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We Actually Did It: Our Very Minimalist Christmas

  December 24

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minamalist christmasFor weeks, I’ve been talking about battling materialism and consumerism for our children’s first Christmas. I’ve written about my plan to give them very few Christmas gifts and go as minimalist as possible. I’ve written about this plan across multiple sites on purpose so I would actually do it.

We went back and forth on our decision. We wavered. I had a very weak moment looking at a friends’ tree on Facebook chock full of gifts underneath it and cried.

Are we making a mistake? I wondered.

Then we slapped ourselves a bit. Our kids are 9 months old. They have no idea what’s going on. My son crawled around and chased the top to a tin can for most of the day today, giggling with glee. They need absolutely nothing except our love, attention, some food, and some diapers to live and be happy.

Everyone always says “Oh why buy kids toys? All they want to do is play with the box anyway!” So true. Except people keep buying excessive amounts of toys even though they know kids are absolutely happy with some tupperware and a whisk.

So, that was the challenge. How do we get our children and each other gifts that are fun and memorable without spending a fortune? How can we make it so the kids have an enjoyable Christmas without all the bells and whistles? How can we make it so they can look back at the pictures and not think we were the worst parents on Earth?

Were we strong enough to withstand the pressure of our culture, our friends, very smart marketing, and the mommy one-uppers?

Well, over time we developed a a plan, and I’m happy to say, we carried it through.

What the Beans Got For Christmas

I read about the “Four Gift Rule” several years ago and always liked it. It says to buy your kids only 4 gifts, something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. We thought this would be a good place to start.

Something They Want

What do 9 month olds want? There are so many toys out there. I can’t even begin to tell you about them. We decided to find them something very classic and timeless that they could enjoy for a while.

We settled on two things, one for each of them but really they are going to share.

1. Wooden Blocks ($12)

2. Wooden Bead Maze ($15)

I like wooden toys and especially Melissa & Doug toys. I think they are nice and while they don’t have blinking lights and expensive switches and gadgets attached to them, I think the Beans will love them.

Something They Need

Well, these kids really have everything they need. We thought about adding to their cloth diaper stash because they always need those, but in the end, we decided to make a $75 deposit into their investment accounts for each.

These kids need to invest at an early age, and what better time to start than 9 months old?

They have money from their grandparents and great grandparents to add on top of this and two $5 bills they got for Halloween from one of their great grandmothers. It’s all going to be invested on their behalf in accounts under their names, not ours.

Something To Wear

The Beans have so many clothes already, so instead we got them each an ornament of a cow because they love watching the Baby Einstein farm episode. If you try to put on a different episode, they protest. So, we thought it would be funny to get them an ornament that sort of says something about their year every year, and for some reason, the cow just spoke to me because of that show haha.

Something to Read

This babies love books, especially my son. He really does sit there completely entranced every time I read to him. We foster this by reading to them for at least 10 minutes a day. We’ve actually been writing down the books we read to them every day in a notebook to keep us accountable and so they can see what we read to them when they’re older. We have about two months straight of notes in there currently, and it’s nice to have some variety so we bought them:

1. Good Night World (because their nursery is travel themed)

2. From Head to Toe (because they like Eric Carle’s Hungry Caterpillar book)

I recently read on Mint that parents spend on average $224 on each child for Christmas. We are happy that we are well under that average and that about 75% of what we spent on them will be invested instead of under the tree.

We know we might not be able to get away with this every Christmas especially as they get older, but we’ll reassess every year and see how it goes. And by the way, we totally don’t judge those who go all out for Christmas. More power to you. We’re just sharing what we do in case it interests or inspires someone else out there.

Merry Christmas to all.


The Alfords

Christmas 2014 photo

35 responses to “We Actually Did It: Our Very Minimalist Christmas

  1. I think you’ve done amazingly; all children need at that age is love, comfort and food. Everything else is just an added expense. I love the books you’ve chosen 🙂 have a wonderful Christmas!

  2. So glad you stuck to your principles and are having the Christmas you want. If you had gone over the top like others you probably would have been disappointed in yourself and been less happy for it in the end.

  3. What a wonderful mindset, and what a beautiful family – Merry Christmas!!

  4. They will not be disappointed. 🙂

    From Head To Toe is such a great book for that age! My girls love it. Merry Christmas!

  5. I’m just glad I’m not the only one. I let myself feel so much pressure about it, like I’m doing some disservice to my child and I’m going to scar her for life by not giving her a mountain of toys under the tree. Bottom line – it is just not true, and I’m happy with my decision. Hope you guys have a very Merry Christmas!

  6. First of all, gorgeous family!!!

    I work as a nanny part time while in school, and I am in total agreement with you. My nanny family spends atleast $1000 on each kid. Toys that only get played with during the Xmas season and then forgotten about. I got them each a book, since they love reading. I am with you on the four gift rule, and think the investment one was a brilliant idea. Merry Xmas!!

  7. What a cute picture! I like that “rule” for kids! It makes sense, and I don’t think you should have to change anything as they get older. Keep expectations low! lol! Hope you enjoy your day!

  8. What a great rule! I love that you invested the $75. Your little ones will be much more out of it than a toy that they will quickly outgrow!
    Your kids are adorable! Those cheeks!
    Merry Christmas!

  9. Congratulations! And, I wanted to let your know that we did this as well, but it was a struggle. We so desperately wanted to focus on family this Christmas, not stuff. So, we set a $50 budget for presents for each other and they could only be practical things (I got pyrex and new mixing bowls). Baby Girl got books from Grandma, plus a few toys that I picked up at yard sales this summer!

  10. Your family is so adorable. I love that you were able to make a great Christmas for your kids without spending a ton of money.

    When I was a kid, I used to play with wooden blocks that belonged to my dad and his brother and I absolutely loved them. I think the ornament idea is great as well. My grandmother has given me and ornament every year (in fact, she still does!) and my Christmas tree is almost exclusively decorated with ornaments from her. It really means a lot to me.

    Your kids will appreciate things like this so much more than a mountain of toys. Enjoy your holidays together!

  11. Very nicely done!! I love the cow ornament. We did the four gift rule for Mini #1 (almost three)… Balance bike (want), helmet (need), Christmas PJs to open tonight (wear) and a couple books (read, obviously). Same for Mini #2 (three months old)… New outfit (want, all picked by big brother), first Christmas ornament (need), new PJs (wear) and a couple books. We are quite happy with the choices this year and hope to keep it going for years to come. Merry Christmas!!

  12. LOVE the way your daughter and Santa are looking at each other!

    Stick to your guns…I feel like in Harry Potter when the son was like “how many gifts are there? I got more last year!” Not because my kids expect it but because I love doing it. However, eventually they WILL expect it. We did budget and all was paid in cash AND we are traveling to our home state this year. I feel great about it all. They will love it but I think it’s great to start low key. Keeps things in perspective each year!

  13. I really love the 4 gift rule (need to keep it in mind later on). We didn’t get my daughter presents for Christmas. She’s 10 months old. She has EVERYTHING she needs (we purchased some clothing 3 days before anyway). We’ll gonna spend more in the next years, but not now 😉

    Merry Christmas BTW to you all

  14. Awww your family is adorable!!! We did the same thing 🙂 We got the girls a few Melissa and Doug toys (they love those too!!), a Frozen interactive book for my oldest and some toy blocks. We actually got most of the stuff from kids consignment shops! I highly recommend those and Marshall’s or Home Goods for everything Melissa and Doug!! Great selections at both places 🙂 We spent $84 total (my husband and I didn’t exchange). Food was a slightly different story lol. I think we spent around $150 haha – oh the joys of being married to a foodie!!

    Glad you enjoyed your holidays!!

  15. Great job Cat. I laughed out loud when I read this because my son loves tupperware and the baby Einstein farm episode as well. Looks like our kids would get along splendidly. Happy holidays!

  16. Bravo! This was out second year with a $50 budget for our preschooler, and it was another hit. I had a moment when I looked at all the wrapped presents and thought, “is this enough?” But once they were opened — with a “this is my favorite!” each time — all that worry disappeared.

  17. Good for you for staying strong! I love the 4 gift idea, too. My cousin just had a baby a few months ago and it was crazy to see the amount of things that little bugger received this year. The sad part is that I know my cousin can’t really afford to spend that way. Hopefully this was just a phase for the “first” Christmas. Speaking of, Happy Holidays!

    (I’m part of the new Happy Homeowner team. It’s now me, Mark, and Noah at the reigns. Stop by and read our post from the other day where we introduced ourselves!)

  18. This is the best approach to kid Christmas gift-giving ever–I absolutely love it! So smart. And, those photos are precious. Your family pic is so sweet! Glad to hear you had a very merry Christmas 🙂

  19. I really love that Santa pic! Great job with Christmas minimalism this year! Keep up the good work 🙂 XO

  20. What a nice Christmas photo. It’s flipping adorable.

    We’ll try to follow a similar path when we have kids. But like you said, there’s a lot of pressure from the people around you and from marketers: we’ll see if we have the same success.

  21. I think your Christmas sounds amazing. I think minimalist Christmases are the way to go, especially while children are younger and don’t need a ton of things to make them happy. They will be happier that their parents thought ahead and invested for their futures!

  22. Great job, Cat! Even though my sister and I are grown up (30 & 28 respectively), we discussed a Christmas without gifts next year. As long as we’re spending time together, that’s all we really need to have a nice Christmas. Your $75 investment for your children is super smart. And I love the family photo!

  23. Congrats on achieving your goal for a minimalist Christmas. Your little ones are so cute (the Halloween costumes were absolutely adorable) and it’s obvious they had a wonderful holiday without the need for copious presents. I’m a big fan of your blog and just started my own. I recently posted about getting stressed that I was shortchanging my kids after seeing all of the “Santa was here” posts on Facebook:
    But if we just focus on our own family, there is so much joy to be had, without the need for spending tons of money.
    I’m looking forwards to new posts and pictures of the Beans in 2015 🙂

  24. Love this! I remember a few years ago when my niece received a TON of gifts all in a big box and she ended up playing with the box for the rest of the night. That image remains in my head.

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