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“Instead of giving toys…”    Update: I originally wrote & shared this post a few years ago, but every year around the holiday season,  I like to reshare it (and re-read it myself.)  It serves as a great reminder that our kids want time with us to create memories (I also love to find gifts that can create a fun memory and can remind them of past experiences).  ♡

Science says instead of giving toys… give gifts that create memories.

 They are valued more than toys.

Outings, experiences & vacations are “valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterward in their memory,” psychologist and best-selling author Oliver James explained to The Telegraph. “It’s all about talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense.”

what to give instead of toys

I love toys for our kids.  Toys are wonderful… educational, creative, opening a world of play.   I am a play therapist, so kids, play & toys are my job.  However… Toys are also overflowing in our house, and if you are reading this, I’m guessing in your house, too.   Every year, I take my own Declutter Course   (found here:   I take time to go through our house & donate toys, but they come back every birthday & holiday.

Just this week, I was in our playroom looking for toys to donate and I realized that our kids rarely play with any of them anymore.   Sure, they want toys.  They ask for toys.  They see them in the store or at a friend’s house and feel like they can’t live without them.    

I don’t want our kids special days or holidays to always be about the toys.  I want them to get past the “want” for toys and have a “want” to help others, a “want” to create memories, a “want” to see the real reason for the season.

Kids have so much stuff.  Too much stuff.   (It’s not just the kids… we have too much stuff, too.)

Trucks, cars, barbies, legos, Princesses, Pokemon, Shopkins, Nerf Guns, Droids, trains, dinosaurs, baby dolls (times three!). While I feel so blessed that we are able to give our kids so much, it is a conversation that we have often:

When do you say enough is enough?

When do you say “No” when you know you can say “Yes”?

There are children in our own town who are sleeping on a cold floor tonight, and our kids have three of the same toys… a toy that another child would be ecstatic to receive. 

I want our children to know that there is more to giving than just toys. I know it is so fun for the kids to have new toys, but I don’t want them to stop appreciating (or remembering) what they are being given because it is routine.

With four kids, three boys and a girl, we have accumulated a lot of stuff… you can find most of it in the toy box. That’s kind of where it sits.   Yes, they play with these things from time to time, but more often than not, they are playing family or superhero, playing outside on the swings, or making forts in our backyard.

On the other hand, our daughter loved her dolls and played with them daily. Even when she was young & was the perfect age for her toys, if you had asked her to play ‘family’ or dress up, she’d choose that any day of the week.

A lady and a little girl holding hands in front of a barn.

Sometimes, I feel like we buy just to buy.  “What does ___ want?”   Why do we all do this?  I am certainly no stranger to this notion.  I do it constantly, but I want to change this.  Last year, my brother and I decided that for gifts (for our nieces & nephews), we would give experiences instead of toys.   My parents do this for our kids now, too.  It’s been so much better!

I’m not saying I’m going to toss out all of our toys or that our kids will stop asking for them.  As I said, there is certainly a special place for toys in our homes and in our lives.  We use them daily, but if you want to give the best thing to a child, try giving something that creates a memory.   Take that child to the movies, on a picnic, out for ice cream.   Today, I am sharing my favorite ideas for non-toy gifts.  (I found a few affiliate links to make it easier for you to find the things that I already use or have.)

What if we … stopped?  

instead of giving toys

What if instead of buying only toys, we invested our money in memories?  Today, I’m sharing affiliate links to some things that you can give that aren’t gifts.

Here are some non-toy gift ideas to get you started:

  • Make them a photo album of memories from the year (use an album where it has room for you to write and share why you loved that moment.)  Our kids each have a “firsts” book where I have a picture of their “firsts” and I write what it was right beside it.    (First time at the movies, first car ride, first time on a bike.”
  • A blanket with a photo on it (how fun to cuddle up with this reminder every night).  Our daughter sleeps with her every night (it has pictures on squares that are sewn together to make a beautiful quilt- made by her great aunt)
A little girl standing in a field hugging a omen.
  • Subscription boxes are great because they are a gift that just KEEPS giving.   Another one that we like is our subscription to Little PassPorts – this is a great little box that comes every month & introduces kids to new places in the world or to new science experiments (like making an eggshell disappear).  Our kids got this from my brother’s family.   I find out son reading these all of the time.
  • $5 McDonald’s gift card & a new set of pajamas…. then go out together and get ice cream in your pajamas with your kids.  Our kids LOVE this!  (We stay in the car, get our ice cream, park and eat and chat…)
  • Photo mug – so we gave each of our kids a photo mug a few years ago.  They use them every night for ice cream instead of using a bowl (it’s usually their snack after dinner… mine, too).  The mug has pictures of the kids playing in the lake over the summer and each of them has a special picture on their mug as part of the collage.
  • A personalized book.  This is always going to be a favorite of mine because I still have mine from when I was little.   I give these as gifts for birthdays and give them to our own children for special occasions, as a way to remember what special thing happened that year.
  • Membership to a local museum (we have a kid-museum close & the kids love it!)   I think that it makes for a great day out, and if you get a membership, you can go so often, and it pays for itself after just a few visits.
  • A butterfly kit (my sister in law ordered Ethan a butterfly kit last year and our whole family loved watching them start as caterpillars and end as butterflies)
  • Tickets to an event.   My mom took our son to the Hip-Hop Nutcracker last year and he loved it.   My parents have season tickets to the plays in Charlotte and go every other Sunday.   They have kid-tickets, too, so that would be a great way to spend a Sunday with your family.

  • A Doodle book like this one… and a little art kit to go with it.
  • A membership to Netflix.  Our in-laws got this for us & we use it every month.
  • A gift certificate to get their ears pierced.   My friend did this for my other friend (after asking permission) and it was a HUGE hit.
  • Take them somewhere.   Go hiking, on a picnic, anywhere that gives you one on one time.
  • Classes at a local gym, art studio, dance studio, soccer clinic… whatever they are into.   I love giving lessons as a gift because they truly learn from it.
  • Passes to an amusement park.  If you have a park close to your house, chances are the kids will use it again & again.

    A young boy smiling on a roller coaster ride.
  • A gift certificate for books – Order a gift card for a gift of education or order a gift-set.
  • Clothes.   Kids like them, but parents appreciate it. 🙂
  • Shoes – our kids go through shoes so fast! (or find some adorable shoes, clothing & accessories here)  Our kids LOVE to pick out a new pair of shoes: a memory & a practical gift.  (Get them some FUN, neon-colored laces, too.
    Let the child pick!) 🙂
  • A monthly subscription to something like Kiwi Crate where they send STEM projects for your kids every month.  This is so much fun & every month your kids get to open a new gift!
  • Gift cards to a movie and a few snacks to go with it.
  • A FUN umbrella.   You could even get a personalized umbrella like this one. I say this one because our kids have broken at least an umbrella each, but they love them so much that they’ve used them even when they were broken! lol!!
  • Their own kitchen tools.  One year our son asked for his own set of kid kitchen knives and he has spent a lot of time cooking in the kitchen ever since.

  • Recipe cards and ingredients.  (Make cookies or even playdough – here’s a playdough easy recipe)
  • sleeping bag and or a Going to Grandma’s Tote a coupon for a sleepover at Grandma’s house (or Aunt’s house… from the person giving the gift).  Or a coupon for a night to have a cousin or friend stay at your house.
  • Coupon books for things like “One coupon good to skip chores today.”  I know that our kids would LOVE this one.
  • A tea party.  A few years ago, my mom & I went to a ‘tea party’ at a little tea shop and it was so much fun.  We shopped around, drank tea, ate the snacks & talked.   It was great and I can’t wait to start taking Allie.  This Christmas we will have our first one.
  • Sewing kit or cake-decorating kit (perfect for kids starting a new hobby)
  • A “five senses toy” … something to smell (soap), something to hear (tickets to a play), something to taste (favorite cookies from a bakery), something to see (a book), something to touch (new winter gloves)
  • Steve Spangler Science Club – they deliver a box filled with a science experiment every month.  We loved ‘making snow’!  Our boys had so much fun doing this activity.
  • A new bath towel or bathrobe.  Our kids love getting their special bath towels, like sharks, princess or even pirate cat towels.

  • Dress up clothes- I love when kids play & use their imagination.   Give them your old prom dresses, etc…  Allie loves to use mine!
  • Mini Golf gift certificate.   This is not my favorite thing to do, but kids LOVE it, so I try to love it.
  • Craft supplies.   Make the kids an invention box (here is ours) – it will give them hours of creativity.
  • My friend gave her daughters new Bibles last year, along with a plain book protector that fit perfectly, and craft supplies (stickers, markers, etc…) to decorate the book cover & to draw little pictures near their favorite verses.  It was a great gift & they loved it.
  • Snacks – what kid don’t love fun snacks?   Try a cookie jar filled with cookies – now THAT would be a fun Christmas treat… for the kids! haha!
  • Sports Subscription Box– These little boxes are for fans of Baseball, Softball, Basketball & Hockey.  They are boxes customized for All Ages & Skill Levels.  You can surprise your athlete with a box of training aids, accessories, gear, and other fun products.  You can subscribe for one month, 3 months, a year or as long as you choose!
A man and a small child smiling at the camera.
  • A watch – I seriously don’t know any child that doesn’t love wearing a watch (at least for a week!)
  • Nail polish and play make-up.
  • Tattoos – our kids love to use temporary tattoos.    They are so much fun! (We have this kit) 
  • Weighted blankets.   They are said to help kids sleep better (our kids have them).  We just ordered two here. 
  • Calendar already filled out with fun things: playdates, special one on one time, birthdays, lunch-date, movie nights.
  • Chick-Fil-A calendar (it comes with deals every month)
  • Your favorite book from when you were their age.   Re-read it with your child (or grandchild) and then talk about it.
  • Board Games that kids will love.  We like to play this game with the kids & they love it, too!
  • Socks– our kids LOVE to wear fun socks!
  • Movie for the car.  If you have a TV in the car, a movie for the car is perfect!  I pick up $3 movies when I see them on sale & save them for road trips.  These are great for a family that travels often.  When we drive 6 hours to PA to visit family, these movies come in handy!
  • Movie night at home – we make “drive-in” movies:
    A group of kids sitting in homemade cardboard cars watching television on a porch.
  • Headphones (our son asked for these ones a few years ago and they have been the best investment!).
  • A comfy sweatshirt.  Our boys LOVE their hoodies.   They are so soft inside and they wear them at least once a week.   In our house, giving them a hooded sweatshirt is like giving them a favorite blanket.
  • “Your Day” – give your kids a day to pick whatever they want.  Call it “YOUR DAY”.  Give them a big poster with a bunch of different ideas.
  • Weekend family vacation.   I told my husband that I wanted to give each of the kids a little slip of paper that says “Grab your bathing suits!  We’re going to Hilton Head for the weekend!”
A woman standing behind a young boy with her arms around him.
  • Money … in one-dollar bills.  Give a child ten one-dollar-bills and see a huge smile on their face!
  • Paint your own pottery trip.
  • Painting Lessons.  We have a place (art shop) nearby where you paint on a canvas with step by step directions from the instructor.  You can take snacks & talk the entire time.  Perfect place to bond with an artsy child.
  • Slippers.   My favorite thing is slippers- I hate to be barefoot, especially in the winter, so I wear flip-flops (that I save just for the house) or slippers.   Here are the ones that I have (they are so fun, aren’t they?!  They were a gift from my mom.)
  • A photo of you with just that child, framed.  Our kids each have a framed photo of me with them in their room.  They also have one of Mickey with each one of them. It’s always been a favorite gift of each of our children.
A woman smiling for the camera with her arm around a boy.
A group of people walking on a beach

f you liked this post, I’d love to invite you to join me on this parenting journey by joining my free email challenge–>> Spend More One-On-One Time with your kids (I’ll send you the calendar below, as well)

A calendar with a text on top of it.

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. Love all the ideas. Just wanted to put a note out there that weighted blankets can be dangerous and should only be used with the advice from an occupational therapist and never for sleeping.

    1. Good handsewn quilts have a similar weighted effect and are safe for sleep. Of course not to substitute for true weighted blanket used for therapy. But for the purposes in this article they are great.

  2. Our family has a tradition that you receive clothes on your birthday and toys for Christmas, when we reach the age of 12, we start receiving gifts we could use in our future house, it helps with clutter and as a mom I love the help with buying clothes for a growing boy, I will consider adding the other tradition when he reaches 12, as it was a HUGE help to me when I moved into my own place and I only had to buy the bare necessities.

  3. These are wonderful ideas!
    I want to make wonderful memories with our 20-month-old twin boys instead of just showering them with material gifts.
    Thank you for sharing! God bless!

    P.S. I love your sunroom. It gave me an idea on how to fix ours. Lol. Thanks!

  4. Excellent ideas! Sure wish I would have seen your list of “nontoy” items 9 years ago. : ) However late, I am
    looking forward to implementing several of them from your list.
    Thank you for sharing your creativity!

  5. FANTASTIC article, thank you!! I needed this, and I have shared to my facebook page and tagged all my family.

  6. I am a Mimi to 7 & I LOVE your ideas! I plan to incorporate them into our birthday & Christmas gift giving. Thank you!

  7. I love this list. If only I could get all of my family (especially grandma’s) on board with this. Thanks for the post.

  8. To add to your sock idea, there is a monthly sock subscription site called Sock Cardigan. It’s so awesome!! And the socks are super fun and unique.

  9. Hello Becky,

    Your article is exactly what I’ve been looking for without knowing it!!! All the toy clutter in our house is making me a grumpy mummy doubled by the frustration I probably bought it because it was a birthday or Christmas and I HAD to give them something. I’m saving your list and i’ll have fun picking from all those great Ideas. Thanks so much!!!!

  10. ti keep the Asking Mobster at bay, each of my kids was given a small 3×5″ notebook to record ANYTHING she wanted: a toy in the store, candy at the checkout register, an item seen while shopping, or a toy a friend received. Anything a kid wanted was written in her notebook right away, “so we won’t forget!” This saved arguments and tantrums, etc. — there were no hystrionics because we didn’t purchase an item one of them saw. A item had to be in the book at least 3months before we’d think of getting it. It cut out a LOT of superfluous items, because these wants and @need-to-have” items were so easily forgotten! We also stopped waiting for Christmas or a birthday to purchase gifts, thereby making these times a bit more special for other reasons. This “technique” also taught that instant gratification isn’t necessary for a sense of well being — and that we. n make decisions based on resources available — which are NOT unlimited!