Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thoughts on Gift Giving - for the kids

The holidays are coming. We're being bombarded with even more marketing than usual, the toy aisles at Wal Mart are full and spilling into the walkways, and the newspaper advertisements include actual books of pictures of toys intended to make our children beg for all the things they don't even actually want.

Over the past several years, I've become completely jaded when it comes to Christmas gift giving, especially to my kids. It's exhausting, it's irritating, it's wasteful and expensive. I want to make a change this year. I want to give them less, but not have them feel like they're missing out. But how to do it? When you set the standard for eight years, how do you suddenly turn around and just stop?

Honestly, I've always tried to keep it fairly simple. At least, compared to the insane barrage of gifts I was presented with each year as a child. The rule has always been six gifts - each month through the year, I would purchase a gift (something I found on sale usually) and stash it away in The Christmas Closet. (The six remaining gifts were for birthdays.) Doing it that way avoided feeling that extra pinch at Christmastime, and kept me from buying stupid things at full price during the holiday season. And until my oldest was about six, it was a really good system. But around that time, her interests became more specific - and on top of that, they changed more frequently. You can buy a three year old girl a Barbie in February and know she's going to love it come December. Not always so much with a six, seven or eight year old, who is fascinated with dinosaurs in February, but by December is over the dinosaurs and on to an obsession with horses.

So we need a new system.

My goals for this system: to discourage excessive want and materialism, and instead encourage appreciation and value; to provide toys and other gifts that will provide a full year's worth of enjoyment; to avoid adding to the already significant amount of Kid Clutter in our home; to not go broke.

I want to go down to four meaningful gifts for each kid (and by meaningful, I don't mean expensive.) Four is still probably an excessive number, but we better take this slow or we might all have a panic attack. One of those gifts will be hand made, all the better if it's made from recycled materials. One will be educational, something that will be used during school time to make learning a bit more fun. One will be something I find used - clothing or toys. (Is giving used items as a gift tacky? Eh, not to kids. Read Money Secrets of the Amish for a great view of this.) And the last will be a toy or something else they're really wanting.

This seems totally doable, right? I distinctly remember the year I was twelve, and when the presents under the tree were all opened and tossed aside, I looked one more time to make sure there was nothing else, and I was really disappointed. I'd already made out like... well, like a spoiled adopted kid whose parents wanted her to know how much they loved her. And I wanted more? Disgraceful. The let down was awful - going from the huge high of More Stuff to... done. I think a lot of people from my generation have a similar memory. We want to avoid that for our own children... so we've decided the best way to avoid it is to give them even more stuff! How much sense does that make?

So how to inform my kids - especially the oldest - that we're going to help build character by giving them fewer gifts? This can't go over well. They've got strong characters, but only Christ himself could accept that bit of news without feeling any disappointment.

My hope is to replace that huge pile of gifts with a huge pile of family traditions and togetherness. Remember in my last post, when I talked about quality time together as a family being the most important demonstration of love for my oldest daughter? Well, I'm gonna take that and run with it. I'm not sure just how yet, but we'll figure it out. I'm pretty good at coming up with hokey traditions that Two Little Girls love. I'll let you know how it all turns out.

Have you downsized your Christmas gift giving yet? How did it go over? If you've got any tips on how to make this less traumatizing for my kids, please do share!

1 comment:

Wendy said...

I like your new system! I have as an adult been my parents gift to me. For many years whatever there was usually contained a $100 bill taped to it and one year they stopped! For my kids, i keep a running list on my phone all year. sometimes there's a big ticket item like an electric guitar, sometimes (like this year), it's going to be downsized simply b/c there's nothing big to get. The little one's going to get these slipper socks she's been eyeing from the hallmark store and a little beagle stuffed animal. One year I got my dad a selection of like $300 worth of caviar and other fun foods (the store manager was a former student of mine, so I have a 60% discount!). Last year, he got a photo calendar. I'm letting everyone know that they're getting whatever the spirit moves me to get for them. Then, they get what the get and they don't get upset! :) My husband, my sister, and her husband used to also exchange gifts, but about 5 years ago, we started doing a secret santa among us and the deal is that the gift has to be around $20, and has to be homemade. It's been super fun and meaningful, and takes away the stress of spending extra money on useless crap. My sister knits and usually gives amazing knitted gifts. my husband is the t-shirt maker. My b-i-l is a woodworker, so his recipient usually gets some sort of wood thing. I constantly switch it up. This year I'm making beer for my recipient! We never miss the other gifts that we would have gotten.