As we head into this holiday season (albeit much sooner than I wanted, thanks to the Christmas-themed coffee creamer and displays of holiday decorations in stores in the middle of August), I’m focused on setting up our family holiday traditions without the requisite piles of “stuff.” While I would not consider myself a minimalist, I do try to approach our purchases of physical items intentionally.
Our daughter is just shy of 2, and I realize we are entering the prime years of “stuff” acquisition — which will probably last until she’s about 14 when she decides I’m not cool enough to pick out gifts for her anymore.
Regardless of which phase of life you are in, it is never too early to take a reset or break from physical gifts. Here are a few ideas to help set up your holiday season with intention:
Gift a donation to a favorite nonprofit
My husband’s family has a tradition of gifting the children a set amount of money to give to a favorite nonprofit. This is a tradition we plan to continue with our daughter — and it’s never too early to start. Allowing children to participate in the selection of the nonprofit gives them the opportunity to tell you why they picked the organization and what matters to them.
They might choose your local animal shelter, food bank, or even an organization that helps kids just like them. As your kids get older, you can challenge them to do further research into the nonprofits they are considering. A great place to start is GiveWell.org, an organization that conducts deep analyses of effective charities.
Gift a donation to a 529 education fund
When our daughter was born we set up a 529 education savings plan, making it easy for grandparents and relatives to add money directly into the account during the holidays and on birthdays. This is a great way to avoid getting “stuff” when kids are too small to understand what presents are, and it provides a runway to allow the investments to grow over time. A 529 can be used for a wide variety of educational expenses, including tuition (kindergarten through college), student loan repayment, and sometimes apprenticeship costs.
Gift an experience
Gift something to share
Create a wish list
For the family members who insist on purchasing a physical item for your kid(s), create a wish list. Amazon allows you to build a shareable wishlist that does not have to be strictly from Amazon. You can link to any external website, which allows you to support small businesses and be very specific about what lands on the wishlist.
I firmly believe we teach people how we want to be treated; this includes how you want your family and friends to interact with you and your kids during the holidays. Our dear friends started sending out their daughter’s Amazon wish list well in advance of the holidays with the explicit statement that the wish list was exactly what their daughter wanted (gifts) and/or exactly what she needed (clothes, etc).
For someone like me whose love language is gifts, receiving one of these lists can be hard at first. I pride myself on picking out the perfect gift for my friends and family, and being told what to pick from feels less personal. However, as a parent, I understand the utility of these wish lists — you control what comes into your house.
Whatever your methodology for gift management, my hope is that you find one that leaves you feeling calm and at peace after the holidays have come and gone. As moms, we have enough sources of stress in our lives — don’t let the pile-up of “stuff” be one of them.