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TOYS AND CHRISTMAS DON'T HAVE TO GO HAND-IN-HAND

It's coming up on that time of the year again. The time when wrapping paper and "stuff" threaten to overrun my home and my kids are on gift-receiving overload.

Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays and I love making family, friends & my own children happy, but there comes a point when holiday gift giving can get out of control. This year, I want to teach our children that toys and Christmas don't have to go hand in hand.

Of course, I want them to find that "I hope I get it" toy under the tree, but I want them to find more than just toys. I want them to find MEMORIES.

Instead of giving toys, we also love to give experiences. Maybe it's a trip, maybe a day ice skating at the park, maybe it's a day where we all bundle up and go downtown together to do a fun scavenger hunt.

Maybe you and your family use this Elf on the Shelf idea and take your Elf to 10 new places and take a picture at each place. Maybe your family makes Salt Dough Ornaments and then passes them out to family during a "family road trip" where you visit family in different towns or even different states.

Whatever it is, I can almost guarantee that our kids will remember these things more than they will remember toys. I can even promise that if they don't remember the trip, they will remember the feeling that they have when they think about their family. Experiences bond us and bring us closer together.

So, this year for Christmas, we want to do more together and not focus only on toys.

How to Control Holiday Gift Giving

1. Set Clear Boundaries

About a month ago, I started dropping hints to grandparents that this year we'd like them to limit the number of gifts they give our kids to two. Our families are amazingly generous and it hasn't been unusual to have my kids get more presents from their grandparents than they do from Santa.

This year, we'd like to cut back though and we realized we needed to clearly spell out how many gifts we were allowing. There was some resistance, but when I explained that our children just aren't appreciating the things that we give them as much as we want them to, they relented. We also decided to stop exchanging gifts with nieces and nephews, but instead do something together. Last year, we took them ice skating. This year, we are all going for a sleepover in a nearby town. I really want to make memories that last longer than a doll or truck.

The Four Things (for their list)

We started this concept last year where the kids are asked to write down just four things on their wish lists. They can ask for: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read/listen to.

While we might not stick to just these four things, we try to remember that this is what our children have asked for and try to plan gifts around them. In fact, by limiting what they could include on their lists, they did a lot of soul-searching and ended up only asking for things they really, truly wanted and needed.

I always felt bad when our kids would make a list of 10 things (half of them being huge ride-on toys!) and I knew that they weren't getting them. I wanted them to scale back their thinking and really focus on what they truly want.

Experience vs. Gift

All year long we have talked about our dream vacations and things we'd like to do as a family. With four kids, going places can be expensive and taking them out of school is not really an option, so we had to figure out a way and time to save for those things. We started allowing our kids to choose a few places that they'd like to go and during the holidays, we try to make it happen or make a plan to allow it to happen.

A friend of mine even makes an Experience Jar, where they collect change in the jar and every Christmas they go on a trip. On the outside of the jar, they write where they want to go with a Sharpie. The "Experiences" jar is just a recycled spaghetti sauce jar that she uses to save money for her next trip. On Christmas morning, each child will get to pick an experience off of the jar and those will be what we save for and do during the year.

Controlling holiday gift giving isn't easy, but by eliminating some of the "stuff" we make room for a less cluttered life and a less selfish outlook on life. I'm looking forward to exploring new places with our family and watching the kids' eyes light up when they open up their gifts, knowing that it's exactly what they wanted. By cutting back on gifts, we're creating more time for us to spend together and that is the best gift of all.

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