Inside: Want to give a clutter-free gift this year? Choose from this list of minimalist gifts for kids, which includes experiences, consumable items, and long-lasting, open-ended toys.
My four-year-old recently got the chance to ride in not one, but TWO ride-on electric cars in the same week. The ones that cost anywhere from $350 to $500 brand new – YIKES.
Did she have a blast? Absolutely.
And I’m sure you can guess what she’s been begging for repeatedly since then. Yep: a ride-on electric car.
Thankfully after three weeks, the hype seems to have died down, and she’s stopped asking. We resisted, and no, she’s not getting one for Christmas (no judgment if that’s a gift you choose to give).
But it made me think again about toy consumption in the US. Rub your eyeballs and get ready for some shocking numbers.
Americans spent $29.2 billion dollars on toys in 2022. Yes, you read that right: BILLION.
And that number is only going up! Toy spending was at $22 billion dollars in 2019.
That’s a staggering amount of money, especially when you learn that, “80 percent of toys end up in a landfill, incinerators or the ocean while 90 percent are made of plastic and are used for just six months on average” (source).
This last statistic hit me the hardest of all: “Children in the U.S. make up 3.1% of the world’s kid population, but U.S. families buy more than 40% of the toys purchased globally” (source).
The numbers don’t lie: Americans are a BIG part of the toy consumption problem. As a culture, we need to start raising children more sustainably – the world quite literally depends on it.
Giving fewer, more intentional, minimalist gifts to kids on birthdays and holidays is one way to do that.
What About the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” Gift Rule?
This gift rule has soared in popularity, especially around the Christmas holidays. Some parents also apply it to birthday gifts.
So what do I think of it as a minimalist?
Let’s start with the positive: I love that it’s helping parents focus and limit their gift-giving. It can be a great stepping stone to help families transition to a minimalist Christmas and/or simpler birthdays.
I’ve also seen a lot of creativity in the gift-giving – mostly from my friend Mary who adores the “want, need, wear, read” rule and makes the most of it.
But after your kids (and maybe you) have adjusted to Christmases and birthdays with less stuff, I would recommend deviating from OR abandoning this rule altogether.
Because even with just four gifts, some might not make sense for your unique situation, depending on the kid or the year.
It would be silly, for example, to give books to most of our kids because we use the library almost exclusively and some of them only listen to audiobooks.
Bottom line: this rule might be a great Christmas tradition for your family. Just make sure you’re being intentional with your giving and not just buying unnecessary stuff to fit a random rule.
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Top 27 Minimalist Gifts for Kids
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These are my favorite minimalist gifts for kids: a mix of experiences (both traditional and non-traditional), consumables, and open-ended toys.
All of them are gifts my own kids have enjoyed over the years.
If your kids are used to non-minimalist gifts – and plenty of them – make sure to talk about the whys behind this shift in gift-giving.
It might be climate change, sustainable living, or saving money for other family goals, like a second family vehicle.
Whatever your reasons, kids do SO much better when they know the why behind the change.
For the physical gifts, shopping on eBay or at thrift stores can be one small way to live more sustainably and save money, too, making that birthday or Christmas budget stretch further.
1. Aquarium, Zoo or Museum Membership
My kids LOVE the aquarium and the zoo. They also enjoy children’s and science museums.
And this gift keeps on giving all year long.
Do your research on reciprocity before you buy, so you can get the most for your money.
There are some memberships far away from your location, obscure museums in the US where you can get 100% reciprocity with zoos/aquariums/museums near you.
2. Book Store Gift Card
If your kids DO love to read physical books, getting them a book store gift card can be a great gift, instead of giving them books you’ve picked out.
Plus, you get an additional experience out of it when you go to the store to shop for books.
3. Movie Tickets
Last week, I read that not as many families are going to the movies, possibly because of streaming services like Disney Plus?
In our house, going to the movies is still a super fun and special event! We probably go every other month, depending on new releases.
(On $5 Tuesdays, of course: with five kids, we’re not made of money over here.)
4. Art Supplies
All of my kids have dipped their toes into the world of art at one time or another.
For some, it was passing phase. For others, art became a passion. But they all used art supplies for a year or more.
Across five kids, sharpies, acrylic paints (in tubes or in markers) and dot markers have gotten the most use. Don’t forget multi-media paper to go with your medium of choice!
Want a digital option for less waste? My oldest kids love using ProCreate on the iPad with an Apple Pencil.
5. Trampoline Park Membership
We tried a trampoline park membership last winter, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it saved us.
Winters can be long and ROUGH. Try giving a membership to help you all get through it with your sanity intact!
6. Amusement Park Passes
If you’re giving at a time of year when you can use amusement park passes (probably not Christmas, but maybe where you live?), these can make great gifts!
Amusement parks near us, for example, over summer passes where you can go any time.
7. Board Game or Card Game
We love playing board games in our house! They are a great way to connect with your kids and open up the doors for more connection and conversation.
Do they take up space in your home? Yes. Are they experience gifts on a budget? Also, yes.
Love quick, family games that don’t require a lot of brain power? Try Uno, Quixx or Code Names.
Maybe you have older kids and strategy games are more your style? Our favorites are WingSpan and Settlers of Cataan.
Same idea as board games – puzzles are experience gifts that can keep on giving. They are also super easy to give away or swap with other families who love puzzles.
One winter, my three-year-old did the same five puzzles again and again and again.
My oldest has gone through several puzzle phases, doing all the puzzles from our collection over the course of several days.
We love puzzles from THIS company. They hold up well over time.
You could even purchase puzzles from thrift stores! Just make sure to count the pieces before you leave the store: there’s nothing worse than a puzzle with ONE missing piece.
9. Needed/Wanted Clothing Items
If you have kids who are into nice clothes – or clothes, in general – giving a needed or wanted clothing item can be a great minimalist gift.
Even if they’re not that into clothes, maybe they love a specific movie or tv show or book. You could give a t-shirt connected to that interest.
Last year for Christmas, we gave one of our kids a t-shirt with a favorite tv show character on it, and it was by far his most used and loved gift. And he doesn’t care that much about clothes!
10. Blank Notebook(s)
Blank notebooks are popular gifts in our house.
They’re perfect to take in the car to keep younger kids busy drawing on longer trips. Older kids might use them for journaling, doodling or list-making.
We usually pair this gift with sharpies.
Of all the toys we’ve purchased over the years, we’ve gotten the most out of LEGO.
We were given a large collection of Duplos years ago that all the kids have enjoyed up until age 6 or 7.
After that, we were given a large collection of LEGO, and we’ve continued to add to it over the years, depending on our kids’ interests.
If you have more creative kids who don’t like to be bound to specific sets, give them a big box of creative bricks with a set of LEGO people and a platform.
If you have kids who enjoy building sets step by step over and over again, buy sets related to their interests. These can eventually be broken down and stored with their instructions to be done again, kind of like puzzles.
12. Magna Tiles
A close second to LEGO, Magna Tiles is the one minimalist toy I would buy over again in a heartbeat.
They can be used so many different ways! My kids have used them with figurines or LEGO people, to build towers to the ceiling and to set up tracks for matchbox cars.
We don’t have experience with brands other than the original Magnatiles, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend other brands except that one.
Over the years, there have been times when we purchased storebought playdough (I was too tired to make it from scratch).
Other times, we’ve made our own using THIS recipe.
This could make a great DIY gift! If you use natural dyes for playdough, you can even compost it when you’re done using it.
Give with playdough tools, or just repurpose your rolling pin and cookie cutters for an even more clutter-free option.
14. Kinetic Sand
Personally, I prefer playing with kinetic sand compared to playdough. There’s something so therapeutic about working with kinetic sand!
(As a parent who doesn’t love to play, this is something I actually enjoy playing with my kids.)
If you’re giving this as a grandparent or relative, give a few packs of kinetic sand with a large plastic container with a lid for storage, plus a few tools, just like playdough.
The best part: if it dries out, you can simply spray some water on your kinetic sand to bring it back to life. Unlike playdough, it can last for years.
15. iTunes Gift Card
Are you shopping for an older child who wants to buy music or specific digital tv show episodes? An iTunes gift card can make a great gift.
If you have a BJ’s or Costco membership, you can usually buy them there at a discount.
For parents wanting to hold off on getting their kids a smart phone, smart watches can be a great alternative!
According to the New York Times, “a smartwatch lets you talk and text with your child, as well as track their location and manage who they communicate with.”
If you’re not quite there yet, but your child loves listening to music, an MP3 player is a great alternative.
Make sure to get them a pair of affordable bluetooth earbuds (we love THESE) to go with it.
17. Digital Camera
Another pseudo-experience gift because kids love taking pictures! If you’re not comfortable with them using your expensive camera, get them their own digital camera for kids.
(Bonus: your phone will stay clear of randomness.)
For older kids taking better photos, you might consider a polaroid camera. Just keep in mind purchasing more polaroids can be expensive.
18. Outdoor Toy
Here are some of the ride-on toys that have gotten the most use in our home:
- Razor Scooters
- Balance Bikes
They get kids outside, and that’s definitely worth investing in (just not electric cars).
19. Book Light, Lantern, or Flash Light
Kids adore lanterns, book lights, flash lights.
Anything portable with a light, they dig it!
These can be used in hide and seek, in forts, and at bedtime. Plus, they double-up as a great back-up light source for power outages (you should have one per bedroom, at least).
20. Special Sweet Treat
Consumable gift for the win! Pick any favorite sweet treat, especially something they don’t get all the time, and pair it with a physical gift.
Think things like rock candy, candy necklaces, or fudge.
If candy isn’t something you buy regularly for your kids, then just about any favorite candy will do!
21. Sprinkler or Trampoline
If you’re giving in the spring or summer, or if you live in a climate with year round warm weather, a sprinkler for outdoor water play makes a great “experience” gift that keeps on giving.
They’re small, relatively inexpensive and easy to store compared to big and bulky pools or water slides. Just be mindful of turning off the water when they’re done using it.
While it’s definitely the pricier choice, an outdoor trampoline has been by far one of the most used gifts our family has ever received. My kids used it daily for years!
You can also replace various parts separately over time as they wear out.
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22. Chalk (Indoor or Outdoor)
We love chalk in our house! Again, anything consumable makes for a great gift.
Bath chalk can be great for long winters to extend bathtime – a.k.a. Playtime – just a little bit longer. Outdoor chalk makes a great spring/summer/fall gift.
Try painting a chalk wall in your house for year round, all weather chalk fun!
23. Audible Membership
Two of my five kids adore audiobooks. We use the heck out of the library, but sometimes the wait for certain titles is really long.
Especially if you have a child who enjoys listening to the same books over and over again, Audible can be a good investment.
24. One-Time Experience Gift
Think things like…
- a horse-back riding experience
- Disney’s Frozen on Ice
- a hot air balloon ride, or
- an escape room.
What you choose will be unique to the kid you’re buying for. Any one-time experience gift that would make your kid light up would make a great minimalist gift!
You Might Also Like: 30 Experience Gifts for Mom (Because She Doesn’t Need Another Mug)
25. Hobby-Related Gift
Are they really into star-gazing right now? Get them a telescope.
Are they obsessed with rock-collecting and polishing? A new, high quality rock tumbler would make a great gift.
Do they love drawing? Give them any of THESE gifts for sketch artists.
One Caveat: don’t buy these kinds of gifts far ahead of the gift-giving date! Children’s hobbies can change quickly (ask me how I know).
Have they been begging for piano lessons or horse-back riding lessons?
Lessons are a great gift that keeps on giving for weeks after it’s been given.
They love to read – yay! But you can only fit so many physical books in a small space.
Or maybe you travel frequently or live permanently on the road (the RV life is so popular these days!).
A kindle is a great way to give them access to whatever they want to read – from the library or by purchasing ebooks from the vendor of your choice, which are often much cheaper than physical books.
THIS paperwhite kindle comes with a built in booklight!
28. New Bedding
Bedding wears out over time. Kids grow out of childish blankets.
We’ve given new husband pillows, new pillows, and new duvet covers/inserts over the years, and my kids have been thrilled!
Something on Their Wish List Might Be the Perfect Minimalist Gift (Even If You Think It’s Clutter)
Finally, have they been asking for something repeatedly all year leading up to their birthday or Christmas?
That gift idea might be clutter to you, but to them? It might not be clutter.
Especially if they’ve been asking for it for a long time, consider giving them their top wish list item.
If you hate stuffed animals, but those are your child’s love language, one more on their birthday or for Christmas probably isn’t going to kill the planet or derail your minimalist lifestyle (they can be washed: HALLELUJAH).
Obviously, use your parental judgment here.
If I know the requested item will break easily and end up in the trash the next day or is way out of our price range, I gently steer them in a different direction.
But something like a new stethoscope because she loves playing doctor? That’s a “heck yes” in my book (plus it’s less than $10 – #winning).