I Won’t Buy My Kids Presents; I Gift Them Stories Instead
I’ve always been a minimalist... even before capsule wardrobes were cool. It’s been such an integral part of my life that when I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I wasn’t going to give it up. Of course, there would be plenty of changes once the baby arrived – changes I couldn’t possibly plan for or control – and new needs to be met. But giving into a materialistic lifestyle where I would be struggling to surround my kids with all the latest toys and gear wasn’t a battle I was going to fight.
From the earliest days, we just kept it simple. We mostly purchased items that were specifically meant to meet a baby’s needs: a crib, a mobile, a bathtub... that sort of thing. But that’s the stage when your child mostly has needs, not so much wants.
Then birthdays came along... and holidays, achievements (from potty training to report cards)… and all the rewards, stickers, and presents that our culture says make them all more meaningful. We live in a world where some children have little or nothing to eat and others get gifts for flushing the toilet. It just makes no sense at all.
I want my children to grow up knowing that the best things in life are free – that their happiness isn’t tied up in things. The “I need it and deserve it” mindset will never lead to satisfaction, and I felt that it would be hopeless to send them down that path. A sense of entitlement would take them nowhere.
Besides, I wanted to be a parent, not a personal shopper on a mad mission to amass more toys and tech and junk. I wasn’t going to give trinkets in exchange for faint smiles and mumbled thank-you’s.Don't get me wrong, my kids do have toys to play with and books to read – just not heaps of them. Mountains of toys weren’t going to be our reality. Indulgence and overspending weren’t our goals. I wanted our kids to have a different value system – one where meaning outweighs stuff. I didn’t want them to learn to love their objects, I wanted them to love their lives.
Not giving gifts has become a bit trendy recently. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher went public with their new “no presents for the kids” Christmas tradition, which actually still involves giving presents. And there are lots of articles on why gifting experiences not only blows presents away, but also has really positive long-term effects in a person’s attitude toward life and their happiness level.
What we do is a bit different. We neither give presents or experiences. In fact, we purchase nothing at all.
It started with my baby’s first Christmas. On one of the rare occasions when I had a bit of time to myself, I walked through the woods and stumbled across a small, little pebble, perfectly round. It was so small and smooth and delicate to the touch, almost like it was covered in some magical skin and it had little flecks of silver, so pretty as if it dropped from the moon. I’m not sure if, being a few miles away from home, the distance from my babe was pulling at my heartstrings… But I somehow started to see this rock as this sweet, little lost being with its own history and dreams and sensitivities, and I started concocting a full story around him of who he was and who he hoped to be.
That became my first gift – and it wasn’t just about the rock itself, but the meaning attached to it and the quiet moment we shared, with me whispering a story and my child looking at me with wonder. There were a lot of similar gifts to follow. Always found. Always simple. Always full of meaning.
Our tradition of gifting stories has become a practice of instilling meaning and seeing value in even the smallest things. It also really emphasizes the act of giving itself. There is a transmission process, a ritual. A giver and a receiver. It’s not about tearing off carefully wrapped paper in two seconds flat. There is an unraveling and the gift is memorable. But what I selfishly love the most about the whole thing is how easy it is for kids to give back. A small stone, a leaf, a story…That’s really all it takes. And we’re all happier for it.
What are some of your more unusual gift-giving traditions?
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