Children and alternative gift giving

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Quite a few of my readers have mentioned on different occasions that they have friends and relatives that give their children far too many “clutter” gifts. No matter how much they insist that this stops the gifts just keep on coming. There are many alternative gift ideas that you could suggest they choose. Unfortunately life sometimes gets away from us and when the time is nigh we can’t think of any suggestions to make to these very generous gift givers, that are a great alternative to clutter.

In the past I put together a list of alternative gifts with mostly adults in mind. This list is always available to view by clicking on Guides from the menu bar located above the photo at the top of my blog. When you get into Guides just click on Uncluttered Gift Ideas. Being as our theme for the week has centered around children I think now would be a great time to put together an uncluttered gift guide for children.

In order to do this I will get a list started on this post today and I would love for you to all contribute ideas via comments so we can come up with a great list that we can all refer back to when gift giving time comes around be that birthdays, bar mitzvahs, Christmas, Hanukkah etc. I am sure you all have some great ideas so please share them with us.

Please feel free to make comments also on the items I have begun the list with and the age groups I have split them up into. My children are now almost 21 and 19 and I may have lost my edge when it comes to this topic so I could really do with your help. This may be the case for the wonderful gift givers in your life also so if you are able to make alternate ideas they may be more likely to conform to your way of thinking.

Uncluttered Gift Guide For Children

Ages 0 to 5

  • Clothing items
  • Education fund deposits (They may not thank you now but they will later)
  • Deposit it money into a bank account in the child’s name.
  • Memberships to your local Zoo or Children’s museums, abortetum’s etc…
  • A special outing (This could include anything from a food treat, a trip to the zoo etc)
  • Paying for lessons (music, sports, arts, craft)
  • Ingredients and special decoration for cookies to a four or five year old kid so that the kid could bake cookies with the parents. You could actually make an outing of this and take them to the grocery store.

Ages 6 to 12

  • Money (To make this gift more special I used to make a clue based treasure hunt for my children and they loved it. I used those plastic snap together Easter eggs to hide the money in.)
  • Passes to theme parks
  • Education fund deposits (They may not thank you now but they will later)
  • Deposit it money into a bank account in the child’s name
  • Movie passes
  • Educational software (Even though this is an item if looked after it can be easily sold on when grown out of)
  • iTune credit
  • Sporting equipement
  • A special clothing item
  • A special outing (This could include anything from a food treat to a ball game, ten pin bowling etc)
  • Tickets to a Sporting event, concert…
  • Paying for lessons (music, sports, arts, craft)

Ages 13 to 18

  • Plane tickets to visit friends or family
  • Education fund deposits (They may not thank you now but they will later)
  • Deposit it money into a bank account in the child’s name
  • Cell phone recharge
  • Money
  • Passes to theme parks
  • Movie passes
  • iTune credit
  • Take-out gift cards (My daughter loved Starbucks cards at this age group)
  • Sporting equipement
  • Toiletries (You need to know the child well to get this right though)
  • A special clothing item (My son is a skateboarder they wear through skate shoes far too often and they make a great gift)
  • A special outing (This could include anything from a food treat to a ball game, ten pin bowling etc)
  • Tickets to a Sporting event, concert…
  • Paying for lessons (music, sports, arts, craft)

Ages 18 to 25

This age group may be a little older but in my experience they need useful gift more now than ever before. They are often still in college/University, moving out for the first time or just started in their first real career job and aren’t being paid much at this point.

  • Money
  • Movie passes
  • Gas Cards
  • Gift Cards
  • iTune credit
  • Cell phone recharge
  • Travel credit (Bus/train passes)
  • Sporting equipement
  • Plane tickets to visit friends or family
  • Education fund deposits
  • Educational supplies (Book store credit, nice stationary, leather satchel etc)
  • Take-out gift cards (My daughter loved Starbucks cards at this age group)
  • Household items (Whether they have move out yet or not because it will happen eventually) (No uni-taskers please)
  • Toiletries (You need to know the child well to get this right though)
  • Tickets to a Sporting event, concert…
  • A special clothing item
  • Paying for lessons (music, sports, arts, craft)

Donation Gift Ideas

  • Zoo Animals
  • Pet shelters
  • Kids Sport team equipment
  • Food bank (You could actually go grocery shopping together to choose the food)

Cindy has also written some great blogs and left some great comments in the past regarding Children’s birthdays and birthday parties…

Day 252 Kids Birthday Parties

Day 257 Decluttering Kids Birthdays Part 2

Cindy in response to Day 338 ~ I have a large bin of gifts for the children to give for birthday presents… Read more

Today’s Declutter Item

I relinquished my iPod to my son some time ago when his died but surprisingly he didn’t want the pink case. By now I have come to the realisation I am never going to get the iPod back so I have sent the case to the thrift store.

Things that made me happy, made me laugh, made me feel grateful, fascinated me or I thought were just plain awesome.

  • Winning $160 at bingo ~ I don’t normally play bingo but my Mum does and it is always fun to go with her when she visits and even more fun when we win.
  • Managing to still churn out blog posts while I am busy with my visitors ~ I really hope that they have still been useful and interesting for you my faithful readers.
  • I am just happy with life at the moment even if I have been really busy.
  • My dad promises to take some great native Australian bird photos for me to share with you on my blog.
  • Having lots of plans to look forward to over the coming weeks ~ Including my daughter visiting, going to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, attending the ANZAC day parade on the 25th of April, a weekend in Canberra and a trip to NZ. My oh my, I had better get ahead with my blogging.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow.

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. This year I vowed not to give any of my children’s friends material gifts. So far we have given basketballs for a girls’ team (for a sports loving friend), supported the foxes at the local zoo (for a girl whose nickname includes Fox), and Audra made some stuffed animals for a friend (material gifts, true, but made with love from scraps). There are so many different charities that I think we’ll be able to find something suitable for all the gifts we need this year.

    • I second the charity gifts as well. Way before this became common, a few thoughtful children in our school began to ask for donations for the food bank instead of gifts. Yes, there are lots of kids who can have this much empathy at an early age. I love how you tailored the donations to the specific friends, Cindy.

      • Another great idea Jo. You could even take the child grocery shopping together and help them to choose appropriate food to donate. It can be amazing how much fun and satisfaction they get out of doing something like this.

    • Hi Cindy,
      I love the donation ideas. Although some kids wouldn’t appreciate this others would think it to be a lovely thin. If child appropriate options are chosen like the zoo, pet shelters etc you could take the child there to show them how their gift helps. Feeling good about helping someone or somethings is a great learning experience.

  2. This is a perfectly-timed post to remind me of some good habits, just as my daughter is about to attend several birthday parties this month. I love giving/getting gift cards for ice cream/frozen yogurt/smoothie shops — we always end up using them and then they’re gone! No clutter. And my daughter’s friends and their parents seem to appreciate them for the same reasons too.

    • Hi Eve,
      from the earliest age I can remember always looking forward to the card my grandmother would send me with money in it. Gift cards are as good as money and a child can enjoy the independence of being able to pay for their treats. It is a good learning opportunity.

  3. A great gift for the 0 to 5 year old range are memberships to your local Zoo or Children’s museums, abortetum’s etc… They usually pay for themselves after about 2 trips. It is a good time out together for families and supports local educational places of interest. No need to buy stuff that they lose interest in after 15 minutes. Cheryl

    • Hi Cheryl,
      that is a great idea and on the day the giver could take them to one of those places and use the membership for the first time.

  4. An idea similar to the education fund is a bank account in the child’s name, to be used for something “large” when they get older. My parents-in-law did this with our kids – they opened the account and every birthday they gave a modest cheque. Surprising how it added up over the years. It was intended to buy something like a bike or make a down payment on a car, etc.

    • Hi Jo,
      that is a wonderful idea and once the child is old enough you could involve them in the deposit process at the bank if the money was given in the form of a cheque (check). Yet another great learning experience. They do understand from quite an early age how great a gift this is when you explain it too them.

      • My daughters get an allowance – the older one gets $20 every two weeks and the younger one gets $5. They each have to save a pre-determined amount for long-term and charitable giving, and the rest they can spend. When we got to the bank to deposit their long-term savings money (not too often, as it takes a while for it to build up), I match their deposit dollar for dollar. (Yes, I know, all the money is coming from me one way or another.) I talk to them about retirement savings (in the US, many employers will match or partially match what their employees put into a retirement savings account) and show them how I am matching their money.

        • Hi Cindy,
          I never did this with my kids yet one is an avid saver and the other is an avid spender. Neither have credit cards though thank goodness. My parents never did it this me either but they got the message across never the less by example. I am quite frugal and like to have a good nest egg for a rainy day.

  5. These are fantastic gift ideas Colleen. We have the exact problem you wrote about with our kids receiving loads of clutter gifts for special occasions. We’ve passed out 529 college savings coupons to the grandparents, but they still insist on buying toys rather than contributing to the college savings.

    We’re now trying to figure out how to best communicate our wishes for our oldest son’s upcoming seventh birthday. It should be interesting. 😉

    • Hi Jenny,
      try some of the movie pass, theme park pass gift ideas on them they may feel better about giving a tangible gift and they could even take them there on the day or a day close to it. Maybe they could combine that with a college fund deposit depending on how much they usually spend.

  6. 19 – 25’s, that is my area of expertise. 🙂

    – It all depends on the situation, but the one thing that is always appreciated is money! We allways run short, don’t know what it is, but well; we could always use it. 😉

    – Stuff for the-ones-that-live-on-their-own: think (needed) household stuff, like pots and pans (some of us still cook! And anyway, it probably will be used later in life). Be sure to give what they need; don’t give them the third pizza slicer. A) it is an unitasker (yes, I read unclutter too) and B) it is probably going to be useless. A couple years ago I asked for a sewing kit and I still enjoy it. What I also enjoyed is the stuff I received for my car. Most stuff I needed for my car (first aid kit, reflective vest; that kind of stuff) where gifts.

    – Books! This mosty (can) apply for people who celebrate their birthdays in the summer; school books are quite expensive. And otherwise, another educational book which lies in their specific interest can be good, I really enjoyed “The Immortal Life of Henriëtta Lacks” by Rebecca Sloot, because I’m really interested in Life Sciences but for accountancy students, I think something about investing will do nicely.

    – Stuff for hobbies, etc. whether it will be craftsupplies or the skate shoes mentioned in the post.

    – Other “vouchers” like park passes, movie vouchers etc. to have a nice day out without having to pay.

    Those are a few ideas, which will work. There are many more usefull gifts in the world. Just be creative 🙂

    • Hi Nurchamiel,
      some great ideas here and you are right in my special area of interest to with my kids being 19 and 21. I usually give them money but my daughter asked for good quality kitchen items recently. She will likely be desperate for money though and change her mind but a nice set of Global Kitchen Knives would be good as she likes to cook. Like you say though “No unitakers please”.

      I have added the 19 – 25 age group to the guide.

      • In my opinion, knives are not unitaskers. I cut almost everything with them, cardboard, rope, etc. But, I also work in a store, so those knives never get mixed up with the ones that are used for cooking 🙂

        • Hi Nurchamiel,
          a lot of unitaskers are invented I am sure for people without knife skills. Personally I would prefer a good sharp knife any day. The more you use the knife the better you get at any given task a knife is required for.

  7. Something I heard from a friend and loved: He gave ingredients and special decoration for cookies to a four or five year old kid so that the kid could bake cookies with the parents. Of course this was talked about with the parents first (probably even initiated by them?). I guess it would work for cooking meal too or for cocktail indgredients for the older teenagers/young adults (don’t have to be alcoholic if you don’t support that, mixing is still good fun without the booze). And I think if someone insist on giving something that “stays” (other than the joy of giving, receiving and experiencing the gift – for some people this somehow isn’t enough, no matter how hard you try to convince them), if they need something to put a bow on, it can be a special cookie cutter or a kid size cake form (I LOVED mine as a kid for playing and because sometimes my mum would make a small cake in when she did a regular one too and the kidsize one somehow always was more special than the big cake). A handwritten recipe book with family recipes and space to add more is also a treasure that hardly becomes clutter ever.

    Paying for lessons (music, sports, arts, craft) is also a great gift. If it is not on a regular basis it could be for a special course, for a camp or for trying out something new.

    • Hi Ideealistin,
      oh, I love this idea. My mother was just saying the other day that she make a batch of piklets (like pancakes only smaller about 3″ in diameter) with her great grand children. For fun she made them some tiny little one and they thought it was great. These little guys love to join in when the adults are having a cup of tea. So as a gift my mum bought them two tiny tea cups (actually they were espresso cups) and filled the cups with more tiny piklets. They thought it was the best present.

      I remember making piklets when I was very young. Piklets and ANZAC (Oatmeal) biscuits were the first things our mother taught us to make and my sister and I beat the ladies in the competition at the school fete when we were only in Primary (elementary) school.

      I like the idea of give a handwritten recipe book with family recipes and space to add more. I made these once from myself, my sister, my mum, my niece and my little brother and I recently did a reprint for my daughter. Hers includes all the new recipes as well.

      The paying for lessons idea is also a great one. I have added it to the list.

    • I have tried to get my parents or in-laws to chip in for the kids’ music lessons. So far, not so good, but I’m going to keep trying.

  8. Experiences are the best gifts, hands down. My son might love his Woody doll from Daddy, Nana and Papa (long story there) but when he does well at the dentist, he doesn’t get another toy from the store. The little treasure box toys they have are enough. Instead, we take him to ride the train at the mall, which is a little pricey for every day (unlike the carousel). I suppose that’s a treat and not a gift, but the idea is the same.

    • Hi Lynn,
      treat / gift all the same thing in my book. My friends gave me a massage for a parting gift from my work last year because they know I don’t like clutter. That sure was a treat when I finally used it last week.

  9. Well done Colleen for still getting your blog posts out with visitors! That is an achievement and yes they are useful and interesting:) , and I don’t have children. But it’s always good to hear about other people’s experiences and to be able to pass on tips/ideas to parents in my life when they are feeling overwhlemed by stuff.
    And of course, I do have children in my life that I buy small gifts for, and for sometime I have been aware of the glut of toys children have and not wanting to add to that. I tend to get clothes until the child is 3 and then books for the next few years,as I feel inspiring a love of books & reading is a good thing and the parents are normally relieved to have something new to read at bed time.
    It is when they get 10+ I struggle as I can’t afford big presents but I still want to be part of their special day. So I love the idea of cinema vouhers, so something like the strarbuck vouchers – brilliant ideas.

    And idea for students leaving home used to be things like stamps. But with email and FB I’m not sure they need them so much, though birthday cards still get sent I expect.

    • Hi Katharine,
      like you say even if you don’t have children there are usually some in your life so good gift ideas are always useful. i like the book idea too but I avoided adding it to the list as they can still become clutter. I know I have a box of them in the garage that the kids wanted me to keep. I am OK with that but I expect them to take them when they leave home.

      I am glad you are finding the list useful. I am having a great time this morning reading all the wonderful ideas in the comments that came through and updating the post as I go.

      And thank you for the vote of confidence as it has been a struggle this week to keep up. Maybe I do my best work under pressure 😆 Too bad I don’t like pressure. After writing that list of activities I have coming up I had better start scrambling to get ahead.

  10. Ever since my now 5 year old was about 3 he has loved to help bake. It
    thrills him to recieve a package with his own cake mix, muffin mix,
    container of frosting, decorative sprinkles, etc. He shines with pride
    when we make something using his mix.

    My relatives thought I was nuts to suggest giving him such a gift, but
    ended up being shocked when they saw how delighted he was with his

    It makes me happy too, as it eases the grocery bill a little bit, and
    reduces the number of junky and broken toys in the house.

    • Hi Jill,
      thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and may I extend to you a very warm welcome to

      What a great example of how unconventional gifts can be very well accepted by even quite young children. I am glad your relatives got to witness the joy he gets from this kind of gift and are open to the idea in the future. Thank you for sharing this with us. I hope you will leave lots more great comments like this one in the future. We learn so much from each other here at 365lessthings and the more voices there are in the mix the more we are likely to share and learn.

      • My daughter got a real stock pot and a cheese grater for her 8th birthday. She loves them, and she’s taking that stock pot with her when she leaves my house! It’s the real deal and will last her for many, many cooking years.

  11. Hi. I have thought about talking to the family to whenever someone wnats to give a big gift (toy), in the spur of the moment or want to gift too much, that they open an account in the child’s name, and put some money there and give a smaller gift. Not sure the family will like, but it’s worth a try. What you think?

    • Hi Andreia,
      I think it is a great idea. Sometimes it is easier to break people into this new gift giving habit by giving them alternatives you you just suggested. Cutting back on the gift as well as to give money is a great way for them to feel like they have something tangible to give while reducing the clutter by giving something useful in the long term.

  12. We’ve just made a birthday present for my daughter’s 8 year old friend of pretty patterned cupcake cases, and pretty sprinkles (inexpensively bought on ebay) and my daughter has handwritten a couple of recipes to give her.

    My kids love getting book club subscriptions where they get to choose a book every couple of months, or magazine subscriptions – both good.

    • Hi Cressie,
      welcome to it is great to have you on board and thank you for your comment.

      It seems their a quite a few people out there who using their imagination to come up with great gifts for kids and this cooking one appears to be quite popular.

      I can tell from your email address the you are very likely a lover of books. I actually didn’t include books or magazines in the alternate gift list because it seems from all the declutter blogs and web sites that I read that these two items can be insidious when it comes to clutter. I know they are precious for what they are but I try to encourage borrowing from libraries as much as possible. This is one of those difficult subjects when it comes to clutter because one always wants to encourage reading and authors need to make a living but many people have real problems parting with books and magazines once they have them. Going digital is a good option but I have also come across a number of readers who do not like the tactility nor aesthetics of digital books. To buy a child a book is a better option than to continue to buy them more and more toys though that is for sure. I loved reading to my children and was sad when the grew out of it.

      I would actually love your opinion on this so please respond to my comment here, no holds barred, as we all love to learn from each other and everyones opinion is important.

      I just learned something then. I always thought that expression was no holes barred but thought I had better look it up to make sure I was using the expression correctly and found it is actually no holds barred. Gotta love google!

  13. I’m going to come back to this when I need ideas! There are some great ones here. I tend to give books to my kids’ friends for birthday presents. They are very much appreciated, as most people don’t give books any more. I’ve come across some great titles at the op shops (brand new!) and have 1/2 dozen or so in my present drawer, so instead of costing me $18 (the going price for paperbacks in Oz!) they’ve cost me $1-$2 each.

    My 8 yo son got my old digital camera for Christmas last year (he asked for it), and my husband promised my 10 yo daughter one of his Swiss Army knives, and my sister gave her an old fishing tackle box for her Lego, so you can gift stuff you already have at home 🙂

    • Hi Loretta,
      I will be making a guide out of the post with the gift list and filing it under guides which is accessible from the menu bar at the top of my blog.

      I like your “pass on gifts” that is money saving as well. Kind of like revamping things that have become clutter. Unfortunately our son sometimes rescues our unsold eBay clutter before it gets moved on and then it doesn’t leave the house. Oh well at least it is not clutter anymore and being appreciated by someone else. This items don’t make the Daily Declutter Item on the blog though.

  14. I love this! I’m guilty of sometimes giving a clutter gift just because I’m not sure what else to give.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Hi Crystal,
      it was a shared effort too. If you have any other ideas for us please send them through so I can add them to the list. Even if you think of something in a couple of weeks just send a note through my Contact Page. There is always a link (Contact Colleen) in the menu bar at the top of my blog heading.


  1. […] Here are some great ideas for alternative gifts for children. […]