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Clutter-Free Holidays, Birthdays & Special Occasions -"The Ungifty Gift"

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

Special occasions should be a time for celebration, not dread. But if your house is already busting at the seams with stuff, another holiday or birthday can send you over the edge.

Kids love receiving gifts. Heck, we all do from time to time. The issue is that now, more than ever there is something that calls for a gift. Besides Christmas and Birthdays (when I was growing up, that’s all we got) now there are graduations, dance recitals, half-birthdays, best-friend days, middle child days (not really, but I think there should be!) goodie bags, participation gifts, and surprise “just cause you’re so cute” gifts. Throw in grandparents and aunts and uncles, and gift getting is a year-round ordeal.

So how do parents handle the influx of items being corralled into our homes without sounding like the Grinch? It’s actually easier than you think. Sure, you’ve heard “experiences over things” but then the conversation usually ends there and parents will begrudgingly say, “We’ll try that next year. Right now, if I don’t get my kid this darn (insert hot toy of the year) we are all going to lose our minds!”

Holidays and special occasions can and still should be special. I just don’t think it always calls for another piece of crap to add to the collections we already have in our homes.


Here is a detailed list of “ungifts” you can give to your child instead, because no child wants to hear, “I give you a house to live in and food on the table, so you should be happy with that for your birthday.”

Buy Toys

Wait, what? You just told us that there were too many already. What’s going on here? Yes, buy toys, but for those in need. Stay with me please.

If your kid is shopper like mine, sometimes it’s just the thrill of picking things out that excites them. Having your child physically pick out an item with another child in mind, helps them be an active participant in the gift-giving process. Plus, you use this time to teach them about budgeting. If you give them a limit, they will have to adhere to it and this will save you money too. Because a kid with a big heart may look for the biggest and most expensive toy!


Yes, here they are. Children love experiences that feel like gifts. Sure, having a picnic with mom in the living room is an “experience” but that’s really not a “gift”. We can do that all the time. A gift experience should be something different, thrilling and memorable. After all, nothing says happy birthday less than a coupon for playdates with mom (tried that, failed). Well, it also depends on the age of your child. A toddler may be tickled for some time with mom that involves nothing but snuggles. Gauge your child. You know them best!

The list I promised you:

Not all will be age, budget or location appropriate. It’s best to check out your own area, but you’ll get the idea of the types of activities that pass for gifts. Best of all, none of them require taking any crap home with you, as long as you steer clear of the giftshops!

· Escape Games

· Mommy/daughter manicures

· Museums

· Mini-golf

· Aquariums

· Trampoline Park

· Waterpark

· Bowling

· Zip-lining

· A play

· Movies

· Zoo/Farm

· Camping

· Art Class

· Volunteer (yes, kids can be excited about this one. My child loves the animal shelter and bringing them gifts!)

Are there any others that you do? Please share them with me so I can add them to this list!

Buy Second-Hand

If your child is hellbent on having a toy for their special occasion, there’s nothing wrong with a good ol second-hand toy. It saves it from being dumped in a landfill and shows your child how to be thrifty. Try yard sales, thrift stores, or online marketplaces.

It can still be a surprise if you take it home, wrap it and wait a few days before you give it. Believe me, kids forget what they have the minute the items are out of sight. I’ve actually put away items my daughter has received from Christmas that went unopened and re-gifted them to her the next year. In the excitement of opening one gift after another, she barely saw what she did get. She has no idea I do this. Shhhhh.


Will all that said, we should try to place limits on the amount of stuff coming into our homes. But when all else fails and you have to cave in (because we are all human after all) try to commit to buying locally, second hand or items that are not so terrible for the environment. Hey, maybe the thrill of that hunt will be exciting for you.


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