What to do with ‘unwanted’ or impractical gifts for children

Posted under Gift giving

A friend and I were chatting the other day about the difficulty of managing “unwanted” birthday gifts.
No one likes to look a gift horse in the mouth of course, (we all love gifts!) but it can be difficult to receive things that compromise your family beliefs or desires.
We were talking specifically about the challenge of presents for children.
It can be really difficult, can’t it.


My friend has a young daughter, and is striving to keep her childhood filled with wonder and magic, rather than the teenage concepts of Justin Beiber, makeup and the perfect body of Barbie.  Recently, her daughter had been to a few school friend birthday parties and my friend was dismayed to see 5 and 6 year olds being pampered with full beauty treatments and makeup application and Barbie addictions!


My thoughtful friend wanted to do something a little different, something that would help retain the magic of childhood just a little longer, not just for her daughter but for all the children too.  (Her party ideas sounded great)
She was also hopeful to do something to prevent the whole make up/Barbie/nail polish/Bratz doll/plastic toy/licenced images thing from taking too strong a hold just yet….


You know what, I really believe that every parent/adult has good intentions.
Someone creates a party for their child based on what they believe their child wants or needs- a Superhero party, a makeup do, a high tea, jumping castles, pony rides….  Mostly, everyone just goes with the flow of what is common in their world.  And, lots of us are super busy so having the time to think/do something a little uncommon might just be too much extra work.  But, no matter what kind of party/food/activity/giftbag is on offer, it is all with good intention.


Present buying is the same.
We all go to the shops and try to buy something we think the birthday child would like.
The thing is, in our society, we are led to believe that all 6 year old girls really do want Barbie dolls, make up, Dora the explorer pyjamas and nail polish.  If we look inside any junk mail catalogue, this seems true.


So, if we believe differently, or want to do something a little out of the ordinary,
we really do have to speak up.
How we do this without seeming rude or ungrateful or demanding or judgemental or just plain strange is the difficult thing.


The thing is, it may just really be a simple matter of gift giving re-training.


It may be that we include a small hint on the bottom of the child’s birthday invitation.
Perhaps something along the line of “Please note that our house is a commercial and licenced toy-(eg Superman, Barbie) free zone”.
(I do think if you have strong feelings about a “thing” -eg no plastic…environmentally-friendly… A “Wiggle/Dora/Bob/Barbie” free zone…- it really is helpful to be specific.)
It might save everyone a whole heap of embarrassment or awkwardness or feeling uncomfortable.


But rather than putting out a big NO, (not much fun, is it??)  we can give positive hints on what the child/family does love!


“We love handmade! Crafty kits and craft materials are truly appreciated gifts”
or perhaps
“Tom loves Masterchef.  All cooking inspired gifts will be much loved by our budding chef”.


I know I’d much rather buy or make something that will be really appreciated, and I love forewarning if there are any special family traits or cultural values to honour.


It is kind of like turning up to a vegan party with a plate of sausage rolls, or as I once did, turning up with a six pack of beer
(I didnt really drink but thought this was an appropriate thing to do)  only to find out it was a alcohol-free house!
(I put the beer in the fridge before I knew, and spent all night mortified that someone would ask who it belonged to!!)


I’m pretty sure most mums or gift givers would be more than happy to ditch Barbie for a baking dish and a rolling pin, if someone gave them the idea.  What do you think??


But there must be other alternatives to gift giving too.


I always like the idea of giving a gift of time.
That is, giving a familiar child an apron and chef hat or a bowl full of ingredients with a recipe, and a promise to come and bake cookies with them on the weekend.
I have given my nephews a package of 7 rainbow colours of fleece and they both came and felted with me one holiday. My nephew Finn felted and sewed a set of clothes for his Polar bear toy, as well as a small bag to keep his treasures in.
It is like double gifting- not only do they receive the gift, they receive the joy from making something themselves! Not to mention a bit of company and one-on-one conversation time with an adult friend/relative.  This kind of thing could be a great way to inspire a new kind of Grandparent/family member gifting….


Here are a few random gift ideas:
  • a gardening trowel and shovel, a bag of soil and some vegetable seeds/flower bulbs to plant in the garden
  • a hammer, a small packet of nails and some planks of pine to make a tool box
  • a rice cooker and a sushi making kit
  • a double or yearly pass to a family fun park, one for the child and one for the accompanying adult
  • a zoo pass, as above
  • a train ticket and a new lunch box- one that will be filled on their day trip to the museum
  • a craft kit filled with knitting wool, knitting needles and a pattern to make something special together
  • a set of measuring cups, a bag of flour, salt and cream of tartar to make play dough or salt dough for modelling
This last one is just a ruse so I can show you my cutest kitchen purchase ever!
A set of flower measuring cups! from “The Greenhouse” shop in Byron Bay.
I couldn’t resist!


I spent the day in Byron surrounds yesterday (I looked at 8 open homes- a big feat!) and ducked into town for a “Cardamon Pod” curry lunch and my favourite rose lassi!  Woops, nearly lost my train of thought…
Anyway, on my way back to the car, Ned and I spotted a wonderous shop window and just had to go in!

The shop is called My Toy Shop
Shop 3, 27-31 Fletcher Street (Cnr Fletcher and Byron Street)

If you really are after a toy gift, Jodi has the cutest selection of fabulous, quality, well made and handcrafted toys of all kinds.
Tree houses, dolls, a whole selection of wooden trucks and cars that Ned found hard to resist and kitchen sets like wooden plate/cups, teasets, home corner paraphrenalia and even felt food.
It was like being in a toy treasure trove.
I have to pop back to have a look at the recycled plastic trucks (they were sold out!) I’m after for the sandpit. Wooden ones just don’t cut it with wet sand.

If you are down that way, definitely stop by and visit sometime!
With Christmas just around the corner, you might just find that special, one of a kind gift.

And please, I’d love to know your thoughts on gift-giving, especially the most challenging kind.
What is your take??

6 Responses to “What to do with ‘unwanted’ or impractical gifts for children”

  1. messyfish

    We used to eat at the cardamon pod during our stays in byron! I love the gift ideas you posted. I wish that someone would give ME gifts like that! I have a set of grandparents that go out of there way to give crappy plastic toys to my toddler, in the hope that I will “loosen up”….hummmph!…they are out near the dogs bed now. He loves to chew them hee hee hee

  2. Bianca

    What a great post. My husband and I are planning for our first baby next year and we’re facing the same problem -on a massive scale with a new baby when everyone wants to chip in and help -and of course their help is soo much appreciated, but we don’t want for our babies any commercial toys (or clothing with commercial characters on them), no gender specific clothes or toys ..ie NO PINK PINK PINK, no plastic, no baby products containing chemicals etc. No chemical laden wipes, nappies or lotions. To make our wishes clear really does all sound too much and sooo demanding. But its what we want. We want to be able to have our family and friends give gifts that will be used, and not boxed up for disposal at a later date, but we don’t want to have to compromise on what we feel is important to avoid hurting peoples feelings. We’re thinking of putting full explanatory notes on our blog that we can direct them to to try and explain ourselves in depth to avoid any hurt feelings. Its all very hard. Perhaps we’re best letting people give the gifts they like and perhaps redirecting those that do not suit our values to charity. That though seems deceitful.! uuuk! what a mine field!

  3. Nina

    seriously I’d love gifts like you have on your website. when I lived back east it was so much easier to find waldorf inspired shops and items but really hard here in Utah. I was a nanny there and would buy little kits to make angels and such with the children and think most children would love that.

    my son’s birthday is next month and we are moving across country and I’m tempted to ask everyone in the family to give cash to buy us memberships to the aquarium and/or children’s musuem. as we go to those regularly here and Atlanta has the biggest aquarium in the US! wohoooo! that is what I’ve done the past few years with his birthday. rather than a bunch of little gifts since we live across country from family to save on postage I’ve just asked for whatever they can afford to give toward a big item. 1st birthday I got him a little car that he used practically daily. 2nd birthday a kitchen. 3rd next month and like I said I think it will be memberships. usually everyone just sends 10-20 bucks. I haven’t had a party for him beyond close friends so I’m not sure. last birthday every gift that was given – a little computer and a scooter – were never played with. beyond in pictures at the party so I’d actually prefer people asked me…is that rude? it just seems like such a waste if he doesn’t like it, ya know?

    but I don’t have strong feelings against plastic or commercial stuff, I’d rather he liked it and played with it more than anything. sadly, most of the wooden toys I’ve gotten him he could care less about. maybe if that was all he had they’d be a bigger hit?

  4. Anonymous

    We asked for no presents this year for my one year old, and only a couple of people got her something (and it was clothes so perfect). She did get some cash, and we actually put it towards our first term fees at Moondew Playgroup.
    I think experiences are the things people, (particularly older) cherish the most. Once a basic level of needs are met (and that happens so quickly in this culture), happiness doesn’t change according to things, yet experiences are so memorable.
    But I do find it hard expressing my desires around natural toys to my daughter’s father as he doesn’t live with us – find it hard because he has his own vision of what her childhood is to be. I did encourage him to give her a photo album (instead of “stuff”), filled with pictures of him, his family and time with her.

  5. Amber Greene

    Hi girls
    Great comments. Thank you! I’m sure that some of our friends/grandparents are sent to challenge us. I have bundled up a few good quality plastic gifts and have given them to my mum for her to keep at their place for Ned and other cousins to play with when they visit. This works a treat! The rest has been sold on ebay (money into Ned’s bank account) or given to a plastic-loving friend or recycled to the op shop. You are right too, Bianca. It is a minefield! Experiences are for making memories, aren’t they, and isnt that what life is about! Love the aquqrium/museum idea too Nina, and Felicity, the scrapbook photo idea is a winner!!

  6. TwigandToadstool

    Fantastic ideas! I love the gift of time too. One year for Christmas I took my nephew dog sledding for the day…it was like a gift for me too, (I don’t think I’ve screamed that loud in a long long time)! My family is slowly getting better with plastic toys…we still have our fair share, (Ruby has let me get rid of alot, but the Pet Shops and Fairy Barbies are going nowhere…however many of them were second hand or found at our dump…makes me feel a bit better about them)!
    It’s a slow process, but so worth it to just stop the flow of “crap” gifts! Alot of our friends also regift beloved toys, books etc…it’s lovely to see a child give a friend their favourite book or toy, just because they love them so much and are so full of generosity!
    Lots to think about!
    xo maureen

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