How to Say No to Holiday Gifts

Beautiful wreath and photo by: @misstinalau . And yes, this is not a Christmas wreath because while I am talking about Christmas gifts I am not ready to see Christmas decorations.

Beautiful wreath and photo by: @misstinalau . And yes, this is not a Christmas wreath because while I am talking about Christmas gifts I am not ready to see Christmas decorations.

I am often asked how we manage gifts in our small space. Well, I highly recommend having a blog about small living with kids so that everyone in your life knows not to get you more stuff! Kidding! We were dealing with this issue long before I started writing about this publicly. It comes down to having honest conversations with your family and loved ones about your space and your desire to keep "things" to a minimum. By honest conversation, I think you actually have to let them know that if there are too many toys in your home, the ones that aren't played with get donated. While this may be initially hurtful, it is the truth and once this pattern is repeated, hopefully a new mutually beneficial gift giving pattern can be created. Obviously this gets harder as kids get older and start to have opinions about toys and things they want. But part of the small living philosophy is that we don't need a lot of things to be happy and I want to impart that onto our kids. I want their toys to be valued and cared for and purposeful. And above all, I want them to value experiences over material objects. Opening gifts on Christmas Day is wonderful but I don't think kids need to open 20 gifts to feel the joy of Christmas. A few well chosen gifts go a long way. 

For relatives, an honest conversation explaining your philosophy on less gifts, and more experiences with a few helpful suggestions will hopefully move towards a less materialist Christmas. Below are a few suggestions of what to recommend as alternatives to piles of gifts under the Christmas tree.


Ask for memberships (or contributions to more expensive memberships) like your local aquarium, science world, and museums. These are gifts that keep giving throughout the year. You can remind your kid that you are going to the aquarium because so and so bought it for them. Explain to your relatives that these kind of gifts are the most valued for small living city dwellers. We are at Science World at least once a week in the winter and it is worth trading every toy in our house for this warm, dry, kid-friendly, and educational space.

Group contributions

If your family is open to it, you could let them know about something bigger you are saving up for the kids.... ie. bike, scooter, bike trailer. Something that leads to more adventure and activity as a family.


Ask for local classes in whatever you kid is interested in like music, gymnastics, swimming, karate. Also gift cards or punch cards to your local play gym or play cafe are a great alternative gift. In Vancouver we love Collage Collage and Circus Play Cafe and are often at the local Tot drop-in at the Community Center.


Quality children's books are never an unwanted gift, in my opinion. They are learning tools and a wonderful way to spend time together. I always look to my favourite Instagram book accounts for inspiration, see my previous post (here) about kid's books in our small space. 

Do Things Together

Highlight the importance of time together and memory making activities during the holiday season... going ice skating, sledding, snowy woods walk, meeting Santa, baking cookies, family dinner. These activities may become annual traditions and create lasting memories. If your family is nearby, these activities, rather than many gifts, can dissuade critics who assume you have no Christmas spirit because you want to limit gifts. 

When Gifts are the Only Option

For those family members that insist on tangible gifts; Let them know what you really need... winter coat, shoes, boots, socks, a good sweater. Better to make room for items you truly need while appeasing gift givers. One quality item from a small ethical shop is better than a bag full of dollar store toys. (See some of my favourite shops here in these previous posts ... small shop love). It's important to remember that some people's love language is gifts and taking that away from them can be hurtful. Better to re-direct those efforts to meaningful, lasting and sustainable gifts.