10 Gifts for Kids That Don’t Involve “Stuff”


The following guest post is by Professional Organizer Liz Jenkins.

My daughter and I are cruising the aisle at Target last year on the hunt for the birthday present we need TODAY (you know . . . Barbie, My Little Pony, Polly Pockets, etc.) and then it hit me.  Besides the fact that these presents cause piles of clutter and seem to be sort of a cop out (go to big box store, get plastic made in China, get gift bag, stick in bag, give to recipient), it also goes against my grain which is to be thoughtful and mindful about what I purchase.

She and I had the discussion that while these things were sooooo cute (her words), all of the plastic packages and wrapping end up in the trash, all of the little parts quickly break, and the abundance of stuff kids get is rarely played with, it was mostly the lack of actual care given to the choosing of the gift.  So we’ve decided that our new mission is to give a gift that not only do we really believe the recipient will enjoy, but also one that doesn’t involve more STUFF that has to be stored.

In that spirit, here a list of great gifts that don’t involve stuff:

  1.  Movie tickets (you can get them on Fandango and don’t even have to leave the house – saving gas and time) – this is my number one all time favorite!
  2. A trip with the gift giver to a place both would enjoy such as the zoo, children’s theatre, science center or aquarium. (We received tickets to Junie B. Jones at the Nashville Children’s Theatre for my daughter’s birthday and went with the friends that gave it – we had a blast!)
  3. Make a movie on the computer of pictures of your child and the friend – Windows Movie Maker lets you add photos, captions and titles – then you can burn it to disc!
  4. An edible creation made by the gift giver such as cookies, bread or homemade candy.
  5. An art project made just for the birthday child, or a gift that includes all of the materials needed for an art project
  6. A gift certificate to a “make your own pottery” place or a place that offers classes such as cooking or acting.
  7. A gift certificate to a book store (I don’t consider books to be clutter when it comes to kids!)
  8. A donation in the child’s name to an animal shelter or charity that might speak to them.
  9. “Buy” them a star and name it after them (you can find sites on the web) or “adopt” an animal at the zoo.
  10. A gardening set with tools and seeds, or plants, and pots & soil if the recipient doesn’t have a place to dig in the dirt (this is “stuff” but useful and healthy).

While many of us are resistant to the idea of not giving stuff, suggestions such as these can make it easier, especially for family members.  I think many grandparents or other relatives want their gifts to really be appreciated, and one way they tend to do this is to get things that are bigger and bigger. 

My favorite suggestion for grandparents came from my friend, Namaste.  She encourages her parents and in-laws to “buy” lessons (sports, dance, art, etc.) for a period of time.  For example, if the grandparents pay for the ballet lessons, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.  Then they can come to the recital to see the results.  Often, they just don’t have other ideas – hopefully this list will jump start a conversation – and reduce the amount of stuff that comes into the house.

The funny part is that when I started doing this, I was a bit concerned that other parents would think I was weird, but the gifts we chose were hits. It started sort of a trend in my “set”.  Go figure!


Liz Jenkins is a Professional Organizer and owner of a fresh space :: home staging and thoughtful organizing, based in Franklin, TN.  Visit her at www.afreshspace.com.


We like to give consumable gifts like art supplies or gift certificates for ice cream or a favorite restaurant. Even for gift certificates, we make sure it’s wrapped up with a big bow and tissue paper since unwrapping a gift is so much part of the fun.

What other gift ideas for kids can you think of?

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I love giving kids gift cards/certificates to bookstores. Its one of those gifts where you cant go wrong. :)

    carla´s last blog post..Havent figured it out yet…

  2. I’d like to invite your daughter to my next birthday party. Far from the kid age–I’d still like the kid gift ideas. Great ideas!

    Mrs. E´s last blog post..What Rivers and Creeks Know

  3. I like the ideas you mentioned. I think family memberships to museums, zoos etc are great grandparent gifts.

    Jane´s last blog post..Dueling Crafters: My Weapon of Choice-paint!

  4. The kids like to pick out art supplies from the dollar store for their friends. We, also, like to give gift certificates to our park district. They can use it toward lessons, ice skating, the zoo, performances…

  5. Fabulous ideas! What I need now is a tactful way to suggest to people that they share these kinds of things.

    Allegra´s last blog post..Awesome Item of the Day

  6. I’ve been trying to make gifts lately. Simple ones – since I’m not all that talented! I’ve made simple handbags and painted signs and wall decor. I’ve made yummy food gifts too!

    Rachel´s last blog post..Grocery Shopping: The Healthy Trip

  7. I’ve given Ranger Rick magazine subscriptions to kids who love animals. (Which kid doesn’t love animals?!) I always buy a magazine at the store to give to the child, so at least they “open” something on their birthday.

    For Christmas, my in-laws wanted to get us something nice (and useful). I suggested tix to Disneyland….They came through, and our Disney trip was PRICELESS.

    Kirwin´s last blog post..Edit, Add, and Appreciate

  8. I love to stay away from “stuff” gifts also. One year we took my son to a Doodlebops concert that was close by for his birthday because that was his favorite show on Disney.

    Another year we took him to the zoo for his birthday. They were both fun and exciting trips for him, and he didn’t even miss not getting toys or other stuff.

    Thanks for the other ideas. I’ll have to remember those for next time.

    Amanda @ Mommy’s Idea Book´s last blog post..A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno

  9. Hello,

    I’ve been reading your site for a while & I love the practical suggestions that you always offer. I have often given my daughters friends homemade gifts, or crafts supplies for gifts. But I love the idea of activities or lessons.

    I do however buy toys on occision, sometimes kid’s collect certain toys & in that case I check with the parents to see what there children are lacking. My daughters collect littlest pet shop and play with them for hours at a time on a regular bases. However, Polly Pocket, Barbie, My Little Pony, ect… are just so much clutter.

  10. Great topic! This is definitely a direction that we’ve been moving in with our kids. Not that we’ve ever been big “stuff” buyers when it comes to them, but we’re just trying to be more intentional about giving something meaningful and not just another toy.

    One of my favorite new ideas was snagged from a good friend… give a membership to a place that makes for fun family outings. For example, last year we bought our kids a (family) membership to the local zoo. It was a blast, and so nice to have a great place to go- for “free”- when we wanted to get out as a family.

    This year, my Mom was asking what to get my son, and I offered the membership idea, which she loved. So she and I are going to put some money together for his birthday next month, and choose a new place for the year. Perhaps Science World, or the Aquarium… the possibilities are endless!

    Another thing that I have done is to make meaningful memoirs for my kids. For my daughter, I created a large, framed piece of art, with her full name, it’s meaning and the Bible verse that we’ve chosen for her, all done in scrapbook style, in colors to match her bedspread. I expect it will be something that she takes when she moves out. I can’t wait to make one for my son, and for every child that we have!

    Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home´s last blog post..Introducing Healthy Homemaking: One Step at a Time!

  11. I love this concept, and as a family that lives in a small space, I love gifts that we can use up, rather than those that take up space or worse yet gather dust!

    Rachel, I would love it if you’d link this post up on my Organizing Tip Thursday roundup! :)

    Steph @ Problem Solvin Mom´s last blog post..Crockpot and freezer menu planning

  12. What a wonderful article! Thanks for these ideas Liz.

    The funny thing is, I like to receive activity gifts myself — I would so much rather get a gift card to a favorite restaurant or the chance to share an event with my sister than more clothes/gadgets/stuff. I am excited about finding the same solution for my son!

  13. These are wonderful alternatives to “stuff”. It’s important to teach kids from a young age that “gifting” should not be done out of obligation. The best gifts come from a place of true friendship, they encourage hobbies, they create lasting memories, and, are in my opinion more meaningful to the recipient.

    Lois@thatperfectsomething´s last blog post..Office Group Gifting, Yay or Nay?

  14. This is a GREAT idea. I am going to post a link back to this on my website. My son is having a b-day party this week…I only wish my friends would see this beforehand.
    Great Article!

  15. I’ve actually avoided having parties for my own children many years b/c I detested the accumulation of more stuff. One year we did a “Chinese gift-exchange” but I think other parents thought that was wrong (like I was short-changing my son). When my kids want to buy me something for my birthday I always suggest Tim Horton coffee cards – consumable, practical (b/c I do buy coffee there)and no dusting required!

  16. What a great post. I can see I’m not the only one who is weary of toy and trinket clutter. My husband’s family just started a great tradition of exchanging restaurant gift cards for Christmas gifts. Everyone has loved that much more than getting little trinkets.

    As far as kid’s gifts go, our default is art supplies. You can purchase good quality ones like Prang watercolors that last longer. But I’m loving the experience gift ideas…I will definitely be using some of the ideas I’ve read. Thanks!

    Heather@WoolandFlax´s last blog post..Aesthetics: Learning to see beauty in the world around us

  17. My mother always wants to buy and mail “a little something” to my two-year-old son. It usually ends up being cheap plastic stuff that he is interested in for 5 minutes. At Christmas, we bought him a bank that automatically counts coins when you put them in, and he LOVES it. Now, when my mother asks what she can send him, I tell her to tape a few coins into a card. He is always thrilled with that – it ends up costing her the same, and he has the joy of putting his coins one by one into his bank.

  18. I have a neighbor who is great at the gift that doesn’t clutter. Her gifts often involve a trip to a special place with her child and the birthday child.

    On the flip side, I’ve encouraged my girls to have charity birthday parties where the gifts are items to be donated to a charity of their choice – the charity du jour is the SPCA. I want the girls to remember their birthdays as a celebration with friends not a present free for all.

  19. I like to give those kinds of gifts too. One Christmas we gave our niece a zoo membership for Christmas and she was so excited that she begged her parents to take her to the zoo the next day – they did.

    Hey, Kirwin I remember Ranger Rick magazine! My grandmother gave me a subscription for my birthday as a kid.

    Condo Blues´s last blog post..Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap Earth Day Giveaway!

  20. My parents buy our family a zoo pass every year for Christmas. It means less gifts under the tree, but the kids don’t expect more and The zoo pass lasts a lot longer than a jillion hot wheels cars would.

    Erin´s last blog post..Anatomy of a Pregnant Woman

  21. Great ideas to consider. When my children are invited to birthday parties, we try to buy either art supplies or gift certificates. I love the gardening tool idea!!

    Kelli´s last blog post..Monday Moments

  22. great ideas!


    LobotoME´s last blog post..{ the break part II }

  23. These are great ideas! One thing I do to avoid expense is stock up on toys when they are on clearance, so we have some on hand for last minute birthday parties. I am definitely going to try some of your ideas, too. Thanks!

    Lisa´s last blog post..Nature Source Giveaway- Reminder

  24. these are great ideas. i’ve taken to giving as many dollars as the child is turning. then they can decide what to buy for themselves. i like the idea of grandparents giving lessons or annual passes. my kids’ grandparents like to give BIG gifts, so i’m going to suggest soccer lessons pronto!

  25. We love it when our kids receive experience gifts or crafting supplies. Another clutter-free option is to simply request on the birthday party invitation, “no gifts, please.” While this is not the norm, in our circle of friends it has become the norm and we are thankful. This has taken the focus off of the stuff and put it onto the celebration of the child and the fellowship with friends.

    Rachel´s last blog post..Restoring Order: The Laundry Room

  26. This could be the best post ever.

  27. I only had birthday parties for my boys at the 1 year mark, more for family than the boys! Since about 3 years of age they have always wanted to do a family activity, musical, camping, museum or the like. This year we are combining birthdays and going on a dinsaur dig! My mom FINALLY got the message that we don’t want stuff but would rather make memories together. She now get us a season pass to our favorite amusement park for Christmas and membership to our science museum for birthdays, easy for her and we enjoy all year.

  28. We have always tried to make gifts meaningful whether it be choosing gifts to give to others or gifts for our children. Currently, my daughter is a college sophomore and had a tough time deciding what to do for her best friend’s birthday (best friends for eight years and two hundred miles apart in different colleges.) She decided to bake a different type of cookie for her each month and send it to her at school with a cute, handmade card. Not only has her friend enjoyed the cookies (along with her dormmates!), but my daugher has had fun doing it for her. It doesn’t take money do much as thought and time – what every great gift is made of.

  29. As someone who lives in a very small condo with three other people (two of which are still small, but it seems that the smaller they are, the more “stuff” they have or “need”), and especially given that both of my children were born within a week or two of Christmas (who has time or money for a birthday party on or near Dec 23rd?), we just haven’t done parties yet. But this year we’re going to have a Jones family birthday and “half-birthday” party at the end of June (my birthday). In the invitation is the request that they not bring us anything, but instead pick something from a list of needs for our local Crisis Pregnancy Center. We still get to celebrate with friends and family, but get to do it without having the stress of finding a place for more stuff! Plus, we get to teach our kids early on the importance of giving to others. I’m so excited about this party and it’s still months away!

    But thanks for the ideas of what to give to others in our circle of friends without feeling guilty that I’m just adding to their “stuff!”

    Princess Leia´s last blog post..AJ’s Word of the Day

  30. i love the idea of a very special “hang sesh” with a kid. like a really cute handmade or nicely designed gift certificate for “Cupcake Decorating Hang Sesh with Auntie Lyndsay!” And at the end they get to take home a dozen cupcakes to share, or have a cupcake party right then and there… or caramel apples… or brownies… or something festive… like ice cream! Homemade ice cream, which can then be turned into the coolest ice cream sundaes in the world! Get colorful dishes, sprinkles, make homedmade chocolate sauce… so they’re learning fun stuff in the kitchen or things to make, plus you get to spend time with them. just make sure that initial gift certificate looks EXCITING! you wouldn’t want them to think it was gonna be a real drag!

    I really went off on a tangent. I am EXCITED to give this gift ot my nephew when he gets old enough!! :)

    lyndsay´s last blog post..Insane Totoro Cupcakes!

  31. All great ideas!

    For my son’s birthday parties we have been having a book exchange instead of gifts. Each child brings a wrapped book which is placed in a circle. Start singing happy birthday while circling the book and when the song ends each child gets the book that is in front of them. Usually there is some swapping at the end, but for the most part everyone gets a great new book.

  32. Wow – thanks everyone for all of the comments – I had a great time writing this article and look forward to contributing more. I love Small Notebook! Just feeling the love today!

    Liz Jenkins´s last blog post..being organized is a good thing . . . but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing!

  33. love these ideas and couldn’t agree with everyone more. the home-made movie would be something my kids would treasure forever. we’ve made a quick photo book for cousins on snapfish in just a couple hours that was a hit. also love the idea of the baking kit and so many others. i hope you don’t mind if I share this on my blog!

    AmberLee (GiversLog)´s last blog post..HAND SOAP featuring YOUR KIDS’ ART

  34. HeatherS says:

    My son received a great gift from a little boy at his party a few years ago. The gift was not only a gift certificate to a local bookstore, but the other boy and his Mom picked my son up and took him there as part of a special outing to spend his gift certificate. This mom will also give bowling gift certificates and pick up the child and take them bowling too. The kids love it and no plastic stuff to clutter up the house.

  35. Great list! I love giving “stuff free” gifts!

    Will Blog For Shoes´s last blog post..Musings on the Swineflu

  36. Buying items that can result in wonderful experiences is a much more thoughtful gift than an item. I bought concert tickets last Christmas for my kids and they had so much fun. I even got a “thank you” from my teenager. That is hard to do! lol!

    But, I didn’t think of buying lessons. My daughter’s bday is this weekend. And I think I am going to buy her a month’s worth of lesson to a hip hop class. Thanks for that idea. :)

    Money Funk´s last blog post..My Weekend…

  37. About a year ago, my son received a subscription to the preschool version of the Highlights magazine – HighFive. He absolutely LOVES it, and it’s a gift that he receives all year! Then for Christmas, we asked for subscriptions to Cricket (a non-fiction magazine for preschoolers) and Babybug (a magazine for infants/toddlers). The kids enjoy getting mail with their names on it.

    Julie W.´s last blog post..Fruit Snacks Please

  38. Good stuff here!

    I am all for anti-clutter gifts.


    niki´s last post…Come, Follow, Follow, Follow…

  39. This is perfect timing for the holidays when many of us don’t have the money we once did. I’ll be making more things this year for sure.

  40. my little girl was born last november so i thought it was a little bit silly to fuss over a newborn at christmas time when she wouldn’t even be awake for it. I bought her a little conifer christmas tree and potted it in a lovely pot and bought three decorations for it. She will always have her little christmas tree that will grow with her, we can bring inside every year and we can have a little tradition where we buy or make another decoration or two every year.

    Another great present idea for young girls is a horse riding session. Most 10 year old girls will love this gift.

    I usually aim to give either experiences or food for gifts. most people have loved these presents although I have had a couple of knockbacks from people who decided I was being cheap by not giving them an actual item to keep. I was a bit upset when a friend rejected two tickets to cirque du soleil that I got her for her birthday.

  41. Perfect-Helen says:

    I am invited to the birthday of my friend’s kid, so I am currently looking for good gift ideas. I just would like to ask opinions of experienced parents what they think about such educational iPhone game as Kinder Hangman – http://sharkfuel.com/kinderhangman.html Is this game really so helpful for developing a vocabulary of kids? I am a mother myself, so just would like to know if this game can help me repare kids for school? Any ideas? Your opinion is highly appreciated. Thanks.

  42. Great ideas here. But can I add a further suggestion – don’t forget to consider the gift recipient’s Love Language. With your own children you can learn their love language and tailor gifts around that. It is harder with friends. If you give tickets to a “Quality Time” person, that will mean so much more to them than stuff. However, if you give tickets to a “Gifts” person, it will mean less to them than a physical gift (stuff). I endeavour to find out the love languages of my friends and family so I give them gifts that make them feel loved, not just ones that make me feel good. Here’s some other outside the box suggestions:

    * a subscription to a magazine they are interested in (particularly if the child likes science, gardening or animals)
    * clothes – children grow so quickly and clothes are always appreciated. I call the mum and ask about what the child needs, size and favourite colour etc
    * something for their pet
    * i-tunes gift card or phone credit
    * an excursion where they can catch a bus, train, ferry or plane (if this is something they don’t normally do) as the method of tranport
    * if the child has a dream job maybe you can arrange them to visit a fire station, meet a vet etc
    * For all the “Words of Affirmation” kids out there can I please highly recommend that you give them a card with some very encouraging words in it. They will treasure this for a long time.

  43. Christine says:

    For my kids’ birthday parties, I put at the end of the invite that the guests should make the birthday boy/girl a homemade card or small gift, or even no gifts at all. I explain to my kids that they’ll be getting presents from relatives and parties aren’t about the presents but about the fun you’ll have with your friends. My kids do not mind (they have enough stuff already). You don’t know how many moms thank me afterwards for not having to shell out $10 for a piece of plastic my kids will only appreciate for a week!!

  44. We have been doing this “experiences not stuff” for several years. All our family lives nearby and wants to gift our kids with stuff at each birthday and Christmas. We started it with my youngest’s 6th birthday. He was the 2nd boy and didn’t need much in the way of clothes or toys with everything available. He’s also our sensitive kid and the 3rd child so special time with his friends and family (without sibling competition) means so much to him. For each birthday we remind everyone that our kids don’t need more stuff. They love their family and just having them come and celebrate their special day is a gift. If they want to give a gift, please consider an experience with the child or a gift card for an experience. Not everyone obliges but we have received some of the coolest experiences. For Christmas a family gift to the Science Center that we remember the giver, every time we go throughout the year. A special lunch date for the birthday child and his friend. When we first started it we had just moved into a big home and we felt like people were trying to fill it up “because we had room” (I think we used the “we don’t have room” excuse for several years before that). We had to start telling people that just because we have a big house doesn’t mean we need to fill it up! But after hosting an “experiences” birthday party, we thought about every single gift we gave. My kids have all given sleepover/movie nights to their friends (with birthday cake). Groupon like sites are good too. My daughter and her friend have birthdays a week apart and I purchased 2 X$20 credit to a paint your own pottery for them as a gift for their birthdays and it only cost $20 for both girls, then they picked out a dessert at a candy store. I think our experiences over gifts has rippled out in our circles as well as more friends are moving in that direction as well.

  45. I was actually discussing Christmas with my husband last week. I was noticing that the kids don’t play with any of their toys (I have to totes under my bed of toys & they don’t play with the one’s that are out). He said our money would be better spent buying them a toy at the thrift store & putting the rest in a saving account for them. I am going to make a commitment to do this for my kids for birthdays & Christmas.

  46. this post is great – I’m bookmarking it. We’re entering birthday party season and I don’t want to give junk.
    Margo´s last post…Best Salad for Potlucks

  47. One of the best parties, my son attended, called for each guest to bring a gift-wrapped book. One highlight of the party was the ensuing gift exchange, allowing each child to leave with a new book.

  48. My mom, as great grandma, is giving my kids and their kids a book called “Beatrice’s Goat” (1 copy for each family) that explains how goats help people in 3rd world countries, particularly a girl named Beatrice in the story. Mom is then donating $80 in honor of all of my kids and grandkids which will buy a goat, a pen and goat vaccines for a family in Africa. I can’t wait to read the book to the kids and explain Great Grandma’s gift. Look up the Heifer Project if you want to do the same.

  49. This isn’t for kids but what grown kids can give for parents or between each other. ALl of us (siblings) donate to a scholarship fund that was set up in the name of our grandfather. Even if you don’t have a family member scholarship fund, you can get together and donate money in the names of your parents/siblings to whatever cause they like. We’ve found the smaller and more local the cause, the better appreciated.