Simplify Your Holidays!

Simplify Your Holidays!

Be Present. Time together is the best present. Spend less time shopping and more time creating traditions. Go caroling, make gifts, cut out paper snowflakes, bake cookies, light candles, attend a holiday play or concert, donate time or money to those in need, or just play games and read holiday stories by the fire (our family favorite is Redheaded Robbie’s Christmas story; our teens still act it out every year.)  And of course, try a family screen fast. How long can you last?

Slow Down.  Maybe you don’t have to bake pumpkin bread for all the neighbors, send a holiday card to 200 people you have not seen in 25 years, go to the office party, drive across town to buy the exact color she wants, buy a gift for every single extended family member, or host the tacky Christmas sweater party every year.  Feel free to say no when you need to.

Mute the ads.  Don’t let marketers tell you how to spend your money.  Minimize the marketing kids are exposed to, especially before the holidays.  The more we see, the more we want.  Focus on commercial free media and leave them home if you must go to the mall.  When the marketing it is unavoidable (it is!), talk openly about it together.

Buy less. Buy local.  Ask friends for their favorite local shop recommendations, search on-line for locally owned businesses, and visit craft fairs.  Reducing, reusing and recycling are important, but buying less in the first place is even better.  For extended family, try a gift exchange (everyone gives and gets one gift) or give one gift per family. Make holiday goals.  Do your best to stick to your budget, your list, and your values  –  for your family and the planet.

Talk about it.  Involve kids in the conversation.  “What ideas do you have for simplifying?”  “What gifts might be good for the planet?”  Kids adjust well if they know what to expect, so communicate intentions. “Two gifts you want, two you need”, “A toy, a book, a game and a clothing item” or “We will spend x amount”.  Also, talk to grandparents and other generous gift givers about your preferences.

Screen-Free, earth friendly gifts for all.

It is tempting to buy the hot new toy or gadget. But here are some even better ideas.


EXPERIENCES.  Spending time together is a perfect present. Pair tickets to see your local team with a sports book or tickets to a children’s play with the original book (our favorites were the BFG by Roald Dahl and the Nutcracker).  Or give music, dance, or cooking lessons, a trip to a state park, a membership to the science museum, or a gift certificate for a massage.

BOOKS.  Kids (and adults) of all ages love pictures and stories.  Create a book about her trip to the zoo, his favorite things to do, or all the things you love about them.  Give a book  in their favorite genre or one that encourages a love of nature.

GAMES AND PUZZLES.  Our favorites are Dutch Blitz, Apples to Apples, Chess, Backgammon, Taboo, Loot, Yoga Garden, Mancala, Ticket To Ride, Blokus and Bananagrams.  And kids and adults of all ages love the classics on our coffee table, the Wooden Maze and Shoot the Moon.

OUTDOOR SUPPLIES.  Flashlights, pocketknives, illustrated animal or bird guides, binoculars, marshmallows and graham crackers, bug houses, camping equipment, a wooden flower press, gardening tools, and sand or water play items.  You get the idea!

MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS.  Kids love getting mail.  When possible, choose magazines without advertising like Big Backyard, Ranger Rick, Appleseeds, or Cricket.

DIY GIFTS. Try beading, felting, or knitting.  Make fairy houses and gnome homes (photo above) or bird houses.  Use kids’ artwork or photos as gift cards.  Try body butter, bath bombs, or soap.  You will find plenty of ideas on-line.

ART AND SCIENCE.  An easel, sidewalk chalk, colored pencils, sculpting clay, paint supplies, wood craft sticks, or craft tape. (Tape kept our pre-schooler busy for hours).  Or put together directions and materials for a DIY science, building or art project.

ACTIVITY BOXES.  Choose a theme, and fill up a box (or bag). Our favorite for toddlers is a Playdoh Box: a small wooden rolling pin, mini kitchen tools, popsicle sticks, scissors, cookie cutters, small muffin tin, homemade playdoh and recipe.  Our Nature Box includes: a magnifying glass, cool rocks and shells, a rabbit skin from my husband’s youth, and antlers found on a hike.  Get creative.  The possibilities are endless!

ACTIVE TOYS.  Get them moving with badminton, croquet or bocci ball sets, bongo boards, bikes, wagons, sleds, and hoola hoops (you can even make and decorate your own!)

CREATIVE TOY TIPS.  To maximize creativity, minimize toys linked to tv shows, movies and video games and allow kids to create their own agenda. Toys that got the most love in our house:  dress up items, dolls, puzzles, puppets, balls of all sizes, musical instruments, wooden toys including pretend food, cars, mini-figures, a doll house/barn, train set, and basic blocks. *If you must buy Lego try shapes only or non-commercial sets like the architecture, amazon animals or bird series.

STOCKING STUFFERS TIPS.  Like birthday gift bags, many stockings are full of cheap gifts that will be used once and end up in the trash. Choose useful and/or meaningful stocking stuffers. Favorite foods and tasty treats are a good bet.

EARTH FRIENDLY WRAPPING TIPS.  Make your own wrapping paper with Sunday comics, paper bags, old photos, old maps or re-usable cloth. Or forgo the wrapping, hide gifts and send receivers on a treasure hunt. Purchase gifts with minimal packaging.

Helpful Links

Simplifying/Nature Connection ideas: (great ideas for earth friendly packaging)

Commercial free holiday ideas:

Handmade Gifts and DIY Ideas:

Buy local in Portland, Oregon:


Submitted by PLAY AGAIN producer, Meg Merrill