Monday, November 28, 2011

The NO-TOY Christmas

Among the many things we stash in the basement, you will find two large storage bins full of toys. One bin is for the toys that have been all played out and are waiting to be donated, the other bin has toys that are "out of rotation". That's right, even though we empty that donation bin at Goodwill at least every three months, we still don't have room for the rest in our home and I hide some from the kids so that they are fun to play with again a few months down the road. I am not responsible for bringing all this stuff in the house! I buy the kids nothing but second-hand clothing and the occasional (2 or 3 per year) vintage toy or book I can't pass up at the thrift store. The true culprits are birthday, Christmas, and no-reason gifts from the many generous relatives we are blessed to have so close to us.

With the holidays looming, Matthew and I thought it out and we planned a No Toy Christmas. In preparation for this, we sat down with the kids and had a talk. We talked about their material possessions. We took them down to the basement to show them THE BINS. We talked about money, the environment, the true meaning of Christmas. We talked about the way that MOST children on this planet live.

Then we wrote this letter. It took a lot of courage to send it to all our relatives.


To all the beloved aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents,

We feel very blessed to have you all in our lives. The holiday season is the time we most experience your warmth and caring for our family. We very much look forward to spending time with you and we love to see the ways you enjoy the children and marvel at their growth. The generosity you show in your thoughtful gifts to the kids is always appreciated.

This year, we'd like to offer some gift suggestions that will hopefully make holiday shopping easier for you, and the holiday aftermath easier for Matthew and I. Each year, we come home from family parties with carloads of plastic, packaging, electronics, and do-dads. By the second day home with the kids' new treasures, toys are already broken, game pieces are lost, and an insatiable desire for MORE STUFF seems to infect the kids like an addiction. Last week, after what felt like the 100th trip to Goodwill with another box of old toys, we decided to have this year be a NO-TOY Christmas. There are many alternatives we have listed for you. Please don't feel confined to the list and feel free to call us if you have questions. Also, the older kids have chosen a charity that they will be donating 10% of any money they receive in Christmas cards. We've listed them so that you can make a donation in their name if you'd like.

General Suggestions


-Movie Tickets

-Ice Skating Pass

-Roller Skating Pass

-Rock Climbing Pass

-Art Lessons

-Music Lessons

-Craft Supplies

-Sports Equipment


-Restaurant, or ice cream or candy shop gift certificate

-Music CD's or iTunes credit

-Music or Theatre Performance Tickets

-Memberships to museums, cultural organizations, etc.

*Please call me if you're considering a membership to a museum or other organization so I can make sure we don't get doubles.


Mara-Hunger Task Force

Elijah-Rainforest Conservation Fund

We sent this letter in a fancy letterpress Christmas card with copies of hand-written lists by Mara and Elijah of their favorite things to

It was not hard at all to come up with this list of experience gifts and unique items that the kids would LOVE to receive. I'm still thinking of more things we could ask for that are NOT TOYS.

I am not a grinch, and I know I am not alone. I hear the "Gosh, our kids got so much CRAP this Christmas" all the time. And these parents aren't complaining about the quality of the stuff (although these days almost all our toys are indeed built to break) they're simply complaining about the overwhelming mass of material items that they've been burdened with. It's especially hard for us families who don't have much money. You know that these toys represent hundreds of dollars just washed down the drain because the kids would have been just as happy with half as much stuff purchased from Goodwill costing 1/100th the amount of money. Hell, two days later the baby is still playing with the wrapping paper and hasn't even touched that Baby-Genius-Light-up-Dinosaur-Sing-a-long-Pal.

I could go on and on and on. I don't like what the materialistic Christmas rituals do to our children, our culture, our environment. I think about all the millions of children in this world who don't even have decent food to eat let alone any toys to play with. I am also reminded of The Story of Stuff. A good thing to keep in mind this season especially.

I'll let you all know how our Christmas goes. Hopefully we don't upset anyone and the children really enjoy their non-toy gifts this year.


  1. I think this is fantastic! One day when I have little ones, I will definitely do the same. Also - I don't know your family but I can only assume that rational people feel the same way. You guys are probably going to open some eyes to this and that's great :) Happy Holidays!

  2. This is great! Even though I don't have children nor will I in the near future, this had already crossed my mind! I do not like stuff. I think you've dealt with this admirably. Happy holidays!

  3. We have tried this with our families and unfortunately has put me in the line of fire as being "controlling" - so it seems the grandparents really want to send things the kids can open. This does something for them. All you can do is ask, the rest is up to them. Good luck and I hope your family is more understanding than ours!

  4. My mother also feels disappointed when there isn't something I can open (and I'm in my late 20s!), so what I really like about this list is there are plenty of openable things.

    In high school most of my gifts were CDs, and my mom got bored of just wrapping them as-is, so she started elaborate hoaxes by packaging them in oddly shaped boxes. Once she even included a brick in the box to throw off the weight.

  5. The wonderful memories that I have from being a child definitely had more to do with the activities surrounding Christmas than the gifts. I think that is true for times not around the holidays as well. Keeping it in perspective for grandparents and other loved ones in a season where it is easy to get carried away is a great mission to perpetuate and I really love the way you involved your children in this process. My fingers are crossed that our holiday aftermath will show signs of relenting grandparents and as Abe gets older I hope to continue to share with him that spending time together with family is a luxury you will rarely get as you get older. You're a great mom Janelle!

  6. This is a fantastic idea.. I love it! And just discovered your store.... Gorgeous!

  7. Absolutely love this!!! So glad my girlfriend sent this to me. My son is turning four and the past few years we have re-gifted his unopened presents (his bday is a few days before Christmas so you can imagine how many 'things' he gets). Now we have no-gift bdays and select gift Christmas's. LOVE the idea of movie tickets and such!! Thank you for reminding us of what is truly important!

  8. When I started this post I thought 'what a grinch, why not graciously accept gifts that are given'? Then I saw that you are not anti-fun, you are anti plastic stuff that piles up in closets. Movie tickets, rock climbing tickets and craft supplies are great requests! I have also requested magazine subscriptions to kid friendly publications that we read, do the projects they suggest, then make collages out of. Great article and something to think about!

  9. Wow you are so brave... haha! I wholeheartedly agree! Thats why we started giving 3 gifts like baby Jesus was given by the 3 wisemen, it's a great reminder of what Christmas is really about:) Years ago when we started this tradition I asked the Grandparents to limit the number of gifts they give the children, it has yet to happen, so I asked them to only give 1 gift this year. It did not go so smoothly! At this point we're down to 3 a child... hope it lasts!

  10. Hmm...I may have to copy and paste your letter into our card next year. Well done.

  11. One of my best memories as a child was my big brother taking me horse back riding for xmas.... Have no idea of any other presents I received ... except a key chain with the names of our sons from my husband.

  12. I love your letter and this is a great thing. Sending this message. Where did you buy the letterpress? (We live in Canada) thx again

  13. You're very brave! My husband and I teeter on the brink of trying to have a word with our families but they really live by different principles than us. They like to buy lots of plastic rubbish. My siblings also buy my children so much nasty plastic tat and their own houses are full of it.

    By my mid-teens I was so fed up of the mountains of crap I was given every year, but my choices were to hurt my parents' feelings and be a 'difficult to please' teenager, or to feign delight and hide it all at the back of the wardrobe...

  14. So sweet this young ones. I'm so touched by this! It's so cute and adorable. I don't why but my heart moved :) anyways, thanks for sharing this.