A Friendly Holiday Suggestion From a Mom With Too Much Stuff

This post originally appeared at the Chattanooga Moms Blog.

The holiday season is upon us!

I’m going to take this opportunity to say something that may anger some of you – particularly those of you who may or may not be grandparents or extended family to precious little children that you are looking forward to showering with many, many wrapped and bow-topped items over the coming weeks. I say this not to hurt your feelings, but to let you know something that a lot of us mamas (although certainly not all) are feeling this time of year.

You ready?

Put down whatever it is you are about to buy our children.

Put. It. Down.

Did you do it? Did you put it down?

Now. Ask yourself this very important question: “Am I buying this because it is useful and long-lasting? Or am I buying this because it makes me feel good and will make this child excited for a few minutes?”

Because if the answer is that you are buying that gift because it makes YOU feel good, we don’t want it.

I have four children, y’all. All boys. By the time you get down the line to the fourth boy, you have ALL OF THE THINGS. All of them. Honestly, there is not one toy, book, or other non-consumable item you could buy my fourth boy that we don’t already have. The only exception is blue jeans and tennis shoes because those actually do wear out (so if you want to buy my youngest little snowflake something for Christmas, make it jeans or shoes – sizes 18mos and 5T. Thank you.).

Example: Four sets of toy keys. And this was just what I found without much effort in the toy bucket in the living room.

Too Much Stuff

We have become a culture obsessed with stuff. Our homes are overrun with too much stuff…shoot, even our cars are filled with stuff! One estimate is that the average American home has over 300,000 items. Our homes have tripled in size over the last 50 years, yet our families are smaller. We are buying bigger and bigger houses for our THINGS rather than our PEOPLE. Even the poorest among us are drowning in stuff because when those who are the wealthier among us get tired of their stuff (or need room for more stuff), they pass it along to the local thrift store.

Every year since I’ve had children I’ve looked forward to the holiday season less and less. Our calendars are bursting at the seams and hanging over my head is the knowledge that on top of all the things I am constantly moving, picking up, washing, cleaning, sorting, and tripping over, we are about to get even MORE. We will go to celebration after celebration where everyone feels like they need to give my kids something. More often than not, it is something that they love for a day or two – a week at most – and then it is tossed aside for me to clean, pick up, wash, or find a new home for (or nag my kids about doing the above). Christmas isn’t fun anymore. It’s work. It’s stress. It’s mess and clutter and chaos.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “This sounds like a personal problem and she just needs to relax/make her kids pick up after themselves/be thankful that people want to buy them things/etc.”

I have relaxed significantly over the years (ask my husband). I do make my kids pick up after themselves. I am thankful that people love my kids and want to buy them gifts.


We have too much. We have so much that my kids stand in a room filled with toys and can’t figure out what to play with. Heck, I stand in their rooms filled with stuff and can’t figure out what they should play with. There are too many choices!

So, my dear friends, allow me to suggest some ways to share the holiday spirit without buying stuff:

For kids:

  • Memberships to a zoo, museum, aquarium, or other local spot. Chattanooga has several locations that offer discounted family passes, including the Children’s Discovery Museum, Chattanooga Zoo, Tennessee Aquarium, and Rock City. Especially for younger kids, who may not understand why they’re “just” getting tickets, grab a couple of items that show the fun things they’ll get to see when they go. For example, a stuffed monkey to take to the zoo, a book about sharks to get ready for the aquarium, or a science journal and pen for the children’s museum.

too much stuff

A great gift from last year (a membership to the aquarium) led to this fun day with the whole family!

  • Give a day, a month, or a year at High Point Climbing Gym.
  • Pay for classes! Whether the recipient is a fan of dance, martial arts, computers, Legos, or cooking, there are classes available. My guess is that the mom of a bunch of kids would love to be able to take her kids to classes like these, but can’t afford it (just a hunch).
  • A monthly subscription, such as Kiwi Crate. My mom bought my older boys subscriptions to Tinker Crate (for my oldest) and Kiwi Crate (for my #2) and they LOVED them. Although we’ve not had an active subscription since last spring, they frequently ask when we can get crates again. Whether the kiddo in your life likes art, crafts, building, or pretend play these boxes are fantastic for ages 3-14. This is definitely a gift that will make kids AND parents happy!
  • Movie gift cards. We’re a family of six. SIX. Remember your last trip to the movies? Remember how expensive it was? Now multiply that by six. Yeah. We don’t go to the movies often. A great gift for a kid are the funds to go to a movie and the right to pick the flick! Give a gift certificate to a theater, some Dollar Store boxes of candy, a couple of sodas (for the special occasion only!) and instructions that only the recipient gets to pick the movie.

For the grownups:

  • For the adults in your life, why not pay for a visit with a personal trainer? If you’re in the Chattanooga Area, call the Hamilton YMCA and request me! I’m a personal trainer who would be happy to be given as a Christmas gift. From making you feel more comfortable with gym equipment, to providing a workout and/or nutrition plan, to just being your workout buddy for a while, a personal trainer is an awesome and affordable option ($40 for an hour, or gather your friends for a small group session at a discounted rate).
  • For your girlfriends, plan a paint night or attend a workshop. Last year, my friends and I had a soap-making party at For the Love of Suds in Kingsport, TN rather than exchanging gifts. We brought wine and food and spent the night learning to make bath goodies that we then got to take home! We had a great time, learned something new, and went home with something we would use. There are studios in Chattanooga that offer paint nights and private parties, and Wine Down in Ooltewah does a monthly wine and paint.

too much stuff

A night out with friends is a great gift!

  • Coffee or restaurant gift cards, especially for the parents in your life! My husband and I run on caffeine and Jesus. Jesus is free, Starbucks is not. I genuinely cannot think of a better gift than a Starbucks gift card. As for restaurants, if it’s not Chick-fil-A, the hubs and I don’t get to enjoy it together. So how about a restaurant gift card and an offer to babysit?

Shopping for worthless stuff has become way too easy. Rather than showering your friends and family with whatever you can find in the clearance aisle, pick something that will really enrich their lives. As an added bonus you’ll avoid getting the stink-eye from a tired mama who can’t stand the thought of ONE MORE TOY.

Check out the 100 Non-Toy Gift List list for even more ideas!

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Jama Oliver
I am a stay-at-home homeschool mama of four boys (yes, I'm exhausted) and wife to a software developer. We are new to Chattanooga and have absolutely fallen in love with this hi-tech, outdoorsy, family-friendly city. I love Jesus, my family, running, weight-lifting, fitness-instructor-in-training, freelance writer, and lover of coffee, wine, sunshine, and comfortable clothes. I am confident that one day I will get a full night's sleep and I hope that's before my boys leave for college.

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