Let’s Stop Buying Our Kids So Many THINGS


The gifting holidays are nearly upon us, so it’s the season for me to beg everyone to give their children experiences rather than possessions.

girl opening gifts

Or at least to buy things that aren’t going to turn into clutter and end up nesting with the dust bunnies under the bed by February.

We are a culture drowning in possessions, many of which bring us little joy or utility. Instead of plying our children with more and more things, let’s give them the gifts of exploration and independence.

This idea may leave you scratching your head, so here are a few ideas.

For Little Kids

Audiobooks. One of the really fun things about audiobooks is that kids can share them with the whole family. This also saves the adults from having to hear the entire plot through the halting recollection of the kid, as happened in my household a lot.

Listening to books can also get their eyes off screens. One friend reports that her son now spends the hours that he used to devote to video games building Lego masterpieces instead, all because he’s engrossed in his audio stories.

Three NO coupons. It’s hard to be a kid – you’re at the mercy of the adults in your life. Give each kid the power to say no a few times. You’ll want to specify where and when they get to use them. Maybe they can ignore cleaning up their rooms every once in a while.

This is also a great budgeting exercise; if they use them all in a week, they’ll have learned a great lesson about spreading out the joy.

A trip somewhere THEY want to go. Depending on your budget and patience, this could be as big as a week at Disneyland or as small as spending the afternoon at the arcade. The point is, they get to decide everything: what activities you’ll take part in, what they’ll eat, what kind of cheesy souvenir you’ll bring home. You agree to bite your tongue and give up your veto power for the duration.

For The Tweens

This is a fun age, and one at which kids are exploring their independence. Help them along with these ideas.

Gift cards to eateries. Ice cream, Boba tea, the bakery. If they can get there under their own steam, even better. They get the thrill of being in charge of their own experience, and this present won’t sit on a shelf collecting dust.

Art classes. Or cooking classes. If your kid has an interest that you don’t share, let her learn with a group of her peers. Not only will she explore a budding passion, but she’ll love having her very own pursuit.

We want our kids to be lifelong learners with a wide variety of experiences. If we let them dabble in their early years, they’ll develop the habit of trying new things.

For Teenagers

Snack subscription boxes. While I generally prefer experiential gifts, things that will be consumed are a great choice as well. And since teenagers are snackers extraordinaire, why not give them their very own supply?

This is also helpful if you’re trying to get them to eat healthier treats or expand their palates – there are dozens of choices out there.

Movie tickets. Getting out of the house and hanging with their friends is all kids this age want to do anyway. Finding activities that are parent-approved (and paid for) gives them the opportunity to have some independence while giving you some peace of mind.

Music service subscription. Owning a premium subscription to a streaming music service is a status symbol among teenagers. And music is good for brains, both young and old. Your kids will benefit more from a steady stream of tunes than many of the other items on their wish list.

Another benefit for the giver: you can renew the subscription every year, making your holiday shopping just a little bit easier.

Most of us have more possessions than we know what to do with. This is particularly true of kids, who are living in an era of cheap consumer products the likes of which we’ve never seen. Holiday season is an excellent time to nudge them towards doing, learning, and experiencing while reducing the amount of clutter at home.

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Julia hails from the great Northeast, where she grew up in a picture postcard New Hampshire town complete with a giant community Christmas tree. (Think Rockefeller Center without the lights, cameras or action.) She exchanged snow for rain and has happily waded through the puddles of Portland for the past thirty years. Daughters are Julia’s favorite animals. Hers, aged 20 (Grey) and 23 (Archer), have theoretically left the nest but return regularly, either to live or just do their laundry. Despite a desire to downsize, Julia is secretly thrilled whenever a kid moves home for ‘a while’. They all laughed when she majored in English, but throughout a varied career (artist, volunteer coordinator, middle manager, decluttering maven) the written word has been the key to her success and the balm for every setback. Find her at unburdenedlife.com where she’ll give you tips on how to live a less stressful more peaceful life.


  1. These are such great suggestions, Julia! I love experience gifts but have struggled to find new ideas for experience gifts that we haven’t done before as my kids got older. The “no” coupons and a kid-planned outing are a great idea that I’m sure my kids will relish.

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