Why we are giving our kids experiences not toys

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December is upon us! It’s such a magical time of year; Christmas trees and sparkle, Santa and surprises; giving and receiving. A time to be thankful and to reflect on the year past. A time to look ahead and prioritise.

Our tree is up, the Christmas cards are ordered. The children’s Santa letters have been written, months of requests distilled into simple lists, and the presents bought.

Gifts from Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents have been assigned and organised.

Our children are going to have a wonderful Christmas; they are very lucky.

But, our children have a lot of stuff.

WHY WE ARE GIVING OUR KIDS experiences not toys

A house full of toys

When we moved from the UK to the US we brought all the kids toys. It was very important to us that they felt at home, and surrounding them with familiar objects was a simple way to achieve that in those first few weeks of strangeness.

Some of those toys stayed in the boxes.

Some of those toys are still in boxes, despite having moved house again in the meantime.

And, with three years of Christmases and birthdays added into the mix, the children have more toys than they can play with.

Too much is overwhelming

When our kids focus on a particular toy or activity the engagement is a joy to watch.

They play together. They play imaginatively and inclusively. They play for hours.

When presented with all the toys, they flit and bicker and get frustrated.

As their parents I know that it’s up to us to help them learn to play independently. To guide them in developing their social and sharing skills. To encourage imagination and creativity.

But, when they have too many options, our kids get overwhelmed.

They say they have nothing to do, that they’re bored, that they don’t know what to play with. They pull things out, then more things, then move on to the next thing.

And, they have become careless, leaving toys to get broken or lost.

Less is more

We try very hard to instill a sense of value in our children. They understand that things cost money. We encourage them to save up Christmas and birthday money and buy things that they really want; to be patient and not seek instant returns.

When writing their letters to Santa we ask them to think carefully about what they want, and why.

We have always been so proud to see them write their final letters asking for just a few special gifts. From a Skylanders game to a blue car, a Lego set to a pink teddy; each request has always been considered carefully.

And, we always buy them the toys they have asked for from Santa; seeing their faces on Christmas morning is priceless.


There is a danger that the pleasure in those gifts can be swamped by the number of other parcels to open.

The gift of time

Two years ago we made the decision to limit the number of Christmas presents they received and instead of adding to the pile, my husband and I gave the children Boss for the Day vouchers.

An experience, not a toy.

This year we will be doing the same.

While Santa may give them the sought after toy, we will be giving them something just as special.


We love seeing them enjoy a new toy or game, whether playing together or completely absorbed in their own world.

But, we enjoy spending time with them even more.

Creating a balance

Christmas is such a special and magical day and our kids will have presents to open; from Santa, family and friends. They will each have their stockings; filled with treats and books and games.

But, we want them to value the gifts they receive, to enjoy each and every present they open and for the joy of Christmas to extend well beyond the end of Boxing Day.

So, our gifts to them will be season passes and museum memberships; weekends away and day trips. And, each of them will get a set of Boss for the Day vouchers, allowing them to choose how we spend time as a family.

And, while it could be argued that these kind of gifts should be a given (and we would get them for the children anyway), there is value in our kids knowing that these activities have meaning. That we choose to make time and spend time together.

That we value our time with them above all other gifts.

Sharing this post with SHINE blog hop and The Truth About.


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38 thoughts on “Why we are giving our kids experiences not toys”

    1. Exactly! I hate seeing so many things effectively go to waste as they simply have too many options. They don’t need more from us x

  1. Great post Sara and such a lovely idea. We are currently clearing out toys into the loft in preparation for the influx from relatives and friends! We dont buy them much at all and I think your plan is brilliant and will definitely be doing something like this in the future! Xx

    1. It’s lovely to see them open presents, but the aftermath seems to be so overwhelming! Committing to family time is more valuable, I think x

  2. This is such a wonderful idea – though it’s a bit late this year to implement, I may try this next year. We kind of do something like this for our girls’ birthdays. We give something handmade and the day is theirs to plan/command – so we go to the place they want to go (waterpark, playground, zoo, etc.) and eat the foods they choose.

    Thanks for sharing (and for linking up to the #SHINEbloghop).

    Wishing you a lovely day.

    1. Thank you, we’ve done the Boss for a Day vouchers before and the kids loved them, and that makes for really special family time x

  3. I am SO with you. Christmas can be overwhelming. I remember one year when our children were little, they started opening gifts in our home at 6AM. Grandparents and aunts and uncles kept coming over and bringing more gifts. Before you knew it, it was 1PM and our children were asking if they could STOP opening gifts. After that, we said enough! We have been changing how we do Christmas ever since. For us, it is less about tangible gifts and more about creating things that will last. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I can relate to this! When the kids were small we took several days to open all their presents. It was just too much. Last Christmas was our best yet, so much less stressful and overwhelming x

  4. What a great idea, our Lily is a little young for this sort of thing but it’s definitely something I want to run with in the future, time is so precious and they will appreciate it so much more than a few plastic toys!

    1. I think as they get older they start to appreciate different things. They still want their present from Santa, but actually, spending time together is much more fun x

  5. I allowed my children to be ‘Boss for the Day’ last summer holidays and it worked a treat! What a wonderful idea for a Christmas present. I so agree with your sentiments here. I almost find it easier now they are older as I buy them stocking presents that they actually need. They don’t really do ‘toys’ as such so it’s better. I remember the days of all those toys though and yes, totally manic and no real regard for things. Have a wonderful Christmas Sara! x

    1. I think it is getting easier as they get older, we still need to be mindful of making a fuss for the wee girl, but we can do that without going over the top x

  6. This is a brilliant idea. I so agree with it! I think too many toys can be so overwhelming. Evie’s toys are all locked away and we bring down a few everyday for her to play with because we noticed she gets ‘bored’ so easily if she has too many. It is overwhelming having lots in the house. I will definitely be doing this too! xx #love2blog

  7. I love this idea. My parents used to give us each a day every year where we went and chose a day trip of our choice. One with mum and one with dad. So each of us kids got some one on one time. I still remember those trips and they were so special! Xx

  8. I love this idea, we’ve had a year of minimalist living and this would go perfectly with our new way of life! Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts! x

  9. This is such a good idea. I like to give my children a few toys with other things mixed in. With their old toys, we talk about waste and if they don’t play with them, we dig them all out and donate to charity so they can be used by another child

  10. I love this idea. My little one is only 9 months so has no idea what’s going on but my husband and I want her to grow to appreciate what she has. I think we will definitely be doing something like this when she is older rather than loads of toys.

  11. Having just got off the phone to my mother after trying (and failing) to persuade her not to bring 5 different toys for just one little boy, I completely agree with you! Kids do get overwhelmed by having too much stuff and so I think we’re doing them a great service when we limit that. All my son really wants is a bit more train track, and for us to get down on the floor to play with him and said train track. So we’ll be doing just that this Christmas.

  12. This is such a good idea! I was only saying to my mum yesterday I’d have to have rented a second house for all the bits and bobs she’d have gotten my little girl. My sister and brother always took me out for birthdays when I was a kid and I loved that so much! x

  13. This sounds wonderful, I 100% agree with you and I am going to do the boss for the day gift after reading this. It is lovely as it lets them be them for the day and lets their voice heard too.

  14. Last year we were moving our family of 6 to the mainland US from Hawaii and had a travel delay that landed us homeless in a hotel for Christmas with none of our things. The kids each got 2 very small things with the intent to make a bigger Christmas for them the following year. We also got rid of nearly all of their toys for our move because I wanted a fresh slate and figured Christmas would fill the gaps, only to be put in a very different situation than planned. However this year when we began asking what they would ask santa for, we realized the kids were under the impression that they got ONE toy from Santa and ONE from us. And they were HAPPY and OK about it! So I am running with that! ;) It was an accident over here…but something I’m very happy with. And I really love your idea of “boss for the day” and may try something along those lines as well. Thanks for the insight! #truthabout

  15. We’ve gotten a lot of hand me down stuff over the years, so ours has a ton of toys also. I leave most of them put away and cycle through them every few weeks so she doesn’t get bored. I love the idea of season passes as gifts. I’ll keep this in mind next year

  16. What a brilliant idea Sara, I love this. We’ve been pondering the whole toy thing a lot recently what with Poppy not sleeping until 10pm. She has lots of toys with Christmas Day bring Santa gifts, Christmas and birthday. It really is a bit much. In the past I think there’s been the guilt of having her on Christmas Day but actually it’s a pretty cool day to have a birthday and it’s not like she misses out as she has a summer party :)

  17. This is a lovely idea. Would be interesting in our house as to whether the OH would follow what he’s told.

    Santa only brings the stocking gifts here, so not all would work here. I have to admit that at the end of last winter, we got rid of a lot of N’s toys, the aim being to keep the railway, lego, tractors, drawing/craft stuff, fancy dress stuff, jigsaws and games. the rest went because he’s mainly playing otuside so didn’t need the toys. We still find random things he wouldn’t let go of, but post Christmas we’ll try again to streamline down the puzzles and games, plus any old toys. Hopefully he won’t get too many for Christmas to add to those remaining

  18. What a terrific idea – I bet all children love to be Boss for a day!So true what you say about having too many toys being overwhelming and distracting. My boy is only one but I notice that if I tip out all his toys on the floor he just spends all day picking them up and tossing them aside, he doesn’t actually ‘play’ with anything. Tomorrow I’m going to try and select one type of toy at a time.

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  20. This is such a brilliant idea – our time really is the best gift we can give our children. I sometimes feel a bit mean in the run-up to Christmas for not caving in to the pressure to buy huge piles of presents for the girls – mostly for the reasons you mention – they play so much more happily when they are not overwhelmed by choice. I love the idea of Boss for the Day vouchers and museum memberships and days out vouchers are wonderful gift ideas too. Will definitely be taking this on board for us too in the future x

  21. I’ve been reading a few posts like this recently and I agree – it’s all got a bit out of hand, but it;s too late for us this year, I have, as usual, spent a small fortune on presents. I definitely need to have a bit of a re-think next year. Even the Peppa Pig book I’ve been reading EJ before bed has Peppa receive nothing more than a yo yo from Santa and George receive a toy train and they are very happy! Christmas was exciting to me as a child a lot because of the anticipation of opening my presents though. I liked the idea that I read in a post by Morgana over on Coffee Work Sleep Repeat “Something you want, something you need, something you wear, something you read” – that ought to be enough and enough of a variety too in principle. I think maybe when the kids are a bit older it will be easier to sell the ‘experiences’ thing because they will understand more what it means to have special days together to look forward to rather than just assuming that those things happen anyway. Thanks so much for linking up to last week’s #thetruthabout Sara X

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