To the news that Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher are instituting a no holiday gift policy, I say amen. “Last year when we celebrated Christmas, [daughter] Wyatt was two and it was too much,” Kunis told Entertainment Tonight. “We didn’t give her anything―it was the grandparents. The kid no longer appreciates the one gift. They don’t even know what they’re expecting; they’re just expecting stuff.” In her column, Kids Need to Stop Getting So Many Damn Presents, the New York Post’s Naomi Schaefer Riley preaches to the choir (if that choir consisted solely of me and my present-loathing husband passive aggressively muttering “Bah humbug” under our breath). When her three-year-old daughter’s birthday came on the heels of Hanukkah, Riley says, “We tried to space out the opening of presents but then one morning at the end of February she woke up and said, ‘Where’s my present?’” Forget minimalism. We’d settle for moderation. Here, six ways to shelter kids from the incoming gift avalanche without becoming a total Scrooge.
Buy one big present—and lots of little ones
On Christmas morning, put the object of their obsession under the tree, then stuff their stockings with stickers, Shopkins, squishy balls and Slinkies. If your family celebrates Hanukkah, present kids with one amazing item on the most significant first night, then delight them with chocolate coins on nights two through eight. Conspicuous consumers aren’t born; they’re raised. We know plenty of kids who would prefer Flarp! to a fully-furnished dollhouse anyway.
Gift them with experiences
According to Time, “Cornell psychology professor Tom Gilovich has found that people are more likely to be grateful for experiences than for material possessions.” Gift-wrap tickets to the zoo to see an amazing creature they’ve been reading about; stick a bow on the brochure for a children’s museum membership; whip up a homemade “gift certificate” for a cookie-decorating or slime-making party—they get to pick the day. Show kids that being together is the true gift.
Let grandparents buy the expensive stuff
Your parents' and in-laws' deep-seated need to see their grandchildren’s faces light up when they rip open wrapping paper—ideally to reveal a shiny new Schwinn—will likely take you 50 years to understand. Grandma cannot be stopped. So don’t even try. Ask each of your kids to pick out one insanely over-the-top fantasy gift, then text the link directly to her. She’ll overflow with happiness. So will your checking account.
Hoard and re-gift
Designate a secret, off-limits, kid-repelling hiding spot (the homework nook perhaps?) for any excess gifts that come in, and keep a detailed spreadsheet of who gave what. Then, when birthday parties roll around, simply rewrap and redistribute.
Request the right stuff from friends and relatives
If you can’t curtail quantity, focus on quality. “Aim for gifts that enhance creativity, talents, or motor skills, such as musical instruments, paints, or cameras,” writes one parenting expert. “Children love to discover new talents. It strengthens their self-esteem and confidence. They also learn that they don’t need excessive belongings to feel good about themselves.”
For every new toy that comes in, ask your children to select one they’re willing to part with and drop it into a “Santa Bag.” Then take them with you to donate the bag to a local children’s charity or hospital. And after they recover from their holiday endorphin hangover, help them write thank-you notes. Expressing gratitude rewires the brain for positivity, say researchers. “Grateful kids tend to be much more satisfied with their lives,” psychologist Jeffrey Froh tells Real Simple. “They do better in school and are less materialistic, less depressed, and less envious. Their relationships are much stronger and more supportive.” Those strong relationships will come in handy when you start buying their kids too many presents.