I Wish You a Mini Christmas: 6 Tips for Avoiding the Stuff-iness of Christmas

Confession: I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas. Well, all gift-giving holidays really, but Christmas tends to be the biggest culprit. Don’t get me wrong–I love the lights, the festive air, the time with friends and family, the actual “meaning of Christmas” stuff… but what I really don’t like is the STUFF stuff.

Now I am as likely as the next mom to break down in the middle of the grocery store toy aisle and buy my darling, doe-eyed child his fiftieth Thomas the train whatever in complete defiance of our “only stick to the shopping list” budget simply to enjoy his momentary glow of delight and that quiet peace that comes from an occupied, not screaming/crying/running/plotting destruction toddler … despite the fact that this momentarily treasured item will most likely end up wedged between an old cheese stick and that tiny shoe that I can never find under our couch before I have time to unload the groceries … But as a general rule, I’m a firm believer that less is more in the toy department. 

Now I am never going to win any housekeeping gold stars by any means, but I always feel a little better when things are reasonably tidy. When the toys start to take over our play space, not only does mommy start hyperventilating a little bit, but it’s harder for my little guy to focus on a play activity, find something he wants, or clean up after himself. When the toys are organized and contained to an amount that is not overwhelming, he’s more likely to pick out activities on his own, stay engaged for a longer period, and (mega mommy bonus) know exactly where to put the toy when he’s done.

When I was a new mom, I read a suggestion to keep toys on a rotation system so only a few are out at a time and they feel new to the child as they return through the rotation. I thought it was a great idea, got my toys separated into groups, and promptly forgot to ever rotate them. So I gave up on that and instead have made an effort to keep the toys that we do have limited to an amount that is not overwhelming (for either of us) and organized (or at least as organized as anything in my house will ever be).

But then… Christmas.

I want to celebrate and have fun with my child. I want to embrace the love of the dear ones in our life who are excited to spoil my little ones. I want to watch his delight as he rips open shiny paper and experiences new joys for the first time.

But then mommy’s eye starts to twitch a little because I don’t want to have to find a place for all these things or spend 54534530 hours picking them up off the floor or watch my child swimming in a room full of toys with “nothing” to do. Bah humbug.

Ultimately, my love of the spirit of giving wins over my hippy momma, tiny house dreaming minimalism, but if you find yourself struggling with the “stuff” of Christmas, here are a few tips that have helped us keep it from taking over the holiday.

1. Set a limit.

We have the particular advantage of being pretty broke, so this one comes fairly naturally for us. But whether it’s a year where we’re scraping together our Christmas pennies or rollin’ with the big Toys R Us spenders, I find myself wanting just onnnnnnne more thing for my sweet little boy who in all honesty will be just as happy with a cardboard box as a child-sized Rolls Royce. There is just something about the joy of being able to give to your child that makes it easy to over-buy.

Sometimes it helps to remind ourselves that more stuff does not necessarily mean a “better” Christmas. So help yourself out by setting a limit: dollar amount, number of toys, a “something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read” or “one in, one out” toy policy… whatever works for your family.

2. Give practical gifts.

Maybe this makes me a bit of a Scrooge, but I like to include every day items in our gift-giving. Aside from giving the little ones more things to unwrap with glee (because, let’s be honest, mine are mostly excited about tearing the paper), it also reminds my children to be thankful for the things we often take for granted.

Most gift-giving holidays at my house include boxes of diapers, a few clothing items in the next size coming, some favorite snacks, and several things from my “I’ve been meaning to get/replace/update that” list. We all cheer and say our thank yous just like any other gift.

I also go through the house and count all the batteries needed for the toys we already have and put those in the stocking. Then we have a big battery replacement party, and (voila!) old toys are made new and invited to the Christmas party. Mommy’s stocking includes aspirin for having to listen to all the newly working toys again.

3. Focus on experiential gifts.

While it may not pack the punch of “oohs” and “aahs” on Christmas morning, gift certificates for classes, lessons, memberships, and activities make AMAZING gifts that last beyond Christmas morning. As a gift-giver, it may seem more exciting to give something that will elicit more initial awe, but this is generally my number one request when family and friends ask what my littles would like.

Yes, the neon mega zoom bubble bazooka may make little Timmy jump up and down with glee on Christmas morning, but a semester of gymnastic classes will give us a fun, educational activity to look forward to each week, music lessons will teach my child a skill that will last a lifetime, and a membership to a children’s museum, community center, indoor play facility, or other local activity means plenty of fun, learning, and togetherness that we will appreciate long after the new toys have lost their shine.

4. Shop smart.

Look for toys that will grow with your child and encourage creative play. Toys that can be used in multiple ways are the best! I tend to avoid the “unitaskers”–toys that basically do one thing (push a button, and something happens–ooh, ahh!) that quickly lose the child’s interest once its secrets have been discovered. I love dramatic play, building toys, books, and crafts. Here are some great tips on finding age-appropriate toys from Better Beginnings.

5. Apply Giving Tuesday to your playroom.

Thanksgiving gives us a chance to talk with our children about our blessings. We apply that same heart of thankfulness to looking through our toy stash and finding toys that we can share with others. We spend a day as a family scouring the house for things to donate and take some time to organize the remaining toys and clear out any broken items as well. Not only does this provide a great opportunity for some lessons in kindness, generosity, and thankfulness, it also gets some space cleared for any new additions we might have on Christmas Day.

6. Find what works for you.

There are so many ways to structure your gift-giving holidays — you just need to find what works for you! Do you LOVE the spirit of Christmas giving so much you want to exchange family gifts every day of December? Great — do it! But don’t let the stress of the “stuff” take over your joy. If, on the other hand, the stuff-iness of Christmas is becoming a burden, I hope these tips will help you refocus your energy on enjoying the season with your family. Remember, your children will gain so much more from your PRESENCE than your PRESENTS. Find what works for your family and embrace traditions that make Christmas meaningful and enjoyable for your family.

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