming to your child’s birthday party. Playing with their friends and eating yummy food is already fun!
Party favors can also be surprisingly expensive, especially when they are usually very cheap trinkets that will be played with a couple of times before they end up cluttering up your friend’s house.
Trust me, the kids won’t miss them and the parents will probably thank you if you skip the party favors!
3. Go Potluck Style for Food
Some people may find this tacky, but we have never had a party for either of our girls where we provided all of the food for everyone.
We have done everything from grilling at our house and asking everyone to bring what they want to grill plus a side dish for everyone to share, to having a picnic at a park and asking everyone to bring their own picnic lunch, to having a take-out party and telling everyone to bring their favorite take out!
The take-out party kind of happened by accident, but it was a huge hit!
I wasn’t planning on having any party for my oldest daughter’s second birthday, but a bunch of our family on both sides ended up being in town on the day we were going to celebrate. Since I was planning on getting take-out Thai Food (her favorite) for our family anyway, I just told anyone who wanted to join to bring their favorite take-out from anywhere they wanted.
My aunt loved it because she isn’t a big Thai food fan, and she wanted The Spaghetti Factory instead! Everyone got to enjoy their favorite take-out while spending time together and celebrating.
4. Ask for Help With The Cake
Or if you aren’t much of a baker (like yours truly!) ask a friend or a relative who is good at baking to make it for you.
My mom is the resident baker in our family. She makes amazing-tasting, gorgeous-looking, gluten-free, refined sugar-free cakes and pies for every birthday party.
Several of our friends also love to bake and make beautiful desserts as well and one of them has brought a dessert a couple of times for birthday parties.
People who love to bake will take it as a compliment if you ask them for help!
And if you don’t have any relatives who like to bake, grab a box cake at Wal Mart! My grandma made those for every birthday growing up since they were the cheapest option. And you know what? They were delicious!
5. Have the Party at Home or at a Park
I know it’s super cool to rent out a bowling alley, or museum, or trampoline park for your kid’s birthday… but it’s also super expensive!!
Not only is it expensive, but it also tends to overwhelm the birthday kid and can lead to a lot of meltdowns.
A great way to simplify is to host the party at home.
We have had birthdays at the park, at a splash pad, at our house, or at a relative’s house (which was super fun because they had a pool!).
One of my daughters’ little friends just had an at-home High Tea Party complete with crafts and the adults serving the tea for the kids. The girls had a blast!
You can be really creative and have a special party without all the extra bills.
The kids usually have the most fun when the party is the most simple.
6. Limit the Guest List
A great way to cut down on the stress for the birthday party is to keep the party small.
If your child is more introverted, like my younger daughter, they may enjoy and even prefer having only one or two special friends at their party.
If your child is an extrovert, like my oldest daughter, you may need to give them a limit on how many people can join… or you may decide they can have as many people as they want, but you may want to ask that people don’t bring gifts to limit the clutter that will come into your home, or ask people to contribute to the food to save you time and energy, or host at a park to minimize cleanup or all of the above!
Or you can offer them more time (like a full day or weekend) with one really special friend.
7. Ask for No Gifts
I know it may seem a little awkward to ask for no gifts, but it isn’t hard at all once you get the hang of it!
In my experience, most parents are relieved to know exactly what is expected as far as gifts go and are happy when they don’t have to run to the store and spend money before the party.
We have had No Gift Parties in 3 different ways:
We spelled it out! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want your child’s birthday party to be like. We created a Facebook invitation for my oldest’s 3rd birthday and I simply wrote on the invite, “No gifts, please 🙂 She just wants to spend the day at the splash pad with her favorite people!” This is the best approach if your group of friends is used to doing a lot of gifts for parties.
We didn’t specify that it was a birthday party. One year, we just sent out a text to our friends saying that we wanted to go to the park and spend the day and anyone who wanted to join could. People obviously found out it was her birthday when they got there, but it took some of the pressure off me needing to coordinate food and make it a “party.” Everyone brought their own picnic lunch and we had a great day.
We didn’t give a lot of notice. One year we didn’t plan to have a party at all and had thought we would just spend the day doing special things with our family. But when we asked my oldest the day before her birthday what she wanted to do, she said she wanted to eat in the backyard with all of her friends. So I shot a quick text to all the parents and asked if anyone was free to come over the next day. Amazingly everyone was! I didn’t specify “no gifts” since it was such short notice and I figured most people wouldn’t have time to get anything anyway. Only one friend brought over a gift and everyone else just brought homemade cards (which she loved!).
8. Go Simple With The Gifts
I know that we all want to give our kids the most amazing birthday ever, but more gifts won’t accomplish that.
Giving the child too many gifts will overwhelm them and lead to everything only getting played with for the first week or two until they are left on the floor of their room.
Simple gifts are often cheaper, they encourage imagination, and they tend to get played with longer than more flashy and expensive toys.
Simple toys will generally garner a more subdued initial reaction from the child, but they get so much more enjoyment from them down the road.
This year for my oldest daughter’s birthday we built on something that is already a passion of hers (like I talk about in This Post) riding her bike!
We got her a water bottle holder, a basket, and her grandparents got her a bell. She was thrilled with the additions to her bike and will get a lot of use out of these simple gifts in the coming months (or years!).
If you want to get your child a larger gift, but your budget doesn’t allow for it, see if you can get your family members that would normally buy your child a gift to go in with you on the one item.
We have done this several times with our family when we wanted to buy our children larger gifts like a Strider Bike or a Museum Membership.
Even if each set of grandparents and aunts and uncles only contributed $10-$20, it still made the larger present much more feasible for us to be able to pay the difference.
10. Have An Amazon Wish List For Each Child
If you want to be intentional about the gifts your child receives, start an Amazon Wish List for them.
You can let any grandparents and aunts and uncles who want to give the child a gift know that they have a wishlist. And you can even let them know which are the most desired items.
I have a wishlist for each girl and every time they express a repeated interest in something (I don’t put every whim they have on the list. then I go to Amazon and add it.
Then when their birthday’s come, I know exactly what would bring them joy to receive and I have an answer when grandparents ask what they want.
11. Have a Fiver Party
If you have a group of friends that are used to giving gifts, throw a Fiver Party as a less expensive option for you and your guests, and a way to get a more intentional gift for your child.
When you throw a Fiver party, you ask your guests to bring a $5 bill instead of bringing a present.
Be sure to let your guests know what the bigger gift will be!
If you want to throw this type of party, simply put on the invitation “No gifts please, (insert child’s name) just wants to spend special time with friends. If you want to get them something, please bring $5 instead… (insert child’s name) is saving for a (insert the desired item)!
I recommend using Facebook or texts to invite people instead of spending money on paper invitations. Then you can save money and the environment at the same time!
12. Have a Special Birthday Week Instead of Focusing on One Party
We started this little tradition when the Covid-19 Pandemic hit right before my younger daughter’s 2nd birthday. Since she is my introverted child, she didn’t necessarily mind not being able to get together with friends, but we still wanted to make her birthday special.
So I got the idea to ask her what she wanted to eat every evening for the next week. She listed off all her favorite meals (including K-Loaf twice!) and we had a week full of special meals and desserts… and lots of K-Loaf!
It made it feel like we were celebrating all week instead of just one day, and this has now become a little tradition in our house!
Plus it is a lot cheaper to just make special meals instead of having a big party, and it will take care of your meal planning for the week!
13. Let Them Be King or Queen for The Day
If you want to go simple but want to make your child’s birthday special, let them be King or Queen for the day.
Let them choose what they want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And let them pick the special activities for the day (if they have expensive taste, give them a list of approved activities!).
If your child is someone who needs time to think things through, give them the options in advance so they can think it over.
Fun ideas you could include would be going to the park, going on a family bike ride, hanging out in a hammock and reading together, painting nails together, going to the library, making a fort in the living room, baking a cake together, going on a hike, doing crafts, the sky’s the limit!
14. Set Realistic Expectations
If your child is used to having lavish birthday parties with tons of presents, sit down with them before the minimalist birthday party.
Let me know that this year will be a little different.
Explain to them why you are going to have simple birthday parties now. Let them know if you are just wanting to simplify your life, or if you are getting your budget under control. Be sure to explain the benefits of a minimalist party too like getting the larger present that they really want, and getting to choose how they want to spend their special day (or week!).
Children are usually much more understanding than we give them credit for.
Embracing minimalism when you have children can be more difficult still.
But trying to teach your children about gratitude instead of greed during special occasions? Don’t even get me started about how stressful that can be.
If your friends and family subscribe to the same ideals that you do, this may not be that hard.
But for most of us, it takes a lot of effort and explanation… especially if you have recently decluttered and don’t feel like doing it again any time soon.
If you are just starting to live more simply, Christmas and birthdays can be tough to navigate.
You want your kids to enjoy the holidays and have special memories, but…
You don’t want to spend the next month decluttering toys… again.
You don’t want to get toys that will be played with twice, then relegated to one of the growing piles in their bedroom.
And, if you’re anything like us, you also don’t want to spend a fortune on presents.
So how do you have an intentional holiday season or birthday party?
Let’s get right to it!
In this post I’m going to cover:
1. 5 Steps to Simple Special Occasions
2. Our Favorite Intentional Toys and Gift Ideas
3. Stocking Stuffers that Aren’t Junk
4. Which Toys we Avoid at Our House
I hope these tips will help you navigate special occasions as a minimalist mom!
5 Steps to Simple Special Occasions
1) Remember Your Why
I find it helpful to remind myself why it is important to me to live intentionally and why I think it is important for my kids to have simple lives.
The biggest reason I am choosing minimalism for myself and my children is that I want my children to be grateful. Not entitled, not spoiled, not selfish.
It is difficult for children to be grateful for what they have when they possess more toys than they can play with on a weekly basis…
And it’s even harder for them to be grateful when they know that they are getting a boatload more gifts every birthday, Christmas, Easter, and any other occasion in between.
I want something different for my family.
When I read the Little House on the Prairie series growing up, it struck me how the kids all got one or two small items, plus the orange in their stocking. And they were stoked about it!
I want my kids to experience that kind of simple joy.
If you find it challenging to stay strong during the holidays, try writing down why you are choosing this lifestyle. It can help you stay strong when everything is screaming at you to spend more money.
2) Make a Budget and Stick To It
It can be so easy to spend more than we should. Especially when western society celebrates Christmas by spending as much money as we can… and then spending a little bit more.
Don’t worry about impressing friends, family, your kids, or the Jones’. Only you can choose the budget that works for your family.
Sit down with your spouse and decide how much money you are going to spend before you make any purchases.
Ross and I have spent less than $25 per child for Christmas each year, and that includes stocking stuffers. (They are 5 and 2 at the time of this writing.)
And… if we feel like they are getting enough things from grandparents and aunts and uncles….we don’t purchase anything for them. *gasp*
When we do get things for our girls, it is one thing under the tree (maybe two if the second thing is a clothing item like pajamas or slippers) and less than five items in their stocking. (See the list of clutter-free stocking stuffer ideas below.)
We try to keep in mind the overall number of presents they will be receiving and make our budget and list accordingly.
Decide with your spouse who you will be purchasing birthday and Christmas gifts for this year.
*Hint: You don’t have to buy for every family member, even if that’s what you’ve always done.*
Last year, we decided that we would only be buying Christmas and Birthday gifts for nieces and nephews.
Sometimes, we draw names for the adults on the side of the family that we are celebrating Christmas with, but some years we don’t. (Like this year any extra money will be going to replace our totaled car so we are not doing any adult gifts.)
For birthdays, we decided that we would only do adult birthday gifts if we happened to be with the person who was celebrating the birthday. Everyone else gets a card.
This saved us quite a bit of mulah.
If you decide to change how you’ve done gifts in the past, be sure to let everyone know well in advance.
We were sure to let everyone know early in the year of our new gift policy because we didn’t want our families to feel obligated to get gifts for us when we weren’t getting them any.
Some family members continued to give to us anyway, and some were relieved to have fewer gifts to purchase!
4) Think Quality Over Quantity
When buying gifts, don’t think about how many packages you can put under the tree.
Think about what you could get your child that would bring them joy day after day.
When I’m buying for my two children, I don’t worry about trying to spend the same dollar amount on both girls or even having an identical number of packages for them to open.
Since they are almost three years apart their needs and interests are quite different from each other. Some years my younger daughter needs things that my oldest daughter already received in past Christmases (like the backpack she’ll be getting this year). Other years my oldest will have more expensive wants than her sister.
5) Make an Amazon Wish List for Each Family Member
I’ve found that this is the easiest way to communicate your ideals to friends or family without stepping on anyone’s toes.
If someone wants to buy something for your children, excellent! Let them! When they ask what they want, send them to the wish list.
Anytime I think of something that the girls need or if they express a want that they keep coming back to, I add it to the list.
I try to make sure that the want is here to stay before it goes on the list. When my oldest daughter asked for a dolly car seat close to Christmas last year, I didn’t think too much of it since she had just seen a friend with one. But when she continued to ask all year and brought it up again recently, it went on her list.
Not only does it make my job easier when birthdays and holidays roll around, but it saves us money too! Often grandparents will check the list before purchasing and get something for the girls that we were planning on getting anyway!
It’s a win-win situation because grandparents love getting their grandkids great presents that they will use and keep for a long time. This lets them do that while knowing that the parents are on board with the purchases.
If you aren’t sure how to set up wish lists on Amazon, check out this link.
Our Favorite Intentional Toys
When I first started looking into how to live minimally and intentionally with children, it was easy to go down the rabbit hole of wanting to get every minimalist toy for my daughter.
But I encourage you to remember that if you want to teach your children about minimalism and being intentional with things and money, try not to shock their system on every holiday and birthday with tons of presents.
Less can be more under the tree!
Try just choosing one or two items and see how much longer they will play with their new toys than when they received piles of gifts.
Now let’s get to the fun stuff! Here are our favorite Minimalist Gifts:
1) Gifts That Get the Energy Out
This is my favorite category of gifts to give our girls, especially at Christmas. Since there is less daylight and warmth begging us to get outside, these are lifesavers for me!
1. An Indoor Swing. This is probably the best toy ever for young minimalist kids. Anytime my kids have friends over (even friends who aren’t minimalists and have tons of toys at their houses), this is the thing that everyone wants to play with.
I’m actually thinking about getting a second one to put in the hallway so they can swing higher (I know, not a very minimalist thing to say on a minimalist toy post!)
My oldest loves swinging on it when she has quiet time, reading in it, and pushing her babies on it.
At 18 months old, my younger daughter is now starting to swing on it when we lower it. She prefers to swing superman-style so she can get on and off of the swing whenever she wants to.
2. An Indoor Rock Wall. Ross and a friend built a rock wall for our girls last Christmas using rock-holds like these.
I’m amazed at how much enjoyment my oldest daughter gets out of it and how many ways she has figured out to climb the wall. Her new favorite method is to climb backward with her back against the wall!
I love this gift because it provides no extra mess for them to clean up, but endless amounts of fun!
3. A Balance Beam.Balance beams are great for children to work on their balance and gross motor skills.
You can purchase balance beams online or you can make them out of wood as my dad did for our girls.
4. Sports Equipment. My grandma got my oldest a tiny soccer ball when she was one-year-old. Four years later, they both still love it!
If it is a more expensive item like a bicycle or balance bike, look at play-it-again sports places or craigslist. We got our oldest daughter a bicycle for $8 on Craigslist and a larger-sized one for free on Craigslist!
Second-hand for the win!
2) Practical Gifts
This is my other favorite gift category as a minimalist mamma! Whenever I can talk a family member into choosing a gift from this category it’s a good day 🙂
2. Clothing. Anything clothing-related is always welcome as a gift at our house!
I try to keep a running list of what each child could use for the next season and an idea of what size they will be in on my phone. (Plus I keep in mind style and color preferences as they get older.)
My mother-in-law loves shopping sales at the end of each season and will sometimes call when she’s at the store looking. Keeping a list on my phone makes it easy to give her an answer that will save me money in the long run and enable her to give a great gift.
Another idea in this vein is from my aunt. She travels all around the world and likes to get dresses from the different places that she visits. If your parents like to travel a lot, suggest clothing from a different part of the world for the next Christmas or birthday.
My girls love getting fun dresses, books, and simple toys from around the world!
3. Luggage. If your family likes to travel or go on weekend trips, luggage is a great gift choice for your kids. My oldest daughter loves packing her own clothing and her sister’s things in her bag for our trips and weekend excursions.
I really like this one because it was the largest size of the kid-looking luggage. I’m all about making gifts practical for as long as possible :).
Right now, it can easily fit both of their clothing for a week in the roller suitcase, but as my younger daughter gets older, she will get her own set.
4.Purses/Wallets. Not only do our girls love playing with their purses at home, but they love bringing their own money in their purses to church.
Purses and wallets are great because children love to mimic their parents and if mom and dad have one, they should too!
Purses and wallets can also teach children to keep their money safe and to use it when appropriate.
5. Bed/Bedding. Last Christmas my oldest was getting a little tall for her toddler bed. So we decided it would be a good idea to upgrade her bed for a Christmas present. (Yes, this was a bit more expensive than our typical gifts, but we made an exception because she was going to need it at some point anyway.)
We decided on this one because it was perfect for small people, had good edge support, and was a “Best Mattress for the Money” according to the YouTube channel The Slumber Yard.
(If you are looking for a mattress, The Slumber Yard is super helpful. They do reviews on every mattress you can think of and make it easy to compare them.)
We picked out a special comforter set in her favorite colors. Then when it arrived, we set it up in her room and surprised her.
She loved it… and she quickly learned to make her bed by herself! (Of course, we helped her at first, but we told her that big girls make their own beds, and now that she had a big-girl bed she needed to learn.)
Almost a year later she still randomly tells me “thank you for my comfy bed and pretty comforter.”
If your kids already have beds, getting some new flannel sheets or a different comforter set would be a great gift!
6. Backpacks. Both of my girls have loved backpacks. The buckles, the zippers, the pockets, and the whistles keep them busy when they are between one and two.
Then as they grow, they use their backpacks for everything from diaper bags for their baby dolls, to bringing snacks and extra socks on hikes, to packing for a night at grandma’s house.
As they get a little older (around three) I let them pack their backpack with entertainment for our trips. They can bring anything they want, as long as it fits in the backpack (and I can zip it!)
When my oldest daughter turned three she also started packing her own snacks, socks, hats, and spare pants on hikes. In this post, I go into more detail on what to look for in a hiking backpack for kids.
3) Add to a Child’s Favorite Toy or Hobby
The key here is to add to a favorite toy or hobby without adding a new hobby into their life. Think of ways that you can expand on their play that they already enjoy instead of reinventing the wheel every birthday and holiday.
Here are a few examples:
1. Dolls. For my oldest daughter, her dolls are her hobby. The girl lives and breathes playing with her baby, Little Jane, and Little Jane’s “brothers and sisters” (aka, her other stuffed animals and dolls.) So for her, some of the best gifts she has received are:
(Which might also be because they don’t have mountains of toys. They really play with the ones that they have.) 🙂
3. Doll Cradle. I didn’t save many of my childhood toys because, well, I’ve pretty much always been a minimalist at heart. But I did save the handmade cradle that one of my uncles made for me.
I gave it to my oldest daughter for Christmas two years ago and the girls both love playing with it.
4. Doll Clothing. My mother-in-law loves to sew and one year I asked her to make Little Jane some clothing for Christmas. My oldest is still crazy about it three years later. She loves packing her “diaper bag” whenever we go on a trip and must take all her clothes with her… you know, in case Little Jane has an accident!
(Word to the wise here: don’t go overboard. Just a couple outfits will go a long way and keep the clutter from overtaking the room!
5. Doll Carrier. Since I use a Lillebaby for my girls when they are small, my sister got this one for my oldest right before she became a big sister. It is still one of her favorite toys almost two years later.
She takes Little Jane on hikes, carries her around airports, and takes her grocery shopping with us. The best part of having the doll in the carrier is that I don’t have to worry about her setting Little Jane down and leaving her somewhere.
6. Cooking. My girls also love to cook, so one year I asked my mother-in-law to make aprons for Christmas. She also made chef’s hats to go along with the aprons.
If your child loves to cook, think of aprons, chef’s hats, cookbooks, children’s cooking tools, or even adult-sized cooking tools that they will need later in life. Here is a cute set that has a lot of those items in it if you don’t know someone who likes to sew 🙂
My brother- and sister-in-law get their daughter one item for her future kitchen every year. They let her open it on Christmas, then put them away so when she’s grown she will have all her essentials.
For her brother, they give different tools that are handy to have around the house. When he is grown, he will have all the basics for his garage.
7. Building. If your kids like building things, figure out which type of building pieces they like best. Then every year add to it.
They don’t need a bazillion Legos, erector sets, train sets, and blocks. Pick one or two sets to build on. Then make it a fun tradition to get some new additions to the collection each year.
8.Art. If they are into art, you can look into getting them an art easel, or grabbing different colors of dry erase markers or chalk if they already have an easel.
My oldest goes through blank notebooks like they are going out of style and was thrilled when her Nanna got her a pack of 6 Spiral Notebooks for her birthday this year.
And if you want to be extra minimalist with the drawing, grab one of these NewYes Doodle Boards. They are amazing for road trips or keeping kids quiet during church!
These are toys that don’t tell you how to play with them. Instead, they invite you to make up a story. Some of their favorites are a metal Tea Set,Blocks, and a set of Dominoes.
I’m serious. The dominoes have been the longest-running favorite toy in our house since my oldest daughter was under one year old.
They are most commonly used as play phones for our girls, but they also like to build with them, play matching games with them, pretend they are food or tea with their tea sets, and set them up and knock them over just like I did when I was a kid.
New books are always a hit at our house.
If you have a reader on your hands, try giving them one book in a series for each birthday or Christmas until they have the whole set.
When I was growing up, I had an aunt that sent one Little House on the Prairie book to my sister or me each birthday and Christmas. Now, between the two of us, we still have the entire set to read with our girls!
For slightly older kids, this shape game is great. My girls also like to use the pieces of this puzzle as “food” when they are playing with their tea set or “money” when they are playing with their purses.
The girls don’t fully understand the strategy of Qwixx yet, but it is a game where everyone can participate on every turn. It’s great if you have kids with short attention spans who don’t like to wait for everyone else’s turn before they play.
9) Have Multiple People Go In On A Big Item
This is our go-to method for getting our kids one big item without going broke.
When family members ask what our girls want, we let them know that we are going to get a bigger item for one or both of them and let them know what it is.
We ask that if they want to give something to our girls, that they contribute whatever money they would have spent to the larger present.
Five or ten dollars can add up quickly if you can get grandparents and aunts and uncles on board. Plus everyone is usually happy to be involved in the exciting gift and make their dollars go further.
This year, we are doing this for our younger daughter either for her birthday or Christmas because we want to get her a balance bike!
No Minimalist Gift List would be complete without the experiences category… so here it is! This is one of our favorite things to give our kids.
(I know I’ve said that three times now… I have a lot of favorites in life…)
We will often ask grandparents and aunts and uncles go in with us to purchase an experience gift.
I try to make sure that they know we aren’t asking them to spend any extra on the gifts, but just to use whatever they were planning to spend on a small gift and combine it with us for the larger gift.
When thinking of experience gifts for your children, remember that there are different kinds of experiences that you can give: yearly memberships, lessons, daily experiences, etc.
The reason I bring this up is that every minimalist out there preaches experiences over things. While I agree with this mindset and prefer this for my family, it can feel a little greedy to ask grandparents to purchase an entire yearly membership for your child.
When you think about all of the different ways to give experiences, it becomes a much more reasonably priced gift.
Here are a few different ways you can give experiences:
My in-laws gave my oldest swimming lessons for a couple of different birthdays. The community college near our house has reasonably priced swimming lessons and the college students are great with the kids.
If this sounds like something your child would like, take a look at community colleges to see if they offer any lessons that your child wants to take.
UPDATE 2023: The community college prices skyrocketed during Covid! I did a lot of searching when my second daughter was ready for lessons and found out that the local high schools offered swimming lessons for much cheaper.
2. Learning something from the giver:
Another type of experience gift is one where the giver spends time with the receiver. My oldest has been asking me for several months now to teach her how to knit and sew and crochet. The only problem is that I don’t knit or sew or crochet… or do anything remotely domestic like that.
So when she gets a little older, I’m going to see if my sister (who crochets) or my mother-in-law (who knits) could give her some coupons for a couple of lessons on the basics of the art.
If you have a family member with a skill they are willing to teach, not only is the gift free for the person giving it, but it also creates bonding time with a special person.
3. Day/Weekend experiences
While some grandparents may love the idea of bonding with their grandchild, they may not feel like they have a skill to teach.
Instead of giving lessons, they could put together a “Day out with Grandma” coupon book with coupons for fun little things they will do during the day.
This could involve taking the child to a ball game, going bowling together, a day at a museum together, mini-golfing, getting their nails done, baking cookies together, going to a water park, going out to a special restaurant.
A couple of months ago my husband and our oldest flew out to the Midwest to see his parents. They spent the whole weekend camping, going to the zoo, and going to the Mall of America. She couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks afterward!
A weekend experience doesn’t have to be elaborate though, it could also just be a special one-on-one weekend at grandma’s house like my parents do with each girl from time to time. They bake cookies, go on hikes, visit book stores, and go to the park. The girls usually aren’t ready to come home when the weekend is over!
If you have more than one child, you could give the gift of spending a whole day or weekend with just one of them, especially if their love language is quality time. We take advantage of when my parents take one girl. My husband and I have quality time with the other girl, and everyone wins!
4. Experience with a present
Sometimes people want to give something that a child can unwrap… which may keep them from wanting to give an experience.
If this is how you feel, try giving a gift that corresponds with an experience!
When my in-laws purchased swimming lessons, my brother-in-law’s family got her a swimsuit, and my sister and her husband got her goggles. She was so excited to use them both on the first day of her lessons, and it gave her something tangible while she waited for the lessons to start.
If you were going to a baseball game, get the kids baseball hats. Swimsuits would be great accompaniments for water parks. Knitting needles would be necessary and helpful for knitting lessons. Luggage would be a great addition if the gift is a trip. The trick is to not go overboard with the gift and think of something that they will use with the experience.
And of course, there are the larger memberships that we often think of when we talk about experience gifts.
I have been surprised by how reasonable some of the memberships are in our area. We have found that you often only need to go two or three times to make them worth their money, but often we go much more than that when we have a membership.
You can also see if you can collaborate with any of your friends and get different memberships that you both can use.
For example, we purchased a children’s museum membership, and our friends got a zoo membership. Now we can go with each other as guests and enjoy both places for the price of one membership!
This is also an area where grandparents can chip in with each other for a larger gift. This last year for both of the girls’ birthdays, we asked the family to contribute to our children’s museum membership instead of getting other gifts.
Everyone who contributed got to give a great gift, we ended up only having to pay for half of the membership, and it didn’t bring extra clutter into the house! Win-win-win!
11) Gifts That Make a Difference
1. Sending Money: For the last couple of Christmases, we have incorporated the ADRA Gift Catalog into our holiday. All of the gifts make a difference for people in need around the world.
If you sign up to receive their paper gift catalog, they include a Children’s Gift Catalog where every gift is only $5!
We let the girls pick a gift from the Children’s catalog and they can ask Grandparents and uncles and aunts to contribute to the gift.
This year our oldest has been telling people that she wants a goat for Christmas.
This usually gets a funny reaction before we explain that she wants a goat for a family who can’t afford to buy milk in another country.
Christmas is a great opportunity to talk to your children about how everyone in the world is not as fortunate as we are. It is a good reminder that some children just want their basic needs of food and water met this Christmas.
It’s a great reminder for girls to be grateful for what they have.
2. Sending Gifts. If you want to send Christmas gifts to children who wouldn’t otherwise be receiving any, Operation Christmas Child is a great choice.
You can also check with your pastor to see if you have a needy family in your congregation. Last year we checked with our pastor and found out there was a family with three kids who were struggling to make ends meet.
I found out their kids’ genders and ages and gave some gifts to the pastor. I still don’t know who the family is, but it was fun to be able to help someone closer to home.
Stocking Stuffer Ideas
Stockings were the hardest thing for me to figure out when we became more intentional with gift-giving.
Growing up, my parents went all out for every area of Christmas, and stockings were no exception.
So with my own kids, it took me a little time to figure out what worked… and what didn’t… with having the minimalist lifestyle that I wanted.
What ended up working for us is to do stockings, but to go simple or practical with the gifts inside. We typically do 5 things or less from the list below:
1. Socks and Underwear
My mom started this tradition when we were little and I like doing it with the girls now. The girls can usually use a new set of socks by Christmas time. And if they need new panties, we will also give them a new set of underwear as well.
Kids love bubbles, and I love them as a minimalist mom. They are consumable and won’t just stick around as clutter.
Chapstick is great for kids of all ages. It’s cheap and practical!
When my oldest daughter was little she loved chapstick, but she mainly wanted to taste it. My sister took an empty chapstick tube, filled it with hot glue, let it cool, then gave it to her as a gift. It was the best thing a one-year-old could ask for! It felt just like putting chapstick on!
We don’t do refined sugar in our house, so we don’t load up their stockings with sweets. But Honey Sticksare a great way to give them something sweet!
Another big hit for my oldest. The general rule at our house is that they can’t ask for gum but can have it when we offer it.
When we give her a pack though, she can ask anytime she wants it… but when it’s gone, it’s gone. 🙂
6. Bath bombs
I love the bath bombs that Lush sells because they are made with food-grade dyes and vegetarian ingredients.
The girls look forward to their bath bomb in their stocking every year and will generally remind me as Christmas is getting close, “don’t forget our bath bombs!”)
7. Little Silverware
We got our girls miniature silverware for Christmas and it was a huge hit. Even though they already had the plastic forks and spoons, they LOVED it.
They don’t like to use the plastic ones anymore unless all the metal ones are dirty.
Toys Our Minimalist Family Skips
If you want to be intentional with the toys you have in your house, you may also want to think about the types of toys that don’t align with your values.
Sometimes it can help to articulate which toys aren’t welcome as gifts. That way if a grandparent asks if they can purchase that type of gift for your child, you know how to answer and can help them find a toy that would be a better fit for your family.
These are the four types of toys that we don’t purchase in our family:
1) Closed-Ended Toys
This refers to toys that have only one way that you can play with them. An example of this could be a toy vacuum. There is really only one way to play with that.
I’m not saying to keep all cleaning toys away, I have a toy broom that my girls use when I am sweeping. But the difference is that the broom can actually function as a broom and is teaching a skill.
Whereas the toy vacuum in my example can only pretend to be a vacuum and make the noise. And let’s face it, that’s only fun for everyone about 12 times total.
2) Toys from Movies or TV Shows
This somewhat falls into the category above, but most children will use a toy that comes from a movie or TV show to recreate the story that they know from the movie or TV show.
This isn’t encouraging them to use their imagination.
If your child has one movie or TV show that they really love and you know will stick around for a while, sure, go ahead and get them something from that.
But don’t go overboard with it because they will most likely lose interest when the next movie or popular TV show comes out.
3) Noisy Toys
This has been my golden rule for toys from the beginning and I am SO happy with it:
I don’t do toys with buttons and batteries.
Noisy toys annoy the parents, the child loses interest once the toy figured out and every button has been pushed 75,392 times, and all of this usually happens by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around.
Now, if you decide to adopt this rule, note: your kid will find every single noisy toy at their friends’ houses when you go there. It will look like you need to get them some because they are having so much fun with them.
But if you take a second look, you’ll realize that the kids who own the toys had no interest in them before your kid started playing with them. Then they will probably start in with “that’s mine!” just because your kid looks like they are having so much fun with it. At least that’s what happens to my kids all the time!
Don’t be fooled though, the kid who owns the toy probably forgot that they had it until your child noticed it!
4) Equalizer Toys
I don’t worry about getting something extra for one child just because I spent more on the other one. I definitely don’t buy an extra trinket because child A has more packages to unwrap than child B.
When I am deciding what to get them, it has more to do with what they need and/or will actually use than a dollar amount.
This year at our house, we will be spending a lot more on my younger daughter.
Is it because I like her better than her sister? Yes.
I’m kidding! Of course not!
It’s because her sister has already had 5 Christmas’s and Birthdays and already has the items I am going to get (a balance bike, a backpack, and a water bottle).
Even what we are planning on getting my oldest (some doll accessories… go figure!) will be for them to share.
Why? Because at our house, every toy and book is community property. We don’t have my toys and your toys. We have toys.
It makes my life a little less complicated and it makes them more relaxed about sharing instead of trying to protect their personal property.
I also don’t purchase duplicate toys. Aside from maybe getting two doodle pads for a road trip, or getting them each their own doll or stuffed animal, or getting a couple of doll strollers so they can take their babies for walks together, we don’t have duplicate toys in our house. They are expected to take turns and learn to share.
I figure it’s a good time to start learning this since it’s pretty much how life is going to work 🙂