In this post: how (and why!) no-clutter gifts for kids can bring even more pleasure to the recipient than a popular toy.
Never again, you think, as you toss yet another noisy toy back into the toy bin for the bazillionth time.
You wince when the impact triggers yet another cacophony of electronic sound.
Later, you trip over a pile of mismatched tiny pieces from a who-knows-what game that your kids never play anyway and hold back a frustrated scream.
At the end of the day, your jaw clenches and your neck muscles tighten. You yell down the hall yet again for your kids to pick up their disaster area of a playroom before bedtime. Heat rises in your cheeks. Your voice turns into a low growl, even though you cringe as soon as you hear it.
1! … 2! … 3!
They finally come running and shove everything into tubs and bins and toy chests, grumbling the whole time. Barbie shoes are mixed with McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and random plastic figurines you never remember buying. You don’t even care. At least they’re off the floor.
You’re tired of the battle. Surely there has to be a better way.
Well, friend, there is!
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Train yourself, and those who love to shower your kids with treasures, to look first to more clutter-free options.
These low-clutter and no-clutter gifts for kids celebrate connection over collection and memories over temporary pleasure.
What are no-clutter gifts for kids?
Some gifts don’t require any space at all. Gift them as simply or elaborately as you desire.
They’re easily portable if you are traveling for the holiday. They can be used right away, or at a specific time in the future, depending on the present.
Want a completely no-clutter Christmas? Give one of these no-clutter gifts to the kids in your life.
Experiences: even better than toys and “stuff”
The gold standard of no-clutter gifts for kids, giving experiences to friends and family over “stuff” has increasingly become more popular in recent years. Millennial (and minimalist!) parents reduce excess in their lives but still want to give their loved ones something special.
Experience gifts offer:
- bonding (if an experience done together)
- less clutter
- fine-tuning to the recipient’s interests
Even more than that, however, is the research that experiences often bring more pleasure than just opening a present. (And, in fact, this pleasure can last much longer as a memory over a lifetime.)
Experiences are a broad category in the low and no-clutter gift for kids department. Pretty much anything that would create a special memory or cater to a specific interest of the recipient can count.
This covers anything from the vacation of a lifetime to collecting seashells on the beach at dawn together.
Especially for kids, it’s important to give experiences that they would find exciting, not just you.
Consider carefully their personalities and preferences.
For instance, while my son does enjoy Disney World, it’s just not as exciting to him as it is to me to take a big trip and endure the oppressive Florida heat and humidity all day, all in the name of fun.
This kind of breaks my heart, to be honest, but I have to remind myself often that just because I like parades and rides and soaking up the escape-from-reality ambiance, doesn’t mean he has to feel the same way.
But you know what does excite him to the point of being giddy and jumping around in excitement? Giving him cold hard cash and telling him we’ll take him to the bookstore and let him buy anything he wants. (You know, within reason and budget.)
He will browse aisles with determination and glee, hunting for that perfect book or toy that he’s had his eyes on in Barnes & Noble for months.
Bottom line, you need to know the kid (or family!) you want to give the experience to fairly well, so you know if it is something they’ll enjoy or not. And experience gifts can be as extravagant or simple (and budget-friendly) as you want them to be.
To me, the best experiences are ones I’ve been dying to try forever but never (or rarely) take the opportunity to enjoy. (If anyone wants to—oh, I don’t know—spring for a spa day or road trip through Napa Valley with me, I’m all in!)
So why give experiences to the kids in your life? Because they don’t just entertain them. Experiences make opportunities for bonding and shared memories that will last into the years to come. Cue the warm fuzzies.
(One final note on experience presents: as with my six-year-old and his bookstore shopping spree, sometimes experiences do involve “things.” But the things are not the primary focus of the gift given.)
Memberships: the no-clutter gift for kids that keeps on giving
Memberships are very similar to experiences, but they are typically local and keep on giving! You can visit these places many times over the course of a year. Often (but not always) they provide educational opportunities in addition to being fun.
With a membership, your kids can enjoy play gyms, museums, zoos, and other entertainment venues. Each time they go back they will explore new exhibits and opportunities along the way.
Big bonus for parents? Once the pandemic eases (or even during, if you feel comfortable), you have a place to take the kids to give yourself a little bit of a break. Sometimes boredom hits in the middle of winter or summer and you just need a change a venue.
We gifted a zoo membership to my brother and sister-in-law and their young kids one year. They were able to go with the double stroller to see the animals as often as they wanted for a little break in their daily routine.
I’ve personally dropped everything and gone to the zoo or the children’s science center when my own son got a little too antsy. It was nice to have a distraction to help calm me down when I was about to lose my cool.
Dare I say, this is not just a no-clutter gift for kids … but also for their parents.
Education: encouraging exploration and mental stimulation through play or focused study
Whether you give a child credit to sign up for a few virtual Outschool classes (mine loved this one about Megalodon sharks!) or sign them up for music or dance lessons, you’re giving them the gift of education encourages growth that allows them to pursue their interests deeper.
Lessons and classes fit the no-clutter gift for kids category, while educational games and toys or kits have some (often consumable) “clutter” involved.
Either way, growing neural pathways plus bringing a smile to their face? Priceless!
Volunteer and donation opportunities: nurturing kindness and character
If you have a kid with a big heart (or are trying to nurture one), find a charity or non-profit that allows kids to volunteer. Set up either a one-time volunteer session or commit to a regular schedule.
This is the no-clutter gift for kids that is a double gift. A gift for your child, and possibly a gift for another person or group as well, if you and your child participate in a local charity gift drive.
Finding an organization that supports a cause or topic that is near and dear to your family is a great way to start doing this. (Especially if you want to encourage your kids to embrace the spirit of simplicity more this season.)
Sometimes, you can even find volunteer or donation opportunities that incorporate experiences in which your child is interested.
For instance, when my son begged for a cat as a pet, but we have family members who are severely allergic to cats so that was a hard no from us, I discovered that a nearby animal shelter trained kids to play with and read to the cats in the shelter.
Their program helps both the animals and the kids … especially if the kids struggle with reading at all, as they can practicing reading out loud to non-judgemental listeners in a safe environment.
For a donation one year, we “adopted” a whale for our whale-crazy son, and he got regular updates about the whale conservation efforts and adopted whales that were spotted during the whale watching season.
(Full disclosure: this ended up being a bit more exciting for us than it was for him, but he did love looking at the colorful newsletters he was sent quarterly.)
Digital gift cards and subscriptions: only taking up virtual storage space
Have a bookworm, movie buff, or gamer in your household? Give them credit toward digital purchases! These no-clutter gifts for kids will bring hours of fun. Digital items make for perfect no-clutter gifts for kids.
Tailor a digital gift to your child’s individual interests. Perhaps you could include online memberships to learning sites such as ABCMouse if they enjoy playing educational games.
Or incorporate this completely clutter-free gift with something consumable, like a popcorn bucket and popcorn and candy for an at-home movie night.
Perhaps their big gift, if they are responsible enough for it, could be a tablet or phone or computer or ebook reader of their own. Then add a gift card to use toward music, games, ebooks, or expensive computer applications or subscriptions (like Adobe Suite) they’ve had their eye on.
I’ll be honest: this is a great gift for us grown-ups, too. One of my favorite gifts over the past few Christmases was when my husband gave me a gift card to the Apple app store specifically so I could blow guilt-free money on my favorite mobile game. (Disney Emoji Blast, for the curious.)
It was so fun to be able to just buy the gems or lives that I wanted without a care in the world. I’m not much of a gamer, but I rarely spend any money on the one game I do enjoy. To have the opportunity to do so felt like such a luxury and I enjoyed every minute of the extra play time I was able to purchase instantly–instead of earning through gameplay.
What are low-clutter gifts?
Not every minimalistic, quality gift is completely clutter-free.
Some wonderful gifts require storage or take up sizable space in a home or backyard (a swing set, for instance.) However, their usefulness or benefit far outweighs the slight amount of “stuff” that you have to accommodate.
Many of these are outdoor toys, Montessori or Waldorf style open-ended play toys and equipment, and sports gear.
Consumables: restocking items used regularly
Consumables are gifts that can be used on a daily basis. As their name implies, you will use them up after a certain amount of time. Think Play-doh, art supplies, activity books, and even favorite treats.
These are the things that don’t stay forever in the toy box or cupboard. So while they don’t qualify as no-clutter gifts for kids, they also don’t stick around forever, which alleviates the need for long-term storage.
(Can I get an amen?!)
Of course, you’ll want to be sure that whatever you purchase is something your children will actually like and use. Don’t use this time to invest in fancy brushes and oil paints if they’d prefer using their hands and fingerpaint.
Combine consumables with experiences easily, to create a unique gift. Do you and your child enjoy baking? Buy a cute set of kid-sized bakeware and mixing utensils. Add some ingredients and set aside a special day for you to spend time baking together.
Two of my favorite Christmas presents my son got from family members in recent years was a small kid-size baking kit (that really was usable!) and a child’s Star Wars R2D2 apron.
He’d been getting interesting in baking that year and when our family asked what he wanted, I told them about his new interest and they jumped on board.
We have made many creations together hile he has worn that apron and used those tools!
Outdoor play equipment: making staying at home more enjoyable (and active!)
Many outdoor play equipment items aren’t exactly easily stored away, but they can be used over and over again by your children for years to come.
Because of this, they make really great gifts!
I remember being excited about getting a bike for Christmas as a teenager. Yes, even grumpy, hormonal teens can get a thrill from outdoor play equipment.
Especially now, when so many of us are staying home as much as possible, having something to do outside is more important than ever before.
For your kids, swing sets, scooters, forts, climbing structures, and sandboxes aren’t just equipment, they are portals into worlds of adventure and make-believe.
They can fight a dragon from the top of the swing set fort, or compete in a race with a crowd cheering them on in their minds while they speed down the street on their bike, or dig for buried treasure in a sandbox.
Indoor play equipment: keeping the movement going when indoors
But what if it rains? Snows? Is oppressively hot and humid outside?
Well, your kids come inside! (Or stay inside.) And then that energy has to go somewhere!
Collapsible tunnels, indoor flat gym-style scooters with handles, and even plain old painter’s tape are invaluable indoor play tools to have available for your children.
(Why painter’s tape, you may wonder? Well, I learned this handy trick from Jamie at Hands On As We Grow. It can be used for soooo many active-play activities, from seeing how far your kids can jump, to working on their balance by following shapes taped on the floor like they were a balance beam, to creating a “laser security” challenge.)
As the mother of a highly active and fidgety child, I learned early on to always have a supply of gross motor skill activities on hand.
While you might not give your kiddo a roll of blue painter’s tape for their birthday or Christmas, some of the other items listed here will enthrall even the pickiest of children.
Hobby and sports equipment: supporting their interests
Do you have a star football player, skiier, or softball player in your family? Sports equipment does still need to be organized, cared for, and stored. But it is useful and helps your kids develop skills and fitness.
What about a violin virtuoso in the making? An aspiring YouTuber? Or an avid tabletop gamer?
Do they have their hearts set on a particular item or type of gear? Consider saving up to buy something they would love to get but it is usually out of reach.
Buy your violinist new sheet music, YouTuber a ring light, or tabletop gamer a few games they’ve been wanting.
The options are endless!
More importantly, it will show your child you support their interests and want to help them succeed in something they enjoy.
And, hint hint, it also could propel them on to a future career later in life. For myself, my parents supported my writing habit and encouraged me to pursue publication, even as a teen. There was no way any of us could have known back then that blogging would become a career path, but I now use my words to encourage and support others. (And I write fiction on the side.)
For my husband, his parents bought him computers and let him spend hours learning to program. He now is in IT and has written many reviews of software and hardware for an online magazine.)
My parents let my brother play Flight Simulator on our computer for hours at a time, paid for a private flight for my brother when he was only 14, and then flight lessons and equipment to get him started on learning how to fly.
He loved it so much, he started mowing lawns to pay for more lessons and works as a pilot now as an adult.
And all of these careers began because our parents supported our then hobbies and gifted us useful items we needed along the way.
Screen-free toys: imagination and education that encourage open-ended play
Open-ended play toys are perfect for decluttering enthusiasts and minimalist families.
They are not single-purpose toys. They are meant to encourage imaginary play, critical thinking, and both gross and fine motor skills.
For instance, your child can use blocks to build towers (to knock back down with enthusiasm!) or even entire cities. They can sort the blocks into groupings by shape and size.
They can count and skip count or measure during an impromptu math lesson. They can make a road, a bridge, a frame, a maze … the possibilities are endless.
Yes, a set of blocks contains many pieces that will need to be picked up regularly. But they are so simple to store in a basket or bin or tub. Plus, even if a smaller masterpiece is left out on a table or bookcase top, it is not an eyesore. (Especially if they are all one natural color.)
Then there are the family-friendly board and card games that encourage laughter and connection. Use something as simple as a game of Uno to bond with your child. Release some of the day’s tension with good old fashioned family competition. And if it’s pure silliness you’re after … try a game of Uno DARE!)
Low-clutter and no-clutter gifts for kids can change their lives (and yours!)
After a good decluttering session (adios McDonald’s Happy Meal toy leftovers!), make the decision to focus on giving low-clutter and no clutter gifts. This will make one of the biggest impacts on your kids’ rooms and/or playroom.
Imagine having room for each toy on your cubby shelf. And when that growl threatens to return, you can calm down quickly. Because it is easy for them to pick up as asked.
You’ll breathe a sigh of relief when just a few fabric bins in the cubby hold the majority of their toys. No more excess spilling over onto every available surface.
You’ll smile when you decide to let the block tower stand a little longer in the corner. You’ll linger over snuggles and bedtime stories a little longer, because it didn’t take your kids long at all to pick up their mess.
You’ll feel less anxious, more calm. Your kids will feel relaxed and confident.
This is the power of no-clutter gifts for kids.
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