Americans have too much stuff. And our children have WAY too much stuff. Most of us are drowning in a sea of stuff. Managing our crap takes precious time that we could be spending enjoying each other. So when the holidays come, we find ourselves facing the quintessential first world problem – what holiday gifts can we give our loved ones that won’t simply get thrown onto the heap of things that need to be picked up and organized–and that are more thoughtful and fun to open than gift cards??
Some would say “give less stuff” and “give better stuff” but one or two presents – even if expensive and high quality – just doesn’t bring the same wow factor that opening lots of presents does – especially for children. And for those of us who are less well off, it sucks when our kids have that “is that it” expression.
The solution to the Present Problem that’s worked out best for me is to emphasize consumable presents. Things that we use up or eat or that aren’t meant to last very long. I wrap them up or stuff them into a stocking and the family opens them and it feels like we have a million dollar holiday season when I haven’t spent much at all. The recipients of my gifts get things they can use rather than stuff they don’t need or want, or a gift card that then requires additional effort on their part. Best of all, these things are readily available; no long lines, no running from store to store trying to find the last must-have gadget. No worries about sizes or return receipts. And we’re not tripping over broken plastic crap for the rest of the year, either – well, any more than usual. Plus, these are all good last minute gifts if you need those.
Art supplies: Pretty paper, fancy pens (the scented pens are always a huge hit with my kids), stickers, glitter. There is no child on Earth who doesn’t love to get a new, great big box of Crayolas to mess around with. Many of the coloring books on the market right now are wonderful – and who doesn’t have fond memories of coloring a black velvet poster?
Craft and hobby supplies: If there’s a crafter on your list who goes through supplies superfast – yarn, glue sticks, scrapbook paper, embroidery thread, paint – the holidays are a great time to help them restock their supply. Gardeners need soil and fertilizer, grease monkeys need motor oil, gun nuts need bullets, people who fish need whatever it is that people who fish need (worms?) A little sleuthing will help you figure out what they’re in short supply of.
School and office supplies: Most homeschooled kids will groan, immediately recognizing that big package of pens, pencils and notebooks that is always under the tree at holiday time. But college students actually NEED these things and are usually too broke to buy highlighters and legal pads. And even we adults can use a fresh pack of Sharpies and some packing tape, even though office supplies don’t make for the most exciting of gifts.
Junk Food: ‘Tis the season for partially hydrogenated trans fats. Chocolate, cookies, chips, crackers. Whatever forbidden fruit you don’t normally buy, now’s the time. We give our kids a box of Ritz crackers every year at holiday time as a tradition, and also because they go on sale this time of year. And the kids’ Christmas morning breakfast is nearly always Pop Tarts and cocoa that Santa brought. I’m not advocating that. Just don’t forget the candy canes.
Cooking Supplies: Specialty hot sauces, gourmet condiments, jellies and jams, pickles, coffee or tea, unusual spices like saffron – anything a person wouldn’t necessarily pick out on their own. While this is more of an adult thing, once I bought some jimmies and sprinkles on sale and wrapped them as a present to my kids, who were enthralled.
Self-Care Products: Fancy soap, shampoo, perfume, lotion – anything a person can use to pamper or even just maintain these smelly fleshsacks that carry our heads around. Some people already have a lot of this type of product so this wouldn’t be a good gift idea for them, but if you’re shopping for someone like me who regularly scrapes out the last remnants of deodorant to smear on my pits, it’s fantastic. Beyond beauty products, everyone needs the occasional pair of socks and you can actually buy subscription socks. (We live in a strange and marvelous world.) My kids have come to expect a new toothbrush in their stocking every year. One of my adult sons has horrible allergies and equally terrible priorities, so he’s always running out of medicine. This year he’ll be getting the very exciting present of a year’s worth nasal spray, eye-drops, eczema cream, and antihistamine. #bestmomever
Home decor: No woman has ever said the words, “I have enough candles”. Cleaning chemicals are also a possibility particularly for a new homeowner or anyone who you know has a beloved cleaning product they’re always running out of (I would LOVE if if someone gave me a crate of Lysol Tub and Tile spray this year, that stuff is awesome) but proceed with caution as you don’t want to send a “you really need to clean more” message.
Pet Supplies: If you are buying for an animal lover, spoiling their furry, finned, or feathered friends often gives the owner just as much enjoyment as a present for themselves.
Entertainment: Instead of wasting money on a DVD that will collect dust, give movie tickets instead. Or if you’re on a budget, buy a movie for streaming when you’re all together during the holiday season and provide the popcorn and Red Vines. It may seem cheap, but togetherness is priceless and you’ll remember it a lot longer than an Amazon giftcard, I promise. Last year, my husband gave his sister a subscription to a music streaming service and they’ve had fun all year sending new music back and forth to each other. And for those adults on your list who imbibe, a bottle of wine or a 6 pack of craft beer can be very entertaining. If you’re less of a couch potato than me, springing for a trip to the bowling alley, skating rink, water park, sporting event, or concert is a great way to create family memories that last a lifetime.
TOYS! The holidays are for children most of all. There are so many toys out there that don’t last very long but get so much play while they last…balloons, both regular and water; sidewalk chalk; window markers; Play-Doh; punch balls; tattoos; kites; bubble soap. There are gobs of craft kits and science kits that are one time only use (when I asked my ten year old about this, he said “Geodes!”). We’ve had a lot of fun making gingerbread houses and holiday ornaments from kits over the years. One of our favorite gifts (courtesy of Grandma) was a year’s subscription to Steve Spengler Science – the kids got a science kit every month and once it was done, it was gone. And finally, jigsaw puzzles, while not totally disposable, are rarely put together twice. The holidays are the perfect time to do a puzzle – no one has an excuse to keep their face buried in their phone and it keeps everyone from talking politics (“I’m looking for a blue corner piece, anybody got that?”) And when it’s done, it can be donated to charity or passed on to a neighbor or even stuck together with puzzle glue and framed.
I hope everyone has or has had a wonderful holiday!