Suzanne Tobias

Suzanne Tobias: Four words to limit holiday excess





By now you’ve likely heard about this strategy for simplifying holiday gift-giving.

The idea, popularized by countless parenting blogs, including Simple Kids, is to limit children’s gifts to one item from each of the four categories: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

I loved the concept from the moment I first learned of it a few years ago, on a crafting website where one mom had designed some homemade gift tags for her kids’ presents.

Now it’s a matter of adopting the strategy and finally, dutifully sticking to it.

Like many shoppers at holiday time, I have a difficult time winnowing possibilities. My husband and I talk a good game about the dangers of rampant consumerism, telling our children that less is more and that Christmas isn’t about a mountain of stuff under the tree. But somehow, every year, the mountain reappears. And I realize that the rampant consumer is me.

Not this time.

This year, I’ve told the kids we’re sticking to a plan: Four gifts – one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing to wear, one thing to read. Plus stockings, which is their favorite part of Christmas morning anyway. Plus one new family board game, which is my favorite part. (No one said this couldn’t be flexible.)

And now I broadcast my pledge to all of you.

Hannah and Jack were, predictably, a little unhappy at first. Jack, in particular, balked at the “wear” category, as he’d gladly wear the same jeans and T-shirt every day if we let him. Couldn’t he trade the “wear” for another “want?” Or even another “read?”

Hannah, meanwhile, predicted her “need” would be boring stuff like toothpaste or copy paper. Chuh!

Not necessarily, I explained. Without giving anything away, as I’m certain my children read all these columns (ha!), one of the most appealing parts of this gift-giving strategy is how its limitations spur creativity. It’s the difference between a perfect, delectable four-course meal and the crushing gluttony of a cheap buffet.

The best part, though, is knowing our holiday season won’t involve aimless shopping trips or Black Friday stampedes. By adopting the want-need-wear-read blueprint, gift-giving becomes more thoughtful. The gift-opening, I hope, will be slower-paced and reflective.

We’ll see how this goes.

In any case, I’m hoping the weeks leading up to Christmas will be focused more on memories than merchandise, things we love that don’t cost much, such as baking cookies, decorating the house, singing carols, watching “Elf” and driving in our pajamas to see holiday light displays.

That’s everything I ever want or need.

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