Looking for Christmas gift ideas for kids that will actually get used?  Things that will be put to good use rather than adding more clutter?  We’ve got your covered!

Updated October 2018

Christmas Gift Ideas that Won't Create More Toy Clutter

The other day, I spent an hour and a half helping my child with hoarder tendencies to clean his room.  It was about as much fun as filing our taxes or having a cavity filled, and as I came downstairs (with a large trash bag in hand), I vowed that this just might be the year that the boys don’t get any presents for Christmas.  When I told this to my husband, he chuckled and felt vindicated for his frustration over said child’s room the other night.  (At the time, I didn’t know why he was so frustrated.  Now I do.)

Anyway, we started brainstorming some ideas for gifts that won’t make our toy clutter problem any worse than it already is.  The boys honestly don’t own a ton of toys, but when you have 7 people living in one house, you have to keep life simple or the mess takes over!

Here are some ideas that we came up with.

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Tip #1:  Limit the number of gifts.  This sounds so obvious, but it’s easy to buy more than is needed in the excitement of the season.  Kids really don’t need a lot of gifts to have a fun Christmas.  In fact, too many gifts can be overwhelming, especially for toddlers and preschoolers.

Tip #2:  Ideas for consumable gifts.  Giving and receiving gifts is a lot of fun!  We want to encourage our boys to be givers, and so this month, they are working to earn money to go out and purchase their own Christmas gifts.  After our de-cluttering session the other day, however, I think we’ll be focusing on more consumable gifts and less gifts that will be fun for a few days and then join the clutter in the play room.  Here are some ideas we came up with.

  • Drawing paper
  • Paints/brushes
  • Markers
  • Gel pens – These are fun for both drawing and coloring, especially with detailed coloring books
  • Notebooks or journals
  • Tape – never underestimate the joy of owning one’s own roll of Scotch tape, with no one telling you to stop wasting!
  • Rubber bands – the boys find endless uses for these!
  • Duct tape
  • Fun pencils
  • Stickers
  • Play dough
  • Favorite snacks, especially things that are not normally purchased
  • Gift card for a restaurant or book store – Aidan LOVES to get Sonic slushes or sodas, but I don’t often buy them.  I’m going to encourage one of his brothers to get a Sonic gift card for him this year.  Even a $5 card would buy a couple of treats if we go during happy hour!
  • Parachute cord and supplies for making bracelets

Tip #3:  Ideas for experience gifts.

Experiences create memories rather than clutter and mess!  Why not give the gift of a fun experience that you would not normally spend money on?

  • A musical instrument and/or music lessons
  • A month of karate or gymnastics or swimming lessons (indoors for this time of year, of course!)
  • A coupon for a “date night” with just that child and one or both parents – dinner out, etc.
  • A horseback trail ride
  • Movie tickets
  • Tickets to a sporting event
  • For the family – a family pass to the zoo or local museum
  • Symphony tickets or tickets to a play

Tip #4:  Ideas for gifts that are not toys.

  • Tool set – We have found very reasonably priced tool boxes and tools at Walmart or Home Depot. Kids love having their own screwdrivers, small hammer, measuring tape, pliers, etc.
  • Flashlights
  • A camera
  • Binoculars
  • Clothes – not socks and underwear of course, but if they have been wanting an item that you haven’t bought because it isn’t a need, it might make a fun gift!
  • Books
  • Wall calendar
  • Accessories – hats, gloves, wallet, etc.

Tip #5:  Recommended toys and books that have been worth it for our family

Well chosen, open-ended toys can be worth the expense (and the clean-up!).  We really like toys that are parts of a larger set such as wooden trains, Legos, Lincoln Logs, etc.  “Random toys,” especially battery powered ones that only do one thing are likely to be abandoned in the toy box.

Beware of the law of diminishing returns!  This is a term from economics that means that when you already have a lot of something, adding more does not increase your happiness.  The examples that comes to mind are Hot Wheels cars or dinosaur toys or stuffed animals.  The boys already have so many of these things that adding more makes them happy for a day or two, and then the new toy is forgotten in the clutter of our toy room.

But at the same time, some toys may seem like they’re not very fun because you don’t own enough to make it fun.  This is true for toys like wooden blocks or lincoln logs.  You need enough blocks to build what you want to make, or they really aren’t that fun.  If you’re like us and have 3 or more kids playing with the blocks, you might need more than one set.

That being said, here are some of our favorite toys: (Girls will like some of these, but this list is pretty boy-heavy as we have four of them!)

Christmas gift ideas that won't create more toy clutter!

  • Snap Circuits – We own this set and Aidan loves them!  He has spent hours with this set.  The directions are easy to follow, and Aidan has built working lights, various alarms, and other electrical projects.  He got his Snap Circuits at age 9.  The box says 8 and up, but younger kids would enjoy them with adult help.

Christmas gift ideas that won't add more toy clutter

  • Keva planks are a great building toy for older kids (ages 8+).  Aidan has the Keva Contraptions set, and it comes with 200 planks, two balls, and an instruction book.  He has built some amazing things with these blocks!

Christmas gift ideas that won't create more toy clutter

  • Safari Toob Animals.  I don’t fully understand it, but these are Gresham’s very favorite toys!  He and Owen have spent hours playing with their toob animals.  They play with them inside and outside, in the dirt, in the sand, etc.  If we are learning about animals in science, they have to go and get that toob animal to hold while we read!  These are great toys, especially for kids who love imaginative play.

LEGO Hacks for Building a Collection and Encouraging Creative Building

  • Legos.  Of course we have to mention Legos!  We could probably get rid of most of our other toys and just stay busy with Legos!  The Classic tubs are a great way to go if you’re just getting started.

Christmas Gift Ideas that Won't Contribute More Toy Clutter!

  • The Animal Book from DK is a fabulous gift for an animal lover!  Gresham received this book for his 7th birthday, and he loves to read it.  The pictures are amazing, and he loves learning facts about animals.

  • Playmobil and Playmobil 123 (for toddlers)  Playmobil is something that the boys come back to again and again, and it suits a wide range of ages.  Jonathan loves all of the police sets, like this Tactical Unit SUV.

Gift ideas

  • Last year, we gave Aidan The Boys’ Book of Adventure for Christmas, and he LOVED it.  He carried it around for days.  The book covers silly stuff that you would never need to know such as, “How to repair a spacecraft” and “How to join a band of gorillas.”  However, there are some useful things in the book as well, such as how to make a hammock and how to find your way out of a maze (corn maze, perhaps?).  Aidan loved it all, both the useful and the absurd.   Apparently, you never know when you might need to know this stuff, and boys like to be prepared. 🙂

Whew!  Congratulations if you made it to the end of this!  And please, leave a comment with your suggestions.  What ideas do you have for gifts that won’t turn into toy clutter?

Also, be sure to check out my Advent Jesse Tree devotions to download and print!

34 Comments

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  1. Jan Elizabeth Dec 1, 2013

    Great article! Kids do get totally overstimulated in a cluttered environment, and the quality of their lives decreases. By giving less stuff, you're giving a better experience.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Fischer Dec 1, 2013

      This is a gift guide I can absolutely get behind. Love it. Pinned and will be sharing in other ways too.

      Reply
      1. Jill Dec 1, 2013

        This is a great reminder of a meaningful holiday. Thank you for sharing. You posted some great ideas! If your boys haven't tried the Rainbow Loom bracelets I would highly recommend those, too! Never underestimate the power of the gift of music (itunes gift card)! Journals/sketch books are fun, too. This year our creative gift is each child gets a 10 foot piece of rope. They are constantly making pullies, etc., with their jump ropes, and borrowing our utility ropes. Ropes of course need to be supervised and children must be taught how to use them safely, but any sort of open-ended gift leads to more creative minds!

        Reply
        1. Sarah Dec 2, 2013

          I just bought a Rainbow Loom today! I got it at Hallmark with a $5 off coupon and a $2 Gold Crown Reward certificate, so it was an awesome deal. My oldest son will love it. Rope is also a great idea. We have a length of rope in our garage, and it entertains the kids for a long time!

          Reply
        2. Tracy Dec 1, 2013

          I also recently declared this. Although my kids are tinting to totally understand. We limited the actual gifts to like you said dosposible type gifts. We also created this year a binder or certificates that we can add to over the year. With certificates to local places like zoos, water parks, nights out with mom or dad, parks, movies, this could be a family event or a personal one. But things can be added over the year from other family members too. As we have three birthdays shortly after Christmas. As they get older they can ask for thing to add to the binder. Great reward for later too. Hoping it works.

          Reply
          1. Kim Dec 1, 2013

            Great post! As a mom of a 5 year old girl, I'm happy to say your list isn't "boy heavy". Sure, you omit princesses and the stereotypical pink and purple junk, but that's why I like it. Toys are for kids, not boys OR girls. We adults have been trained to think they are though.
            I'll be sure to share your past though! Great ideas for avoiding the dreaded "trash bag in hand" moments we face!

            Reply
            1. Melissa Dec 1, 2013

              Love this list, feeling the same way this year too. :/
              I would add Costumes and Dress-Up clothes to your list, they can fold up really small and can be the source of hours of imaginary entertainment. (Gotta love how Halloween clearance falls conveniently before Christmas as well!)

              Reply
              1. Sarah Dec 2, 2013

                Yes! Dress-up clothes are a great suggestion.

                Reply
              2. Becky Dec 1, 2013

                As your boys get older, it gets harder and harder to find that perfect gift. My boys are 12,14&17 so finding that special something boils down to what are my individual boys interests?
                I also asked what is there personality like?
                Do they like cooking?
                Do they like working with their hands?
                For instance, my 12yr old is homeschooled and likes intricate things, so that kit you showed with circuits might be interesting to him or the Legos as a break time between schoolwork.
                Just figure out what your child likes to do and you will find the perfect gift.

                Reply
                1. Emma Dec 2, 2013

                  This is the best gift guide I've seen. I can't think of anyone who says, "Yay, Christmas! More clutter! Woo-hoo!" Lol! And your tape suggestion is funny but true - my preschooler would be delighted with her own roll of tape. Sometimes it's the little things... :)

                  Reply
                  1. Susan Dec 2, 2013

                    This is exactly what I try to do every year. I recommend things like earphones or headphones. We use these in our car for our daughter. They can plug into our car. There is a cute brand of headphones at Best Buy called Kazoo (I think that is right). They control the volume so that they can't blast out their ears. Our oldest son got an upgraded ipod a few year ago and I have his old ipod shuffle. We are going to download kid music on it for our 6 year old daughter. Great gift and won't cost me a thing unless I use itunes. Our 13 year old son love youtube. He learns origami, magic tricks (some great rubber band tricks) and he has been making bows (the archery type) with pvc pipe. He is making a doll rocking chair for his sister for Christmas out of clothespins. My daughter also made her own journal with one of those black and white notebooks (I can't think of what you call them), duct tape sheets (one for the front and one for the back), and then she covered that with more stickers including her name. Make your own DIY kit. I am also making special pillowcases for everyone. You can use their favorite fabric and even add their names to them. This is a great article and I love everyones ideas.

                    Reply
                    1. Staci Dec 2, 2013

                      Love your blog-thank you!
                      I have shunned Nerf guns... the idea of shooting and using a gun, etc.
                      I know my 8 year old son would love it.
                      Any thoughts on how to reconcile in my mind?

                      Reply
                      1. Sarah Dec 2, 2013

                        Staci, That is a very valid question and something that we thought about a lot when we had our first son (and then more sons!). Basically, we allow guns and teach them the right way to handle them at home (I'd rather teach them than someone else). We strive to keep guns in perspective - there have been times that they only want to play that kind of thing, and then we have packed away all weapons for a while (including Nerf swords). The biggest thing to me is that no weapon should be used in anger, and with the Nerf guns especially, it needs to be all in fun. They are not allowed to shoot at another person who doesn't want to play, and I encourage shooting at a target vs. at people. That way, it's more about the skill than the destruction. I wrote a post on some of the attitude issues involved with guns that you might find helpful. https://frugalfun4boys.com/a-few-thoughts-on-boys-and-weapons/

                        Reply
                        1. Natasha Nov 21, 2014

                          If it's not a nerf gun, they will use a stick as a bazooka and pine cones as hand granades!
                          I wouldn't fight it but control it.

                          Reply
                        2. Julie Dec 2, 2013

                          Thanks for the good ideas! I have three boys, and I agree.... I'm not buying any battery operated toys this year! Thanks again! Also, if you get a chance, check out Owlegories - a FREE interactive storybook app for the iPad & iPhone that looks at life and God through the fun and wonderful stories found in nature.

                          Reply
                          1. Lesa Dec 3, 2013

                            I love these ideas, one thing I have done the last couple of years when grandparents have asked what to get my kids (4 boys, 1 girl, ages 5 to 15) is asked for tickets or admission to shows we otherwise couldn't afford. One year we went to a live MythBusters show, another time we went to a Monster Trucks show. We've created memories as a family that the kids still talk about.

                            Reply
                            1. Heather Dec 4, 2013

                              Lol all three of our kids got rolls of clear tape last year for Christmas. It was seriously one of the gifts that they enjoyed the most too...it's the little things!

                              I got a snap circuit set and a rainbow loom for my 7 year old. Blocks and Legos and Playdough are must haves...they work for every age! Another open ended toy that I'd definitely add to the list is a set of MagnaTiles...they're not cheap but EVERY child that plays at our house and most of the parents end up building things out of them. They work for toddlers up to preteens...not too many toys can say that! I ordered another set for the kids to share this Christmas as well. We're also doing iTunes gift cards for all three kids. I try to limit screen time but they get to play iPad for an hour before bed every night, so the gift cards will come in hand for all those in app purchases I veto ;)

                              Reply
                              1. Jackie Oct 19, 2014

                                There are some great ideas here. I'm going to check out some electric circuits for my 8 yr old. A few years ago I put plastic cups in my kids stockings. They were a huge hit. They built towers and made shapes. For a few dollars they had hours of fun.

                                Reply
                                1. Angie Oct 19, 2014

                                  Magazines are great - there are some great ones out there for $20 - 30, and as an added bonus, your child gets mail! When he's done, you can donate to your local preschool for cutting practice or toss in the recycling bin.

                                  Reply
                                  1. Anna Oct 21, 2014

                                    Great thoughts! I love the tape idea- that just may end up in our stockings this year. We are definitely trying to find ways to cut back on the toy clutter this year. We are going to be focusing on books, clothes, and stockings. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this down!

                                    Reply
                                    1. MelanieB Oct 24, 2014

                                      Last year we kept the wrapped gifts from us simple. We wrapped a couple new games and tickets for riding the Metro. Then a couple of days after Christmas we took the children on an outing which included riding the Metro to National Zoo, watching Jerusalem at the IMAX at the Smithsonian, and $20 of money that they could spend however. Amazingly some of the money came home to save towards summer camp and we didn't have as much begging since they each knew how much money they had to spend. A week ago our 10 yo told me he wanted to do something like this again this year for Christmas. We have considered getting tickets for Sight and Sound this year. The children do shop for each other at Dollar Tree.

                                      Reply
                                      1. Kelly Oct 24, 2014

                                        For any birthday party in November and December, I give a gingerbread house kit. Fun but consumable. Works for boys or girls.

                                        Reply
                                        1. Jen Nov 15, 2014

                                          Once I gave my 4 year old son a box of plastic sandwich bags. My mom thought I was crazy, but he loved it! He likes to put stuff in them and carry them around, and I was tired of always running out of bags because he kept using them up. Kids are funny!

                                          Reply
                                          1. Natasha Nov 21, 2014

                                            Duct Tape, Blue tack, a torch and a cardboard box.
                                            This is what they've asked for in their stockings!

                                            Reply
                                            1. Sandra Jan 3, 2015

                                              One of my daughter's most loved gift was a bird feeder along with seed to put in it. We hung it outside her bedroom window so that while lying in her bunk bed she had a "birds eye" veiw. She loved lying there for hours watching the birds come and go feeding from her very own bird feeder.

                                              Reply
                                              1. Krista Nov 3, 2015

                                                I have 4 boys too. I highly recommend the snap circuits. My boys love them.
                                                I also think a real train set is nice. When one of my son's got one, he actually cried.

                                                Reply
                                                1. Patty Nov 3, 2015

                                                  Came across this article on Pinterest and would love to see an updated version. As kids get older it gets a little easier as toys are not the big deal anymore. My kids are very active and live those indoor jump places. So an idea for an experience gift is passes to one of those. We have several near us. Some have indoor zip lining and some have laser tag. I'll be putting some passes in my kids' stockings this year. Best part, I got them complimentary when I booked a birthday party at one of the places!

                                                  Reply
                                                  1. Cindy Ross Nov 8, 2015

                                                    I made the knotted fleece blankets last year for the two little girls I babysit. They loved them! Made Rapunzel for one and cowgirl for the other. They wrap up in them to watch tv and take them to bed. It was a good idea.

                                                    Reply
                                                    1. Barb Nov 9, 2015

                                                      I have to recommend speed stacking cups. My 7 year old LOVES THEM! https://www.speedstacks.com/

                                                      Reply
                                                      1. Sarah Nov 16, 2015

                                                        We have seen those but haven't tried them. Thanks for the tip!

                                                        Reply
                                                      2. Pam Trovato Oct 19, 2016

                                                        This is just right up our alley! I was planning on a lower key Xmas, especially since we just loved and purged our already large supply of non-used toys. You have a bit of guidance to me since I hadn't known where to begin. Thanks!

                                                        Reply
                                                        1. Ellie Oct 19, 2016

                                                          Magna-Tiles or Piccaso Tiles are awesome for all ages.

                                                          Reply
                                                          1. LeeAnna Oct 20, 2016

                                                            I think batteries can be good gifts. My daughter has a leapster explorer and it goes through batteries very quickly. I'm planning to get her a rechargeable option this year. If its something that is already rechargeable like a DS or tablet then car accessories are a good choice.

                                                            Reply
                                                            1. tonja owens Oct 20, 2016

                                                              My father always gives his great grandsons a gift card to Barnes and Noble. They can use it for books and music. Their mom's split it up to use several times during the year, and they both look forward to their time picking out their own books! Also, we have found that our grandson loves the play tape that is designed to look like roads, both asphalt and dirt. They also make railroad tracks now. He will set up road all through the house depending on where we are all gathered. It does not leave residue and removes easily.

                                                              Reply
                                                              1. fehutton Nov 25, 2016

                                                                I found the following 4 gift rule on Facebook recently. I plan to use it for my grandson so that I don't go overboard. "One thing they want, one thing they need, one thing they wear and one thing they read."

                                                                Reply
                                                                1. Teddy Nov 27, 2016

                                                                  Bravo! Great article and good tips! BTW recently I encourage our LO to give to our nieces and relatives and grandma's hand-made gifts. I often need to help because she is only almost 4 y.o. but she is excited to make those: wall art (for ex. collages made for from collected fall leaves and others made by her and framed or birds with someones letter that we make from any kind of card box and colour paper we find in the paper recycle bin); hand-made and painted by her photo frames, small owls from recycled toilet paper rolls, or Christmas tree decorations like snowflakes from salty dough or pasta... etc. The effect is double - she learns to give away and appreciate something custom or hand-made - at the same time I find things for her to do for 1-2 hours everyday when the weather here in The Netherlands is terrible (heavy rain or strong cold wind).

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                                                                  1. Bonnie Loveless Oct 12, 2017

                                                                    We were going through a rough patch and I couldn't afford gifts for all my kids so last year we gave the kids a day to themselves. They had a $60. Limit to do whatever they wanted... Movie, museum, ect and breakfast and lunch of their choice and we drew straws to see who went first. So one in January one in February and one in March. They got to skip school as long as it wasn't a test day or a project wasn't due and spend the day with which ever parent they wanted. It was great. And they want to do it again

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                                                                    1. Cathrine Oct 12, 2018

                                                                      Loved the idea of this but was surprised by the comment - (Girls will like some of these, but this list is pretty boy-heavy as we have four of them!)

                                                                      Reply
                                                                    2. Donna Neace Oct 19, 2018

                                                                      Thanks "Sarah" for your great tips. I really love legos and The Animal book. But I want to get more gift ideas.

                                                                      Reply
                                                                      1. bjk Nov 5, 2018

                                                                        I like my sister's idea for one of the Christmas gifts she is giving her grandkids. She picked up an "Operation Christmas Child" shoebox for each grandchild. She will go shopping with them to get items for the shoebox (I think they have to spend at least SOME of their own money). Then she will take a picture of each child and the filled shoebox. The shoeboxes go off to OCC; the picture is one of the gifts to the grandchild - reminding them about the GIVING part of Christmas.

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