Mini Minimalists #3. Gifts for children

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This isn’t three gifts but rather #3 in the minimalist series…

I have been asked about how we approach gifts and so I thought that it would be a good idea, to talk about how we deal with gift giving for children. The simple answer, is that we simplify, without losing out on any of the magic that this season brings. Christmas is my absolute favourite time of year, I really, seriously love it but for so long, it included a lot of excess and stress. Because not only did I have to buy all the stuff, that I really didn’t want to buy, I also had to make room for it and to be honest, I’m not sure which was worse.

I would spend months before the big day rushing around, buying things on the ever-growing lists, only for something to be added last minute, which I could never, ever find. I spent so many Christmas times feeling like I’d failed, worrying that my children’s day would be ruined and so I would buy extra stuff that I thought they wanted, just to make up for that one thing, that I couldn’t find.

Christmas would revolve around presents and we wouldn’t think anything of knowingly getting into debt, just to fund the ‘essentials.’ Looking back, It was madness because everything was deemed as essential but that was just how we did Christmas and surely we couldn’t change things - the precedent had been set.

But since simplifying the holidays the children are more than happy with our minimal Christmas. We still celebrate the day just as we always have, only now the focus has shifted - from presents to presence. There are still gifts to open under the tree, of course there are but now we just open less. We want the season, to be about time spent together making memories, rather than the excess amount of gifts, being the memory.

Often, we do what we know and I grew up with Christmas being a really big deal. There wasn’t much given throughout the year but come Christmas Day, there would be piles and piles of presents placed carefully under the tree. I can still remember wondering, how all of these gifts were just for me.

However as an adult, childhood is hazy and I can only now remember one gift that I was given, from Christmas Day. It was a Sindy set, possibly a camper van with some furniture and I remember it being bright orange. (I am a child of the 80’s after all.) I can’t remember anything other than that but I can picture myself, beside all of my presents, ridiculously happy with my new toy. It is a lovely memory - one of the best from my childhood but it is just one memory. One memory out of hundreds of things and although getting that toy has stayed with me, it is that feeling of anticipation and magic, that has really stuck.

I have gone, from trying to recreate that memory for my own children year after year, to deciding to simplify the amount of gifts that we give, along with our budget. We now have a rule, only to buy what we can afford and if we can’t buy it with our own money, then it stays on the shelf. We have spoken to the children, about having less and why and they mostly, understand. We have flitted between the poem of something you ‘want, need, wear and read’, idea of gift giving to buying one big present each. But after trial and error, we have decided for now, against both of these.

This year will bring the gift of a stocking each - filled with things that the children want and need, along with some additional edibles and arts and crafts. I’m not talking a small sock but nor am I talking a sack. Rather, a reasonably sized stocking full to the brim with thoughtful gifts, chosen with love and care. And that’s it. Our children won’t go without by having less because they will gain, so much more. Since simplifying Christmas, the selected gifts don’t bring the massive overwhelm that they once did, both for them and for me. There is also more of my time to go around - which is surely worth more than a toy that may be discarded, long before the day is over.

As for family they too keep it simple; my parents gift an experience, with a token gift to open just for fun and the in-laws, gift something that the children have asked for. All other gifts are vouchers to spend, as and when the need arises. This works for us. We don’t have a big family and so there was never the need to have the big talk but through conversation, they know our stance on excess, just the same.

As minimalists, I wondered for a while if we should do gifts at all. But our children are young and I would have been doing that just for the sake of, ‘being a minimalist.’ I think that this is possibly just as bad, as doing something for the sake of ‘being a consumerist.?’ It would have been for the wrong reasons, I want my children to enjoy gifts, not just follow the lead of what other minimalists do and forget about what works for us.

I always come back to the fact that I don’t want our children, to see minimalism as sacrifice. My children love toys and gifts and I don’t want to take that away from them. But maybe by talking about thoughtful choices and having less so that we can enjoy more, means that we can all have the best of both. Our children are happy with what they have and we aren’t the parents left wishing, we’d bought more.

It can often seem too hard, or too big to change the habits that we have made. Or to stand up to our families, regarding what we believe and how we want to live. But it is always, always worth it. We will never know until we try and we can’t expect our families and friends to understand, if we don’t explain what we want/don’t want and our reasons why,

We are content with our choices around children’s gifts now and a minimal Christmas is just normal. There won’t be excess under the tree but there will be that feeling of wide, twinkly eyed magic. We have slowly realised, that we don’t need piles of presents to create the magic - Christmas in itself does that, all on it’s own.