Is a Minimalist Mom a Bad Mom?

nogift2ndbirthday

“The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations.” – Eli Khamarov

We didn’t receive birthday gifts in my family growing up. I’m sure at some point, in the younger days before my parents split up, and before I knew about mortgages and telephone bills, I’m sure in those days I received a gift. But my tween and teen years were  birthday gift-less. My mom just didn’t have the money for them.

I wasn’t a minimalist teen. I pined for stuff. I had a lot of hopes and dreams pinned on Club Monaco sweatshirts and Walkmans. I thought better clothes and more CDs would make my life better. So birthdays were a disappointment.

And here I am, now a parent, and I didn’t get my son a birthday gift this year (or last year).

I made him a cake, we had a little party and saw his relatives on Skype, but there was no present opening. At least not from us. His grandmas sent and brought him toys and clothes and books. Even a friend here gave him a nice gift. Lucky boy.

Am I a bad mom for this? I don’t intend for him to go without gifts forever. Next year he’ll probably be asking for things and there will be a present (a present, not many presents). And if there had been something I thought he would have enjoyed this year we would have bought it for him. A few months ago I noticed he was really into pull toys at his friend’s house so I bought him one. Not a special occasion gift just a toy that I knew he would use a lot and like.

My mother wasn’t a bad mom or a minimalist, she simply didn’t have the funds to get us a lot of things. She, rightly, prioritized finding the money for volleyball camps and rowing club fees. There wasn’t much leftover after that. Every once in a while she did get us special gifts for no reason other than she had a bit of money for them and she knew we would love them. In the jelly bracelet craze of my elementary school days I came home to a gift of jelly bracelets and a special sparkle tube bracelet for me and my sisters. It was awesome and unexpected and, because I can’t remember a lot of what she got us for Christmas, it obviously had a huge impact on me at the time. Still does. The unexpected but much wanted gift is both a joy to give and receive.

Is it wrong to just enjoy these very early years when your child has no expectations for gifts? Will I have a pang of regret when I look through old photos with teenage Henry and he sees that there was only a birthday cake and song from his parents for his first and second birthday? Will it even matter? For those of you with older children, do you think it’s okay to take a pass on these early years?

 

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My book, The Minimalist Mom’s Guide to Baby’s First Year, is available this Saturday. Excited, scared and a bit nervous. Early feedback has been great so I am hopeful that this book will help parents that want peace and less clutter and more time.

While the PDF download is available Saturday, the Kindle version is now available in the Amazon Kindle store. Already have some great reviews up like this one:

Excellent Advice: The Minimalist Mom’s advice is to-the-point and very useful. We have two little boys (3.5 yrs and 6 months) and this book pretty much sums up how we have lived since our babies were born. We’ve spent very little money but we’ve been able to spend a ton of time with our boys, and the years have been awesome so far. This book is a great reminder that simplification is key, you don’t need most of what you think you do, and that if you aren’t working to pay for the latest baby gadget, you’ll have more time to actually hang out with your baby. I highly recommend it if you’re thinking about having children, or if you already have kids and are feeling a bit suffocated by all the baby stuff that seems to multiply in your house once kids arrive. – Louise

Thanks for all of the support here and on Facebook. It gave me the motivation and courage to write this book and publish it.

Special shout out to D for her generous donation to CARE after I sent her an advance copy of the book. Thank you, D!!

 

 

 

 

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  • im a mother of 2 girls 7 and 3…being a minimalist can be hard when your children want want want…i discuss with them the difference between want and need and i do enjoy giving them a toy that they want but every bday and Christmas they are to donate toys that they are finished with, they feel proud when we drop it off, the seven year old saved for a bike this year and every time she wanted something i said use your pocket money but she refused and is so proud with her new bike no training wheels…being a minimalist mum needs balance without taking away the childhood experience and dreams…in saying that i dont agree with not giving a child a bday gift… im a vegetarian for example and dont have the right to enforce my views and lifestyle choices on my children…as they grow they will learn and understand and if my choices are right for them they will follow suit.

    • That takes a lot of discipline for a 7 year old to save all her pocket money. What a great lesson you have given her in saving for something she really wants. I hope I can do that some day for Henry.

      Thanks for your take on birthday gifts. I know some of our ideas and strategies aren’t for everyone. We will be getting him a gift next year for sure.

    • When there really little, they do not miss the gift. My daughters first couple of holidays, we asked family to give her the money they would have spent on a gift so that we could open her first savings account. She doesn’t remember getting no gift. We celebrate Hanukkah, so she now gets 8 gifts. What I did last year was try to give her things that were consumable, like nice bubble bath from Bath and body works, nice lotion, special soap for the bath, chocolate, etc… These are special things for a 5 year old girl. The biggest gift we gave her was a few plastic dinosaurs and a card saying that we were going to take her to the Natural History Museum in DC. She loved it and we all had so much fun. We even took the dinos with us.
      This next year, I will focus on getting her things she already needs like clothes and shoes. I will spend a little extra on the nice ones. I will probably do more consumable items. Maybe a special shampoo, nice toothbrush, a nice headband (they brake or get lost in 6 months), etc…

  • I think so much of this honestly has to do with perspective and on how one views happiness and the value and worth one places on gifts. :) I tend to feel like you although I am not truly a minimalist (though I aspire to be one). Gifts just aren’t important to me and I also feel that they don’t make a childhood happy or unhappy. Of course if a child never receives anything to develop their sense of play and fun or creativity, that wouldn’t be right either when the means to do so are there. But it all comes down to love…our son turned two in June and we got him a bucket of pine cones from the forest and a bucket of stones…it sounds crazy but he just wasn’t much into toys then but he was into pine cones and stones in a HUGE way. :) He played with them for days and pretty much ignored the toys he received from others to fling pine cones off the deck, screeching with laughter all the while. :)
    We love him and I believe he is aware of this no matter what sort of gifts we choose to get him. :)

  • No, you aren’t a bad mom Rachel. In fact you are even better than the average minimalist, as you childhood experiences do not let you go overboard with presents now that you can afford it. :)

    • Thanks, Apple (L). :) I’m striving for some kind of balance. Don’t want to take all the fun out of gift giving but also want it to be meaningful. I am sure I will be writing on this subject a lot as the holidays approach.

      • We’ve been getting ‘experience’ presents for the kids. They do not complain! :) In fact they are looking forward to the trip/outing we’re taking them to on their birthdays. They get ordinary (toys, clothes) presents from family and friends, and they get Christmas presents as well as the occasional ‘no reason’ presents.

  • Hi! Never commented before, but I’ve been following for a while–I love your blog. As someone who has exactly zero children, I’m maybe not so qualified to answer this question, but as someone who is watching his nephews, ages 4 and 7, get showered with expensive gifts at every possible occasion, I feel like you’re doing just fine by your son. Seeing children you love get taught the lessons of consumerism at such an early age is a seriously depressing experience (they already know which brand names they want), but even sadder is watching them pick up on our misguided idea that special moments like birthdays are transactional rather than personal. But more importantly, the look on your son’s face in that picture above answers your question better than any of us can–he looks like he’s having a wonderful birthday.

    Thanks for all of your insight!

    • Thanks, Dan. So nice to hear that this blog is a resource for non-parents as well. Henry was pretty happy with the cake. He ate almost a quarter of it himself. Luckily it was made of pumpkin, eggs, almond butter and honey – not too much sugar.

  • We also didn’t give our daughter a present for her first birthday, nor Christmas and are not planing to get her something for this years Christmas either. Why should we, she doesn’t have the concept of gifts yet and we also don’t want that it becomes overly important to her. And I’m sure she won’t remember this later. She might ask us at one point, but don’t think she’ll judge us on that. Much more important is that we have time for her and show her our love.
    We did get her a few little things to play with during the year though, but all were bought second hand and some are toys I used to play with when I was little (my mother was definetly no Minimalist, though thinking about becoming one now…).
    I also try to rotate the few toys she has and let her play with non toys things like paper bags, kitchen appliences, shoes and so on.
    What we thought of giving her to her first birthday was a membership for the toy libary (a place where you can borrow toys for a small fee for a month or so). Though we don’t see the need for it yet (she’s 15 month old).
    Regarding the minimalist Christmas, in my family we decided about 10, 15 years ago not to make gifts to everyone anymore, but in stead pull a name out of a hat and just give one small gift to the drawn person. And I think this year we might even go with not gifts at all. We rather just enjoy a nice evening together with good food and wine (not minimalist on that end… ;-)).
    Thanks again for your great blog! It’s very inspiring!

  • I definitely don’t think you are a bad mom. We’ve always kept gift giving to a minimum with our daughter. In fact, starting a “countdown to Christmas” calendar was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done as it’s just created expectations. The past two years I’ve replaced more of the little gifts with candy and money for savings. We also have made it a rule to go through all of her toys prior to birthday and Christmas. Other than these two days, we don’t give gifts.

    • Interesting to hear about your countdown calendar and that it created bigger expectations. I wonder if you could change it to a countdown to something else – an activity say. I do love advent calendars :) Maybe we will use the countdown calendar idea for visits for family. T-minus 15 days till you see Grandma sort of thing.

  • I don’t have children yet, but I think you have the correct attitude and I intend on doing much the same. You have a lovely and happy picture of your son enjoying his birthday and that’s what he’ll have to remember – not whether he got something that was tossed aside for the next thing.

    The main things I remember from my childhood birthdays was my mother taking the time to bake a cake and getting to choose what we have for dinner. These are the traditions I plan on continuing for my children should I have any in the future.

  • Ya know, he doesn’t know at this age that “one is supposed” to get birthday gifts. He won’t remember that he didn’t get one. I doubt when he is older that he will remember what he got for most of his birthdays. I don’t, nor do I remember what I got for most Christmas’. My kids get lots of presents. I keep telling my husband that we only need to get them one or two gifts, but I don’t want to get them junky gifts. I know the kids would be thrilled with season passes to the zoo etc, but my husband doesn’t agree. My kids love these kinds of gifts more than most others. The only two exceptions to that are outside gifts and board games which they now have a lots of both. I don’t mind either since they actually use them ALOT! I am in the process of getting rid of the toys they don’t use which is most. I personally think they will remember the memories we made doing things together and going places together than the “toys” as gifts.

    Great Post! I alway enjoy them.

    • Thanks, Julie. I want gift giving to be special and meaningful – not an obligation. I am sure next year Henry will give me lots of ideas on things he would like for his birthday (both the unwrapping kind and experience gifts).

  • This is an interesting post and a subject that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Our son will turn one in January so my spouse and I have been talking a lot about Christmas and his birthday. For us it goes a little beyond gifts to things like sugar, a “smash” cake, etc.

    We are getting The Bean things that we would buy him anyway…clothes, a few books, and developmental toys. We are also planning to make a donation in his name.

    My parents have always been big on Christmas gift-giving so I try to keep in mind the happiness they get from giving gifts. I wonder if some minimalists miss seeing the other side of things. Sure, a minimalist might be happier with less stuff and tell people not to get them stuff, but what about how the other person feels? My parents have absolutely no desire to be minimalists, so is it fair for me to take away the happiness that they feel by giving gifts?

    In the end, we’ve asked my parents for a set of diapers that we will need for when The Bean starts daycare. We’ve also suggested toys and books that we think will be good for The Bean. Finally, I asked for some experience-based gifts like admission to the zoo and local museums. I’m sure they’ll get other stuff for him, and it’ll make me happy knowing that they are excited to give things to him. (On a recent visit one of my favorite memories is of seeing my dad, giddy with excitement, waiting to give my son a toy horse they brought for him.) It’s not just about the getting, it’s also about the giving and I don’t think it’s fair of me to take that away from someone, but I can help guide it.

    As for your son, I agree that the look on his face says all you need to know.

    • Great points here Jen about being respectful and not denying others joy in giving gifts. My MIL is a great gift giver and Henry gets loads of gifts from her. We have steered her towards experience gifts but we also accept and thank her for the toy/book/clothing gifts. She really enjoys giving in this way and, honestly, we enjoy receiving those gifts. It means we don’t really have to buy much ourselves 😉

  • Thanks for this piece. I think it is good for families to think through these things early on. My children are 21 ans 14 and I can say that what we are really doing in those early years and later is establishing traditions. My 21 year old was given way more by our families and has very definite expectations about holidays. I think these create a lot of frustration and unhappiness for her. My 14 year old is happy with select traditions. At Christmas, she loves her stocking, but does not want it filled with junk. We focus on none to very few gifts and of those, we try to keep them experiential or homemade. She loves it and enjoys the day far more than her sister does. It is about fun and special traditions… with people you love, not about stuff! Keep up the good work!

  • I think Henry is going to be instilled with the values of minimalism and won’t care much about gifts. I’d also like to mention that as a child who always got (multiple) presents on birthdays and holidays, I don’t actually remember any of them. You know what I do remember? The ones I got when it wasn’t a special occasion but my parents/friends thought of me “just because”. Kind of like your jelly bracelets.

    I don’t have little ones of my own, but I struggle with gift giving to my Godchildren and nephew. They have expectations of gifts and since they aren’t my children I don’t feel compelled to place my values on their families, however, I don’t want to compromise my own values either. Gift giving from a minimalist point of view is tough in our society. I think the fact that you’ve thought so much about how it will impact Henry means you’re doing a pretty darn good job maneuvering this hurtle.

  • No you aren’t a bad Mom. Your son won’t remember any of the gifts you give him when he’s small, but he will remember the time you spent with him, time, the best gift of all. I know that sounds like a cliché but it’s true. My friend put her son in day care when he was 6wks old, she dropped him off at 7.30a.m and picked him up at 6pm every week day, Saturdays were spent doing housework and Sunday’s Dad took their son out so that Mom could get some rest after a hard week at work. She chose to go back to work so that she could save enough to afford a private education for him later on. When she split from her husband, her son was then in his teens, her son chose to live with his father, he said it was because his Dad was always there for him when he was growing up. You’re quids in there, no need to worry.

    • Thanks, Sue. Interesting to hear your friends story about work/life balance and how it affected her son. It’s not possible for every family (nor wanted) but I am so happy we have been able to cut back on lifestyle (shopping, car, etc) so that I can spend more time with my son in these early years.

  • I am a big fan of skipping the presents for younger kids. For birthdays up to 5, if we had a gathering, we were quick to say NO GIFTS please. My son did have a blow out for his 5th birthday, but we skipped his 6th too! Maybe we will develop a tradition of ‘once every 2 years’ parties. Being invited to a 2 year old birthday and being expected to bring a gift is a big drag in my opinion. Am I a grouch? What does a 2 year old need?! We are now giving my 6 year old son a small allowance and asking him to save up things, and also to split his money and give some to a charity of his choice. My soon to be 3 daughter has her birthday on the 21st, so she will be forever doomed to get the ‘combo’ present.

    • I know the combo present well :( Both because I am a twin and I have a December birthday.
      Great to hear your allowance strategies. An earlier commenter wrote that her 7 year old saved for a long time so she could buy her own bike. This inspires me to do the same was Henry gets older. And I love that you are fostering saving and giving in your six year old. What great lessons to learn and habits to make at an early age.

  • First off, as a mother to two boys age 1 and 3 and an aspiring minimalist I am really enjoying your blog :)

    We have skipped over some holidays without gifts and it hasn’t been noticed yet, no regrets. On others we have wrapped rather practical gifts that we would have purchased anyway because face it, unwrapping even an empty box is a joy for little kids. Despite our best efforts they get gifts from friends and relatives which I let them play with for a while and then pack away and bring to the gift givers house to live so the kids have toys there to play with when we visit. A bit off topic but it serves a few purposes – entertains on the car ride because it’s like a new toy after being out of sight for a while and our friends and relatives know that they will have to live with the gifts they give the kids. So even if they can’t stop their consumer impulses they at least I hope think twice knowing it will end up back at their house.

    I think no matter what the parenting choice, the important part is to be mindful about it.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Cheryl. Your toy gifts at the givers house sounds great. If we had family close by I would implement that strategy. Not only reduces clutter but also a great reason to visit friends and family more.

  • We haven’t really bought birthday or Christmas gifts before since I knew she was getting some from others anyway and was too small to understand who was giving her what or really care much. I have bought her books and a couple of toys just because, when I thought she would really enjoy something. I don’t really count books anyway, since we read a lot and I want to have a variety… We do use the library but it’s good to have our favorites always on hand.

    As she stays home with me, I also feel like I have to supply her with enough interesting stuff, without overwhelming her. She loves to play with non-toys a lot though.

    She is turning three now and is getting a cute playhouse that we will set up ready for her with blankets and pillows and a small present or two inside, like a puzzle and a book. Similarly for Christmas this year she will probably get a game or two and some other small gift. She will get presents from others, but we also always encourage books and activities or consumables like play dough or watercolor paper.. I don’t want a pile of cheap stuffies and junky plastic toys cluttering our living room (DD doesn’t have her own room and we co-sleep) but instead of saying so I express a wish for the stuff we do want :)

    When she turned two I asked my dad if he could make her a small desk. It’s wonderful and special because grandpa made it :) A chair we bought her just because- we were in a furniture shop for some reason and she saw this kid’s chair that was hugely marked down and then dragged it around the shop… Since she needed a chair of her own anyway we bought it for her.

    Last year we got people to agree on no Christmas gifts for adults (except consumables) and we gave everyone charity gifts. I think we will also start giving our daughter a charity gift as well.
    I often give cute clothes as gifts for my nieces, nephew and Goddaughter. Sometimes I give art supplies or costumes that they love and use a lot.

    Her cousins have many more relatives who give gifts so she will at some point realize that she isn’t getting as many, but we will just talk about it then.

    Oh, and I just made her a stuffed corduroy horse :) I thought about saving it for her birthday but didn’t want to :) I guess it’s a nice lesson also, that if you want something you can get creative and make it yourself (or in this case, have mama make it!)

    I want to start doing the once-a-year declutter with her, perhaps between her birthday and Christmas in December, we’ll see how it goes.. I don’t want to force her to let go of anything but slowly teach her to give up unneeded stuff.. For which I set an example myself.

  • I totally think you’re doing the right thing. As a kid, we got so many presents, it was crazy. Not only that, but we were allowed to just plow through them all. I remember getting my first makeup kit, being so excited and saying to my cousin “look, I have lipstick”. She replied “I know, I gave it to you!” I think I was only 7 or 8, but I remember feeling so ashamed that I hadn’t looked at the tag, or bothered to say thank you to anyone. I think that’s a rough lesson for a kid.

    So for our kids, we’ve decided to limit Christmas from us to “want, need, do, read”. Four presents, and a stocking from Santa when they’re old enough to know about him. We’ve also decided to forgo birthday presents forever. They’ll get an experience from us instead. A day at the zoo, a show, a concert, whatever they want. I think they’ll remember that a lot more than Orange County Barbie!

  • I think we got our son one gift for each birthday and I am not so sure we got him anything for his first! He is three, so I am sure by the time he is four he will have definite wants. It is so much easier for them to enjoy fewer toys, the urge to buy a lot has diminished for me. My 7 y.o. daughter is always in want of something, but I tell her no just like my mom told me! What is funny is that for a girl who loves stuff, she chose to donate her tooth fairy money to buy a mosquito net for children in Africa as opposed to spend it on bling at Claire’s or Justice.

  • I completely agree with you. I dread birthdays and Christmas (gifts). My son is 4. And his birthday is 3 months before Christmas. So we are inundated with toys and stuff throughout this time of year. He is NOT minimalist in any way, shape or form. I cannot be one of those moms who allows him to help clearing out old toys. He wants them ALL. Forever. This week he has lost his toy room. He was allowed to keep the toys that were not in there when we shut the door. He has his Legos, his coloring books/crayons, a couple of Transformers and my couch pillows. He has only asked for a couple of things out of his toy room since the door was shut. I’m thinking I might take this opportunity to put away most of his toys before we reopen the room at the end of the week.

  • You are not a bad mom, and are probably setting the best example for Henry. Teach him that birthdays and Christmas are about memories and special moments with family rather than about stuff. In years to come, he will remember the love even after the toys are lost, broken and long-forgotten.

  • My daughter’s birthday is 4 days before Christmas. My husband and I decided when she was born that we would celebrate a half b-day for her because we were afraid her special day would get lost in the craziness of Christmas. She turned 5.5 this past June and it was the second time we actually had a party. We let guests know that gifts were not necessary, though many people feel obliged to bring one anyway. For her 4th and 5th all future actual b-days we spend all day with her. We go to the movies, go out to eat at her restaurant of choice, and then we go to her store of choice and she gets to pick out one toy within a certain price range.
    I think that children who are given mounds of gifts get the wrong idea about holidays. My nephews are spoiled in that regard. We visited/helped out for 3 months last year while my sisters family was going through financial difficulties. It made me sick to watch the boys throw fits and make their parents feel guilty because the boys were not getting everything they wanted. It made me even sicker to watch the family go right back to their consumerism ways as soon as things had leveled out.

  • I say this makes you a good mom! I think it helps focus attention on the more meaningful aspects of these occasions and opens up the opportunity to create new meaningful traditions.
    Growing up I didn’t get gifts and never expected it, but I always got a cake, and it was always on a special plate with blue butterflies which was reserved just for birthdays, which I now have since my mom passed away, and that became a meaningful tradition that I now carry on. We have given our older daughter gifts, though I can tell you what matters most to her is the cake and doing something fun like a party – she likes nothing better than having friends over to play.
    And I would say looking back, it’s been too many gifts for her so far (she’s 5), especially at Christmas. By the time Grandma & Grandpa, aunts, uncles and godparents have weighed in, she’s been showered with gifts. It’s overwhelming for her. And we sometimes end up with the classic scenario of her playing with the box instead of the fancy toy….
    Also I’m then left to help her work through what to give away, what to store in her toy library, etc. and she finds this difficult – she gets very attached to her things once she has them and finds it hard to let go, it’s unnecessary stress for her. Looking back I would say it would have made life much simpler for all to just have less.
    I’m hoping to put some of my lessons learned into practice with daughter #2 – 8 months old.
    And I think it’s a balance. I like to get her things for no reason during the year when the moment seems right and I find this makes gifts being tied to these special occasions seem much less important.

  • I too remember the bracelets. I love the unexpected gift. No expectations means you’re more focused on the fact that someone is gifting you something, than the fact that you are receiving something.

  • Good post, I appreciate the personal past experience juxtaposed with your current situation and decisions. I agree that skipping “official” gifts in the early years is just fine.

  • I used to worry about the same thing – like when I gave my then two year old a small dust pan and broom from the dollar store for Christmas. He loved it, but my MIL thought I had gone off my rocker. Oh well.

    I tend to get one gift each for the kids for birthday and one for Christmas, but my kids are now three and six years old. My kids are learning a lot this year about blessing others with things they are no longer using or enjoying, and I’m seeing that translate into their expectations around gifts. I have no idea what I’ll be getting my kids for Christmas, but I’m limiting my shopping budget for them to $25 each and will be buying any gifts I do buy for them from the thrift shop. Wish me luck on that one!

  • My husband and I both have “Time” as our love languages, while “Gifts” is near the bottom for both of us. This has led to us eliminating gift exchanges between us (we will have a “date night” instead) and have continued to our children (ages 3 and 4). I figure that they get gifts from grandparents, so that’s enough. We make birthday parties “No Gifts”. We are, however, trying to be vigilant of one of kids being a “Gift” love language. That would change things some.

  • I totally agree, Rachel. If the kid doesn’t even notice, and he’s got plenty of stuff already, why bother? I, like you, enjoyed this pre-awareness stage to forgo birthday and Christmas presents, knowing that the children would get plenty from relatives anyway.

    Why add to the clutter when the child won’t even notice?

  • Hey Rachel,

    I just finished reading a book called “The Narcissism Epidemic” by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell. I think you would like it.It puts things in prespective in regards to the “Me generation”. Granted it is mostly discussing the U.S however I did find it strengthened my minimilist resolve and also had me rethink how I parent.

  • I don’t have any children, but I see nothing wrong with not giving them gifts on their birthdays. It’s really what you raise them to expect. My little nieces were raised to expect a metric shit-tonne of presents on Christmas Day, because that’s what they were showered with from the beginning. If they had been raised differently, I don’t think they’d be so materialistic now.

    You’re doing fine. I don’t think your son will suffer any long term effects. You’re raising him in a minimalist household, and he’ll (at some point) understand your reasons.

  • I didn’t get my son a present for his first birthday, but a few family members and friends did. He really didn’t have any toys yet, so it was a good thing for us. We didn’t do Christmas or Hanukkah (my husband is Jewish) presents either last year. It just seems silly when he doesn’t really know what it is. I’m still not sure what we’re going to do this year.

    My son’s favorite thing is when something arrives in the mail in a big box. I help him open the box, remove the contents and then play with the box!

  • Great post Rachel!
    Sounds like you’re doing a great job parenting, prioritizing what is important. As a new mom I am not getting my child a Christmas present either, except will probably make something. Before she was born everyone kept asking me if I’d decorated her room – some people I know spend thousands on this. I painted her a big picture and created some other decorations spending less than $100 on supplies. I didn’t feel the need to buy a bunch of stuff. Sometimes I felt like a cheapo but she is baby and as far as I can tell needs love and hugs and kisses not expensive decor.

  • I’m SO glad you blogged about this! With Oliver’s first Hanukah and Christmas approaching (double-whammy), J and I were just debating this the other day. My feeling is that we really don’t need to buy gifts for a four-month-old just for the sake of having gifts. It doesn’t make any sense. He already has absolutely everything he needs and more, and he is simply far too young for “wants.” He’s also not going to have any memory of opening gifts in the early years — my own earliest gift memory is my fourth birthday, and that’s only because my grandparents bought me my first two-wheeler bicycle, which was a huge deal. I don’t remember any other gifts until years later.

    I think what’s more important is that we spend time together as a family and do something special. Although he won’t remember that either, it will have a lasting positive impact on his development, and that’s really the best gift we can give him right now. Maybe we’ll throw some money into his education savings account to commemorate the day? I don’t know…

    As he gets old enough to understand that everyone else gets gifts for holidays and birthdays, we will probably have to re-think this, but for now, why add to expenses and clutter?

    P.S. Your story about jelly bracelets and sparkly bracelets totally brought back a flood of memories!!

  • Great post! I heartily agree. We’re trying to move towards minimalism (or at least de-cluttering) and part of that means no more gifts for the kids. Ever since we started having birthday parties for my son, it was more for celebrating with friends. We always stated on the invitation that we’ve already been blessed with more than enough and asked our guests not to bring any presents. It has helped to cut down on getting gifts that we don’t want (though some guests still insist on getting something). For Christmas, we’ve encouraged my son to have a spirit of giving, so instead of emphasizing what gifts he wants to get, we discuss what he would like to give to others, and put together toys and things in the Operation Christmas Child shoebox. Now he gets really excited about filling the shoebox for other kids. Of course, its not like we don’t give any gifts, but we do try and make them meaningful, and something that he really wants or needs.

  • Rachel, I vote that you are a great mom and great miminalist in your birthday choices. And,I am refreshed to see that while you didn’t receive as a child you see the wisdom in it. But, I am biased.

    We did the same. Now our kids are old enough to WANT. We have our imaginary LIST. All year as they dream and WANT they tell me the items to put on their LIST. They feel heard. So it works well. I don’t remotely remember 99% of the list and we NEVER walk out of the store with the items.

    So now Christmas is approaching and I started talking to them (again) about priorities and how to decide what couple items are really MOST important to them and how the people that get that list will choose AN item from it. As parents, we give one WANT item, one NEED item, one EDUCATIONAL item all small in scale.

  • I come from a large family and on birthdays, Dad took the birthday person out for dinner (anywhere they wanted to go – i remember asking once to go to McDonalds – a rarity to eat there growing up) and then home for cake and ice cream. We never gave gifts on birthdays. Now we just call each other. We also don’t exchange at Christmas…we only give to the kids under 18, if we can. Every child in my family understands that sometimes their aunts/uncles can give for Christmas, and sometimes they can’t. I am trying desperately to get my inlaws to stop buying hubby and i gifts for birthdays (we’ve stopped buying for his p’s and his sister, only the niece and nephew). every year we try…

  • I guess I’m surprised you didn’t save the pull-toy for his birthday. Part of minimalism is having the self-control to wait from something until we are sure we need or truly want it. Why not wait until his birthday and give him the toy then? I think it is possible to regret not giving him a gift, though I don’t think it makes you a “bad mom.” We were not financially able to give my daughter a first birthday gift and I still feel the sting. True, it’s in part because I know we were unemployed and that fact hurts, but I also know I could have gotten her something she would have enjoyed especially as our rule is you only can ask and expect one gift three times a year. I also know how much my eldest son loves to mention the ball he got when one, the rocking horse at two and so on.

    • Hi Rachel, Thanks for commenting and pointing out that we could have delayed the gift until his birthday. It was a few months ago and at the time I honestly didn’t think about his birthday coming up in October. We don’t have a huge amount of toys so I was happy to see that there was something fairly inexpensive that we could buy for him that he would get a lot out of. It’s been used a lot since. Very good food for thought here. Thank you for sharing :)

  • I totally agree with your method. For Peanut’s first birthday, her gift was a day with mommy and daddy at the zoo. She absolutely loved it and we let her pick out a toy from the gift shop at the end (which is something I probably wouldn’t do now since a one year old hardly cares about toys). For her second birthday, I considered doing a big birthday party for her and all of her little friends, but instead decided to stick with just family again and I got her one toy that I knew that she’d love because she instantly ran to it when we were waiting for her music class every week. I think next year will include an actual birthday party, but still just one toy.
    I like the idea of one thing for a birthday because when I was growing up it was constantly getting more and more things and being upset that you didn’t get such-and-such thing and forgetting about half of your new toys a week later. If you get them just one thing that they really want, it makes that one thing much more special.

  • We have only bought very modest gifts when our 3 children were young, I think when my daughter was 2 we bought her a small toy house that cost about £5! My oldest daughter was 7 a few weeks ago and we actually bought her by far the most expensive gift I’ve ever bought anyone – a Nintendo DS. She absolutely loves it, uses it in moderation, and if she does get bored of it I will be doing my puzzle games and things on it! She had been asking for one for a long time and I thought she was old enough to appreciate it now. Her Christmas gift will be something far more modest, some Lego as she loves building things, the other two will be getting play doh and Lego too. I don’t mind buying the occasional expensive present if it’s something that will get good use. What I do object to are novelty gifts for adults, things like “racing grannies” that seem amusing for 5 minutes, what a waste of money and resources. I always think, would they go out and buy that gift for themselves, if not then you probably shouldn’t be buying it for them as it’s not really wanted.

  • I stumbled upOn your blog googling mine one day. I love it! Thanks for your wonderful posts.

    I agree with you that it is not necessary to get gifts for such young children. Like you said,they received gifts from grandparents anyways. You will never regret it!!

  • For my girls a cookie is the best gift we can give them. And I mean, one cookie! We do give them things like a notebook and some beeswax crayons. Things like that that they use during school. They are so appreciative.

  • I have a twelve year old who just suggested that we each (the three of us in our little family) give each other one present for Christmas this year–this would be down from our usual, which is probably three. She also told me recently that she feels like, compared to most people she knows, she lives a “real life.” She just spit that out while we were walking–“Mom, my life is REAL.” So I think you can take a pass this year and for as long as it makes sense to you, and you will not be harming your son. You’ll be liberating him–as I suspect you already know, you wise woman. :-)

  • my oldest son is five and he has not gotten an “official” wrapped up in a box birthday present from us yet. however, and especially this year, we have had a special party (which would probably be considered not so special by some standards). the kids were well aware that they were being celebrated and that i, their mama, was doing things (making the cake they wanted and other things) just for their special day. they never missed a present. and they got plenty from the grands, etc. don’t get me wrong, my kids love to open presents, they love an exciting toy, but they also love to get cards, they even have been known to get excited about socks and underwear! my only personal regret (and of course i have a chance to rectify this next june with the next birthday) is that i have always wanted to write them a special letter each birthday, as kind of a keepsake, and i haven’t done it yet. that seems like a special gift that, yes, they will appreciate only much later, but still, i think that they truly would appreciate it some day.

    we have done christmas presents – one from mama and papa and one from “santa.” (i never thought i would “do” santa but i admit that i do. but that’s for another post. 😉 but i have to say that for my youngest last year, it was very hard to find anything that he needed. it is difficult when we already have plenty of toys, etc., that they all already use. i didn’t spend much but i have to admit, i bought something that i liked alright, but could have really done without.

    anyhoo, i think we will most certainly do more presents as they grow up. but so far, they are certainly not scarred by any lack thereof!

    glad to find you – just read your guest post on becoming minimalist.

  • My daughter, a new mom, has asked me several times why people insist on throwing elaborate parties for the first and second birthdays of their children. I always tell her it’s for the parents, not for the child. A small celebration, with or without gifts, is plenty for a baby. I love giving gifts, and even I can see the wisdom of not making a big deal of gifts for the first few birthdays. Celebrating together is the most important thing. Even as children get older, a few thoughtfully selected gifts and experiences are more beneficial than a gift opening frenzy.

  • We hardly ever give our kids birthday or holiday gifts. Usually we are heading home from a family to-do with a car overstuffed already from the grandparent’s and auntie’s gifts. With our 644 square feet of house, it’s not only undesirable but unrealistic. Instead, we spread out what would be our gift budget over the year with outtings and the occasional surprise gift, just as you and your mom have done.

  • For my son’s first Christmas we were living with my in laws who kinda spoiled him in the way of gifts. All sorts of things, including things out of his age range that he wasn’t ever interested in. In fact, the whole day he chased around an orange that was in the toe of his stocking! He had a blast with that orange! He just turned 2 and we’ve been decluttering like crazy getting ready for baby#2, and we’ve since thrown out 98% of that stuff he got for Christmas. His 1st bday was the same way. Lots of friends and toys, and no space to put it all and no interest in playing with most of it. We used the clothes he got, the toothbrush set, and a bath book he still uses and thats it! The rest is at Goodwill. Since those 2 experiences we’ve been super minimalist when it comes to holidays and gifts. Around Christmas this year he was really into animals so I spent about $10 on little plastic animals and he’s played with them every day since Christmas. That’s it. Grandma spoiled him and we immediately sorted through those gifts and sent 90% of it packing. I knew he wouldn’t ever play with the stuff. When they get older we’re definitely doing smaller experience gifts. Dinner at a favorite restaurant, Chuck-E-Cheese, zoo, park, etc. We’ve also talked about parties. I think we’re going to make a few years special. Maybe ages 4, 8, 12, 16, and 18. Those will be the ‘big’ bdays where they can have parties and invite friends and we can go more ‘all out’ on things, and they’ll come to know that not every bday means a big party like in some families.

  • Ah, you are absolute not a bad mom, you are you and a perfect mom for your children. I know about that point of gifts as we have four children between 10 and 21 nowadays. The first years, gifts where limited to a cake and some second hand toys that we wanted to buy anyway (I remember that I found a lovely garage ones that was standing on the street..it was a succes for all the children!). Also some clothing was welcome for her. Than we had no real parties or so, just grandpa and grandma and my sister came for a vissit. That was more than enough for a todler and preschooler.
    Later, when children vissit a school, they understand that the other children do get big gifts on their birthday. I tell them that we have four children that are gifted to us and that we can’t buy so many gifts. I do make birthdays a lot of fun though. I always make a pinjata (in a shape that the child requested, like a shark) that is made of old newspapers, and flower. I decorate with tissue paper or paint and fill this with some candy. (so; consumable and recycleable). Than, they presents that the youngest child gets from us and his sibblings, are always hidden in the house. He gets some funny shaped papers in envelopes and gets suggestions where the package is hidden…lots of fun!
    We decorate the livingroom with all kind of bunting and baloons, and also some in the garden. I do use those buntings every year again, and for all of us. And so we created a kind of family-birthday-tradition that is not based on expencive gifts!
    Make an event from a simple birthday, and kids will remember that! The presents don’t have to cost a lot and can be some small wished for items. (books, clothes, lessons, a garden, zoo vissit or swimmingpool vissit, some very unhealthy candy that is not allowed other days, or maybe a plant or pet).
    When I am invidet to a birthdayparty I love to give consumable gifts. Like for the litle children; glue, siccers, paper, stickers and waterpaint. I also like to crochet a blanket for a little child, as they can have their special ówn’ blankie,
    For older childeren you can buy some things like bathsoaps or perfumes. I mostly give the older children money and some chocolate, they always love that! Sometimes I give a small gift card for a special store, but not so expencive at all.
    When my youngest son became 2 yrs old, he was gifted some cars that where very strong (sesame street), and very old. He played so much with these throughout the years! The next year he received a farm that went with that cars, and the next year he received ‘food’ and an apron and cookshat that I sewed.
    The fun was that I bought a bunch of toys secondhand from a family that had bigger children, for only ten euro’s. It lasted for four birthdays! I put it in the attic and every year I took some toy out to give for his birthday.
    Later on we sold the items that my youngest was not playing with anymore, on a sale. We let the children (and ourself) declutter and they sell their own stuff. Great learningexperience too!

  • We also, do not give our children gifts on any holidays but make a deposit into an account in each child’s name where all monetary gifts (from anyone) are placed for their future. We give both children the same every year and the birthday child chooses either a small friend party or a quick family day trip (typically amusement parks, picnics, etc) for the day of. I should note: though I am a big minimalist (lol) my folks refuse to abide, so we have compromised by letting each child maintain a year round Amazon wish list that the grandparents pick and choose from when they want to bring a gift. I do not add to the lists but I will edit things off I really disapprove of. They have more than “enough stuff” in a neighborhood where those words are sheer blasphemy.

  • I noticed this post on Facebook.

    I don’t know if I could cut out presents completely but definitely cut them back to one or two. Not the piles and piles of presents I’ve seen that my nieces and nephews receive.

    But how do you ask family to stop buying loads of presents without being cheeky. We actually had to store some toys away, she received too much. I have mentioned it but it was just laughed off.

    help!

  • Most of our kids have not received presents on their first birthday. Always a celebration and cake, but at that age they don’t know or care. When my 15 year old turned one, I grabbed a couple of his favorite balls from the yard and put them in a bag. He was thrilled.

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