Seven Reasons My Kids Don't Need Toys This Christmas

by | Nov 21, 2014 | 7 Quick Takes, Advent, Christmas, December, How We Roll | 33 comments

Don’t you just love this song?

I do. But naughtiness isn’t why there’s not going to be much under our tree this year. It’s just that there are plenty of reasons my kids don’t need any toys. Seven, in fact. Here they are . . . 

1. We Have a Lot of Stuff
We have a lot of kids. We have a LOT of stuff in our house. We have a lot of toys. I keep cleaning them out, and they keep multiplying somehow. We just DO NOT NEED more toys.
2. We Already Have What We Like and Use
Clean out after clean out, we’ve become more mindful about what we like and use, and we already have it. Legos, board games, dress up clothes, toy cars, tea sets, dolls, art and craft supplies, sports equipment, books. That’s it. That’s what gets played with regularly at our house. Is that all we HAVE? Nope. But all the rest of it seems to be primarily used for making messes. We don’t need any more of that. In fact, I’m going to TRY to get rid of more of it.
3. My Kids Aren’t Subject to Fads
One of the secret benefits of homeschooling is that my kids’ preferences aren’t subject to the whims of their schoolmates. They get to like what they like, and they get to keep liking it year after year. If there are hot new toys this year, my kids don’t know what they are.
4. I Keep Failing Anyway
At this point, I think it’s time for me to concede that buying The Big Toy For Christmas That They Will Love Forever is mostly a failed experiment at our house. I’ve tried it all, really I have. 
When we had one and two and three kids, we had the mountain of presents under the tree. Once we got to four and five and six kids, we started trying to limit the number of presents each kid got down to three items. By last year, with seven kids, they each got ONE gift from mom and dad and ONE gift from Santa. I researched popular toys. I read reviews. I carefully chose toys that I thought my kids were really going to love.
But even so, most of what they got was broken and discarded by Epiphany.

The best new things that have come into our house haven’t come under the pressure of MUST FIND THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS GIFT. They’ve been hand me downs, or birthdays gifts from friends who have and like that toy. And they haven’t come seven or fourteen at a time.

4. Opening Presents Isn’t Actually the Most Fun Thing You Can Do On Christmas, Even For Kids
I’m not even going to play the “Reason for the Season” card here. Yes, obviously we should be focused on the birth of Jesus, yes it’s less easy for kids to focus on anything else in the whole world when they are surrounded by new toys. But even if I give us the benefit of the doubt here, even if I figure . . we’ve observed Advent as a time of preparation, and my kids KNOW what Christmas is really about. We’ve put the Baby Jesuses in the mangers (yes, that is the correct plural), we’ve gone to Mass. But the thing I keep coming back to is the fact that we have spent so many Christmases insisting that the kids, “Stop playing with that and open the rest of your presents!” 
It’s just chaotic and messy and exhausting.
Our favorite things about Christmas are getting up in the morning and eating candy and fruit and hard boiled eggs from our stockings for breakfast, and wearing new clothes to Mass, and playing family boardgames, and watching a movie, and putting on our At Home Family Nativity Play.
I want us to have the time and energy to enjoy a couple of gifts, and some tasty treats, and some yummy food, and each other’s company. Plus the Baby Jesus part.
5. Experiences Are Better Than Stuff
Speaking of fun, doing stuff is better than getting stuff. I’d rather my kids make memories than messes any day. So, I’ve asked family members to consider getting the kids classes or taking them on a special outing, rather than giving them a toy.
We’ve done this in previous years as well, and it’s always been a big success. 
Getting grandparents, godparents, and aunts and uncles on board with a simpler Christmas, means my kids have received trips to theme parks, or movies, or lunch dates, or have been signed up for sports, classes, or activities that maybe we wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
My mom has wrapped up a printout of a map of Six Flags, or, the year my parents gave the kids their basketball sign ups, she wrapped up hightop sneakers to put under the tree for them.
6. Activities are Better Than Toys
My kids really like creating-type toys. That’s why they love Legos so much. But we already have enough Legos to last us a lifetime. They also really love arts and crafts, but art projects require a lot more input from mom. They are forever asking me for supplies and ideas, but coming up with craft projects for the kids and helping them do them isn’t at the tippy top of my list of favorite stuff to do.

So this year, our gift is going to take care of the “them needing a Christmas present” thing AND the “them needing something to do in the afternoons” thing. They’re getting Kiwi Crate, which is a monthly subscription service that delivers a sturdy little box full of 2-3 projects specially designed for your child’s particular age group. They’re each getting one.

So, there’s our Christmas done.

You can find out more here if you’re interested, through my affiliate link. (Thanks!)

Another great option for a monthly Catholic activity and craft subscription for kids is Saint Mail, to which we are also subscribed. I’ve reviewed it here.
7. They’ll Get Plenty of Fun Stuff Anyway
I’m pretty sure, that despite my best efforts, there will be gifts (and maybe even toys) coming the way of my kids. But at least this year, it isn’t going to be all my fault.
The kids will get some little treats, and probably a book from St. Nicholas on December 6th. Then on Christmas, Santa will probably be back with some treats and stocking stuffers. Most likely, Santa will also be bringing the kids one group gift of some outdoor play equipment or a gaming system of some kind. They’ll get to enjoy their Kiwi Crates from mom and dad not just on Christmas day, but every month all year. 
And it’s not just about the gifts anyway, it’s about CHRISTMAS. I want them to enjoy Christmas, not just on December 25th, and not just because of presents, but for the whole twelve days, and because it’s a special family time full of fun family activities. I want our family Christmas to conform to our family values and our family culture. ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

Speaking of that, if you want to hear more — lots LOTS more — about how we keep Advent and celebrate Christmas, have I got a podcast for you! I’m a guest today, for the second time, on Kristin’s This Inspired Life Podcast, talking all about exactly what we do and don’t do during Advent, how we observe Advent as a time of preparation, and how we celebrate Christmas as twelve days of family fun. So, check it out and let me know what you think.
In the spirit of the season, you might also enjoy reading:




And in case YOU have had fewer kids and/or fewer Christmases than I have had, and are perhaps still in the market for toys you won’t hate, stay tuned next week for a post on the toys I DON’T regret buying for my kids.
I’m linking up with Kelly again for Seven Quick Takes!

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click over and shop through my link, I get a portion of what you spend at no additional cost to you. But all opinions are my own, and I only link to products and companies I use and love.


  1. Amanda

    We've gone to something they want/need/wear/read for each kid, but that still comes out to what seems like a lot of presents. (A good portion of that stuff I'd have to buy them anyhow, though, so it works out well). And I put treats in their stockings – homeschooling is great, because they really look forward to that apple, as though I didn't just get it out of the fridge where we keep apples. No kids telling them need more candy! We don't do Santa, but I do get a book and little something for St Nicholas' Day. And yet, with grandmas, we still end up with plenty of stuff. So. Much. Stuff.

    • Amanda

      I forgot to say that each kid gets some money to pick out gifts from the World Vision (or like it) catalog for people in other places. It's exciting to send goats or bees or chicks! And it's how we give to Jesus, because it's HIS birthday.

    • Amanda

      We do the exact same thing right down to fruit in the stockings 🙂 So essentially each kid gets one toy, one 'need' item (which we often do classes/activities for), one piece of clothing, and one book. Their books are usually classics I'm wanting them to read and think they'll love. So it's just me building my kids' book library, lol! For stockings we do clementines, nuts, and candy along with things like new toothbrushes, lotions, or lipgloss for the over-12 girls/women.

      But yeah, with grandparents and aunts and uncles they still get A TON of toys every single year! It's crazy! Thank goodness the 12 year old is getting old enough to request things like "a sewing machine" which is useful and something she'll have for years.

    • Kendra

      We do fruit in the stockings, too. AND a hard boiled egg in a Santa hat!

  2. Julie

    Hi Kendra. This really just gave me some perspective on holiday gift giving. As I've already started shopping, I keep thinking, "well I really haven’t gotten Henry enough". (I really wish consumerism would stop whispering in my ear.) With only one to buy for, and at the same time we’re gifting for his birthday on Dec 20th, we always get too much especially when you include gifts from other people! I still have gifts in the closet from last year. You have given some great ideas here and I am totally going to get the Kiwi Crate and the Saint Mail – one for Birthday and one for Christmas. And just less stuff…because stuff is just stuff right ☺

  3. Erin Pulles

    I hate to say this, but this post sounds a tad Scrooge like. I completely respect what you're saying, and I also only have two children so I may just be at an earlier stage than you. I just kind of feel like it is nice to get kids some things for Christmas (no, not 8 presents apiece). If you don't buy much throughout the course of the year, it is nice if young children have some anticipation of choosing something they enjoy. I like all your other ideas, and I do think that activities are often much more fun than 'stuff'. I also disagree on the 'my kids are homeschooled so they don't go with fads'. Maybe your kids don't watch commercials? In my experience, that's where kids learn to want 'the hot new toy!'. Just my two cents.

    • Elizabeth

      Erin, my kids are no longer homeschooled, but they do go to a great little school where fads haven't been a big issue. Honestly, it is easy to imagine that kids don't watch commercials these days. We don't have cable, and we don't have public stations either. We just watch videos and shows via programs like Netflix and Amazon where commercials don't exist. My kids almost never see a commercial. On the rare occasion that we see one — say, in a hotel — they complain about them and cannot imagine that people used to sit through these as part of normal show watching :). I think we are slowly seeing the decline of the commercial with the Internet viewing options. Now, ads on websites certainly aren't dying :).

    • Kendra

      Oh dear, that certainly wasn't my intention. This is just where WE are this year. For better or worse, we've got plenty, and I don't think that "because everyone else is doing it" is a good enough reason to shop for what we don't need. If your home needs more toys, Christmas is a great time to do that.

      My kids do not watch commercials, we only watch movies, Netflix, or recorded shows, but they do like to look through catalogs that come in the mail. So they do see new toys. I think the difference is that I remember there being toys that EVERYONE at school just HAD to have, and if I didn't get it too, I'd just die. My kids don't have pressure like that. I can only speak to my particular homeschool group, but my kids don't get teased about having or not having a certain toy.

    • Elizabeth

      Funny, Kendra — My kids look through the catalogs too! I'm always trying to throw them out before they see them in the mail, not because I think they are really bad, but because I want them to retain some sense of surprise and wonder. If they see a zillion toy options, then it's harder to surprise and impress. But, then, we do things kinda like your family; we don't really do toys for Christmas. We do more books, activities, needed items, maybe a pretty dress, maybe a classic game or puzzle or replenishing the crayons.

    • Erin Pulles

      I really don't think you intended it to sound that way! I am honestly feeling a bit overwhelmed by this idea lately that we should follow the Liturgical year in our homes. I've read your blog, Kendra, and I also recently got Haley Stewart's book. There are so many wonderful ideas about anticipating Christmas and keeping a penitential Advent, but I also feel torn. Christmas things before Christmas aren't all bad are they?! I grew up in a very Catholic house, with a large family and we were homeschooled. My parents limited our presents but we didn't avoid all Christmas activities: listening to music, getting the tree, shopping, etc. prior to Christmas. I'm feeling like I want to implement these things in our house, but also that I don't want to go to far because it just feels wrong. I may also just be experiencing strange hormonal reactions to little things because I'm pregnant, so throw that in there 🙂

    • LPatter

      Erin, just a shout out to the new-er momma in you from the new-er momma in me – I have 3 ages 6, 3, & newborn, and as my first got to preschool and kindergarten age I was pulling my hair out with these pressures, and fighting internally back and forth between the way I was raised and the inspiring ideas I saw others implementing and the lack of time and the indecision – and oh, oh, OH! It was tough. In the last year I really had to make peace with it all and take ownership of my own family, trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit in my own heart and marriage, and letting others do that too. It was so freeing. Everyone else's life and blog and perspective is just that- theirs. You are probably doing a wonderful job and are the best one to discern the balance. I think we all go through this as moms, maybe over and over again in different areas. I think Jen Fulwiler had some hilarious posts about purple placemats a while back that made me laugh and feel so much better (e.g., that was the most she could get together for Advent at that point, the end. lol.) God will work through your own heart, attractions, and conversations with your spouse (don't' underestimate the grace of Matrimony!) in discerning what's best for your family – and the rest is just there for when you want to hear about what someone else does – no judgment 🙂 Prayers for a great Advent and Christmas with your blessings!!! 🙂

    • Elizabeth

      I agree with LPatter! It's not wrong to do Christmas stuff before Christmas. For better or worse, it is the culture to which we were born. Over the years, I have managed to slowly bring the focus more on the liturgical seasons and less on the cultural focus. Every year, we slowly move toward that — It is a process. But I will never outright rid Christmas during Advent, because we would miss out on lovely family experiences: The Nutcracker ballet, the (Catholic) school Christmas concert, walks to admire the neighborhood decorations, and other festivities that quickly disappear the day after Christmas. So I try to do the things that will not be around post Christmas and save the Christmas stuff, like most (not all) baking and other flexible activities for Christmas Eve and beyond. We often decorate our tree only days before Christmas, because we usually get a great discount by waiting so long! It is liturgically inappropriate in that it is still a few days before Christmas, but culturally late to wait that long. It's a good compromise and hardly sinful :). Lots of festive things can also match the liturgical year on the "rose" Sundays and other feast days before Christmas and Easter too. Just do what you can manage, one year at a time. You will be amazed at the transformation from your efforts ten years from now :).

    • Molly Walter

      No matter what advice the bloggers give you have to make the holidays right for your family. Take a look at what they do and try and see their inspirations for their actions and then see how it applies to your life and celebrations. I have friends who dont' listen to a scrap of Christmas music before Mass on Christmas Day…. that's not how I grew up and it feels strange so instead I just focus on not indulging myself to the point that I'm "over" Christmas by Christmas Ever.

      There are benefits to the liturgical year, but over all you need to do what's right for your family.

      Kendra – I applaud you for taking a look at your family this year and being honest about your kids wants and needs. We're on our fourth Christmas and what's worked for us so far is limiting what we get the rest of the year and what we give on Christmas. I like giving gifts on Christmas, but can easily go over board so I stick to 3 presents each for me, my husband and my son (then one thing for grandparents, etc.) and try to limit toys and things during the year so that getting three toys for Christmas is a little more special.

    • Erin Pulles

      Thanks for all the advice! It is nice to know there are other mamas out there that do some Christmas things before Christmas. Honestly, the music thing was bothering me! I don't think I can not listen to Christmas music. We always get the tree late and decorate on Christmas Eve, but some of the decorating happens before– Kendra said that too though, that she gets her nativities out and we have always done that (without baby Jesus). I will have to get comfortable with what I think works! I do appreciate this blog and others so much; for so many wonderful ideas about how to integrate our faith!

    • Molly Walter

      =D I tried doing the no-Christmas music thing a few years ago and hated it – but now I think I have a happy medium. I try to stick to instrumental versions while discovering "Advent Music", but I don't kick myself if I need to crank up some classic Christmas tunes to get in the spirit of baking or wrapping presents.

    • Kendra

      I think this is all great advice. Erin, I do hope you'll listen to the podcast if you have a chance. I address some of your concerns, and I *think* maybe it comes across as less threatening :0) when you can hear Kristin and I just having a conversation about it.

      Everything we do for the liturgical year, we do because it works for OUR family. If it didn't, we wouldn't.

  4. Cristina

    Excellent advice as usual! I have a question though, when family members give gifts of lessons and activities, how is that presented? A phone call, a card? Especially if the lesson or activity doesn't begin any time soon? Our main problem when trying to get the family to simmer down on the presents is that they all want that big Christmas reaction–no one wants to be the grandma that gives the kids that new homeschool curriculum they needed or the contribution to their college funds that I keep suggesting that no one ever takes me up on 🙂

    • Anna

      That's always my hangup too. We give one fun gift per child (then spinbrushes in the stocking and one other 'need' gift. Water bottles this year) I know they would come to love subscriptions but I don't think they would understand it at all on Christmas day. Is it an age thing?

    • Kendra

      Yes to everything. Yes, we do usually wrap up a printed picture of the class or activity or an invitation to a mystery activity. And, yes, this probably works best with older kids. My kids saw the descriptions of the new Kiwi Crates for older kids (there's an inventing and engineering one and a DIY wearable crafts one both for 9-16 year olds) and little kids and have been wishing aloud for them. So I know my older kids will be really excited if we wrap up a picture of Steve the Kiwi Bird for them. For Frankie, he'll be thrilled with some new cars in his stocking, so I'm not sure he'd notice if there's not a BIG toy under the tree for him.

      I'll have to let you know how it goes!

      Our transition to fewer and fewer presents per kid has been the work of many Christmases. When they first started getting activities as gifts they were also getting a couple of toys, too. So they really didn't seem to mind. And then I would remind them often that whatever activity we were off to was a present from Nana.

      That reminds me, one year when my mom gave the kids their basketball team enrollment, she wrapped up hightop sneakers for them. 🙂

  5. Ashley Sue

    I'm glad to see others doing similar traditions as our family since they seem so counter cultural. One thing I love about our Christmas is Jeff's mothere ( one of my best friends) and his father come. We have always chose to spend holidays at our house because Jeff has been deployed or completing training. They always make the time so special and love just celebrating with us that it has definitely made our advent that much more fun.

  6. Andrea

    I love this post, Kendra, and I agree. I also have a similar number of children at similar ages.
    After reading the comments and thinking back to my earlier days of parenthood, I can't help but wonder if maybe some of this comes a little bit with the territory of having many young children, but some who are a little bit older.
    Over the years, I have been pretty particular about choosing high quality, beautiful toys as gifts. What that leaves us with now is: lots of high quality beautiful toys. We don't really need many more. It's totally not a scrooge thing, it's a…we have all the awesome stuff thing! For Christmas, my older girls are getting tickets to see the Nutcracker and books. They are getting awesome stocking stuffers.
    My younger set will probably get one high quality toy each (one of whom is the only boy in the family, so we really could use some boy toys for him), but honestly, I am having a HARD time coming up with even ONE nice toy to gift my 5 year-old-daughter. The pressure of providing piles of gifts for them is way more than I can handle, and isn't necessary in our particular family since we already have quite a lot.
    When my children were younger, there were so many things I desired to gift them with, and now they have those things. As a newer mom, I saw all the beautiful possibilities out there.
    Aside from that, Christmas isn't about my children. So I like to give them each one nice gift, some books, a fun stocking (which does include fruit and nuts: oranges, pomegranates, and pistachios here! and one larger, nicer candy treat, as well as little things I pick up that they like), and and awesome St. Nicholas Day with new Christmas books and food treats. We save the doting on the children for their birthdays. When I asked my children what their favorite part of Christmas day was last year, other than Midnight Mass (SO exciting to stay up, right?!) was the traditional Christmas Crackers that provided us with jokes and charades to enjoy as a family. We focus a lot on family time and experiences and Jesus – even if we don't fit in with the culture.

    • Sarah

      Oh, how I wish I would have started with less, MUCH less. and rejected the cultural materialism when I was a young mom. Beautiful intentional parenting, Kendra and Andrea (Andrea your comment just stood out to me). You will reap rewards from this as your children grow.

  7. Martha

    We aren't getting our daughter ANYTHING for Christmas…and we didn't get her anything for her birthday either! In fact, I can't remember ever buying her a single toy.
    But here's the thing: our extended families are very VERY generous, we get at least four requests for her Christmas list, so there's really very little to buy after we've given all the good ideas to everyone else! The kicker? She's TWO YEARS OLD. Her favorite toys are largely kitchen utensils and my underwear, for some horrible reason (she thinks it's a chef hat).

    This year I'm focusing on teaching her the traditions: hang the stockings, St. Nicholas day, buy the tree but don't decorate yet, the Advent wreath (look but don't touch!), going to Mass late at night isn't this special, etc. Also, I'm trying to get her more into what we're GETTING people – bringing her with me to pick things out, "which one would Grandma like – the blue or red?" etc.

    I think this is the last year she'll be a bit ignorant about it all,s o I'm enjoying it while I can.

  8. Emily Barnes

    Our son turned one at the end of September and the number of toys in our house is just overwhelming! We are going to be experimenting with the want/need/wear/read idea this year. He's too young to care so we are taking advantage of these first few Christmases to find a tradition that works for our family. Besides, he has two sets of grandparents who will buy him more toys than he needs.

    And, I'm planning a pre-Christmas toy purge in the next couple of weeks. He doesn't play with 75% of it anyway and too much clutter just stresses me out. I'm such a fun mom… 😉

  9. Amanda

    Okay, I think my comment was eaten, so sorry if this is double posted! Just wanted to say I love this! We've always tried to live simply and keep gift giving simple too. Our struggle has been extended family. The few times I've encouraged them not to go overboard or to try gifting experiences they react as if I've stolen Christmas. And we have three sets of grandparents! The loads of toys my two little ones get is insane and overwhelming. Oye!

  10. Elizabeth@SuperSwellTimes

    I think it's really admirable to take stock of what you have, what you'd like and what you need before making a Christmas shopping plan. I know that there have been plenty of times that I would have preferred an experience — like a restaurant gift card or prepaid time at the skating rink or even a gas card to lessen travel costs to see family — over more stuff.

    I never spoke up because, to me, I equated asking for these experiences as asking for money. (And that, my friends, is how you end up with 18 Yankee Candles.)

  11. Catherine Saylor

    We're at the point of needing no new toys either. I can't (and don't try to) stop grandparents from showing their love this way, but for us, simple gifts are best.

  12. Anonymous

    While I don't practice "no gifts" or the want/need/wear/read, I love the underlying idea. In the months before Christmas, I Craigslist any of the outgrown, under-utilized toys and use that as the budget for new ones. We do "one" present from Santa and the rest from Mom and Dad. And the day is filled with playing, fun, and family.

    I really appreciated Jennifer Fulwiler's post about her interview with you, talking about "intentionality," particularly her comment that "you can’t choose activities that reflect your family’s values if you haven’t taken the time to clarify what your family’s values are in the first place." I've gotten into lots of conversations with students, colleagues, friends, and family about _how_ to do this. My most frequent suggestion is to use the insights from Covey's Seven Habits to putting the principles of Catholic faith into practice. Writing a family mission statement… being explicit about those values makes all the difference! I blogged about it at Intentionally Living Out Your Values

  13. Jenny Cook

    What would you do if:
    *you have relatives who do not ask what your kids would like and tend to give things rather than experiences/etc.
    *some of those relatives cannot afford to buy things and must therefore give what they have already (lots of stuffed animals, which we already are swimming in)
    *said relatives also very busy and might find it hard/awkward to give the gift of time
    *regifting is seen as an offense…i.e. if you take it, you should keep it forever or just refuse it upfront.

    In this situation, would you just graciously grin and (teddy) bear it?

    • Kendra

      That is tough. Our policy is that if people don't ask, or just don't take suggestions, we graciously accept all gifts given to us. But once stuff is in our home, we have to be the ones to decide if it works for our family. We've got one toy closet and all the toys have to comfortably fit in there (although stuffed animals do go on the bed). But anyway, we tend to keep things for at least a couple months, then they get bundled off and donated if we have too much or that toy isn't working for us. Our family members have been very understanding.

      I honestly don't know what I would do if I was forced to choose between family harmony and some semblance of order in my home. That would really, really stink. I guess I've got nothing to offer but sympathy, really. Sorry!

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  15. Markalus

    I noticed no one has said they do no Christmas presents. I'm not sure why. Sure cutting back is great but is a little still distracting and not the point of the season anyway? I tell my family to give my kids all they can think of on the kids' birthdays not on Jesus's. I find having my oldest ask me last week to buy Jesus a birthday cake is more in line with Advent than him telling me what one item ( or me guessing ) he'd like most. Opinions?

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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