Alternative, Non-Toy Gift Ideas that May also Help Us Survive the Winter and Reduce Clutter

Note: for those like me who say “just gimme the answers quick, please, I’ve got better things to do than read a thousand words.”, look for anything that’s underlined in blue in this post.

I don’t know about you, but in our home I’ve gone full circle from needing my kids to have specific developmental toys and books to feeling we have way too many. We have more than they play with on our main level, 2+ boxes in storage that we rotate through, and a couple of bins in the basement family room.  As Christmas approaches and a generous plethora of gifts from family members – and from us as parents – is on the horizon, I have been wracking my brain for alternative gift ideas to pass on to our families. To be completely forthright, I also tense up quite a bit when I think about even “one” more toy cluttering up our small home. Because, we all know,  “one” toy really means 34 small pieces to pick up or trip over (give or take 20). WP_20151110_18_29_49_Pro

Just look at my dining room floor! See what I mean? Well, guess what?! I came up with some ideas that not only cut down on clutter, but are also space savers and value-oriented gifts!

Health and Wellness Gifts for Kids who Like to Move (and don’t they all?)

Since I feel my kids’ toy needs are more than met, I got to thinking about other types of needs. So I used gift money from baby boy’s birthday to buy a cool mist humidifier for their room. I had spoken with a dear friend Laura about our many illnesses, and she suggested this very thing as something that may prevent some of them. It felt a little boring to go to Walgreens and buy a humidifier as a 1st birthday gift, but I hope that it could be the best gift ever, one that keeps on giving!  Health is definitely a need I want to support!

Along the lines of health is a whole category of fun that I’ll term gross motor movement. Here in the Midwest I have grand plans to walk outside with the kids every day, but I know my “extroverted homebody” self and weather patterns  well enough to predict that it will actually happen about once a week. So my mind turned to finding things inside that they can do to satisfy their daily need to “run!” “jump!”, etc. As it happens, my friends in the neighborhood had already figured out a great solution!

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Here it is! In a basement that many might discount as un-useable, a park! See the elephant-shaped slide that boasts a cave underneath, cascading into a wading pool with balls from Target (I’m sure other places also sell them), a multi-color mat that can be used to teach colors and encourage movement from one color square to another (any type of rug would work; I’ve even seen people use old blankets or drop cloths), a baby swing securely  fastened to a rafter, and in the background the beginnings of a pretty sweet cardboard play house. For younger kids (old babies), you could include a johnny jump up type thing. For older kids, why not bring the trikes in from the garage? Or get an off season trike on clearance as a gift?! Or, a small trampoline? There’s even space under the stairs for a sweet play house in the future. I’m having fun just thinking about it.


Our basement has a little less space, so we bought this inflatable ball pit from Aldi for their big gift. I am well aware that this particular gift won’t reduce clutter! But I have a 2 step plan: 1) require and expect that all balls be put back into the pit when not in use 2) if this doesn’t work, store a bunch of them away to be used as replacements when others break.

Fort/cave kit I got this idea from this blog:, and I plan one day on showing the kids some options for using our basement or the dining table this way. I’m thinking it could become like a play house, but take up less space since it uses existing furniture.


We could totally make an awesome toy kitchen from the unused portion of our entertainment center, as in here:

Potty training kit: capitalize on the experience of grandparents, who have done this before, and get everything you need for that stage of development. Besides the obvious potty chair gift, you could ask for books, videos, a doll that wets itself, larger size clothing (so that the child can get it off and on more easily), and the prizes (if you decide to use them).

Quiet Time, non “Toy” Gifts for Kids

Play dough, either homemade or store bought. You could even ask for a kit, complete with tools and a container that fits everything together to contain the clutter.


Easel for coloring (some even are magnetic!). To save space, one of these days I’m finally going to attach this one from Ikea to the wall in our kitchen.

Magazine subscription. National Geographic Junior, etc.

Family Gifts

Family night in a box: a movie, popcorn, candy, a puzzle, maybe a new book or two, etc.

Memberships, such as to places like zoos, indoor playgrounds, and museums. Last year I researched this, and the membership to our historical society was the cheapest, and it would include a large number of sites, most of which have areas that are designed for kids even as young as toddlers.


Christmas tree ornaments or other decorations. These make great St. Nicholas day gifts or stocking stuffers. I’ve been thinking a lot about individualism and how often I un-wittingly promote it with my kids: “go sit at your chair and eat your peanut butter and honey”; “No, don’t touch that, that’s daddy’s”, “presents are for the birthday person; and it is not your birthday“.  I am planning a post on how our language can improve so that we can better impart our values to our kids. In the mean time, giving a gift to a group (us), can go a long way towards teaching that we’re all in this together, as one unit. We decorate our home together, and we enjoy it together.

The only gifts I remember coming from Grandma were successive years: she gave us a dishwasher, a TV, and a VCR, respectively. These were great gifts, and I don’t want to overstate their importance, but they did help our entire family, as a family. Each was quite a novelty, and enjoyed in its own way by us all as a unit.

Organizational Gifts

Since we can’t get rid of all toys and all clutter, why not ask for some gifts that will help us to keep it organized? Storage bins, Book cases, etc are fantastic gifts.

There you have it! A bunch of ideas for simple gifts and play things! Give me your ideas in the comments please! I would love more ideas for our family.

Happy Advent!


PS: I was not paid or compensated in any way for talking up any item you see here today. My opinions are just that, based on what I have seen, experienced, and thought through.






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