3 Practical Reasons to Stay Away From Toys for the Holidays (and what to do instead)

Every Holiday season, my family struggles to cope with the fact that we request no toys for the kids. We instead request something else, or nothing at all. So this year, I'm explaining why in print, so that it's perfectly clear. This is why we don't want toys or random things for the Holidays:

1. It's Better for Kids to Have Fewer Toys.
Researchers out of the University of Toledo found the greater the number of toy options kids have at their disposal...the lower the quality of play. And we all know how incredibly important play is to young brains--it's how they learn best! We've spent a lot of time going through the toys the girls don't play with and giving away lots of things, so that they're left with a few fun toys that they love. Less is more, and we're doing our best to encourage open-ended play without contributing to decision fatigue.

2. People are Happier with Quality Experiences Over Things.
Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology researcher out of Cornell, has found proof that while people value experiences and physical items at the same levels at first...over time the appreciation for things fades, while the joy associated with experiences stays fresher. An article from FastCompany explains why: "It’s counterintuitive that something like a physical object that you can keep for a long time doesn’t keep you as happy as long as a once-and-done experience does. Ironically, the fact that a material thing is ever present works against it, making it easier to adapt to. It fades into the background and becomes part of the new normal. But while the happiness from material purchases diminishes over time, experiences become an ingrained part of our identity."

3. Most Toys are Bad for the Environment
Yes, really. About 90% of toys are plastic and most of those cannot be recycled. They're destined for the landfill--as is the remarkable amount of plastic involved in their packaging. I recently learned LEGO's biggest environmental issue is actually the extraction and refinement of oil used to make the product. They're working toward an environmentally-friendly solution, but they're more than a decade away from that goal. Lots of other companies haven't even made commitments like LEGO's. If you're a grandparent or great-grandparent...isn't it more important to give your grandbabies a healthy, well-functioning planet than another plastic thing that will ultimately end up in a landfill?

So...what should you do instead? How can you preserve the magic of the Holidays without adding to overfilled toy cabinets across the nation?

My favorite answer is in Reason #2: Experiences. I'll delve more into what that looks like in another post (it's here), but experiences are far and away the best option for a gift in any scenario. An experience as a gift doesn't have to look like a massive vacation, either. They come in all shapes, sizes, and price points (including my personal favorite: free).

There seems to be a particular pushback on that last point among my family and friends, as though you "have to" spend lots of money on a holiday gift. I'm putting this in all caps, because it's so important: THERE IS NO REASON WHY GIFTS HAVE TO COST MONEY AND YOU SHOULD NEVER PUT YOURSELF INTO DEBT TO MANUFACTURE JOY OR CREATE A "HOLIDAY" EXPERIENCE. Full stop.

As for what experiences may make great gifts for kids? Check out this post.


Lindsay Sweeting was in the world of Marketing and Publicity in her previous life. These days you're more likely to see her running after her toddler than running a meeting, but she does her best to find time to create new recipes, come up with fun activities for her daughter, and write about the craziness that is life in the Sweeting house.

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