Simplicity Mama Holiday Survival Plan: Gift Edition

I am hell bent on keeping it simple this year. Every year I make progress. Here’s where I’m at today.

The kids don’t need more stuff.

holiday card photoshoot #2: 2011

The kids need more time with me.

We have committed to LESS all over the house. We gave away five bags of toys in the last month. The kids notice the difference too. They actually play with the things they kept. They seem to value them more too.

Grandparent/special care giver or teacher gifts:

  • go to the local thrift shop, and buy a box of multi sized and colored frames. They are always there. Have the kids pick one or two they want to fill with art. Buy a box of scrabble–for the pieces only. Have the kids pick out the names of the recipients to glue on the frame. Or a word or phrase to go with the space ship drawing like; “Nana you send me to the moon.”
  • Always a favorite here: a flock of chicks, or a goat from the Heiffer International Gift Giving Catalog in the person’s name. They get a sweet little email card from you saying it has been made. Have the kids pick the gift, and let them each hold the $10.00 they are “spending” to help another family thrive.
  • Another organization that is doing great work and would make an awesome donation in the name of a teacher is the  Africa Schoolhouse Project . The site offers ways to get your school age children involved in collecting supplies for school children in Africa too.
  • In our extended family we have agreed to not give gifts this year, but to make a contribution in the name of another to a charity of our choosing.

How I keep it simple and easy with the kids:

1. One gift.  One from Santa. One from me. One from the grandparents. That has always been the deal. Santa is too busy to be buying them a zillion things. Pick one special thing. Done. Even if you didn’t start out that way–it can be introduced this year. One VERY COOL thing. It is fun for the kids to really think about that which they REALLY want, and want to take great care of.

2. For Sam’s birthday (he is a veryclosetoChristmas baby) I have his party for his friends the first weekend in December every year. Instead of asking his friends to buy him a present we agreed to ask for a new favorite book for a local book drive or a school supply for Sam’s classroom (and maybe we’ll share  those supplies with The Africa Schoolhouse). Sam and I came up with this idea together–and to help him with the prospect of not getting any plastic toys that would break in 5 minutes-I agreed to get him one toy of his choosing to open that morning. He has been BEGGING for a Nintendo DS. So, we went to the GameStop, picked out a used  refurbished DS lite with a free one year warranty and two used games for it. He charged it, and wrapped it last night. On the wall by his bed is a calendar counting off the days until he can open it.

3. Mama passports. I laminate a picture of them and me on a little card stock with the words; “Passport to Mamatime” In the same box is a little notebook. We write down ideas for special things we like to do together–that the other sib may not. Like in Sam’s case that would include; going ice skating, to the skateboard park, or the pizza joint. Then once a month he takes me and him “out” with the passport. I get a sitter, or friend to cover the other. It can just be an hour, but it is time spent alone and together that we look forward to for days. Instead of asking for presents for ME, I ask my friends to cover these dates.

ME: Every year I ask my brother or a friend to take them out and get me something for the holidays. This is not just about me. I want them to have the experience of getting mommy something too. Of navigating the world of commercialism and not buying this or that, but thinking about the person etc. Of choosing something with love, that is within their means. Finally, I want them to be able to do what a kid with two parents gets to do too. I love all the things they make of course–and love showing them that I have capacity for all of what they bring my way!

What are your tips for keeping it real, local, loving and not too excessive or expensive this year? Feel free to share links with us, of great posts you’ve read on the topic too–like this one from Rage Against the Minivan on gifts that give back.


  1. I love the Scrabble frame idea! We shop (and donate) to Goodwill stores all the time. I haven’t been able to simplify to the extent you describe but you’ve given me a good goal to reach for. Thank you!

  2. I love, love, love this…now if only I could convince my husband, lol! I suggested the charity contributions one year instead of gifts and he about fainted. He just comes from a different family culture. I am going to think about this some more…thank you!

  3. Thank you for sharing Catherine. Reading your piece brought me back to our decision of telling our daughter the truth about Santa, When I was growing up Santa representing one thing and one thing only…MORE PRESENTS. As a result my husband and I actually decided that we would tell our daughter at a very young age that Santa was make believe. It was fascinating to see her make sense of it all. Once she knew Santa wasn’t real she seemed at ease. # of gifts from Santa didn’t represent anything to her and she didn’t really even care when other kids said “Santa gave me this and that” in fact I think those comments confused her a bit. I know this is a controversial topic but i just wanted to share my thoughts. We have also taught our daughter to be respectful that other kids do believe in Santa and that is not our job to tell them anything different. Interestingly last week she told me that her 10 year old friend whispered in a very shocked tone “did you know that Santa is not real?” my daughter said she just smile and nodded.,

    • Astrid,

      Great to see you here. I’m with you on the Santa thing. I would love not to have the dupe at all. I have decided to speak the truth when asked. SO keeping it to one gift feels like a semi reasonable compromise…

      • Yes, I like the one gift idea. I too am a “speak the truth when asked” mama ( so when my daughter asked at 2 and a half (yikes, didn’t expect it that early) if Santa was real I struggled a bit but also saw it as my opportunity.

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