Non-Toy Gifts for the Holiday Season

I have a love-hate relationship with toys. I love seeing the joy and excitement on my kids’ faces when they open up a brand new toy. But I often hate the effect that a mountain of toys has on them.

First there’s the issue of organization. Toys need a place to go, and as a collection grows, so does the need for more space—not to mention more bins and boxes to store everything. Plus, each new toy adds more time just for putting everything away! It doesn’t take very long (or very many kids) for a toy accumulation to overtake a house! Then there’s the issue of missing pieces. If kids don’t put those multi-piece toys away properly, parts go AWOL. The more toys a child has, the likelihood of everything being put away properly decreases. And there’s nothing more frustrating than putting together a puzzle only to find two pieces missing. Lastly, I have to mention the effect of overwhelm. When too many play options are on the table, I’m convinced kids have more fun making a mess by dumping all their toys than they do actually playing with them.

All this isn’t to discredit toys. They can be wonderful, creative and educational ways to open a child’s mind to a wonderful world of play. But too much of a good thing certainly can be a reality. For all these reasons and more, I strongly prefer buying non-toy gifts—and directing family and friends purchasing gifts for my kids to do the same. Thankfully, some fabulous items are out there that are both practical and fun. Kids will still be thrilled to receive them, but you won’t have to worry about finding them unused, unappreciated or in need of donation a few months down the road.

Monogrammed Stationery. What could be more fun than receiving a personalized set of cards and envelopes? Take it up another level by including personalized return address labels and a set of nice pens. My personal favorites are from Sarah + Abraham and Expressionary. P.S. Don’t think this is a girls-only gift idea! My boys love their video game console-shaped card set!

Travel Supplies. Nothing sets a future globetrotter up for success better than good gear of his own! A duffle bag, toiletry kit or high quality backpack can prepare a child for whatever comes, whether it’s an overnight stay at Grandma’s or a cross country vacation. Brownie points: If your child does travel a fair share, consider making special notes and tucking them into his luggage to be discovered while he is away.

Picture Perfect Mementos. Grandma and Grandpa aren’t the only ones who appreciate photobooks of the kids. Share the love by making a scrapbook to give your child. Digital scrapbooking retailers abound, but don’t underestimate the power of simply placing 4x6 photographs in an acid-free album along with a few personal notes about the memories included. Don’t have the time to make a whole album? Consider making a photo blanket or a photo mug. After all, coffee drinkers aren’t the only ones to enjoy the gift of a good mug! Personalized mugs make great designated water cups for each child and are great vessels out of which to eat cereal or ice cream!

Bedroom Upgrades. As a kid, I loved the prospect of upgrading my room. My kids are no different. Bed sheets, soft minky blankets, weighted blankets, curtains and wall art have all been welcome gifts. And remember, a room renovation doesn’t have to be expensive. Little touches like decorative finials, wall decals, curtain pull-backs or floating shelves can take a room from drab to fab! Looking for function more than fashion? Consider getting a portable fan, sound machine, book light, night light, essential oil diffuser or bunk bed lamp.

Time Management Tools. A wristwatch seems like a really grown-up gift for little ones, but it can be practical as they’re learning to tell time. And fashionable watches make great gifts for the older kiddos on your list, too. A fun alarm clock that signals when to still stay in bed (hello, toddlers!) and when to get out of it (hello, teenagers!) can make time management more enjoyable.

Money Management Tools.  Long gone are the days when a piggy bank is just porcine-shaped. Find a character bank or, better yet, look for one with allocations for saving, giving and spending, like a Moonjar. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Jr. kit is made with kids in mind, teaching them tools for how to win with money. And don’t underestimate the importance of a good wallet or coin purse.

A Monogrammed Towel or Beach Towel. Fluffy, personalized terry is a great idea for keeping track of towels on vacation or while away at summer camp.

Bedtime Apparel. New pajamas, socks, slippers or a bathrobe can make the bedtime routine more fun.

Tunes and Talk.  A portable CD player, audiobooks and Audible or Spotify subscriptions make for great gifts—just don’t forget the headphones to go with them!

Membership. Oftentimes, the best gifts are memories. Memberships make financial sense (often saving money after a second visit), but also provide the opportunity for in-depth exploration at each attraction. For a comprehensive listing, see our guide.

Classes. Give the gift of opportunity. Art or music lessons, dance classes, gymnastics or ninja warrior courses are a great way for kids to try their hand at a new endeavor.

Sporting Equipment. Consider giving your budding athlete new cleats, rackets, Dri-Fit activewear, leotards or dance shoes.

Seasonal/Outdoor Gifts. Sleds, snowsuits, gloves, scarves and snow boots supply hours of winter fun. A slackline, bike or scooter (such as a Ripstik or Razor), or croquet set can be enjoyed in spring or fall. Goggles, chalk and bubbles make for delightful summer fun.

Camping Gear. Consider purchasing a hammock, headlamps, flashlights, a tent, lawn chairs, hiking boots, sleeping bags and compass, then hit the trail as a family!

Magazine Subscriptions. When you’re a kid, getting mail is exciting. Consider a subscription to National Geographic Kids, Ranger Rick, American Girl or, my boys’ personal favorite, Lego Club (it’s free!).

Monthly Kits. If there’s anything more exciting than getting mail as a kid, it’s receiving a package! Monthly kits such as Little Passports and Kiwi Crate deliver themed activities that can educate and entertain a child for a year and beyond.


Local Experiences Make Great Gifts

For more non-traditional gift ideas, consider these ideas that won’t clutter up your home, but also help you to shop local!


Show Tickets

The hills are alive! The beloved musical story of Maria and the von Trapp family will once again thrill audiences with its Tony, Grammy and Academy Award-winning best score, including “My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi.” As part of the Sabates Eye Centers Kansas City Broadway Series, the American Theatre Guild brings this family favorite to the Kauffman Performing Arts Center, Jan. 15-20. Tickets make the perfect holiday gift for family and friends! Purchase today at


The Gift of Kamp 

This Christmas, give your child the gift of confidence, strong character and lifelong friendships! Kanakuk is a premier summer camp outside of Branson, MO, for boys and girls ages 6-18. More than 70 activities, sports and themed parties provide age-appropriate, fun, safe experiences to help Kampers grow spiritually, physically, emotionally and socially. Learn more about customizing your child's experience at


Dining Out

Gift certificates to a favorite restaurant are sure to be a hit—and give Mom a much needed night off from cooking! Charleston’s restaurant has a wide variety of items the entire family will enjoy. Red Robin’s burgers and endless fries satisfy the largest of appetites! Can’t decide on just one place? A gift certificate to a shopping mall like Legends Outlets lets the receiver choose the restaurant. 


Season Pass

Give the gift of time together with a season pass to a favorite local attraction. A Kansas City Zoo Friends of the Zoo membership not only offers admission to the zoo but includes additional fun events throughout the year. A pass to Union Station includes not only admission, but member extras as well. A gold pass to Worlds of Fun includes admission and parking. By gifting a pass, you’ll ensure fun throughout the year.


Give Mercy 

Children’s Mercy is a nonprofit hospital that relies on the generosity of donors, volunteers and supporters. Every gift you make to Children’s Mercy not only helps bring hope and comfort to the children and families today, but also ensures, through pediatric research, the advancing treatment of children tomorrow. Whether through donating goods, volunteering or shopping for a cause, a gift to Children’s Mercy in a recipient’s honor makes a cherished gift. Details at

Lauren Greenlee is a freelance writer, boy mom and aspiring minimalist residing in Olathe.


Find MORE ideas with our guide to Experience Gifts in KC!

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