11 Ways to Stop the Holiday Want Monsters and Shift Your Focus

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Honestly, I’ve been feeling heartsick this past week.

My kids want, want, want. Their Christmas lists are pages long. They circle, star and x-mark the catalogs that arrive in the mail. They want, want, want.

And I feel heartsick.

This is not what Jeff and I want for our children, for our family. We have gone off the rails.

And, I don’t blame the kids – they’re just kids being kids.

Part of the problem is that I’ve had sick kids, one with the long-term sickness of mono. She’s had a lot of television time that she doesn’t normally have. And, those commercials. . . well, they work let me tell ya.

Case in point, Jeff asked me about a good vacuum to buy. I didn’t know but my kids knew. Or at least they knew all the various well-advertised brands and their features.

My kids are walking promo spots for brands I never even heard of!

Commercials on TV have contributed to the hijacking of my kids’ minds.

(That and a precedent set by certain relatives who never have respected our request of fewer gifts but that’s another blog post for another day.)

But, I can do something positive right now to make things different. I can stop the commercial brainwashing. I can shift our focus.

I asked you on Facebook for your ideas and they were so helpful, I wanted to share them all together in a blog post. Then I’ll tell you what we’re doing and plan to do.

11 ways to stop the holiday want monsters

I. Focus on Giving to Others

1. Give to Charity.
–> Cynthia Wilder’s family saves money for the Heifer Project and sends flocks of chickens to “hungry people.” Emily Jones family chooses a gift to charity from Church World Service.

2. Give to Other Kids
–> Candice Churchwell shared that her kids’ school gives school supplies and shoes to children on a New Mexico reservation. She wrote, “It gave my kids something to compare it to and be thankful for what they do have and they realized it was well beyond “need” and in the “want” category. Giving to kids is something kids can relate to.

–> Holly Ringle told me about Cwist, an education, community service and outdoor challenge site for kids. Doing the challenges, earns gifts for kids in need! (Love this!)

–> “Not sure about everyone else but my kids always get more than enough birthday presents, so much that we put many away “for a rainy day”. This year they will be making their first donations to our local Toys for Tots programs with at least some of their rainy day gifts,” posted Phyllis Sanfilippo

–> Mary Nell wrote, “We’ve had a tradition of giving away toys to less privileged kids since he was 4 (he’s 7 now), and have gathered whole trash bags full of less-than-played-with stuff.”

–> “It’s definitely been helpful to do Operation Christmas Child. Now, you can track where your box goes online!” posted Hallie Doyle.

–> Have you heard of The Secret Toy Society? Katie Wiig shared this idea. These are toy makers who make toys and leave them as gifts for perfect strangers.

3. Write Giving Lists
–> “Have them write a list of things they might like to see their families, neighbors, teachers, friends or favorite animals get for the holidays,” said Rene’ Crista Jaworski-Kippola.

4. Adopt a Family
–> Giving trees, Salvation Army, and other organizations offer opportunities to help families in need.

5. Give to Active Duty Military.
“We also donate items to military men/women overseas,” said Julie Twining. “We really try to keep the focus on doing for others rather than wanting for ourselves.”

II. Focus on Activities not Things

6. Be Present
–> Jennifer Fischer shared how she used an wrapped box to remind herself to be present with her family.
Gift to be Simple

7. Be Together
–> Jennifer’s family also made a “Santa Bag” that they filled with things they could do together – rather than gifts.

III. Focus on Less Gifts with More Value

8. Adopt the Want/Need/Wear/Read Philosophy of Gifts.

–> Sunshine Crawford shared this letter & that they’re starting this philosophy this year.

9. 4 Gifts +
–> “We are “downsizing” the amount of gifts they receive by only giving them 4 from us (something they want, need, wear, and read), one group gift and stockings from Santa and a name exchange among themselves,” posted Alina Dineen.

–> “I have them give me only three ideas for each category to avoid 15 pages of want lists,” wrote Emily Jones.

10. Homemade Gifts
–> “We have always done a homemade Christmas,” wrote Primrose Yoon. “Our gifts to friends and family are homemade with a spending limit on supplies used to make the gifts.”

IV. Focus on the Christ- part of Christmas

11. Do activities about Jesus’ birth.
–> “For our family, we’ve always tried to emphasize why were celebrating Christmas for us its the birth of Jesus. We focus on community giving and service to others,” wrote Rachel McClain.

. . .

So what are we doing?

We’re going to stop TV watching.

We’ve adopted a single-parent family through a local non-profit. We’ll go shopping for them this weekend.

We’re parring down the gifts.

We’re going to go through the toys and clothes and make bags to give to the consignment store or charity. (Every year I take the kids to the consignment store to shop for each other with the credits we have accumulated — it’s a blast!)

We’re going to think of how we want to feel and make a list of family activities to share together.

But we’ll keep pondering what else we can do — and make sure it’s a family attitude and practice that lasts the entire year.

How about you?

What are you doing to stop the holiday want monsters at your house?


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  1. GREAT post, Melissa! In those moments of being tired, it’s so much easier to just let it all happen to us instead of being intentional! I appreciate knowing that others have grappled with this. Thanks for getting the conversation going and sharing these great ideas!

  2. The power of advertising!!! My 3 year old actually asked if he could have a Sat Nav for Christmas the other day.

    I certainly think emphasising the giving aspect of Christmas is the way forward and they enjoy it too: posting cards, baking biscuits etc. We went to get new shoes today and the shop we go to runs a scheme where they take your children’s old shoes and give them to children who don’t have any. I was very proud to see how willing my son was to give his ones away.

    I’m loving the idea of writing a list of gifts that they think others would like, I’m definitely going to do this one with my son.

  3. Another thing you might want to think about is instead of “gifts” which inevitably are tossed aside after a few weeks (or even days) or grown out of, what about giving the gift of culture and learning? I am a mother of 4, and let me tell you, it gets expensive buying Lego’s and Monster High dolls, so this year, we are going to have the children pick 2 places that they would like a family membership to (a children’s museum, zoo, museum of nature and science or an aquarium) and purchase those instead of a ton of “gifts”. This is a gift that we can use as a family (yeah!! Family time!!) that will get us out of the house and away from the life sucking technology that surrounds us!! With exhibits that change, it is the perfect gift for year round, something to do on rainy days and something that we can discuss!! 🙂

  4. I love this post and know that other families feel the same way. We recently realized our focus on presence, giving (to others) and family time during the holiday season truly works. My husband is taking photos of kids with Santa this weekend asked my 4 year-old son if he wanted to go only to realize that he doesn’t really even have an understanding of who Santa is and that his interests at Christmas are focused on decorations. Something else that helps a lot is that our only TV service for the kids is Netflix – commercial free! I’d love it if you would link this post up to A Season of Giving: 31 Days of Spreading Joy, a wonderful blog hop put together by Kids Stuff World: http://jennifischer.blogspot.com/2013/12/ten-for-givingtuesday-ten-ways-to-kick.html – Thanks again for sharing our thoughts!