It’s officially November, so I thought I’d get in early and start the conversation about Christmas and kids and all the stuff that comes with that. I think it’s worth taking just a little time now before the rush comes in to figure out how we can handle consumerism with our kids and family at this time of year.
Raising kids that are not sucked into the consumeristic way our society is postured is a big deal to us but it can also come with its challenges. How do we keep our kids from having too much unnecessary stuff without feeling like we are depriving them? How do we align our values to these gift-giving times of the year when so much feels out of our immediate control?
Firstly, I want you to know that it is possible. It’s possible to be a conscious consumer, to consider the impact of your purchases on people and planet and still have a magical time of gift-giving and joy with your family.
Consumer Waste & Response Source reports that:
Over the Christmas period family and friends will spend £181 on toys for the average child.
41% of them will be broken or lost within three months. Because of the difficulty of recycling heavy plastics, most of these will head for the tip.
Few toys biologically degrade and even batteries are not recycled, despite the poisons they contain contaminating the ground water we use.
The packaging alone accounts for some 20% of the cost and 35% of the total amount of material, toy and packaging.
We get through 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging during the Christmas season.
I can’t justify these statistics when there are so many alternative ways to give gifts to children. I feel like I need to have a word with Santa.
As someone who finds it stressful to have excess stuff around me in the home, there have been years where I have dreaded these gift-giving times – feeling surrendered to the influx of presents that will inevitably come into the house at Christmas or around birthdays. For the last few years, we have been trying to prepare the way better in the lead up so that Dave and I can enjoy these times too and not feel burdened or like toy shop managers trying to keep track of all of the stuff that appears and needs a home. We should never be dreading how our house is going to feel around these times – this is our safe space – where our family does life together. Special occasions like Christmas should be a time for us to enjoy our families, not one where we head back to work in January needing a holiday to recover from our holiday. You feel me?
We have found that big influxes of presents can send our kids into a frenzy that can be exhausting to deal with (anyone else?). It feels like joy for a while, maybe even a few days, but sooner or later most of that stuff becomes forgotten about and we parents become burdened by it.
At this point I want to say that perspective will show us that this is a really beautiful problem to have. Other people in our family and circles want to give gifts to our children! There is a lot of beauty in that. We need to step back and remember that gift-giving is a love language and that people want to show their love towards our families. There are ways that we can embrace that offering that won’t brand us as Scrooge or overwhelm us all.
I want to suggest some hacks for getting a handle on Christmas and consumerism now before you feel hijacked by the amount of stuff that unnecessarily comes into your home. Here goes!
CLEAR YOUR SPACE
- We know that inevitably new things will be coming at Christmas, so it will help you to receive them with a little less overwhelm if your home is not already cluttered up with unused things. Take a Saturday morning or a Friday night and begin to clear stuff out. Games, toys, clothes that aren’t being used, are too small, broken, could be sold, given away, dumped or donated.
- It’s important to involve kids in the process of this as you go along. Be positive about it. Explain that it’s important to donate toys that we are done playing with to good causes. Maybe even set them the task of picking a few toys each to give away. Keep it positive - it is positive!
- If your kids (or you!) are struggling to give certain sentimental things away, put them in a box and store them somewhere out of your sight for a few weeks and see if they are actually missed. Then give yourself a pep talk and make some more space. You'll be so glad you did.
- If you want to limit the influx of stuff, you could suggest your family does a gift exchange system like secret Santa where everyone pulls a name each and has to buy for only one person. Set a budget and stick to it.
- Ask family to come together on a bigger gift or experience present for your kids like outdoor toys or tickets to a show.
- Check out this awesome post from Thalia at Sacraparental of '47 Christmas Gifts that Can Change the World’. Or this brilliant crowd-sourced post from Lucy at Lulastic of '60 Great Gift Ideas that Aren’t Toys’. These are great resources that you can use for buying your own presents for your kids too.
REFRAME THE CONVERSATION
- Pre-emptively start the conversation about having boundaries on presents with your loved ones now. The more time you give to the conversation and the gentle and positive you are about it, the more people have a chance to come round to your ideas and boundaries. This isn’t a conversation about depravity, it’s about the fullness you see in making sure that your kids get gifts that they will really love and use.
- So really think about what kind of gifts your kids would love. What are they into that they will stay into for a while? What kinds of toys stand the test of time? Imaginative toys are really important for development in smaller kids and studies show they also encourage kids to play well with others (think: art supplies, dress up kits, books, building blocks, farms, cooking kits, marble runs etc). Try to steer loved ones away from toys that do all the imagining for your kids (think: toys that talk, have lots of buttons/batteries, that are static or only have one function - these are generally the most annoying and the least played with). Outdoor play items, sports items and family board games are also great ideas!
- Take advantage when people ask what they can get your kids – be specific! If they don’t ask, you could drop it into conversation - “I know it can be hard to think of what to get the kids for Christmas so let me know if you need any ideas because there are few things they have mentioned or that I know they would love…”
- Keep the focus on the child - instead of having a conversation where you ream off why you hate toys so much, how they clutter up your house and go against your values; talk about how much the child would LOVE XYZ. Keep that arsenal of ideas in the forefront of your mind so you can suggest gift ideas with ease and excitement. People want to give gifts that they know your child will love. Make it easy for them to feel like the present hero.
Lastly, remember that you are the parents, they are your children and this is your home! You don’t have to justify your values to anyone and you shouldn't let anyone attach obligation or guilt to their gift giving.
I really hope this gives you courage do set some boundaries in place this year; to open up conversations with your loved ones about how we can do this gift-giving thing better together and how we can model to our kids that the magic is so much more than just mountains of presents.
Do you have any other ideas to add? How does the influx of 'stuff' feel to you this time of year? Have you found any alternative ways to navigate the overload of presents? Let's chat...