September is right around the corner, marking the start of school for many little ones. With the start of a new school year comes a sudden surge in birthday party invitations from classmates new and old. And as the list of friends grows, so do the number of invitations that come in…and the number of gifts that go out.
As someone who strives to parent consciously and live simply, I think a lot about the volume and type of gifts we choose to give. Mindful that our kids are watching everything we do, I see gift giving as yet another opportunity to present our authentic selves to the world.
"Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are." - Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
When I think about this idea within the context of gift giving, it reinforces the importance of gifting from the heart - not because we feel pressure to keep up, pay back or fit in.
So how do we give kids gifts that we feel good about giving (and that they actually want to receive) without breaking the bank? Here’s how we do it:
Gifts of Experience
In our home, birthdays and holidays are not focused on gifts, well not physical ones anyway. Gifts for us are more often in the form of experiences. For instance, each year in the days leading up to my daughter’s birthday we have a mama/daughter lunch at her favourite restaurant, we craft the party piñata together, and on the day of her actual birthday, we take a day trip somewhere special. Rather than physical presents, we give gifts of time together and memories made. When it comes to giving gifts to other children, we often do the same and gift an experience – a gift certificate for an ice cream at the local ice cream shop, a potted plant to care for, or for a very dear friend, a hand-crafted mini piñata to enjoy.
Gifts That Spark Creativity
It isn’t to say that we don’t ever give our children physical gifts – of course we do! When we are choosing store-bought gifts, we love to give gifts that allow for creativity and imagination and ones that are environmentally friendly (think art sets, knitting looms, sewing kits, building blocks, etc.). And if we can find them in a local shop or market, even better!
Games make great gifts! We love to play after dinner games! They’re such a great way to bring the family together before bedtime rituals begin. Games are both a physical gift and a gift of experience because they can be enjoyed with family and friends, and they can be played over and over again. Some of our favorites are card games, cooperative games and classic board games.
We love richly told, beautifully illustrated children’s books. Over the past few years, my oldest has begun reading chapter books, so we now have a growing collection of novels as well. Because we love books, we also love to gift books! My daughter will often choose a favourite paperback novel from the bookstore to give to a friend. But we don’t give into the pressure to spend beyond our means. We give one book, one beautiful storybook or a single novel, which brings me to my last point…
Setting Spending Limits
For the vast majority of birthday parties my children attend, we spend about $10 on a gift, sometimes a little more and most times a little less. How do we purchase gifts that fall within the parameters I outlined above for around $10? Well, for one, I collect them as I see them. I always check the clearance rack when I'm at Chapters for birthday gifts that my kids would love to give. Last week, I found a beautiful Kid-Made Art kit for $9.99 – I picked up two! I also take a walk through the kid’s section whenever I’m at Home Sense because they often carry Seedling Art Kits for a fraction of the price anywhere else, and sometimes I find beautiful storybooks there as well. Paperback novels are generally priced below $10, as are card games and a good selection of small potted plants. With a little planning, I don’t have to compromise on the quality of a gift to make it affordable for us.
Admittedly, there are times that gifting within our means and our values makes us the odd ones out. And, occasionally, I have to remind myself that that’s OKAY. You see, this minimalish mama believes that presence is more important than presents and that having less things and commitments leaves more time and energy to connect with the people I love.
Gift giving should never be about keeping up with what others are spending, feeling obligated to return the favour of a big gift or trying to impress someone. Gift giving shouldn’t be about fitting in at all. And perhaps in approaching gifting this way, we reserve the best gift for our own children – the courage to be their authentic selves.
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