November 17, 2017

(Non Toy) Gifts That Make an Impact for Years to Come


Some wonderful ideas for non toy gifts that make an impact for years to come!

As the holidays arrive, stoves simmer, and families reunite, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year resonates in our hearts.

We want our family to know they are loved beyond measure, yet everything around us during this season equates with BUY MORE PRESENTS!!

Over the next six weeks, 90% of people will buy things they can NOT afford.

Can we make a difference this year and avoid the deep regrets that occur once that January Credit Card statement comes through?

How do we balance this during the holidays? How do we respond to our children when their “Wish List” continues to grow exponentially?  

We’ve spent the last two decades trying to zero in and solidify our children’s understanding of the difference between wants vs. needs. And while the holiday season is definitely a time where they may end up with something on their “Want” list, we’ve realized that experiences and relationships trump “the stuff” every time.

I still remember that first Christmas when our son opened up a present he’d wanted for months. He was so excited for 30 seconds, hugged and thanked us and then questioned, “Ok, where’s my next present?”

It was then that I realized more doesn’t mean better, in fact, for him, it was worse.

During our lean years, there were times when we only shared three gifts in honor of the 3 Wise Men Gifts, as well as fun filled stockings. A friend of mine gives four gifts:  something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

We’ve minimized the amount of gifts given, but have also focused on the experiences.

Bottom line, when kids are young, they want “stuff,” but by January 10, children, can’t remember 1/2  of the presents they received, yet they will remember those special experiences and traditions that occurred  with family and friends.

If you doubt me, poll your children today about last year’s presents. It’s very enlightening.

Here are some life changing CHRISTMAS PRESENTS that will make an impact for years to come.


One of the most amazing memories I have of Christmas was the giving and receiving of our Love Gifts. A few months before Christmas, my parents would have us all pick names and we would make a handmade love gift for that family member. This was not a “throw something cruddy together at the last minute” type of gift. This was an “invest your time, energy and whole hearted devotion into making something special for this person. Yes, before pinterest, my brothers were Renaissance men.

One year, my brother CROSS STITCHED. Yes, a high school, athletic type kid cross stitched a beautiful scene of lambs for my mother because she collected them. Another brother wrote a personal song, and another built me a hope chest, which I still have. My father would always make something very focused and sentimental such as a goal setting board or time management chart. 🙂

I was always more excited to give my gift than receive it because so much time went into those love gifts.

 2. Gifts that Build Creativity

What I’ve learned from our five children is that while a few rare children will dive into creative outlets on their own, most need to be encouraged. It has to be more than just handing them a book or art supplies but actually taking the first steps with them and helping them learn the culture of creativity. Here are just a few that just might start that.

Art supplies with an art lesson:

One year, my father made my brother and me a homemade wood art easel. One side was stenciled with my brother’s name and one side with mine. That opened up such a creative side and we used it for years. In fact, my brother still has it and now his new grandson will be able to enjoy it. You could wrap up a home made apron, paper, brushes and paint so they can get going immediately.

The American Boy’s Handbook  and The Dangerous Book for Boys

Your Christmas season will be made if we can unplug for our few hours with the kids and get them excited enough to take a step into the past. First published in 1882, this is a wealth of projects and games, with practical directions on how to make them. It’s the ultimate pre-TV, anti-couch potato activity book, it answers the question, “What’s there to do?”

Our boys grew up with the American Boy’s Handbook and the hours they spent in the woods building forts and conquering new lands can not be counted. We then tackled building some Bow and Arrows from the Dangerous Book for Boys and took it a step further with building our own DIY Tee Pees in 30 Minutes. What a blast!

Building a Tee Pee

 The Daring Book for Girls

The Daring Book for Girls is the manual for everything that girls need to know—and that doesn’t mean sewing buttonholes! Whether it’s female heroes in history, secret note-passing skills, science projects, friendship bracelets, camp fire songs, double dutch, cats cradle, the perfect cartwheel or reading Abigail Adams’s Letter to John Adams, there’s something creative for every girl.

While I don’t agree with each task taught in this book, there’s so many we enjoy.

Create your own Photo Shoot:

Give your kids the gift of a photo shoot with their friends.

Make your own photo booth

Let them create the props, set up the back drop and just have a blast with this photo booth.

Create your own photo booth

We heart Pictures

Pull out old frames, spray paint them, hang balloons and sheets or go all out with a fancy “set.” This would be perfect for any occasion and it always brings out the best giggles and laughs (with kids of all ages.)

Books, books, books with a twist – put a twist on just giving a book to your child and after you read it out loud, create your own reenactment of this story.

Kids have a blast and they get to see you as the fun mom that you are (or were, before you had kids ;).

3. New Experiences  

Is there something unique they’ve wanted to try or better yet, something that you can experience together?

Classes: My daughter and I are going to take a cake decorating class, but how about sewing, fencing, dancing or the art lesson mention above?

Memberships: Zoo, YMCA, Science Center (we did that for a few year with our kids and had a blast. Plan play dates with other families there), museum, water park, trampoline centers (exercise and fun)

Fun Family Days:

Hot Air Balloon ride, camp in the backyard, spend a night in a hotel and walk around downtown (make sure it has a pool and your kids’ experience is made), head to a farm, head to Krispy Kreme late at night in your PJs and take a tour),  tickets to a big sports game ( my hubby took our son to a Packer’s game in NYC for his 18th. It was his Christmas and bday present combined that year.) Plan special Daddy/Daughter Dates or fun Mother/Son outings. Make sure they’re not your typical weekly routine, but intentional, focused time celebrating your child’s unique gifts.

One of my friends shared that instead of any presents from any family members, they all combined efforts for a family cruise.  I thought there’s no way most can afford that expense, but she shared the amazing deals offered and how it was cheaper than staying in a hotel with food. I didn’t know that, so it’s definitely something to look into.

4. Financial Gifts 

One of the gifts I’m forever grateful for was the long term vision that both my parents and in-laws had when it came to presents whose value kept giving and giving.

They understood the priority of wise investments. Investments in our future.

When I hit my teen years, my dad gave me a “house” deposit. As a financial planner, he earmarked cash and invested it with the sole purpose that I use it to purchase my first home or use it to start up my own business (entrepreneurial family, you know).  At 14, I still remember the sense of disappoint when he shared the news with me.  During your youth, presents are all about instant gratification, but at 24, disappointment changed to, “That was the most amazing gift ever, Dad.”

The cash amount was minimal at the time, but the investment multiplied and when we bought our first house, it made such a difference with our down payment.

My in -laws did something similar only they contributed to their grandchildren’s college investment fund. As retired school teachers, they know the importance of investing in their grandkids education and as parents, we appreciate this long term gift.

As you are able, begin allocating money to invest in your children’s future. Even if it’s just a tiny bit.  These are gifts they won’t appreciate now, but speaking from experience, they are gifts that will make an impact for years to come.

5. Gifts of Service

A few years ago, I went to Peru with Compassion International. While I was there, I shared about one of the Best Christmas gift my parents ever gave. My heart still beats with causal passion thanks to those life lessons learned and those are ones that can’t just be taught in a day.

Model for your children the gift of an OTHERS focused life. This is so contradictory to everything around them, but it can begin with baby steps.

Can you plan a work day for someone truly in need? While the kids may moan and groan, they’ll remember the impact you’ll have on that family for years.

Spent time at the nursing home. My mom identified the gift of multi generations early on, even though at the time, I thought my life as a high schooler was over.

Have them use some of their money to buy gifts for charities that help children or adopt a family for Christmas, pack a Shoe Box with Operation Christmas Child.

Spend a day creating care packages for the homeless and have them ready in your car throughout the winter.

Share blessing baskets with local refugee family and even invite them to your home. The wonders of a cross cultural friendship for your kids will forever impact them.

Yes, serving as a family often gives us far greater gifts than we could ever imagine.

 Wow, I feel like I am just warming up, but hopefully those are a few ideas that will get your creative juices going for this upcoming gift giving season.

Years from now, our children will thank us when they understand the full impact of what gift giving is truly all about. It’s about so much more than the “stuff.”

What are some of the neatest Non Toy gifts you’ve ever received?



  1. Best gifts I have ever received were a hug, something handmade and my favorite to share…a smile. Lovely story, you are very blessed. I will remember how fortunate I am this Holiday Season by sharing with those less fortunate.


    Jen Reply:

    @liza, OH Those are so wonderful!! And hugs and homemade…my favorite kind of “h’s.” 🙂

    Thanks so much.


  2. One of my favorite gifts was a eight foot slim bookcase that my Dad made for me as a teenager. It is still used in my home now. One of my favorite gifts to display each year are ornaments that my husband made for our boys each year. He would carve something that represented their interest of the year. I would help by painting the ornament. It was fun to decide what the ornament would be each year. We now display all of them on a small Christmas tree. It makes us smile every year. They were simple but made a big impact.


    Jen Reply:

    Cathy – I just love this!! Just imagine what a gift those ornaments will be as your boys begin their own family. What a legacy from your dad both for your kids and you.


  3. My mom friends and I were just having this conversation. I have shied away from toys as my young one gets older. I much rather that we have some experiences that we can share together. A membership to the Science Museum, the Zoo, and to the baseball park have all been favorites. All of us decided that we have too much stuff in our homes, and these kind of experiences last a lifetime for memories.


    Jen Reply:

    The baseball park is such a wonderful idea too!! Such fun to have those memories together.


  4. My favorite gift, a mirror that my Dad made out of a piece of mesquite wood we found while fishing along the Brazos River. I was 17yo; he put a red bow around it and gave it to me late Christmas Day.
    My next favorite gift was another mesquite wood mirror made out of the scraps from the original. We lost the original in a housefire, I was heartbroken to have lost that mirror. The 2nd one is hanging in my kitchen and I think of him everytime I look at it. My favorite memory of my Dad.


    Jen Reply:

    Mary – what an amazing gift. I can just imagine how sad it must have been to lose it the first time, but what a joy to have salvaged some of the original wood to have that constant special reminder.


    Mary Reply:

    Yes, very special. Thanks Jen, Happy Thanksgiving.


  5. Wow, I love this list! The hope chest melted my heart! I think I need to put into action the carepackages this year. Such great non toy ideas. Thank you for sharing. 🙂


  6. I’m a fan of everything you’ve shared here :). My favorite gift of all time is the book my husband made for me in college. It cost him nothing but a little time and it might be the only time he crafted something! 🙂

    Great ideas!


  7. I was thinking of doing a non-toy-material related Christmas gift for our children this year. I asked my hubby what he thought about it, but he wasn’t crazy about the idea. Our budget is pretty small compared to some (as we’re gazelle intense about paying off our debt). So I thought I could convince my hubby by telling him that I would test my boys’ memory to see if they even remembered any of their gifts from last year. I was surprised when they remembered every single one. LOL


    Jen Reply:

    Oh Margaret – that is TOO funny and wonderful at the same time because it seems like your kids truly appreciate the gifts they were given to still remember them. 🙂

    AND YOU GO GIRL WITH paying off that debt!! CAn’t wait to celebrate with you when its done!


    Margaret Reply:

    @Jen, Thank you. We started in January 2013 and have paid off $82K so far! 🙂


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