Guest blog by Sophi, Toronto based Mom striving towards a zero waste lifestyle.

Why do we have the notion that having kids means having more stuff?

Culturally, not showing up to the party with a physical gift is going against social norms.

It’s a touchy subject.

So how can we demonstrate our gratitude yet be mindful of the potential excesses of physical gift giving?

receive less gifts

I started by limiting the number of gifts and toys at home

For instance, British research found that: 

Ten-year-olds have £7,000 worth of toys but play with just £330

Average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily.

When children have limited toys ‘they develop longer attention spans, take better care of their possessions and grow more resourceful’ says minimalist writer James Becker, a father of two.

Shortly after I set limits to our 3-year-old daughter’s toys, I was impressed at how quickly she adapted. She has those “Little People’ toys which she adores. My girlfriend came over with her kids one day and brought two ‘Little People’ who she thought belonged to my daughter, Nyla. I knew they weren’t hers but was surprised when my friend showed them to Nyla she wasn’t interested. She said, ‘No, they’re not mine’. My friend said, ‘Oh well, you can have them’. And to my delight, she said ‘No thank you. I don’t need them’. I thought OMG it’s working!

Isabel Foo Illustration

Here is how I’ve reduced the things in our home as well as handling gifts from family and friends

Setting the Rules:

  1. Set a limit of toys, stuffed animals, books, clothing etc…
  2. One item comes in, one goes out. Have a designated spot with a box for donations. Before something can come home Nyla has to tell us which item at home will be given away and she puts it in the donation box when we get home.
  3. Put things away before moving on to the next activity. When they don’t have a lot of toys, clean-up is easy peasy.
  4. Tell friends and family your preference for an experience or consumable gifts otherwise the gift may be donated. 

I often include a brief message of gift preferences on our invites. I personally like receiving these invitations as it takes the guesswork out.  It has resulted in 50-70% of people sticking to the request. One day we’ll reach 100% I’m sure of it!

The more specific we are with our preferences the better. Here’s an example of a message I’ve used:

In lieu of a physical gift, Nyla would love to ‘Sponsor a Wild Baby’ from the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

No more than $10 please.

receive less gifts

  • Share articles like this and The Story of Stuff will help generate  conversation around the gifting topic

  • Have an open conversation with friends and family of what you’re trying to achieve. 

For instance, Waste Reduction Week in Canada is October 16th – 22nd. I’m going to use this as a way to discuss our efforts in reducing stuff with friends and family. It’s perfect timing before holidays like Halloween and Christmas. Having an official week behind us should help make the conversation more approachable.

I’m still working on this myself. We Canadians are just too darn polite for our own good!

Next – Read How I reduced the number of physical gifts I give, borrow vs owning toys and meaningful gift ideas for loot bags  – How to give less stuff & mindful gift ideas

More about Sophi:

I’m a 38-year-old Massage Therapist of 14 years, wife and mother to a quirky little girl. My husband and I have been married for over 10 years. He’s Irish and can get away with anything with that accent! We’ve been striving for a zero waste lifestyle since 2016. Facts about disposable coffee cups are what threw me into action, even though I’m not a coffee drinker. I needed to make this place better for our daughter. I’m also the Zero Waste Events Manager for the Toronto Tool Library. You can follow my zero waste adventures on Instagram @YourEcoFriend


Also published on Medium.