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My kids loooooove stuff. And if I’m honest, so do I. And the look of delight on their faces when they are gifted something new, is priceless. As the holidays approach, my Amazon cart is pretty full. Just one innocent scroll through Instagram and my shopping list quadruples. I know I’m not alone (right?!) when I say that I love all the things. But…

Note to self: the world needs less consumption, not more.

And my children need less consumption too! This time of year can be an opportunity to teach my kids about conscious consumption, to train myself in the discipline of “enoughness,” minimalism and simplicity. It certainly doesn’t mean I need to swear off all gifts (remember the radical middle?) or equate all plastic with evil incarnate. We’re humans living an imperfect life, and sometimes we need to cut ourselves a little slack and enjoy “stuff.”

But I’ve always observed that holidays and birthdays can get a bit much. It can feel a bit gross, and can even feels wrong to me sometimes. It feels wrong for me, my kids, for our budget, for the house, and mostly for the earth. Getting more doesn’t actually make my kids happier either. It doesn’t make them more grateful. And it doesn’t even make them play more!

It just makes them want, even more.

So as this time of year rolls around I’m trying to remind myself of who I want to be, not what I want to buy. As this time of year rolls around I'm trying to remind myself of who I want to be, not what I want to buy.via @ParentingJunkieTweet This I’m trying to remind myself that that dopamine hit of that “new thing” will wear off pretty soon, and I’ll be left with more clutter. I’m trying to model for my kids being happy with a little less, and emphasizing quality over quantity, as well as enjoying one great gift instead of lots of mediocre ones. I also want to model that getting one great gift instead of many great gifts is OK too, and to redefine what a great gift is. Second-hand gifts, eco-friendly gifts, and experience gifts are awesome.  A long-standing study out of Cornell University even proved that experiences and things we enjoy doing tend to seem greater over time as we recount the memories and stories associated with the experience.  On the other hand, things in fact lose their appeal over time and don’t actually make us any happier in the long run.

So let the joy of the holidays be in the special time that we spend with the people we love. Kids need our attention, our unconditional love, the stories we read to them, snuggles, and dance parties in the kitchen. More and more toys can sometimes mean less and less gratitude, joy, and playing! So instead of one more toy, let’s read them one more book. Instead of long shopping lists, let’s invest in long snuggles. Less really is more, and the best things in life are free. Cliché, but so true!

Here are some ideas I’ve seen around me, that I think might be helpful. They hold within them a rich opportunity for different ways of gifting.

My Top 5 Eco-Conscious Gift Ideas

  1. Adopt an Animal from a Shelter – Give an animal who needs a home, a home! Christmas movies have the all time cutest scenes of puppies bursting out of boxes to lick their unsuspecting recipient/new owner. Instead of buying one from a breeder though, why not find one who needs a home? Sure it’s more likely to be full grown and less likely to fit in a cute little box, but I ain’t about encouraging you to put an animal in a box anyway. Going to the shelter could be quite a memorable experience too. Which brings me to the next idea.
  2. An experience – By far my favorite way to give and receive. Little kids want stuff, I get that. But perhaps along with the experience could be something small that helps with the experience. For example, a set of binoculars for your trip to a National Park where you’ll be bird watching! A special show. A road trip. An adventurous hike. A class your kid wants to take like guitar lessons. An experience like a “day in the city” with Grandma, or a manicure with Mom. For these things the thing you give could simply be a card, or a coupon with all the deets.
  3. Second-hand Gifts – For me this is a great way to get the things we really want without breaking the bank, and it’s better for the earth. I’ve scored some great Playmobil on eBay, and you can find some incredible high quality, books and toys through local groups or second hand stores. Sometimes people sell things they have barely touched, but the item loses value simply for being second-hand.
  4. Long Lasting Toys– Items that will last for generations. Heirloom items. Toys your grandchildren will paly with. When it comes to long lasting toys, I think of a wooden block set, our Spielgaban set (if you email them just mention The Parenting Junkie and they’ll give you the best discount they can), my Sumblox. Lego, and  Playmobil.  I think of Lego as an eco-friendly option even though they’re plastic, because they’re so long lasting.
  5. Digital Books – Audiobooks, courses, music, gift cards for audible. Here is a 100% eco-friendly gift right in our hands, which I consider an excellent way for my kids to spend their time.

And one bonus option is just to buy toys that are made in eco-friendly ways. Even still these can end up in the landfill if we’re not mindful with what we buy. So I do think that the best way to be eco-friendly is to just buy less, and buy mindfully. For birthdays and holidays, I ask my family members to buy my kids credits, or experiences.  When we put less emphasis on the stuff we can actually put more emphasis on being together during a special occasion. We can actually read the books we buy, and play the games we buy.

What is the ONE experience gift you’ll NEVER forget? Tell us in the comments.


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