Not Toys

I get asked quite frequently for gift ideas. Not just for ideas for what to get my kids but other parents wanting ideas to give the gift givers in their life. These requests make me laugh because I think/worry that the people who give my kids stuff probably think I'm a toy nazi and nightmare parent in this area. But I do love being asked because it's like window shopping for me. I didn't quite realize how much so until I started writing this post and got completely carried away. There are a lot of links here but none of them are affiliates and none of these companies even know I exist (but if you are a company and reading this - I'm not above that!). I just like cool kid stuff and would much rather shop for my kids than myself.

As we've been decluttering and I've been talking to other parents doing the same, the subject of presents always comes up. I've seen a couple articles that talk about giving the gift of "presence" and that is great for people who live near family but we don't and when we do have a change to get together with extended family, we take every advantage of it, no matter what the season.

I think it also depends on the child and their love language. For some kids, their love language truly is gifts and that doesn't necessarily mean they are greedy little materialists any more than a child who thrives on words of affirmation needs to work on their self esteem so I don't think it is unreasonable to try and find a balance. Here are a few non-toy gifts that my fellow minimalist moms and I have come up with:


What kid doesn't like getting something in the mail? I know I did growing up and Lucy does too. How sad is it that about the time you start getting mail, you stop wanting it? The old standby is magazines. I searched for several for Lucy's birthday and ended up finding a free children's magazine put out my our state conservation department. It's written for elementary age children but Lucy still loves it and you can't beat free. Some of the other I've heard good things about:
Another type of mail that seems to be popping up are the subscription boxes. I haven't gotten one but in terms of simplification, I'm torn. A constant influx of new items is not exactly what I'm aiming for. Plus, these tend to be a bit pricey. That said, some of them look pretty cool and if you go for a craft-based one over a toy-based one, you could probably keep the clutter at bay.
  • Kiwi crate - one of the more popular ones and has the nice option to just buy a single crate
  • Babba Boxes - another popular one although I've heard each comes with an app each month and I'm not a fan of screen time for Lucy so that would be wasted. 
  • Little Passports - sadly I'll probably need to wait another year or two before she's ready for that one but if your shopping for a 5-7 year old, take a look. 
  • There are also a couple book-based subscription boxes. I know that I am way too picky about children's literature to handle that but if you aren't neurotic about twaddle like me, those might be fun.
Art Supplies:

I'm finding at this age that Lucy doesn't want set crafts kits so much as she wants access to fun supplies. So a kiwi crate with a couple activities would certainly be used but a box full of art supplies would be heaven. And they aren't expensive but we go through so much and it adds up. Construction paper (hint, you can also buy construction paper as individual colors and red is always the first to be used up) tempera paints, and glue are bulk purchases around here so I'm guessing most moms of young kids would appreciate a box full of those types of things. If you want to be extra cool, you could throw in a neat collage items or two like feathers, buttons, googly eyes, rhinestones or sequins. And if you don't care about harsh glares from the child's parents, you could throw in glitter. Kids love glitter, parents hate it. No, seriously, glitter is evil. But I think it just has to be a necessarily evil for the preschool years because who doesn't want to add some sparkle to their art? Even my little brother, who as a preschooler refused to use any color other than black for almost two years, liked to add glitter to his projects. For the price of a month or two of a subscription box you could put yourself together an really awesome art box. These links all go to discountschoolsupply.com, which is a company I use often because their prices are good, their store brand (colorations) is quality and I'm a fan of online shopping but obviously you can get this stuff at lots of places.


Every city normally has at least one or two neat museums or zoo type attractions. Our city has a ton of neat places and luckily many are free but memberships can still offer benefits like free parking and tickets to shows. For St. Louis locals a membership to the zoo, transportation museum or science center would add another place to take the kids when you need a change of scenery. There is also the Magic House for people who have kids that like fun bustling places with lots of neat things to explore. For those of you who know Lucy you will realize that I do not have such a preschoolers so the Magic House is more like a torture chamber, but maybe in a few years that will change.


Could easily be confused with toys but they aren't the same. These are child-sized but real and purposeful. We have toy shovels and pails for our sandbox but also real ones for when they help us in the garden (although those often end up in the sandbox too - being real here folks). Lucy got her child sized broom for her first birthday I think and both she and Jonah use it daily and the mini duster is fought over as well. This is the dust pan and mini broom Lucy uses daily for her table chore. After two years it just broke but we clearly got our $3.95 out of it. Those are the ones we have and use and I would recommend them all but I don't mean for tools to be limited to cleaning items (although I'm seriously considering adding this carpet sweeper to our supplies since our Kirby is a bit much for Lucy even though she tries very hard to vacuum). This tool kit would be awesome for a slightly older boy or girl - basements don't remodel themselves and we need all the help we can get. And next spring when gardening time rolls around again, Lucy would probably be ready to handle these bigger yard tools.


Obviously, there are regular books. And I'm a big fan of books for gifts, both for myself and for my kiddos. But for gifts, I think audiobooks and audiostories are particularly good choices. I buy a lot of book used so we get them cheaply but audiobooks are pricier and I'm not brave enough to buy used cds so they are more of a treat.

Audiobooks can be a bit trickier to pick out because you've got to have a good book and a good narrator to make it work. There are lots out there but alas, Amazon doesn't always make it easy to get review of the audiobooks separately. I've heard great things about Winnie-the-Pooh (Judy Dench), Pippi Longstocking, James and the Giant Peach (Jeremy Irons) and Little House on the Prairie (Cherry Jones) just to name a few living books with quality narrators.

Hank the Cow Dog is NOT a classic but it is another great audiobook series. The books themselves might be considered slightly twaddley but the author is the narrator and does such a amazing job capturing the essensce of the characters in his voices that the audio versions are just too much fun to pass up. There is a bit of bathroomy type humor so we will probably wait a few more years to introduce these to our kids but growing up they were a favorite of my family for car trips and I'm sure we will get to them in time. And I still love to listen to Jim Dale's reading of Harry Potter on long trips myself so only 10 years or so and we'll be ready for those too!

Then there are stories or radio productions versions of books:
  • Jim Weiss. Pretty much anything is probably going to be loved and he has enough that you should be able to easily find something to fit the age and interest of your giftee. Lucy would probably love the Animal Tales but in a few years I can easily see Craig and I arguing about whether we should have her listen to Abraham Lincoln or Shakespeare for Children.
  • I also loved the version of the Hobbit we had growing up. I think but am not positive it is the BBC radio version because I don't think it was long enough to be the full book.
  • Focus on the Family Radio Theatre Productions are wonderful and they also have a wide selection. We own several of their Chronicles of Narnia productions as well as At Home in Mitford and all are superb. I'd love to add Anne of Green Gables and the Secret Garden to our collection as Lucy gets older (although I'll probably be a stickler about her reading the books first :-) For families with older kids or selfish people like myself, The Screwtape letters or Les Miserables would probably be excellent car trip materials. 
  • Sparklestories is a subscription based audio service for children. I haven't used them (yet) and I will say that I think the name is a bit lame but I have yet to hear anything but glowing praise about it. They have several different options for different age ranges and they make it really simply to give gift subscriptions.
 If you made it through this, I applaud you. And please let me know if you have enjoyed any of these items or if you have other really neat non-toys items to share. I'm always looking for more good ideas and so apparently are my readers.

1 comment :

  1. So excited about the possibility of an audio Winnie the Pooh. I love the books but dislike reading them aloud because they are longish for one sitting.

    I second the art supplies. I feel like I have to have an over abundance of supplies to relax my iron grip on paper and paint. I finally allowed myself to throw away paper scraps, but it's an internal battle every day.

    My family used to mail tapes back and forth when we lived overseas. With all the modern digital devices, I think a great gift would be recording a book a chapter at a time and mailing the cd or emailing the file. Long distance book club.