10 Ways to Make Your Kids Less Materialistic During the Holidays

Photo:  EvgeniiAnd (Shutterstock)
Photo: EvgeniiAnd (Shutterstock)

The season is upon us: Mailboxes are filling up with letters from children to a jolly bearded toymaker/reindeer breeder while we frantically shop for the things our children think will make them happy. But are these items really going to spark joy for them in the months—or even weeks—ahead. If we get them everything they want, will it cease to make things special or rob them of their creativity? Plus, they’ve got too many toys already.

Explaining to our kids the benefits of embracing a more minimalist lifestyle can seem challenging, but it actually doesn’t have to be in practice. Christine Koh, the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less, explained to NPR that it’s about “tuning into what your kids are interested in and what they want to do to kind of go the path of least resistance.”

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If you’re trying to steer your kids toward a more minimalist lifestyle even as the holidays approach, here are several ways to help teach them how to be happier with fewer things and learn the difference between what they want and what they need.

Give them gifts that aren’t toys

Photo:  Brocreative (Shutterstock)
Photo: Brocreative (Shutterstock)

As former Lifehacker Parenting Editor Michelle Woo once rightfully pointed out:

As kids rip open their birthday or holiday gifts with cake-fueled glee, parents brace themselves for the aftermath: a house cluttered with toys that no one will express interest in until 2.7 seconds after they make their way into the donation pile. The cycle is real.

Instead, opt for gifts like tickets or season passes to fun place or subscriptions to magazines or a themed subscription box. Make them a playlist of their favorite sons or collect together the materials and instructions needed for a DIY project you can do together.

Limit toy-buying to only the holiday season

Photo:  eurobanks (Shutterstock)
Photo: eurobanks (Shutterstock)

If you (and your kids) can’t let go of the magic of a pile of toys under the tree on Christmas morning, writer Lily Lou recommends recommends going for it—but only on that one day of the year. Severely limit (or eliminate entirely) toy-buying the entire rest of the year.

It may be frustrating when a new toy comes out and your child starts begging for it, but setting out specific times of the year for buying toys builds anticipation and makes your child value the toy even more once they receive it. Plus, a lot of new toys are fads and their popularity will die out by the time the holidays roll around.

Give them the gift of STEM

Photo:  Mama Belle and the kids (Shutterstock)
Photo: Mama Belle and the kids (Shutterstock)

If you want them to still open a few fun things, STEM gifts are the way to go, as Lifehacker’s Managing Editor Meghan Walbert points out:

We want to see our kids’ faces light up on Christmas morning, but we don’t want to drown in a sea of plastic to make it happen. That’s why adding a couple of STEM toys into the mix can be such a great middle ground. Kids are naturally curious little beings who like to dabble in science, technology, engineering and math; parents like to feel as though at least some of their toys have educational value.

Crystal-growing “labs,” robots, engineering kits, math games, and science experiment kits are all crowd-pleasers that won’t add unnecessary clutter to your lives.

Spend more time in nature

Photo:  LeManna (Shutterstock)
Photo: LeManna (Shutterstock)

Cultivating a more minimalist mindset for kids isn’t just about what you do on big gift-giving holidays, though—most of the lessons will come all year round. And one easy way to help them appreciate more than just material things is to spend more time in nature. Go hiking and biking and camping to spend time together and cultivate a love of the outdoors. If you’re not especially outdoorsy yourself, Michelle Woo offers some ideas on how to get started:

If you’re a camping novice, you probably want to start out at a local site less than two hours away from your home. That way, if things start spiraling downhill (maybe your kid gets a rash or has a stomachache or everyone is just generally miserable), you can cut your losses and make an exit back to your warm beds. If this happens, don’t feel bad about it. Soon enough, someone in your family will suddenly say once again, “Hey, you know what we should do? Go camping.”

Get more creative with their activities

Photo:  Svetliy (Shutterstock)
Photo: Svetliy (Shutterstock)

If you’re trying to help your kids get in touch with their creative side (and tired of them arguing over whose turn it is to play the iPad), Sarah Showfety has some great ideas that work during the long, hot days of summer—but several of them also come in handy during winter vacation or a rainy weekend. One of them is making a time capsule, which keeps things tidy but also teaches them to hold on to what they value.

Charge them with collecting “artifacts” of life now; anything from family photos and school art projects, to vacation memorabilia, their favorite Mad Libs, and a letter they write to their future selves.

Teach them these basics about finances

Photo:  worawit_j (Shutterstock)
Photo: worawit_j (Shutterstock)

It’s hard to teach kids how everything from toothpaste to dinner costs money. Even if you happen to live in a state that requires schools to teach children the value of a dollar, there are some ways you can teach them about finances, including taking them shopping, per writer Sarah Showfety.

Kids and teenagers should be taught how to comparison shop, factoring in price, volume, and quantity on things like groceries, personal hygiene items, toys, sports equipment, and other incidentals—whether that be in the aisles of your local Stop ‘n Shop or on Amazon. Take them grocery shopping and narrate your own process of evaluating and finding the best value. Or give them a set amount of money and a shopping list and challenge them to buy your family’s weekly necessities with those limited funds.

Use this age-by-age guide to teaching kids about money

Photo:  Dmitry Lobanov (Shutterstock)
Photo: Dmitry Lobanov (Shutterstock)

As long as you’re doing a financial crash course, Lifehacker Managing Editor Meghan Walbert wrote a guide on how to teach children about having a good relationship with money based on their age—and the holidays are a good time to start putting those lessons to use as they consider budgeting their own money to buy gifts for friends and family.

They may have some money they keep at home in their jars or piggy bank, but it’s also good for them to get accustomed to the idea of stashing some money away safely and watching it grow as they add to it over time. Take them to the actual bank to open the account (they will feel Very Grown Up), and take them back, if you can, each time they want to make a deposit.

Teach your kids the difference between wants and needs

Photo:  Dmitry Lobanov (Shutterstock)
Photo: Dmitry Lobanov (Shutterstock)

Minimal living isn’t about living with as few items as possible but putting first the things that are important to them. When a child isn’t able to get what they want, this is a moment to teach them how to identify priorities. Writer Rachel Fairbank has some tips on how to help kids deal with not getting what they want.

...help them brainstorm alternatives that are either low-cost or free. For older kids, if their heart is set on buying an expensive item, such as a video game, one option is to help them make a plan for how to save up for it. Maybe there are extra chores they can do for family members or neighbors to earn some extra cash.

Encourage family members to buy less, too

Photo:  New Africa (Shutterstock)
Photo: New Africa (Shutterstock)

Just because you—and maybe even your child—are ready to do more with less doesn’t mean Aunt Judy got the memo. If you suspect a relative may gift an abundance of toys to your kids, Sarah Showfety recommends you start with gratitude, communicate clearly (and early), provide alternate gift ideas, and set some guidelines.

There will inevitably be some relatives who flout your requests, no matter how graciously you made them. When it happens, try not to take it personally (They didn’t listen to me!) and remember that ultimately, people do what they want to do. (And this same scenario will be unfolding at many other houses around the country at that very moment.) First, say thank you—and teach your kids to say it, too, even when they’re disappointed. Then consider asking if the toy can remain at the gift-giver’s house to be used whenever your child visits.

Cultivate everyday gratitude in kids

Photo:  fizkes (Shutterstock)
Photo: fizkes (Shutterstock)

As Michelle Woo points out, helping children appreciate what they have is more than just teaching them to write thank-you notes and talking about what they’re grateful for at the dinner table. It also means practicing what you preach and not replacing that toy they broke, even though it might cause a meltdown.

If your child understood that toy was the only one she was getting, she might have been more grateful—and careful. Here’s a good reminder from Becoming Minimalist: “Kids who get everything they want believe they can have everything they want.”

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