The Anti-Stuff Gift Guide for Kids


My brother laughs and shakes his head when our oldest son Javi tells him for the millionth time “hey Tío Zach! Remember when I spent the night at your house and we had oatmeal?!? That was awesome!!!”

Oatmeal, you guys. Oatmeal. Over a year later and he remembers. And while I’m sure it was perfectly good oatmeal…it wasn’t about the oatmeal.

It was about spending time one-on-one with someone he cares about. Having a sleepover at his Tío’s house. Doing something completely out of the ordinary and fun to celebrate his fourth birthday.

One frustration I commonly hear from families is that their well-meaning and generous family members buy large amounts of toys and other items for their young kids that they either don’t have space for or in many cases have actually asked them not to give.

Because we have been so conditioned to give gifts to show our love, telling people to not buy piles of toys for your kids can be a hard sell. I’m willing to bet that some of you have tried and it didn’t go so well.

I’m going to suggest a different tactic.

Don’t go on and on about what you don’t want them to give. Make a list with some toys/clothes/books that you are OK with. Short and sweet.

And then spend time talking about what your kids want most - THEIR TIME.

The people who love our kids just want to see them happy. How great would it be for them to realize that the thing they usually like best - the thing that brings them a lot of joy - is actually hanging out with them?

Suggest fun experiences that you think everyone involved will enjoy based on ages/interests/abilities. Grandma might not be up for taking the kids indoor skydiving, but a movie and ice cream date? That just might work.


  • Sleepovers / Weekend Trips

  • Indoor Skydiving / Water Slides / Go Carts / Arcades

  • Going to see a movie, play or ballet

  • Going to a sporting event

  • Camping Trips / Hikes

  • Ice Cream / Coffee Shop / Anything involving eating out somewhere fun

  • Special Shopping Trip (perfect for the stylish family member who loves buying your kids’ clothing.)

And for family members who live far away or are otherwise unable to make in-person experiences happen, you can suggest non-stuff or easily consumable things like:

  • Memberships: Zoo, Aquarium, Children’s Museum, Science Center - There is always something new to see and do!

  • Magazine Subscriptions: Highlights, Ranger Rick, Nat Geo Kids, etc. (My boys LOVE getting their magazines from my Grandma every month and it’s easy to recycle past issues once they inevitably get ripped, crumpled, etc.)

  • A box of their favorite cereal just for them (you know, the one they always want to buy, but you say no because it’s basically 100% sugar…my kids go crazy for this gift.)

  • Basic Craft Supplies: Construction paper, stickers, playdough, washi tape, etc. are all things that little artists can go through very quickly.

Let’s be honest. As much as we parents might inwardly cringe at some of the things they receive, kids love receiving and opening gifts. And I don’t think that will or should ever change - especially for birthdays and the holidays.

But by adding experiences and other non-stuff items into the mix, they get the opportunity to have fun and build lasting memories with the people they love!

And you won’t have to struggle later on with what to do with that toy they hardly play with but received from a relative or the resentment you feel every time you trip over it or experience the annoying beeps/lights (you know the kind of toys I’m talking about).

Happy gifting and receiving friends!

P.S. Want to know what toys have been winners in our home? I wrote about them here.