Ok. So. I had planned on writing a list of great gifts for kids, but here’s the thing: Modern Parents Messy Kids (MPMK) owns this category. And not that there isn’t enough room around the internet for multiple toy gift guides, but they’ve just done it so well. I love it.
The team at MPMK works on this ultimate guide throughout the year, and it is organized by interest (outdoor toys, building & construction, STEM, dramatic play, etc. etc.) and by age. The resource is motivated by the question, “what should I spend my money on,” which I obviously love. I am confident that anything MPMK has picked will be a gift that is valuable & worthwhile.
I invested the bulk of my time to create an expert guide of gifts that give back, so I will leave these pros to their category of expertise.
Personally, I try to think about gifts for a child (or teen, or anyone, really) as an investment.
If you’ve been around Shop Good a while, you may have gotten a sense that I have a mini passion about no “junk”, especially when it comes to toys and knick-knacks. In our house, we are less-than-average housekeepers, and having little bits & pieces journeying around the house (thanks to our 3 young kids) just adds another layer to the never-ending (and losing) battle of tidyness.
However, I’m not committed to full-on minimalism (or even half-on minimalism), and kids just seem to love little “things”. It’s a real-life tension!
The other problem when it comes to this time of year is that I LOVE stockings and always have. My big ole stocking was always a highlight and what I looked forward to at least as much as the “red ribbon” gift under the tree. Now that I am the one filling them (on behalf of my white-bearded friend, of course), it is definitely a part of the holiday process to which I give serious consideration (and budget).
Stockings must, by nature, be filled with small things, and, ideally, things that are FUN, too! So, what’s a gal to do?
Well, gift-giving and shopping are an art, not a science, so I can’t make any claims to hard-and-fast rules about what should go in a stocking. But, generally, I like items that are practical/useful, consumable, or legitimately valuable (in my definition, this would include items of good quality, items with longevity, items that will delight because they are specifically related to the recipient, etc.). Having little traditions that carry on year-after-year is great, as well.
Check out the list below for some starting points, and get to the end for some items to be wary about, if you (like me) are afraid of junk.
It goes without saying (nope, I’m saying it anyways) that I obviously want you to do ALL of your shopping at dignify!
But, I also know that there are other factors involved, like price point, interests, and the fact that not everybody wants a second blanket for Christmas. Because, of course, I’m assuming you’ve already bought one at some point for every one of your family & friends! ;)
If you love dignify and want to shop “good”, here is a list of our kindred spirits. These are specifically brands & storesthat are either providing dignified work to someone in the world, or who prioritize philanthropic or social goals. It is not exhaustive, and there are fabulous new businesses popping up all the time.
Generally, I’ve included stores that have a selection of items under $50 and under $100, though some items (like leather) simply cost more than that. Many of the items here are specific, but if you click & browse around, the shop has a number of great things . The list for guys is the best one, because let’s be honest here, if you are reading this, you are probably a woman, and the most difficult to buy for is probably a man. And if you are a man reading this, just buy her a blanket. Trust me. And if you’ve already done that, then go snoop her Pinterest board or browsing history, because I can guarantee there are some hints she’s left out there for you.
Finally, if you like the list, share it! A high tide rises all boats, and the more we can shift the buying power to socially-minded shops, the better. Feel free to add any more links in the comments below, and...
In our Reader Survey a couple of months back, we received some excellent suggestions about blog posts related to the holidays:
Tough one! And, what a great question.
Managing expectations with gift-giving & -receiving, limiting “stuff” without raining on the parade, being gracious and thankful… these are all big challenges of the season!
There are some clear challenges out of the gate:
So, with that in mind, and an opportune time approaching, how do you talk about this???
I’m trying to try something new. Yes, “trying to try”: I know it sounds very passive, and, yes, maybe a little pathetic.
But this is real life, folks, and this is a difficult challenge! Trying to try is about as much as I can commit to in front of all of you friends & the internet.
We all have points cards, right? A credit card, a frequent shopper card, a reward bonus for Best Buy or the bookstore. Even large grocery chains have moved to this model, after realizing that their old version (where you have to sacrifice your personal & shopping information to gain access to the real price of a jar of tomato sauce) was obnoxious, and probably a bit unethical.
But, as these programs have become more of the norm, I have wondered how much I feel like these bonuses are no longer bonuses, but expected, even owed to me. Like my daughter, who, upon returning from trick-or-treating and dumping out her candy, exclaimed, “Look at all of these treats I’ve earned!”
In the past week, I’ve read three unique posts critiquing the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child shoebox campaign. This is the charity drive that collects (in North America, Australia, NZ, UK, Finland, Germany, Spain, Japan) shoeboxes full of gifts to be sent to children in ~100 developing countries in the world.
I don’t have any “skin in the game”, so to speak; I don’t have any emotional connection or long-standing history with this practice or this type of charity. No, if I’m 100% honest, my best intentions usually fall by the wayside and I miss the shoebox cutoff because it is such a busy time of year for me!
But, something about the critique (or in some cases, lambasting) has piqued my interest; I’ve been thinking about it for days and I still don’t know entirely what I think. The deep cynicism (in some cases) irks me, as does the “throw the baby out with the bathwater” response. However, there are also some very compelling points.
Mostly, what I’ve really craved is conversation about the topic. It’s been documented that I think being thoughtful about what we do and how we spend our money is fantastic! I am a big believer in engagement and consideration and small steps and not just doing things because that’s how we’ve done them.
Since I’m not entirely sure of my stance and I want to promote good discussion, here are some conversation points that may be good starting (or continuing) places for you to engage, as well.
If you’ve never listened to Jerry Seinfeld’s bit about Halloween costumes, you must! Well, that bit along with the rest of I’m Telling You for the Last Time (which I think/laugh about every time I’m in an airport, every Olympics, as well as every Halloween... that kind of longevity IMO = Comedic Genius). Anyhow, the short version is: store bought Halloween costumes can be some of the junkiest, most terribly constructed, disappointing purchases of the year.
Don’t get me wrong: some can be great; you’re never going to be able to replicate an Iron Man by craftiness the way you can buy one. And our furry Cookie Monster & Elmo suits have had a great run. But, store bought costumes can be costly, and with Nov/Dec coming around the corner post-Halloween, it may not be the right budget-blowing holiday. And the amazing costumes that are fabulously constructed and inexpensive... well, we don't know why they are so cheap and we probably don't want to know, truth be told.
My pregnant self with my Paulie Bleeker
The other factor, of course, is time. Home-crafted costumes can be incredibly time consuming! Even sourcing the different elements of a simple costume can be brutal. You want to be Where’s Waldo and it’s more like Where’s A Striped T-Shirt in This Thrift Store or Where’s A Dollar Store With Circle Glasses.
Or, you may be completely un-“crafty” and creating something brings you dread instead of joy.
Well, I’m sorry to say that as with most things in a mature, adult life: it’s tough to have it all! "Low cost, low effort, and fast" is the dream! And it isn’t always realistic. But, I’ve done a lot of Pinterest searches for Halloween costumes over the years, and I thought I would share the best of what I’ve found (that fits, as well as can be, into the dream of inexpensive, easy, fast, & not-junky). Sharing costumes between families or friends is, of course, a great ethical, environmental, and money-saving route.
These costumes would work for adults or children, for the most part (though I will note that one of my most massive personal pet peeves is parents dressing their children in totally age inappropriate costumes; grade schoolers should NEVER be dressed as Walter White or Alex from A Clockwork Orange! EVER! [rant over])
Birthday gifts! For any age, receiving gifts is a delight. But, if you’re a working mom and an aunt to seven and a sister (or -in-law) to six and a friend and a daughter… well, you get the picture: it can become overwhelming. Particularly if giving gifts is not how you would naturally express your affections.
In my family, I have two grown siblings: my sister lives in my neighbourhood and has two kids, aged 3 & 6. My brother lives in a different city and has three kids, aged 9, 11, 15. On the other side we’ve got two more: 12 & 14. My kids are 6, 5, & 2.
Like a wave that comes reliably and relentlessly, everyone has a birthday every year!
Over the years, for birthdays & Christmas, we’ve all dabbled in different permutations & combinations:
One Pro Tip to address all of this overwhelm? Become known for one thing. Give the same gift. It is a way to take the stress out of gift-planning, without forgoing gifts altogether. If you think this is a terrible idea and want to be unique every time, that’s great! God bless you. I could use your help.
If I may be on to something, read on...
A really delightful quality of my 6-year-old daughter is that she does not care about “stuff” at all. Now, this has a dark side, an extremely-irritating-for-a-parent side, where she tosses things on the floor and doesn’t pay much attention even to what she values. But, overall, it’s a relief.
One day, last fall, I asked her, “If Christmas was tomorrow, what would you want for Christmas?” After humming and thinking for a bit, she finally landed on a genius idea: “A book? Yeah, a BOOK! That would be GREAT!” I just stared blankly, as one does when looking at someone whose words are incomprehensible. It was like seeing a musical prodigy sit at a piano & play, or watching a contestant on Top Chef whip up a cake without a recipe. I admire it, but I do not get it.
My other daughter, nearly 5, is not quite like this, but is not far off. We’ve never had a want-induced tantrum at a store. And they rarely ask for things, except for treats like candy, ice cream, & popcorn (though they do that with frequency and persistence – they are human children, don’t worry).
But, this summer, something interested happened. As a result, I saw very clearly how the spending habits of my life have a great bearing on the materialistic inclinations of my children.