Now that it’s November, I wanted to release our 2016 Holiday Gift Guide! Below are affiliate links for your convenience.
I’ve had so many questions about our home and toy stash ever since I shared that we’re embracing minimalism and striving for less “stuff”. One of the most eye opening things that I sorted through over the past two months was the girls’ toys. I first started off by setting aside everything that they showed little to no interest in or things that they had outgrown. Those items alone filled my trunk, so I took them to our local Salvation Army and donated them. Next, I went through categories of toys and tried to keep only 1-2 of each (i.e., block sets, peg puzzles, floor puzzles, etc). I read in an article that an easy way to tackle this if you find yourself holding on to too much is to place the extra items in a box in your basement or garage for 30 days. If your child asks about something or you end up needing to grab an item within 30 days, pull it out of the box. Everything left after a month can be sold or donated. I also had a mom share that she eliminated a lot of the “play food” from her kids’ kitchen and they ended up playing and pretending more. My girls wouldn’t really play with their kitchen – they would just rip open the doors and throw everything out. To test this theory, I took out all of the items and only kept a handful. I opted for a lot of Melissa & Doug pretend items, such as their Ice Cream, Cookies & Waffle Maker Kits. I wanted things that they would interact with – as opposed to the wooden painted “cereal” or “tuna” blocks that ended up chucked at each other or scattered on the floor. Magically, within a day, they spent an hour or more cooking and creating dishes in their kitchen.
As time passed, I went through their dolls, books, puzzles and dress up clothes. I am proud to say that I have carefully sorted through every.single.item they own. Honestly, at first I felt “guilty” or wondered if others would think we were “depriving them” from things, but the positive changes I saw in my daughters over the next few weeks quickly wiped those fears from my mind. There are less tantrums, less fighting, more creativity and more peace. The girls can easily play independently for 90 minute increments now…it used to be 5 or 10 minutes on a good day. I have never felt so much joy in motherhood and so much calm in my home. So to all of you mamas who are seeking that for yourselves, I SO encourage you to consider everything I have shared above.
Ryan and I have always toyed around with the idea of implementing the “4 Gift Rule” for Christmas, but we both came from extremely excessive gift-giving practices and he, especially, would always end up pushing back. Once we sold or donated everything I sorted through, we quickly realized that a ton of it came from last year’s Christmas. We both had a pit in our stomachs thinking about all of the “fluff” gifts and excessive things we put our money into – only to have it tossed from our house a year later. We committed to the “4 Gift Rule” going forward.
I want to address a few things right off the bat. I think there is a misconception that 4 gifts is “too little”. Just because you only have 4 gifts, doesn’t mean they have to be cheap items from the Dollar Spot. Not that the true value of a gift is determined by the price tag, but I think that this is something that a lot of people get hung up on (including my husband). I know that one mom had two sons who were begging to share a room for the months leading up to Christmas. The parents decided to give them bunk beds as their “need” gift that year, and the boys were beyond ecstatic. Yes, they could have just gotten them beds at another time in the year, but it was a perfect “need” gift and something they thought their children would find great joy in. That was a big ticket item and definitely not from the dollar store. I personally would rather spend more money on a few quality items, then the same amount on a large amount of items of lesser quality that inevitably will equate to more “stuff” in our home. We also want to use this system to cut back on the amount we spend each holiday season. For us, we don’t want Christmas to be tied to “financial burden” in our mind, but at the same time, families can totally embrace this system without cutting their usual budget! Our main reasons for embracing this new practice are to acquire less “stuff”, cut back on the excessiveness that was ingrained in us growing up and raise our girls to focus more on all of the joys of the holiday season – not just equating Christmas to gifts.
Other backlash I have noticed that frequently surrounds the “4 Gift Rule” is that some parents love giving a ton of gifts and feel offended when 4 Gift Families condemn them for wanting other traditions for their kids. I want to say that I am only sharing this because we decided that this is what fits us and our journey towards minimalism. I in no way “look down” on any other families or what they choose to do in their home. As parents, we make our decisions based on what we feel is best and what will work for our lifestyle. What works for one may not work for another…and that’s a beautiful thing! Regardless of what traditions you implement for the holidays, I hope you can appreciate this collection of quality gift suggestions for your little ones!
Another thing I want to mention is that we plan to give 4 gifts to each member of the family: Something they want, something they need, something to wear & something to read. On top of that, we will each have stockings, which are additional items outside of the four mentioned above. The stocking gifts will be much more intentional than years past – again, I want to avoid the dollar section and the sense of buying just to fill the stockings. We also decided that the girls will receive a special “Santa Gift” each year and a gift box on Christmas Eve that has their holiday jammies and a book/movie to watch/read as a family before bed. We are so excited to tailor all of this to meet special traditions that we want for our family.
Lastly, a huge question I’ve been asked is “What do you do about relatives and friends?” We’ve tried to share our feelings with others about gifting, but Ryan and I decided that our plan is to graciously accept any gifts given to our children without any hesitation or push back. We feel blessed that others would care enough about our girls to thoughtfully purchase gifts for them and we want them to feel showered with that love. We encourage books, outdoor play items and “experiences” (dance lessons, science center passes, etc), but what others choose to gift is ultimately up to them. Once the girls lose interest in a gift or outgrow it, we will evaluate it like the rest of our belongings and anything that no longer brings value or joy to them will be locally donated.
I’ve tried to touch on the basics of why our family is choosing the “4 Gift Rule”, how to implement it and also address frequent questions I’ve come across. If you have any other questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. I also highly recommend checking out last year’s Holiday Gift Guide. It has items for kids of all ages (including infants!) and includes the majority of items that survived our toy purge (: So now, without further ado, I give you our guide for Minimalist Christmas Gifts for Kids!
Something They Want is that fun item that they are dying to get. It might be something they’ve been talking about for months, or an item you think is a little silly, but you know it will bring them joy. If they are younger, you can focus on a gift that centers around an activity that they truly love. We have found that items that foster a child’s imagination, incorporate problem solving, or promote creativity are the toys the girls go back to again and again.
- Pattern Block Puzzles: This is a wonderful toy that has gotten a ton of use in our home. Now that Rilynn won’t nap, she still has a 30 – 60 minute quiet time daily. This is one of the items she loves to play with during that time, as she can move from puzzle to puzzle on her own. This is a great way to introduce early math skills.
- Magna-Tiles: These are on our wishlist. We gifted them to cousins last year and they are awesome! Not only can you build with them, they make a great addition to light tables.
- Tea Set: This is another favorite for quiet time. Our girls also love taking it into the bath! I found an all pink & purple set from Pottery Barn last year – we also have the tool set featured here.
- Counting Pegs: We love our stacker pegs from last year and I thought this was a fun twist on that set!
- Jumbo Animals: We got a few different sets of these for Rowan and I was shocked at how entertaining they were/are for the girls! They are so much bigger than I originally thought, which is awesome. Every parent I’ve talked to has shared their kids love them just as much a we do.
- Dolls: I cannot say enough good things about these dolls. Rilynn and Rowan each have two and they will be getting an additional one for Christmas. They are from Germany and are extremely well made – you can even take them in the bath to clean them! Each outfit is reversible, so you get two for one. The quality of the clothing and accessories is what initially drew me in, but the girls’ attachment to them pushed me to hunt down additional dolls.
- Dollhouse: This dollhouse is amazing! It was Rilynn’s main birthday gift and gets 1-2 hours of use every day by the girls. They use all different dolls and animals with it (it can hold up to full size barbies). The features I love about it are the 45 pieces of included wooden furniture, the fact that it’s four-sided and that it is on wheels! Whenever friends come over there is no arguing because there are four sides and so many rooms to play in. I can easily move it around because it just rolls.
- Mental Blox: We gifted this to a friend for her 6th birthday and I was surprised to see how obsessed all of the 1-6 year olds were. This is also on our wishlist for the girls.
- See + Spell: A huge hit with Rilynn and any other child we’ve shared it with! It teaches letter recognition, spelling and puzzle skills.
- Shape Stacker: A great option for introducing multiple skills with one toy. Color recognition, matching, fine motor skills and counting!
- Farm In A Box: Another wonderful pretend play item that the girls love. The best part of it is that it folds up and clicks closed so you can easily travel with it!
- Magnetic Dress Up Dolls: We own 3 different dolls and the girls will play with them forever. This is another great quiet time activity – sometimes Rilynn will play for over an hour in her room!
- Grow Butterflies Kit: This was by far the neatest thing we have done this year with our literature units. Now that we have the kit, we can just purchase more caterpillars as needed. A truly awesome, hands-on gift idea that incorporates the wonders of science!
- Gears! Gears! Gears!: We have the garden set and gifted this gender neutral one to cousins for their birthday. Ryan and I love this toy as much as the girls do! There are other great STEM gift ideas in a post from earlier this year.
- Camping Set: When I purged our toy stash we kept all of the pretend play sets from Learning Resources. These are hands down one of the favorites in our home. The girls really love the camping set, garden set and cleaning set.
- Mega Bloks: We only kept two block sets and this was one of them. Not only can your children use them to build things, they serve creative purposes as well – like homemade puzzles!
Something They Need is a category that has a ton of flex to it. It could be a new backpack or pair of shoes or maybe a college student needs a new tablet. It can also be something that you deem important to your child or family goals! A big reason behind me simplifying our lessons was so that my girls could spend more time outdoors. For that reason, we love outdoor play items for this category.
- Mini Trampoline: We absolutely love this trampoline and it makes a great indoor activity during the winter months.
- High Quality Crayons: I recently purchased both these stick and block crayons for our girls. This will also be listed on our new minimalist supply list. They are vibrant, don’t break and can be blended (almost like oil pastels). Sick of replacing broken crayons, I finally invested in quality art supplies and I’m so glad that I did!
- Wagon: The girls are getting this as their “need” gift this year! We love going on walks and wanted to find a gift that would make that easier to encourage the activity. We borrowed our friend’s to test out the girls’ reactions and they loved it.
- Water Table: One of the best items we own that encouraged outdoor play this year!
- Watercolor Paints: Another higher quality art supply we recently purchased. These cakes work so much better than our previous sets and they create less mess!
- ezpz Mat: We own every version of mat from this company. We use them at every meal and also love their activity mat for arts + crafts. I wish we would have never purchased anything else!
- Sand Table: The other outdoor item we own that made the girls beg to go outside. I chose the table set up so that they didn’t have to sit in the sand.
Something To Wear is also a fun category to get creative with. This can be a clothing item, but also be something like accessories, towels, makeup, perfume, etc!
- Hooded Towels: Our girls love hooded towels! We have found some really cute options over the years – including personalized Disney characters on Etsy.
- Silicone Bib – This is the best bib. We use it for both girls (depending who has the messy meal) and it looks brand new after years of use! They come in a huge assortment of designs.
- Backpack – We have the owl one for Rilynn and always used it for nursery at church or for trips. I really love this unicorn as a possibility for Rowan!
- Hair Bows – A wonderful option for this category and these particular ones are great. They don’t fall out and we have an option for every outfit.
- Bowties – A great option for the little men in your life!
- Moccasins – From birth until 18 months the only shoes that fit our girls were moccasins. Freshly Picked are pricey BUT they are completely worth it. Each girl only needed two pairs from walking – 3 years.
Something To Read is pretty self explanatory. We are trying to choose Classics, Living Books, or special vintage book sets for this category. I also love the idea of choosing books that can be used for years to come (like the books above featured in our literature units).
- Peter Rabbit: I found a vintage version of this set on Ebay and purchased it for Rilynn for Christmas. These are wonderful classics and I’m excited to incorporate them into our learning activities over the next few years.
- Big Red Barn: This is the book we chose to give Rowan this year for Christmas.
- Ada Twist, Scientist: We own every book in this series and we will be using them in our curriculum. I absolutely adore every single one.
- Little Blue Truck: A favorite among children and the first literature unit we did this year!
- Maps: This book fascinates people of all ages. It’s packed full of interesting pictures and information from around the world. We use this for our literature units and will continue using it in the years to come.
- Finding Winnie: I fell in love with this book the first time I read it – it’s the amazing true story behind Winnie the Pooh. We will be using it in an upcoming literature unit as well.
- Nature Anatomy: We own both current books in this series and are excited for the third one releasing soon. So much information presented in an attractive and beautiful way. This will be the main companion to our Nature Studies.
- The Jesus Storybook Bible: I love this Bible. It fits our personal aesthetic and it makes it easy to include into story time. It’s the best option I’ve found for preschoolers and young children.
Like I said above, we still plan to do stockings each year! Our goal is to find quality items that our girls will actually use, instead of just buying little trinkets to make sure the stockings are full. Besides the items below, there are also some great ideas in our Creative Easter Basket post I did earlier this year!
- Underwear: We’ve tried a lot of underwear and Carter’s are our faves. So well made and so soft.
- Sidewalk Chalk: Another great useful item to encourage outdoor play.
- Cars: A fun pretend play item that makes a great option for stockings!
- Playdoh: Both Rilynn and Rowan love playdoh. We bought this pack to split between their stockings this year.
- Mess-Free Art: We had 4 of these from last year – the girls used them so much that we had to toss them from being so beat up. I got them each one for their stockings this year. These are wonderful for traveling since it’s just water in the “pen”!
- Mini Babydolls: Another great pretend play item that we purchased. We will be splitting them between the girls and they are great for on the go.
Hopefully you found these resources to be helpful! If you aren’t already following along, we would love your family to join our literature units. These activities are geared towards infant – preschool aged children. The community that has stemmed from the units has been an incredible blessing to our family – we’ve made lifelong connections and friends around the world!
Don’t forget to check out our extensive gift guide from last year for more wonderful toys we own. We hope that your family has a blessed holiday season!