A Friendly Holiday Suggestion From a Mom with Too Much Stuff


A Friendly Holiday Suggestion From a Mom with Too Much StuffIt’s Halloween, which means the holiday season is upon us!

I’m going to take this opportunity to say something that may anger some of you – particularly those of you who may or may not be grandparents or extended family to precious little children that you are looking forward to showering with many, many wrapped and bow-topped items over the coming weeks. I say this not to hurt your feelings, but to let you know something that a lot of us mamas (although certainly not all) are feeling this time of year.

You ready?

Put down whatever it is you are about to buy our children.

Put. It. Down.

Did you do it? Did you put it down?

Now. Ask yourself this very important question: “Am I buying this because it is useful and long-lasting? Or am I buying this because it makes me feel good and will make this child excited for a few minutes?”

Because if the answer is that you are buying that gift because it makes YOU feel good, we don’t want it.

I have four children, y’all. All boys. By the time you get down the line to the fourth boy, you have ALL OF THE THINGS. All of them. Honestly, there is not one toy, book, or other non-consumable item you could buy my fourth boy that we don’t already have. The only exception is blue jeans and tennis shoes because those actually do wear out (so if you want to buy my youngest little snowflake something for Christmas, make it jeans or shoes – sizes 18mos and 5T. Thank you.).

Example. Four sets of toy keys. And this was just what I found without much effort in the toy bucket in the living room.
Example: Four sets of toy keys. And this was just what I found without much effort in the toy bucket in the living room.

We have become a culture obsessed with stuff. Our homes are overrun with stuff…shoot, even our cars are filled with stuff! One estimate is that the average American home has over 300,000 items. Our homes have tripled in size over the last 50 years, yet our families are smaller. We are buying bigger and bigger houses for our THINGS rather than our PEOPLE. Even the poorest among us are drowning in stuff because when those who are the wealthier among us get tired of their stuff (or need room for more stuff), they pass it along to the local thrift store.

Every year since I’ve had children I’ve looked forward to the holiday season less and less. Our calendars are bursting at the seams and hanging over my head is the knowledge that on top of all the things I am constantly moving, picking up, washing, cleaning, sorting, and tripping over, we are about to get even MORE. We will go to celebration after celebration where everyone feels like they need to give my kids something. More often than not, it is something that they love for a day or two – a week at most – and then it is tossed aside for me to clean, pick up, wash, or find a new home for (or nag my kids about doing the above). Christmas isn’t fun anymore. It’s work. It’s stress. It’s mess and clutter and chaos.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “This sounds like a personal problem and she just needs to relax/make her kids pick up after themselves/be thankful that people want to buy them things/etc.”

I have relaxed significantly over the years (ask my husband). I do make my kids pick up after themselves. I am thankful that people love my kids and want to buy them gifts.


We have too much. We have so much that my kids stand in a room filled with toys and can’t figure out what to play with. Heck, I stand in their rooms filled with stuff and can’t figure out what they should play with. There are too many choices! 

So, my dear friends, allow me to suggest some ways to share the holiday spirit without buying stuff:

For kids:

  • Memberships to a zoo, museum, aquarium, or other local spot. Chattanooga has several locations that offer discounted family passes, including the Children’s Discovery Museum, Chattanooga Zoo, Tennessee Aquarium, and Rock City. Especially for younger kids, who may not understand why they’re “just” getting tickets, grab a couple of items that show the fun things they’ll get to see when they go. For example, a stuffed monkey to take to the zoo, a book about sharks to get ready for the aquarium, or a science journal and pen for the children’s museum.
A great gift from last year (a membership to the aquarium) led to this fun day with the whole family!
A great gift from last year (a membership to the aquarium) led to this fun day with the whole family!
  • Give a day, a month, or a year at High Point Climbing Gym
  • Pay for classes! Whether the recipient is a fan of dance, martial arts, computers, Legos, or cooking, there are classes available. My guess is that the mom of a bunch of kids would love to be able to take her kids to classes like these, but can’t afford it (just a hunch). 
  • A monthly subscription, such as Kiwi Crate. My mom bought my older boys subscriptions to Tinker Crate (for my oldest) and Kiwi Crate (for my #2) and they LOVED them. Although we’ve not had an active subscription since last spring, they frequently ask when we can get crates again. Whether the kiddo in your life likes art, crafts, building, or pretend play these boxes are fantastic for ages 3-14. This is definitely a gift that will make kids AND parents happy!
  • Movie gift cards. We’re a family of six. SIX. Remember your last trip to the movies? Remember how expensive it was? Now multiply that by six. Yeah. We don’t go to the movies often. A great gift for a kid are the funds to go to a movie and the right to pick the flick! Give a gift certificate to a theater, some Dollar Store boxes of candy, a couple of sodas (for the special occasion only!) and instructions that only the recipient gets to pick the movie. 

For the grownups:

  • For the adults in your life, why not pay for a visit with a personal trainer? If you’re in the Chattanooga Area, call the Hamilton YMCA and request me! I’m a personal trainer who would be happy to be given as a Christmas gift. From making you feel more comfortable with gym equipment, to providing a workout and/or nutrition plan, to just being your workout buddy for a while, a personal trainer is an awesome and affordable option ($40 for an hour, or gather your friends for a small group session at a discounted rate).
  • For your girlfriends, plan a paint night or attend a workshop. Last year, my friends and I had a soap-making party at For the Love of Suds in Kingsport, TN rather than exchanging gifts. We brought wine and food and spent the night learning to make bath goodies that we then got to take home! We had a great time, learned something new, and went home with something we would use. There are studios in Chattanooga that offer paint nights and private parties, and Wine Down in Ooltewah does a monthly wine and paint.
A night out with friends is a great gift!
A night out with friends is a great gift!
  • Coffee or restaurant gift cards, especially for the parents in your life! My husband and I run on caffeine and Jesus. Jesus is free, Starbucks is not. I genuinely cannot think of a better gift than a Starbucks gift card. As for restaurants, if it’s not Chick-fil-A, the hubs and I don’t get to enjoy it together. So how about a restaurant gift card and an offer to babysit?

Shopping for worthless stuff has become way too easy. Rather than showering your friends and family with whatever you can find in the clearance aisle, pick something that will really enrich their lives. As an added bonus you’ll avoid getting the stink-eye from a tired mama who can’t stand the thought of ONE MORE TOY.

Check out the 40 Non-Toy Gift list for even more ideas!


  1. I don’t have any children of my own yet but I do buy for my friend’s four children – I’ve never bought them toys (out of respect for my friend trying to manage six people in a three bedroom house) but even practical things can be special, ie. one of her girls LOVES cats so if I see some piece of clothing or something practicalish during the year with that theme I’ll buy it ready for her birthday or Christmas. One year I bought all four kids a beach towel each, one less thing that mum has to buy and I spent AGES choosing just the right one for each child. With the oldest boy (16) I’ll take him shopping so he can choose his own clothes but its a nice one on one time spent with the child.

    Their family tradition for birthdays is that each child gets to have a one on one evening with mum or dad – usually a movie, dinner where they want. Its something the kids look forward to the most and plan ahead what movie they’re going to see and where they’re going to eat.

    If a child is starting school in the next year you could buy them their school bag or stationery, if they’ve just got their licence buy them a petrol card, if they’ve taken up a sport or activity buy the shoes/uniform/fees. The gifts are still special for the children and are also a help for the parents, win-win!

  2. I think what was missing from this article was the perspective of the gift-giver (as shown in some of the comments). Family and friends aren’t trying to fill your house with useless ‘stuff,’ but trying to find something they know the kids will want so they can see the excitement on their faces, especially with younger kids who may not appreciate the value of a gift card for swimming lessons or, in all honesty, not seeing the enjoyment of the kids at the zoo, theater or park because the parents took them. That being said, I’ve taken the approach of giving the gift of an experience with the kids in my family (trip to the zoo, mani/pedi day for the girls). It solves all issues: 1) no clutter or “useless” stuff, 2) allows me to see my nieces enjoyment when they experience and 3) makes memories between the 2 of us. Granted, this works bc my nieces family isn’t in a position where they don’t have the funds to do the activities as a family. I know this isn’t the case for everyone.

  3. Please don’t try to shame the grandmas that enjoy buying actual things for their grandchildren. Especially when they acknowledge what is given can be disposed of at will.

    It is appropriate to suggest what you may prefer to receive if asked or have a honest discussion 2-3 months before the holiday before presents are purchased. It is very appropriate to be gracious when receiving any gift and not berate the giver that it is not an experience.

    I am posting this as someone who has been sorting through a lifetime of accumulation and recognizes people are more important than things. If you state people are more important then why would you shame someone and make them defensive about buying your child(res) a gift(s) and risk hurting their feelings. I love the idea of experiences and detest the thought of suggesting to anyone they are wrong in what they freely give from their heart.

  4. Wow, reading these replies are like a tug a war contest or a nasty debate. I am a grandmother and appreciate this article and suggestions. I don’t think the author is trying to shame anyone but reasonably voicing some good suggestions (not requirements).
    I remember when my now grown kids were children. My mom would surprise them with big machine sounding loud toys to keep at her house (not at Christmas). After she had about 3 days of hearing her grandkids play with those toys that totally annoyed her (reminder: toys she bought them), she would insist that I bring the toys to my house. This was a repeated thing. At Christmas she bought them collectibles that they couldn’t play with. She would ask me what they wanted. But I kind of think she didn’t like their list (a non- expensive list) because she would end up getting what she wanted them to have (collectibles). Lol. I love my mom, but my children did not understand what the collectibles were for. My sister still has all the collectibles bought for her child but I have a small box of the ones bought for mine. They are grown and didn’t want any of that “stuff” as they call it then and now. The thing is we are all different and what one wants or likes isn’t the same as the other. So on to the topic of Christmas ornaments…. I am not a fan of buying someone an ornament to decorate their tree as well as a decoration for their house. If I get one more Christmas ornament as a gift I may go into a deep depression. I have been given so many hand made ornaments, collectibles, baby 1st items, etc. that I realize if I put them all on my Christmas tree it would not be my tree. It would be the tree everyone else wanted me to have. I think it’s like telling someone how to decorate their house. Lol. But some folks love getting yearly ornament gifts. I totally respect you and admire you! I did get a set of look alike ornaments with names on them this year and didn’t have the heart to hurt feelings so I placed them randomly on one of my Christmas scene shelves and they were really cute. I think I am going to hang them at various lengths from a window next year. Yeah, I’m learning to be creative which keeps “happy” in the house!
    So I’m sure someone will think I am non-appreciative and don’t understand that gifts are from the heart. Yes I do understand that gifts are from the heart. My husband and I ask our kids for specific clothes sizes and specific clothing items they want as well as other things they wish for. Same with grandkids. We ask for lists long enough that they won’t know which items they will really get (afterall, we can’t buy it all). And we do always give one gift they will know nothing about but try to pay attention and make it something they’ve been wanting that isn’t on their list. And we always give a gift receipt with it. They know we don’t care if they exchange it. We also like to include one family gift such as a movie basket with a few movies, popcorn etc.
    Ya just never can tell what really works! But we do always remember for us it’s about love and celebration of the higher above!

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