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Simplicity, Downsizing, Gifts, Children, and Christmas

Simplicity, Downsizing, Gifts, Children and Christmas 2

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There is one area in my life where I do not wish to practice simplifying and downsizing.

It is Christmas.

I can tell you all the reasons why it is good to do a simple Christmas, why giving less gifts is good, why Christmas isn’t about the gifts, etc. But the fact of the matter is that I love a good blowout of gift giving at Christmas.

Now blowout is a relative term. I’m not talking thousands of dollars and I’m not talking about debt. I’m just talking about piles and piles of gifts under the tree that are carefully selected, gorgeously wrapped, under the tree for at least two or three weeks, and paid for in full.

Giving and Receiving Christmas Gifts

One of my primary love languages is gifts – both the giving and the receiving. And nothing disappoints me like not being able to give gifts when I want to either because I can’t afford it or the person has indicated they no longer desire to exchange gifts.

We’ve had a couple of much leaner Christmases the past two years and frankly it wasn’t a whole lot of fun. Call me shallow if you want, but I found it took a lot of joy out of the season to not be able to give freely as I have in the past.

How Many Christmas Presents Should I Give My Child?

Simplify & Savor the SeasonSimplify & Savor the SeasonRight now we are discussing how much to spend on Caroline and what kind of gifts to buy her. I’ve heard all sorts of theories about Christmas gifts. I remember someone writing that they never give their children “necessities” for Christmas like underwear, books, etc. because they should provide those things for their children anyway. They felt that Christmas gifts should be about special things that the children normally wouldn’t receive.

I remember someone else suggesting giving five gifts and they were something like A Gift of Faith, A Gift of Love, A Gift of Warmth, A Gift of Joy, etc. So the gift of joy was something the person really wanted, the gift of faith was something related to faith, etc. I thought that was a neat idea although I’m not sure I would want to be bound to the same five topics each year.

So how do you “do” Christmas gifts in your family?

(This was originally posted in November 2007. Lots of good food for thought and ideas in the comments! If you are a long-time reader, you might find it interesting to see what you wrote four years ago. And feel free to continue to add new comments that might encourage someone else. Enjoy!)

Simplicity, Downsizing, Gifts, Children and Christmas


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  • I love Christmas too, and have loved it more sharing it with a child. I haven’t found a good “system” (like the 5 gifts) to do at Christmas, we just set a budget and I work in that. We do have a fun way of giving bday gifts, though, and it could be used for holiday giving. Based on Luke 2:52, we give gifts in 4 categories. Something that represents growth in wisdom, physical stature, favor with God and favor with man. Wisdom is some kind of learning toy /book/item, physical stature is something new they need because they’ve grown (a bike, new clothes, skates, etc), favor with God is a gift that will help their faith, walk with God, and favor with man is something that can be shared with a sibling/friend (swing set, new game, etc). We then set a budget and I choose gifts accordingly. Then, when giving the gifts, we as parents can use the opportunity to bless the way God has brought growth in our child and inspire them to growth in the coming year.

    Just a thought!

  • My husbands love language is gifts and it is probably a top one of mine, but words of affirmation is my top.

    We try to do three gifts plus a stocking. We give something that they want, something that they need and something that deals with their relationship with God. I find it a lot of fun to hunt for the gifts. Their stockings are filled with underwear, socks, treats and a mish-mosh of whatever else we find. Sometimes their stockings are limited to what fits into the stockings but it surronds the outside.

  • I’m so glad you said this, Sallie. My love language is gifts too, and it blesses my socks off to give things to others.

    We don’t have a set ‘system’–generally we just have a budget and stick with that. I’m having so much fun this year, because no one has a big-ticket item on their list. So it’s going to be several small presents, which is fun to shop for, fun to wrap, and it just generally does my heart good!

  • Gift giving is not my love gift, and this is an area in which I really struggle. I let it suck some of the joy out of Christmas for me, because this time of year I begin to stress about… what to give to our extended family members (and whether or not the choices I make reflect the particular love and care I feel about each family member), where in the world I’m going to put all the piles of stuff my kids will get from the four corners of our extended family, etc., and how much time the gift-giving takes away from the other “spiritual” aspects of the holiday, either during the Advent season or on the day itself.

    And, as a disclaimer, that is not to say that gift-giving is not spiritual itself, just that it’s so closely associated with the popular-culture, consumerism aspect of celebrating Christmas in America, that I feel like a cog in the shopping machine when I show up at Target this time of year (which, btw, I vociferously avoid between Halloween and New Year’s Day).

    For our immediate family, my dh and I choose one primary gift for each of our four kids and a couple other smaller ones, and we fill their stockings.

  • Several years ago we scaled back our Christmas gift giving. For us,it was more about focusing on the birth of Christ than the gifts. It has made all the difference in our Christmas. We give one nice gift to each of our adult siblings and parent. Then, we give to our grandchildren and a few small gifts to each of our adult children. We do exchange gifts with 2 of our cousins, but generally it is more of a token gift than a big ticket item. I shop throughout the year during sales and garage sales (uh oh, dare I bring up “Recycling Gifts”?). That alleviates the stress of shopping during the season.

  • Jenny – That is a neat idea! 🙂

    Stacy – Thanks for bringing up stockings. I forgot to raise that as part of the discussion. 🙂

    Rocks (and anyone else who has the love language of gifts) – Can you go through your house and generally remember exactly who gave you each gift item? I remember almost all our wedding gifts, baby gifts, Christmas gifts, etc. and who they were from. I know that David was always amazed that this was the case, but I think it is that way with people who have this love language. A lot of times it isn’t so much that the gift itself is of great value. It is the relationship and thought that it represents.

    Renae – Thanks for your honest thoughts from another gift giving perspective. I struggled with the whole cog in the machine feeling too for a long time, but from a different angle. I felt like because I am so anti-consumerism in so many other ways, that it was somehow hypocritical of me to love giving and receiving lots of gifts at Christmas. So for a long time I kept telling myself that I needed to downsize Christmas and not get so wrapped up (pun!) in the whole shopping and gift giving thing. But it really put a major damper on the holiday for me. I’ve decided that as I am able I am going to shop and enjoy the gift giving part of Christmas. As long as it doesn’t overtake our Christmas focus on Christ, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

  • In both my family, and my husband’s family, we draw names and just give a bigger gift to that person. Often we have wish lists to make sure we get what we need/want. It sounds so practical but it’s still fun and it takes off the stress of shopping and spending on so many people. Of course all the kids still get gifts from everyone, and delight in them!

  • Gift giving is my love language too. I find a special thrill looking for the PERFECT gift for each person! We don’t have kids yet, so we generally just give one gift to each member of our families.

    I always avoid asking for money from people because I’m always so disappointed. I would much rather have a bunch of smaller gifts than one big gift. I know, that sounds so selfish of me!! The past few years my parents have decided that we should each open our gifts in turn, one by one. I hate doing that because then it’s so obvious who has more gifts. I hate at the end when someone is still opening gifts and the rest of us are just kinda sitting there watching. I know, it makes me seem so self-centered…

  • We started right out with a three-gifts-each rule. We thought it would be neat if the children received the same number of gifts as Jesus did from the Wise Men! We try to diversify in the sense of body-mind-spirit, though we aren’t strict about it. Body would be an article of clothing (not underwear or socks! 🙂 ), mind is always a beautiful hardback copy of a classic book, and spirit is the one that is usually the most flexible. We look at this category as a chance to develop some skill or character quality in the child. When they are little, it is often a toy in the strict sense, one that develops some area they are weak in. For our oldest, it has been adventure tools like binoculars, magnifying glass, etc.; anything that encouraged creativity and delight.

    We are just now beginning a stocking tradition. We have hopes that the children will place small gifts for each other in the stockings. For now, our oldest earns money to buy trinkets for his little sisters, and we DO fill in the extra space with little necessities (like those forbidden undies!) though we assume this will end as the girls are old enough to reciprocate.

    By the way, underwear are actually a very cool gift for children under five. Being potty trained is still something of a novelty!

  • My husband and I only do stockings for each other. We have great fun finding small things like books, CD’s, gift cards to our favorite restaurants and so on to put in each others stockings. that is all we do for one another. (and we love it!)

    We usually spend about $100 per child (we have 3.) Yes, we do Santa. Our children are allowed to ask Santa for ONE thing because anything more would be greedy, or so we teach them. He always brings the “one” thing and a few small surprises like puzzles, books, art supplies, movies for the whole family, etc.

    We have greatly eliminated our family gift giving. We now just exchange with our parents and grandparents and siblings. We spend about $20-50 on each person, depending on what we find. I like to buy something that FITS the person, not the dollar amount. If I find a $20 something my grandma really would love, I buy it and do not worry that I bought Chad’s grandma something for $50. I think it should be more about the heart than meeting a minimum requirement.

    Now, I’m sure this sounds like alot of money to some. BUT—I shop all year. I budget all year. In the end, we spend about $500-700 on Christmas and that includes everything, from Santa to grandma.

    I really like buying gifts that a whole family can enjoy, such as a great art print turned into a jigsaw puzzle, or a movie for the whole family, etc. One thing we did last year was buy freshly milled muffin mixes and flours for my Dad and his wife—they are major foodies and love to cook. I have never seen someone so excited over freshly ground mill grits! 🙂

    I do like homemade gifts, but I’m not real talented at making anything! 🙂

  • I’m single, so I don’t yet have to consider for kids and such but I wanted to comment. Growing up, instead of getting each of our cousins a gift, all the grandkids would draw names, and we’d get only that person a gift. For my brother and I, one of our gifts from our parents was always a new pair of pajamas. It was fun wearing them on Christmas night. I remember arranging all our newly opened gifts under the tree, wearing our pajamas, and laying on the floor looking at the lights.

    Sallie, you mentioned remember who gave you what gifts. I don’t know if one of my love languages is gifts, but I definitely know who gave me each item in my house. Sometimes it’s hard to give something away (ie goodwill) because of the sentimental value…”so-and-so gave me that!” And I love to give gifts!

  • It is interesting to read what everyone has written. I remember going to school after the Christmas holidays and hearing about what people had been given. Often their stocking gifts were more expensive than my main gift!

    The four of us had stockings with very inexpensive items in them….. but they were really fun. Then we would have a main gift each from our parents. I don’t think we ever got gifts for our cousins- we rarely saw them. Our nanna would give us a present each- I used to love watching my dad walk through the door with the black sack when he had been to collect her. The siblings gave each other cheap presents we bought with our pocket money….and we all loved our presents from’aunty Pom’.

    I loved earning money and being able to buy really nice gifts for people- It was such a great thing to get someone something nice that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Since I left work money has been tighter but I have saved all year for Christmas. Some gifts I buy durng the year. I will probably spend between £5 and £20 per person. I spend the most on my husband (although it is really both our money- so it is more about thought than cost) Sometimes we do each other stockings.

    So far we have got one or two presents for our son- he gets things from his grandparents and aunts and uncles so even if we did not get him much he would not lose out. The youngest is only 4 weeks old so not sure what we will do about him this year:)

    One year my parets had very little money. My mum made us all a leather key ring from a kit and we had new bath robes. But it was still a special Christmas ( although admittedly not as exciting) I love opening presents as a family, but not in a ‘sit and stare at each other as you open them’ way.

  • I also really enjoy giving and receiving gifts. But with four children, we have to limit it. We give three major gifts to each of our girls plus stockings. We choose things that they will really enjoy, and we will spend a little more for something nice (American Girl dolls, for example). I also will bundle two or three things into one gift (several doll outfits or two sets of toy kitchen dishes). They also each receive a gift from each other. Our stocking stuffer gifts are small, but something each girl will like. Inexpensive jewelry, toy phones, lip gloss, and, of course candy, have been among their favorite stocking stuffers.

    We give each girl a nice book in the beginning of December to celebrate the beginning of Advent. I choose hard-bound books and look for books that will tell about Jesus. Beth Moore’s A Parable About the King is a great one!

  • Hello-

    We have celebrated Christmas both ways- lots of gifts, and hardly any gifts. While gifts are also my love language, surprisingly, it was the Christmas with very few gifts I enjoyed the most. I have found for me that when I buy each member of our extended families a gift, I get so discouraged when they don’t have the right “reaction” or don’t get as excited about it as I thought. I would put so much time and effort into shopping for gifts and wrapping them just right, and I felt like my efforts weren’t appreciated. The time we didn’t really give gifts to our extended family was nice, no pressure and no dissapointment at their lack of appreciation. I enjoyed celebrating Christ’s birth without worrying about the gifts.

    With our daughter we like to get her one really nice present (and probably most expensive incomparison to her other gifts) and then a few smaller gifts to go with it. By the time other family members, such as grandparents give gifts, she has done quite well for herself. I have found that kids appreciate things so much more when they have fewer things. They also learn the value of things and how to take care of their toys.

    I wish you good luck in your decision making!


  • We do the three gift thing with our three boys. We do an article of clothing, a food/snack item, and a toy. We have not done stockings yet, but I got a cute train stocking holder on clearance last year and we may have to start doing those! We do the three gift thing for a couple of reasons. We have friends that go way overboard w/ Christmas and birthdays and we are determined not to do that. We also don’t want to set our kids up with expectations of huge Christmas’ or the “is that all I got” mentality. Another reason is to keep the focus on Christ. (Not saying that people who give/get lots of gifts don’t do that, it’s just what we do). I also don’t spend the exact same amount on each kid. Right now they are almost 4 and 2, so they really don’t know anyways.

    I find it interesting to read what others have to say about this.

  • Posing a challenge; what do you do when a family member that you find difficult is one for whom lavish gift giving is their love language, but it’s not yours? one of my in-laws is way, way into Christmas, including two decorated trees, all mantels and shelves clustered with seasonal collectibles, etc etc. And half the living room floor covered with gifts. She is a bargain shopper, but even so, she’s on limited income, and there always seems to be way way too many gifts. In case it’s not obvious…. I have a tough time with her in general. So the excessive giving-thing makes Christmas even more challenging. As a result, gift giving has lost some of its savor for me. Now I try to choose a ‘touchstone’ for the holiday: this year I will sing in the church choir. Last year our family went on hike. Things like that create meaning apart from gift giving.

  • we tried to do the “three gifts each” thing one year, but MR N has an “extravagant” love for his children & always buys extra things he knows they’ll love.
    Now we just buy what they’ll like & try to keep it even. not so much in money spent but in “wow factor”
    Personally I like gifts like board games the whole family can enjoy & books, & trips to the zoo.
    I’m not a “gifts” person but I have a few in my family & always try to show them that I appreciate that they are showing love to me through their gift giving.
    Mrs. N

  • What a great poll! I posted this over at my blog a few days ago, but will share here as well. We do the Santa thing with our kids. Between their Santa gifts and gifts from Mom and Dad, they each get approx 4 gifts. When they are making their “Wish Lists” they focus on this little saying:
    – Something you want
    – Something you need
    – Something to wear
    – Something to read

    They also get a few stocking stuffers.

    We buy for our parents, nieces, and draw names with our siblings and then a couple co-workers. In total we probably spend a little over $1,000. This doesn’t seem like too much to me, but some would call it too much. It works for us though. I love to give gifts at Christmas and I always like to be done shopping by Thanksgiving so that I can get things wrapped and just enjoy the month of December (looking at the tree, gifts, baking, music, the smells of Christmas). I just love the season.

  • We allowed our children to ask for 3 gifts (a tradition started by my parents). Sometimes they got all three and sometimes they didn’t. Occasionally, like the year we bought a (original) Nintendo, we bought a shared gift. Their stocking gifts were always smallish and inexpensive (shaving cream and new razors have been on the list for several years).

    We spend on monetary levels. We have a level for our kids, a different level of spending for our parents and yet a different level for the few friends with whom we exchange gifts.

    I love to give gifts and I shop all year round for Christmas gifts. And, yes, Sallie, I can walk through my home pointing out gifts and naming from whom they came as well as gifts I gave to others. Usually I can also come up with both occasion and year given.

    My husband was not a great gift-giver for many years of our marriage. After receiving several wonderfully unthoughtful gifts from him over the years I instigated the U-BugAMe rule which states simply


    (and if they don’t, I’ll go shopping for me for you and I know you love me enough to not worry about the cost).

    He is a quick study and got the point Very quickly. I don’t care about the expense of a gift. I care more about the thoughtfulness that went into the gift. Trust me the third Dust Buster is NOT a thoughtful gift.

  • Sallie, you know I’ve been thinking a lot about gift giving this year! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one for whom gifts–and gift giving–is such an important expression of love.

    We spend about $20 or less on each child. I do find gifts from secondhand sources, but carefully selected and cleaned up, they are loved just the same.

    My husband and I usually give each other something bigger for the family, maybe just earmarking a major purchase as “Christmas”–the year our computer died and we needed a laptop, finding our first digital camera at a Black Friday sale, etc.

    Then we spend about $20 or under showering each other with meaningful trinkets from yard sales, thrift stores, and in my husband’s case, Walgreens. : )

    The opening and anticipation is half the fun!

  • I try to keep our gift giving simple but special. It’s difficult though because in all honesty, I love giving and receiving gifts. It’s a struggle for me.
    I do try to follow the old Victorian guide…Something to play with, something to read, something to wear, and something to eat.

  • We give 3 big gifts to each child and then we give something that is age and faith appropriate for each one as well – i.e our newest blessing will receive the FP nativity this year – the other blessings will receive age appropriate Bibles this year. They don’t need a lot of junk and we soooo don’t need little trinkets constantly cluttering our home. Besides, it is not like they will only get 3 gifts. My parents over-indulge as do extended relatives on both sides. The kids are happy and enjoy the true meaning of the season!
    Just a thought or two!

  • Oh, I forgot to write that each family member receives new pj’s Christmas Eve and we do stockings too! We are trying to making the stockings fun but also functional too! Sweet blessings!

  • What I wrote 4 years ago lines up pretty much the same with how we do Christmas even to this day. 🙂 Kinda cool seeing that from way back when.

    The only difference? My grandma is no longer with us 🙁

    Happy Thanksgiving & Merry Christmas & Happy Advent Sallie!

  • I know that my mother finds it a great relief to “downsize” the holidays. She feels relieved of the pressure to perform. But I really miss some of those traditions, and it’s obvious when only part of the decorations made it out of the attic.

    My mother often suggests pulling names for giving presents (we have a large family), and my sister and I protest. We would rather give and receive more than one each! I don’t THINK we’re shallow, but it feels so much more festive with presents. And I don’t think downsizing is necessarily the more wholesome thing to do. People really do just have different preferences.

    The holidays are all about listening to each other’s needs and desires, and finding a compromise. Asking loved ones “what would make your holiday perfect?” and trying to make that wish come true.

  • My childhood Christmas was spectacular with gifts music and decorations. And yet even as a c hild I felt the greedy monster growing and even fatigue of opening too many gifts(poor me LOL)
    I have shrunk my childrens Christmas gifts considerably as I do not want them to grow so greedy and grinchy ,but I feel every year that I want so badly to see my children run to the tree in joy and surprise. My children are much less greedy and grinchy (mission accomplished) And think of others receiving gifts , but I WANT more! Not gifts for me but I want my kids to just once experiance the blow out spectacular Christmas of my childhood ….without it tainting them.
    It sounds to me like I am still the greedy kid I was 40 years ago.!!!! I also specifically remember gifts that brought such joy to me and even tears to my eyes, I want that for my girls.
    I miss the beautifully wrapped gifts my mother wrapped so artistically for us. She must have spent a small fortune just on the wrapping!

  • Sallie, this was fun to reflect on what has changed since we last left comments!

    I have increased the amount spent on each child, or really, on my oldest, as his interests have become more expensive. (Special Lego sets and tech products aren’t $20 anymore!)

    Despite inflation, I am still able to purchase a wonderful variety of toys near $20 for my younger kids. For example, Elise is getting 3 fancy costume dresses, jewelry and accessories, a Waldorf style mermaid doll and a ribbon wand–for a total of $25, mostly from the Goodwill outlet where you pay by the pound. I ordered a castle tent for $29 for the little boys to share, but was able to supplement this with knight costumes on clearance after Halloween.

    I have to rein myself in, though. Gift giving is my favorite way to show love, but our house can only hold so much. : )

  • Not much has changed for us either. Mr N has said he’ll leave the gift shopping to me since we are on a tighter budget than last year. But I’m sure he’ll find something in his travels that he’s sure they can’t live without. 😉
    All the neices and nephews are getting hand knit slippers this year, and maybe their parents will too.
    I’ll shop for books at my favorite local new and used book store and fill the stockings with camping doodads, teenage boys can be hard to buy for.

  • Hey Meredith! I didn’t know you were still reading here. Glad to see your comment! 🙂

    My views are pretty much the same. 🙂


Sallie-Schaaf-Borrink-060313-B-250x250I'm Sallie, teacher by training and now homeschooling mom of Caroline. My passion is to provide products, encouragement, and information that helps others discover and do what works with their children. I also write about living a cozy life as a highly introverted person. Welcome! ♥

My Gift to You!

“We who live in quiet places have the opportunity to become acquainted with ourselves, to think our own thoughts and live our own lives in a way that is not possible for those keeping up with the crowd.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder

“After Laura and Mary had washed and wiped the dishes, swept the floor, made their bed, and dusted, they settled down with their books. But the house was so cozy and pretty that Laura kept looking up at it.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
On the Banks of Plum Creek

“They were cosy and comfortable in their little house made of logs, with the snow drifted around it and the wind crying because it could not get in by the fire.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House in the Big Woods


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