I yearned for an advent calendar growing up. I thought they were the height of cool and reserved for the rich.
The calendars I envied? The cheap ones with a chocolate for each day.
The 80’s were a simpler time I guess.
Now parents blow up December with more gifts than their little ones can handle. Advent calendars are homemade affairs and individualized and there are additional presents to open each day and trips to Disneyland are revealed.
I love the idea of advent calendars but I wanted to do one that was less about something to unwrap and more about something to experience or celebrate.
I was also leery of my three year old having a chocolate for breakfast 24 days in a row. He doesn’t handle sugar well so it would inevitably be the beginning of a day of meltdowns.
With this in mind I’m making an advent calendar for Henry that is mostly clutter free. I’ll use a lot of notes about events or special activities, rather than gifts, to make it activity focused. My goals are to:
- Make the ordinary special.
- Celebrate traditions and create new ones.
- Not spend on things we haven’t already planned for.
It would be a lot easier to hit up the dollar store and fill each day with a tiny gift. But small plastic soldiers and strawberry erasers kicking around my house is less appealing than putting a few hours into planning out and filling our mostly clutter-free advent calendar.
I have a feeling some of you would also prefer a bit of work to a pre-Christmas home already filled with cheap toys.
So here are some clutter free gift ideas from our advent calendar along with a few more I am keeping for years ahead.
A lot of these ideas are activities that you can describe with words and a picture/figure on a note. Use gift tags or make small cards out of gift wrap for an easy and frugal note option.
24 Clutter Free Advent Calendar Gift Ideas
- Christmas Trivia Game: take their mind off the gifts with a game of trivia. Prize for the winner: putting the ornament on the top of the tree or be acting Santa on Christmas Day. Here’s over 100 Christmas trivia questions.
- Chocolate: Not for every morning but a small chocolate at breakfast is a fun start to the day for adults or kids.
- School Holiday Concert: if you have children in school you probably have a holiday concert on the books. Mark the day with your advent calendar and ask your children to sing one of their songs over breakfast.
- Going Caroling/See Carolers/Sing Carols: If you’re a musical family hit the streets of your neighborhood with your voices. If you’re shy stay home and sing along to your favorites.
- Book Night: announce a reading of a holiday themed book. My favorite: The Polar Express. Can’t get through that one without crying.
- Movie Night: My favorite adult Christmas movies are White Christmas and Scrooged. This year I want to introduce Henry to the classic Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. I remember begging to be able to stay up late to watch that movie on television. Oh the days before DVDs, streaming and digital video recorders!
- Holiday Lights Walk: announce an evening excursion to a neighborhood or park with a holiday lights display.
- Pick Out Your Christmas Tree: today is the day. Get your family excited that morning for tree selection. If you have older kids go over what species of trees will be available and see if they can identify them. Here is a guide to six common Christmas tree species.
- Holiday Lunch Day: make a packed lunch special with a theme or a treat. This idea for using a gingerbread cookie cutter on sandwiches is cute and not too time consuming.
- New Toothbrush Day: Not completely clutter free but hey, it’s good to squeeze a few health focused gifts into the month of December. New toothbrushes for the whole family! Schedule this gift after a chocolate day as a reminder about good oral hygiene.
- Tickets to an event: I already have tickets purchased for a Christmas Pantomime, the Salvation Army band concert and the Santa Train so you can bet I’ll be using those activities as the day’s advent gift. If you already have a full schedule of events don’t make up new ones for your calendar – just announce what’s already planned.
- Hang Special Ornaments: if you have a few special and loved tree ornaments keep them to hang as advent calendar activities.
- Write a Christmas Wish List: keep the writing space and time allotted brief. And no edits! Ask your children, and yourself, to include a few wishes for the coming year that aren’t physical presents. Ex. learn how to ride bike without training wheels, see relatives more frequently, etc.
- Hang Outdoor Lights: turn this ‘to-do’ activity into an event for the family. There should be applause and a lot of oohing and ahhing when the lights are turned on.
- Christmas Tree Trimming Day: don’t turn this into a chore that you complete once the kids are in bed. Ask all of them to help and be involved. Particularly with the untangling lights and sorting of ornaments. If given the time, even my three year old can do a decent job sorting red and gold ornaments into separate piles.
- Food Bank or Toy Drive donation: if your children have a toy or food bank drive at their school pair your advent activity with it. Otherwise turn a grocery shop into a chance to donate nonperishable food to your local food bank or a trip to the mall as an opportunity for your children to pick a toy for a child that wouldn’t have a Christmas otherwise.
- Holiday Baking: this could be as simple as having the family brainstorm a list of treats and breads they want to bake and as time and effort heavy as actually baking. If there is one special treat that you make every year ear mark it for this day. PS. My favorite all-purpose cookie dough recipe is this basic butter cookie dough that you can turn into a multitude of treats. It also freezes well in rolls so you can divide up the labor time. If you have allergies or don’t eat grains/dairy check out the gluten/dairy-free list of treats here.
- Book Morning: read a holiday themed book during breakfast. If you have children that can read ask them to read passages out loud.
- Goat or Flock of Chickens from Heifer International: start the conversation about charitable giving in the lead up to Christmas Day.
- Hot Chocolate Breakfast: this could be as simple as warming a mug of chocolate milk (soya, goat or cow’s) in the microwave.
- Get Ready For Santa: do a preemptive toy, book and clothing declutter session to make room for gifts. Donate any unwanted items.
- Meal by Candlelight: candles aren’t just for romance. They bring a festive spirit to a meal. Dim the lights and enjoy. As always, be safe with a lit flame.
- Random Act of Kindness: this could be for a stranger or family member. Have a few ideas ready and let the children think of more. It could be anything from taking the banana bread loaf you just baked to school for the teacher’s lounge or raking your neighbors leaves. Ideas and inspiration: a sweet list of 101 random acts of kindness and a wonderful post from a mom who had her children help her with a birthday celebration of random acts of kindness.
- Hang Mistletoe: and use it!
The in-hand gifts that will be included in our advent calendar: a few days of chocolate, some tiny Brio figures and a few ornaments for him to put on the tree.
More mostly clutter-free advent calendar ideas:
- From Oh Happy Day: this family knows how to do clutter-free well. The four of them live in less than 500 square feet.
- Things I Made: some good activities in the list and instructions for a homemade wall advent calendar.
- Life Your Way Dry Erase Advent Calendar: even the calendar is clutter-free.
Anyone else have clutter free advent calendar gifts or rituals you can share with us?