I was going to wait until December to share this post again but I realized that sooner might be better if the idea of a simplified season is a new (but appealing) one to you. Especially if you will be sharing this list with friends or family.
Because a season full of giving and connection, but lacking in the overwhelm of too much stuff feels just right over here. And I thought, perhaps, it would for some of you as well.
Are you inspired to have a more simple holiday with a little less excess at the end of the season? Especially when it comes to your children?
You're not alone.
Since I shared these two posts to inspire more simple celebrations and to share our family's almost toy-free journey, I've gotten several emails asking for a bit more guidance.
Less toys? Yes! Less clutter? Please! Less consumption? Amen.
These ideas are easy to get on board with until it's time to wrap presents or stuff stockings.
But then what?
Right. That's when it gets sticky.
So Sage (12), Lupine (8) and I worked up a list of 101 toy-free (and many clutter-free, consumption-free, stuff-free!) gifts to give to your littles this season.
Going toy-free requires a little thinking outside the box, so be open to new traditions and a new way of doing things.
Remember: just because it's a new idea for your crew doesn't mean it won't be fan-freaking-tastic. You might find that you all love it more than you ever imagined.
A few thoughts before we embark:
1. We often go overboard in our culture. Way overboard. I'm as guilty of this as the next. But when I started to pull back on the gifts (and the toys) I expected my kids to be a bit disappointed. At least at first. But they weren't. The first low-stuff year was voted the "best Solstice ever" by them both (That was the year they each received an ornament and a love coupon.) Go slowly and see how it feels to everyone. This isn't a formula for a better way to do anything. It's just how we do things around here. It might be a fit, it might not. Be open to either option.
2. Consider making a gift of something you might do anyway. It sounds silly, but if you child wants to take a class or go to camp, why not give that as a holiday gift? It would surely be appreciated. And your budget will be so darn happy about it.
3. And finally, consider the child. What does your little one love? What makes them tick? I'm betting it's not only toys. Craft a gift that suits their passions. Because these are the gifts they will remember. A train-obsessed two year old would flip for a ride on a real train or a visit to a train museum. And a ballet-obsessed six year old would be wild with anticipation to see a ballet rehersal or performance. You get the idea.
Many of the gifts listed below are items I have actually given my kids through the years. Obviously you have to consider the age and interests of your child, but this is a solid jumping-off place.
But enough chatter. Let's get to it.
101 toy-free holiday gifts and stocking stuffers
Give an Experience
These are among our family's favorite gifts – to give, to receive, and to cash in!
- Gift certificate to the skating rink
- Gift certificate to restaurant, cafe, or ice cream shop
- Movie theatre tickets
- Museum membership
- Love coupons for special dates together (one per month or one per season would be fun!)
- Music or dance lessons
- Tickets to a play, a concert, or the ballet
- Horseback riding lessons
- Magazine subscription
- Sparkle Stories subscription
- Gift certificate to summer camp
- Sleepover party "gift certificate"
- Media time tokens (if children receive limited screen time in your home)
- Home pizza party coupon
- Breakfast in bed gift certificate
- "Coupon" for an night at a hotel with a pool with a parent and a friend
- Certificate (homemade is great!) for special event, midway tickets for the county fair, etc.
Kitchen Gifts and Treats
My kids have been busy in the kitchen since they could stand on a step stool at the counter. For this reason special kitchen-related gifts are always met with enthusiasm. (And yes, treats are too.)
- Child-sized tea cup or dishes set
- Recipe and ingredients for a special dessert
- Tea party dishes and coupon for a tea party with a friend
- Fresh fruit
- Homemade cocoa mix
- Candle for the dinner table
- Place mat
- Travel cup or drinking jar
- Dried fruit or friut leather
- Nuts in the shell and a nut cracker
- Personalized cloth napkin
- Child-sized kitchen tools
- Recipe box with favorite recipes and blank recipe cards
Get out there! To the county park, to your backyard, anywhere. Even if you live in the city many of these gifts can be used at your nearby park or even on your patio.
- Garden tools
- Garden seeds, small pots, and potting soil
- Rope, pulleys, and other open-ended hardware store treasures
- S'more ingredients and a winter campfire coupon
- Nature exploration kit (magnifying glass, bug boxes, plant press, butterfly net)
- Sunprint paper
- Ice skates
- Treasure bag or backpack for nature walks
- Water bottle and snack pouch
- Fire starting kit
- Sleeping bag and bedroll
- Certificate for back yard camp out with a parent
- Fort-making supplies
- Gift certificate to hardware store
- Tinkering kit – hammer, nails, screwdriver, screws, and wood
Crafting is our number one way to spend a day. That makes crafty gifts a natural win.
- Playdough ingredients and recipe
- Glitter, glue, sparkles, scissors, tape, glue gun
- Beading or jewelery supplies
- Stamp pad for thumb-print stamps
- Colored pencils
- Watercolor paints
- Sketch book
- Pencil sharpener
- Acrylic paints, brushes, and paint mixing tray
- Sewing supplies
- Potholder loom
- Yarn and knitting needles
- Calligraphy pen
- Modeling wax
- Scratch board and tools
- Candle rolling kit
- Peg dolls, paints and perhaps a peg doll book
- Paper bead making supplies and instructions
- Washi tape
- Needle felting supplies
- Project book, needles, thread, and fabric
Simple things can be gifts too. When I was a child I think Santa brought me new socks and underwear every year!
- Wool socks
- Analog watch
For some kids a spa gift is heaven on earth. Read those labels though, won't you? Go with the good stuff. (Disclaimer: shameless self-promotion to follow.)
- Lip balm
- Bubble bath
- Natural perfume
- Face pencils
- Body glitter roll-on
- Jewelery box
- Natural nail polish
- Spa night coupon and supplies
- DIY body care kit (edited to add: I just wrote this DIY perfume kit tutorial!)
Just for fun
These didn't fit anywhere else. But all are fun, so there you go.
- Bath crayons
- Personalized pillowcase
- Holiday ornament (homemade or purchased)
- Deck of cards
- Board games
- Photo album or homemade story book of the child's life so far
Tell me – are you inspired to go toy-free this year? What would you add to our list?
Originally published in 2014
4 thoughts on “Simplify your holiday: 101 (fun!) toy-free gifts for kids”
Thank you so much for this wonderful and thoughtful list!
All great ideas. I’ve used a few myself, like the headlamp for the cousins’ xmas exchange. I would also suggest a stop watch. My kids are asking for it. Hours of fun timing things, used inside and out, grows with the child.
Its nice to think I might be on the right track. The main gift for my son this year is tickets to a hockey game with dad. It was hard on the budget, but it will be worth it to see him experience it. Thanks Rachel!
Certainly only for an older child, but we are really excited about giving fireworks to older cousins this year!