Wednesday, April 29, 2009


In this season where we are receiving a lot of presents (and, may I say, greatly appreciate them and the spirit in which they are given - we feel the love), we are trying to figure out how to keep our level of stuff to a minimum. We want to be good stewards of what we have, and we're trying to move forward in the "enjoying without owning" direction - especially when there are others who are actually in need; but it's hard when you've spent a lifetime accumulating things and getting in the habit of acquisition.

I've been seeing this kind of thing (below) a lot recently, and I wanted to post it here mostly as a reminder to myself.


Great Gifts for Kids that Don't Involve "Stuff"

The following guest post is by Professional Organizer Liz Jenkins.

My daughter and I are cruising the aisle at Target last year on the hunt for the birthday present we need TODAY (you know . . . Barbie, My Little Pony, Polly Pockets, etc.) and then it hit me. Besides the fact that these presents cause piles of clutter and seem to be sort of a cop out (go to big box store, get plastic made in China, get gift bag, stick in bag, give to recipient), it also goes against my grain which is to be thoughtful and mindful about what I purchase.

She and I had the discussion that while these things were sooooo cute (her words), all of the plastic packages and wrapping end up in the trash, all of the little parts quickly break, and the abundance of stuff kids get is rarely played with, it was mostly the lack of actual care given to the choosing of the gift. So we’ve decided that our new mission is to give a gift that not only do we really believe the recipient will enjoy, but also one that doesn’t involve more STUFF that has to be stored.

In that spirit, here a list of great gifts that don’t involve stuff:

  • Movie tickets (you can get them on Fandango and don’t even have to leave the house – saving gas and time) – this is my number one all time favorite!
  • A trip with the gift giver to a place both would enjoy such as the zoo, children’s theatre, science center or aquarium. (We received tickets to Junie B. Jones at the Nashville Children’s Theatre for my daughter’s birthday and went with the friends that gave it – we had a blast!)
  • Make a movie on the computer of pictures of your child and the friend – Windows Movie Maker lets you add photos, captions and titles – then you can burn it to disc!
  • An edible creation made by the gift giver such as cookies, bread or homemade candy.
  • An art project made just for the birthday child, or a gift that includes all of the materials needed for an art project.
  • A gift certificate to a “make your own pottery” place or a place that offers classes such as cooking or acting.
  • A gift certificate to a book store (I don’t consider books to be clutter when it comes to kids!)
  • A donation in the child’s name to an animal shelter or charity that might speak to them.
  • “Buy” them a star and name it after them (you can find sites on the web) or “adopt” an animal at the zoo.
  • A gardening set with tools and seeds, or plants, and pots & soil if the recipient doesn’t have a place to dig in the dirt (this is “stuff” but useful and healthy).

While many of us are resistant to the idea of not giving stuff, suggestions such as these can make it easier, especially for family members. I think many grandparents or other relatives want their gifts to really be appreciated, and one way they tend to do this is to get things that are bigger and bigger.

My favorite suggestion for grandparents came from my friend, Namaste. She encourages her parents and in-laws to “buy” lessons (sports, dance, art, etc.) for a period of time. For example, if the grandparents pay for the ballet lessons, it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Then they can come to the recital to see the results. Often, they just don’t have other ideas – hopefully this list will jump start a conversation – and reduce the amount of stuff that comes into the house.
The funny part is that when I started doing this, I was a bit concerned that other parents would think I was weird, but the gifts we chose were hits. It started sort of a trend in my “set”. Go figure!

Liz Jenkins is a Professional Organizer and owner of a fresh space :: home staging and thoughtful organizing, based in Franklin, TN. Visit her at


Birthdays Without Pressure

This site has a lot of information, but there are some interesting suggestions on the "Ideas for Parents" page, as follows:

Many parents have expressed concern about their children receiving too many gifts, not having places to store the gifts they receive, and gifts being too much of a focus at birthday parties. The following ideas were suggested by other parents as helpful in keeping gifts from getting out of control. Each idea has worked for actual families. See which ones might work for you.

  • Explain to the birthday child that they will already be receiving plenty of gifts from family members, but that the friend party is just for fun. Write on the party invitation “presence/no presents.”
  • Ask the invitees to bring something to donate rather than a gift. On the invitation you may write that “gifts are by no means necessary, but that any gifts will be gratefully received on behalf of ____ charity.” Options for places to donate include: a community outreach program, day care for mentally challenged children, children’s hospital, pet shelter, etc.
  • Ask the invitees to bring their favorite new or used book to donate to a local library or shelter or have all the invitees exchange books at the party.
  • Ask grandparents and family members to give no more than 1 gift. If they feel they need to give more ask them to donate $10 to the birthday child’s 529 account.
  • Ask for no gifts and suggest that invitees bring a canned food item to give to the local food pantry.
  • Give your child one nice present instead of several. Explain that the party itself is part of the present.
  • Ask the invitees to bring a smile, themselves, and their favorite birthday wish song.
  • In lieu of a gift, ask invitees to bring a favorite memory that they share with the birthday child. They may choose to draw a picture that reminds them of the memory and bring it.
  • Put gifts that are duplicates or not age appropriate at the time of the birthday into a large box in the basement. At the end of the year, donate all of the stored toys.
  • Have the birthday child write thank you notes before playing with any of the newly received gifts.
  • Make a fancy homemade certificate giving the birthday child the gift of a special outing with a parent such as to a museum, science center, sledding, beach day, camping, etc.
  • Ask invitees to bring something small and creative in lieu of a toy like seeds for a garden, or cool photos for a scrapbook.

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