This morning, our four year old daughter told me, “I don’t want a bunch of things for Christmas. I just want one thing: a pogo stick.” We are constantly cutting back on the number of toys and parts and pieces that are so often underfoot in our home, so the approaching holiday season has me thinking about how we can celebrate through giving—without increasing the volume of stuff in our home. It’s better for our hearts, our wallets, and the earth.

As we discussed in last week’s 12 Weeks to a Peaceful Christmas task, the sooner we start gift shopping, the less stressed we’ll be when the holiday hits. So here are 10 clutter-free gift ideas for the little ones in your life.

Financial investments

Photo by

1. Short-term investing

For a child who is preschool age and older, partner together to work on a short-term savings goal. Use some or all of the money you would have spent on gifts and open a savings account, money market account, or purchase CDs (Certificates of Deposit) to help a child get started on saving towards a big purchase.

This big purchase could be anything from a new bike to a first car. The combination of gift money, plus money invested by the child, means he can achieve his savings goal more quickly, while still maintaining a sense of ownership in what the money is used to purchase.

Smarty Pig is a nifty tool that helps other people, like grandparents, contribute to a savings goal.

2. Long-term investing

Did you know that education-related inflation is currently rising at about seven percent a year? It’s never too early to prepare for the costs of higher education.  Start a 529 Plan for your child.

A 529 Plan allows anyone (parents, grandparents, extended family, even the child himself) to contribute up to $13,000 per year, and its earnings are tax-deferred or tax-exempt if it’s spent on qualified education expenses (books, tuition, room-and-board, etc). Talk with a trusted financial advisor about how to use the money you would have otherwise spent on (more) toys to start paving the way for your child’s future education.

Dave Ramsey has a group of his Endorsed Local Providers, if you want to find a financial adviser in your area with a financial philosophy you can trust.

Family investments


Photo by Van Damme M

3. Big ticket item

Rather than many small gift items for family members, pool the holiday budget to purchase one big item that the entire family can enjoy. A trampoline sure sounds like fun, or maybe this is the year to invest in one of those fantastic wooden play stands. Does your family have a big ticket item you have been collectively dreaming about?

4. Family vacation

The families great at delayed gratification might be up for this one. Rather than having dozens of holiday presents to unwrap (and clean-up after, and then find a place for in your home), make plans to escape somewhere as a family in the coming year.

The dark, cold days of winter make a perfect backdrop for daydreaming about a week of summer spent at the beach. Choosing a location that pleases everyone could be a challenge, particularly if your children are older and have a strong opinion on the matter, but then again, brainstorming about far-away places could be a fun exercise in the art of family compromise.

5. Family memberships

A family membership to a local zoo, children’s museum, or theater group rarely fits into our family’s regular monthly budget. The holiday season is a great time to procure a membership that will bring enjoyment to your family throughout the coming year.

Individual investments


Photo by evoo73

6. Lessons or activities

Any parent who has a child enrolled in dance lessons or sports organizations know how costly those activities can be. Using holiday gift money to pay for the coming year’s lessons or activity fees will not only be a gift for the child involved, but it will also be a blessing to your monthly budget.

Grandparents who are asking about gift ideas might also like to chip-in for lessons or activities, particularly if they receive an invitation to the end-of-year finale.

7. Camps

As children get older, the number of summer camps offered grows exponentially. Whatever your child is interested in, there is probably a summer camp that will encourage her in her passion and dedication to that interest.

Summer camps can also be quite costly, and for the child who is mature enough to wait six months for the camp season to roll around, there is bound to be great fulfillment in knowing that the end of the school year will finally yield the much-anticipated camp experience.

8. Room makeover

The airplanes and trains were adorable when he was little, but now that he is ten, his room might be ready for a big makeover. A new paint color, new bedding, new bookshelves, and new accessories are a clutter-free way to bring new life to a child’s private space.

Global investments

9. Bless the earth

For the more philanthropic amongst us, the ultimate in clutter-free giving includes investing money not in stuff, but in that which we may never see or touch. Find ways your monetary gift can make a difference for our planet. The Arbor Tree Foundation or The Rainforest Site might be good places to start researching organizations committed to positive change for our planet.

10. Bless the people of the earth

During the holiday season, opportunities abound for families who are willing to invest in the lives of others. There are dozens and dozens of organizations that are in the trenches of doing the hard work of meeting the needs of people around the world.

Heifer International is on a mission to “

to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth. Heifer does this by providing appropriate livestock, training and related services to small-scale farmers and communities worldwide.”  From their Meaningful Gifts selections, your family could purchase a flock of chicks for a family in Cameroon or a sheep to provide wool for a family in another part of the world.

• World Vision works to provide emergency relief, long-term development, and much-needed advocacy for people groups around the globe and through their “Must Have Gifts” selection, your family could purchase mosquito nets or school textbooks (and much more) for families half the world away from where you live.

Mercy Corps offers Mercy Kits – a practical and powerful way for your family to make a difference in the lives of others. Mercy Kits range in price from $18 to $2500; every family blessed with plenty could find a way to be the change.


If some of these suggestions sound unreasonable or threaten to steal the joy of holiday gift-giving, you might consider simply simplifying.

A strategy for how to handle the holiday gifts that has become popular in the past few years is the “want, need, wear, read” approach (explained beautifully here by [dandee]).  Essentially, each child receives as gfits something he wants, something he needs, something he will wear, and something he can read.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these suggestions, and in the meantime, I better get to work on tracking down a pogo stick.

What ideas can you add to this list that would ensure less stuff will be entering your home this holiday season?

top photo source