How to Get Less Stuff This Christmas

Mailbag time!

I know, I know, it's not even Halloween yet. But someone asked, and it's a good question, and I've already gotten two versions of it, so I'm answering it here, now.


Hi Kendra!

I really enjoyed your post about being a missionary to extended family.
I wanted to ask your opinion on a similar topic. My husband is a convert and his family does not practice any religion. They are Christian (I believe) but they have little understanding of how I'm trying to raise my children. When it comes time to celebrate Christmas, our ideals and expectations are much different. My main goal is to figure out how to make Christ the center of our celebrations, when it's not even a small priority to my in-laws. I guess I'm going to have to ask them about buying less gifts. they're wayyyy over the top, to the point where I feel like maybe I shouldn't even buy my kids anything because they are receiving so much. I haven't figured out a good way of communicating this with them.
They seem to think I'm worried about them spending too much, and continuously tell me "don't worry about it."
Do you have any suggestions for how I can speak frankly with them about wanting to have a simpler Christmas? And any suggestions for keeping Christ at the center of things when I'm not in control of the household?
I worry that my kid's idea of Christmas will be spoiled by materialism and they'll miss out on all the simple joys of the season.

Thanks for your time!

Hey Sarah,

I think this is an issue a lot of us have struggled with, from one side or another. There's the Your Family Culture aspect, and the Too Much Stuff aspect.

For the first, both of our sides of the family are practicing Catholics, and both are awesome. But both are out of town. We spent the first five years or so of our marriage going between grandparents' homes for Christmas. But as our family grew, I realized that I wanted to have OUR family traditions that our kids would remember. So, we decided to stay put for Christmas. There's a standing invitation for anyone to join us, but when it's at our house, we have a lot more control over the focus of our celebration. For us, that's things like observing Advent, putting up and decorating our tree on Christmas Eve, going to Mass as a family on Christmas morning, putting on a family Nativity Play, etc.

We just decided to claim our family Christmas and do it our way at our house.

There's more to juggle when you've got family in town. Especially if both sides of the family are vying for their slice of the celebration. If that were our situation, I think I'd relinquish either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but not both. That way, I'd know we could have our family's focus on the "reason for the season" on one of the two days, at least. And that's probably enough.

And I don't worry about being "too religious" for our guests. Especially when kids are involved, Jesus-themed parties are super fun parties. We've had non-Catholic extended family members participate in our family nativity play, t-shirt turbans and all, and it's hilarious. At the end of our tree trimming and simple family meal on Christmas Eve, we sing Away in a Manger, and Silent Night and put the baby Jesus in the manger of our nativity scene. It's pretty much the sweetest thing ever to see the baby Jesus lovingly thudded into the manger by a very solemn two year old. You never know who might be touched by witnessing such a thing.

So, I'd really recommend trying to host the family celebration either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day, and if that's not possible, just opting out of the extended family celebration on one day or the other, so you can have some family traditions of your own.

But even if that isn't possible, remember that Christmas is a whole SEASON, not just a day or two. If the right thing for your family is to give over control of Christmas Eve and Christmas, you can still make your Advent really meaningful. You can do a family novena leading up to Christmas Eve, you can have your kids fill baby Jesus' manger with soft straw that they earn by their good deeds. You can read beautiful books every night. And you can keep your family celebration going for all twelve days of Christmas in your home, by doing little projects like crafts, or baking together, or watching Christmas movies together.

The second aspect is SO HARD. Because, of course, family members are only trying to express their love for our kids by giving them generous gifts. And we want our kids to get that thrill of an awesome Christmas. But I can tell you from personal experience that less stuff Christmases are WAY better. It might be hard to have that discussion with the grandparents, but it is worth it.

What worked for us was being really open about wanting to de-clutter our homes and our lives. Before the holidays, I did a big clean-out of all the kids' clothing, toys, and junk, and I made sure that the family knew about it. Then, I used that as a jumping off point to ask for a simpler, less-stuff Christmas.

I've actually just been given the opportunity to try and review a website called SoKind, that lets you register for experiences and assistance rather than STUFF. It seems really cool so far. It allows you to ask family members to help you with things for the kids like sewing a quilt out of old baby clothes, or putting in a playset in the back yard, or putting together a family recipe book. But whether or not you use a registry to do it, you can tell grandparents that you would ask that they buy only one toy for each child, but if they want to give other gifts, you would be grateful for things like museum passes, or a zoo membership, or movie tickets. Certificates for taking a child out to lunch, or to play minigolf, one-on-one. They could give art classes, or sign the kids up for sports. Or they could give private lessons from THEM on something that that family member is good at, like cooking, or gardening, or car repair.

Things like that, that will be used at a later date, (or MANY later dates) throughout the year, go a long, long way to cutting down on clutter and distraction on Christmas. Just a few new things to play with on Christmas morning is fun and exciting. A mountain of new toys to play with is overwhelming and messy.

We had a specific and clear conversation with our family members to let them know that we appreciate their generosity, but it's important for our family to not be swamped with stuff. We told them that we and the kids really value experiences and time with them more than things.

After that, of course, it's not up to me. We accept gifts gratefully as we receive them, then, later, we decide what gets to stay in our house, and what gets donated.

Another part of this for me was learning to live it myself. I realized that part of my frustration was that *I* wanted to be the one to wow the kids with a super-amazing Christmas gift. But once we decided to really scale back our Christmas, it meant that I needed to pass along that idea for something that I knew a particular kid would really love, and let the grandparents be the ones to give it to him. And so my kids' gifts from parents and from Santa have become much less spectacular. And that's been totally fine. Usually now I give them books and something homemade, and leave the cool toy to family members, or Santa.

So, basically, I have totally been where you are. But we were able to make those adjustments and end up in a place where we have a really, fun, meaningful, and balanced Christmas. I really recommend it!



p.s. In case you missed them, here are a few related posts . . .

Seven Reasons My Kids Don't Need Toys This Christmas

Advent: How We Try to Celebrate Things in Their Proper Season Without Feeling Like Total Jerks

Keeping Christmas: How we keep celebrating from the partridge all the way to the drummers

A little more about SoKind . . . I've been on the Simple Christmas bandwagon for a couple years now, so I was pumped to get a chance to take a look at the premium SoKind membership.

The idea behind SoKind is this:
Your favorite gifts don’t always fit in a box. SoKind is the place for creative registries that promote fun, family, and friends—the possibilities are endless!

So cool. It's a place where you can list all those "wouldn't it be nice if . . . " ideas like piano lessons and museum memberships and an evening of babysitting. And then your loving and generous friends and family members can give your kids that good stuff instead of a bunch of noisy toys. But you could put a noisy toy on there if you want.

I love this registry the most for weddings though. It kind of makes me want to get married all over again so I could set up this registry and get our friends to gift us in graphic design, and photography, and a rehearsal dinner venue. When we got married, I know my friends would have wanted to contribute, but there wasn't an easy way to organize it all.

Anyway, SoKind. Check it out. Simple Christmas, let's make it a thing.

You can use the code simplify2015 to get 15% off the $29.99 premium registry price. That code will expire on January 1, 2016.

And that's my honest opinion (and an actual mailbag question) but this is a sponsored post.

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear@gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.