2020 Holiday Gift Guide

This gift guide isn't meant to literally click and buy (although I've included links for ideas). Instead, it is intended to make you think differently about gifting. Our kids may grow out of their toys, but they won't grow out of spending quality time together as a family. 

If we want to stay focused on what matters most around the holidays, then we need to consider the way we are gifting. Our kids can easily be distracted by the piles of wrapped gifts. There’s a whole lot of dopamine and anticipation build up to those gifts. And that can be distracting if we are trying to focus on the real gifts of the season--family, community, and religion.

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This post contains affiliate links, which means Simple Families may receive a portion of the proceeds from your orders. 

  1. Kayak or Kayak Outing
  2. Snow Shoes Little Kid Snow Shoes/Big Kid Snow Shoes/Adult Snow Shoes
  3. High-Quality Base Layers (Smartwool) Kid Socks/Kid Tops/Kid Bottoms/Adult Socks/Adult Top/Adult Bottoms
  4. Bike gear Tag-a-long/Child-Adult Tandem /Bike Bag
  5. Birding Starter Kit Squirrel Buster/Seed Tray/Regional Bird Book
  6. Mochi-making Kit
  7. Tortilla Press (Handmade in Mexico) + Maseca (get at your local grocer)
  8. SnackCrate
  9. Mexican Hot Chocolate Kit (Handmade in Mexico)
  10. Fortune Cookie Kit
  11. Pucket
  12. HABA Orchard Game
  13. Wonder Women Bingo
  14. Family Scavenger Hunt
  15. Rollet Ricochet game
  16. Year Cheer (10% off)
  17. Worm Farm
  18. The Week Junior
  19. See-Through Compost Container
  20. Flower Press
  21. Rock Tumbler
  22. Masterclass

Today, I am bringing you my annual holiday gift guide. And this guide isn't meant to be a literal click and buy. Instead, it's intended to make you think differently about gifting. Our kids may grow out of their toys, but they won't grow out of spending quality time together. As a family, I'll start by talking a little bit about my own gift, giving philosophy within my family. And then I'll go into the list. This year. I have 22 gift ideas that will help bring the family together. Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of simple families. Simple families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based on my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based on research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

I want to thank Joy Spring vitamins for sponsoring this episode among other things, Joy Spring offers liquid formulas, and I will tell you that my kids love them. This liquid provide sugar-free support through herbal extracts and they use a simple liquid dropper. The focus of joy spring is on providing natural support for your kids. They offer a variety of bundles, including an immunity, bundle a vitamin boost bundle, a relaxing sleep bundle, but also plenty of other remedies to protect our kids from those common colds hanging around during winter, as well as options to help out with sleep and a variety of other health and wellness elements go to joyspringvitamins.com to check out their whole product line. You can use the code "simple families" to get 20% off. Again, go to joyspringvitamins.com and use the code "simple families" to get 20% off. I hope your family loves Joy Spring. As much as mine has.

All right, the holiday season is unofficially underway, and I know that many of you look forward to the holiday gift guide that I put out every year. The first couple of years, I started with a more traditional toy guide. But last year I started to shift my focus to a list of gifts that bring the whole family together because I really believe that if we want to stay focused on what matters most around the holidays, we need to consider the way that we're gifting. First and foremost, we have to decide what we want our kids to value around the holiday season. Is it the religious aspect of the holiday? Is that the precious time spent with family or is it the gifts and the accumulation of stuff? Now, most of you are going to say, yes, I want my kids to focus on the real reason for the season. Maybe it's religion or family time, whatever it is, but the way that you're gifting might actually make it hard for your kids to see those truly important elements of the holiday season because the truth is our kids and us as adults even are easily distracted by the piles of wrapped gifts.

There's so much dopamine and anticipation buildup when they see that pile of presence. And that can be distracting. All of the list-making, the circling of all the toys and all of the catalogs that come in the mail, the letters to Santa, the constant discussion about the stuff, all of this very commonly leads up to the holiday season. My family is included in that, and I do think that we can make space for it. We could make space for excitement. We can make space for fun stuff, but that excitement and fun stuff doesn't have to be just limited to toys.

My kids, both. I still believe in Santa Claus, we celebrate Christmas in our house and they ask Santa for one thing. So each year they narrow it down because they know that Santa is only bringing one thing and that thing can be whatever of their choosing. This year my daughter is asking for a jury box with a ballerina in it, and my son is asking for the newest test truck. So they get one gift from Santa and then one gift from us as parents and the grandparents give a gift as well.

But I've made a very intentional effort not to make the accumulation of stuff a big part of our tradition. I don't initiate a lot of conversation around what Santa is bringing. I don't initiate a lot of conversation around what they want. I don't take them to see Santa multiple times. We go out and we see holiday decor and shows and enjoy the scenery.

And we have seen Santa before, but it's definitely not a requirement. If you'd like to see a shift in the way that your kids are anticipating the holiday season this year, and you want to get away from all of the accumulation of stuff, you can, you can make the hard decision to scale back. And when you scale back on the quantity of stuff that you're giving, you're making time and space for your family to focus their energy and efforts on the real reason for the season, whatever that might be for you.

Let's talk for a minute about front-loading versus back- loading the presence. When we front-load the presence, we buy things that are going to light our kids up. They are going to be so excited to unwrap these things. Now that excitement might fade after an hour or a day, I call it front-loading because all of the joy really comes right up front, right at the beginning when they open it, when we backload presence, our kids might not be so overjoyed and enthusiastic when they open them. But the value of this presence shows itself over time.

Now to use a toy example, let's say you bought your kid, the newest transformer. They're going to be super excited about that transformer for a little while. And then it's going to get thrown into the stack with all the other transformers. And basically, the newness will wear off. It will be replaced by something similar but more novel. And although it will be played with, from time to time, it might just become one of many toys that rarely get used. But the enthusiasm that came when your child opened that gift, that was a precious moment. And that's what you see in front-loaded gifts like this.

Now I'm not saying you should never front-load the gifts by any means. I'm all about bringing joy for our, but I prefer to backload the gifts that means instead of the Transformer, that's going to light them up and make them so excited. I might get them a set of wooden blocks, a set of wooden blocks that they can use in a million different ways, creative, lovely for years to come set of wooden blocks, that then can be passed on to another family after they leave ours. Something like this, the value isn't so obvious on the front end, when they're first opened, But it will start to come out over the course of weeks and months.

Now a lot of people think that the only way to give presence as a minimalist is to do experiences. So maybe you're giving tickets to the zoo or to a concert. So I've had an abundance of people saying, what are we supposed to do this year with COVID we can't really give experiences because we have no idea if we're actually going to be able to cash in on those and use them.

Now I am a big fan of experience gifts, but I'm actually even a bigger fan of experiential gifts. I'm okay, buying stuff for my kids, but really trying to focus on buying things that make memories, rather than focusing on the actual opening of the gift as the memory, I have amazing memories of Christmas mornings growing up. I grew up in a world-class family, and my parents saved all year for Christmas. It was a really big deal. And I have beautiful memories of those mornings, but with my own kids, I want to gift them things that go beyond that Christmas morning memory that goes beyond that burst of dopamine that they get when they first open it.

I want to gift my family, things that make memories. I don't want the unwrapping to be the memory. If that makes sense. Now, sometimes we're lucky enough to do both to have gifts that are both front-loaded and back-loaded, but often it's very hard to find that balance. And if you can't find that balance, that's okay. I think it's all right to do a little bit of both. So this year in the spirit of COVID where we aren't exactly able to go out and give experiences that we want to give right now, we're focusing on experiential Presence. These are gifts that foster relationships, things that our whole family can enjoy together.

So I have a handful of ideas for you. They're not meant to be taken. Literally, they're meant to be used as inspiration for you to go out and find things that your family will love. But I've separated these into four categories, adventure, eating, playing, and learning. If you go to simplefamilies.com/2020list, you'll find links to all the things that I'm talking about today. And some of these things are affiliate links, which means if you click on them before you buy Simple families gets a portion of the proceeds. Now I chose these four categories, adventure, eating, playing, and learning because I know that these things are all very special to me and my family. And I know from feedback from all of you, that these things are important To you as well.

So let's start off with an adventure. Now we can still take adventures and go on adventures even with COVID we're in New York. So moving into the colder weather season here, one of the things that made my list was high-quality base layers, base layers are the clothes that you wear under your clothes to be outside for longer periods of time in the cold.

Now we're probably going to be outside more this winter let's hope because a lot of our activities are going to have to be outdoors in order to make them safe. For example, I'm planning an outdoor holiday birthday party for my son over the holidays.

If we're going to be outside, we're going to have to be comfortable in base layers can play a huge role in this personally, I love smart wool. I've included a couple of links to different Smart Wool products, but Smart Wool is not cheap. So if you're going to buy it and you're going to splurge, focus on getting it for the adults, because we all know,

Know that when it comes to being outside for long periods of time, usually it's the adults that get cold and want to go inside. So make sure that the adults in your family are well equipped with base layers. But it's going to help your kids as well. Especially if you have a kid that doesn't tolerate the cold well. Now base layers are going to be important for some of the other activities that I'm about to talk about, including biking. Our big family investment this year in lieu of a vacation is going to be buying like touring equipment.

This has been a lifelong dream of mine to have a tandem bike that I ride with my kids and perhaps even my husband as well. My husband is a very avid biker and I can not keep up with him, but with a tandem, I can come along for the ride. He's not in full agreement with this yet. But he'll come around. Right? So we have recently purchased an adult child tandem bike for the adult rides on the front and the child rides on the back and the backseat actually converts. So an adult can ride on the back too. So our kids virtually cannot grow out of this, which means I'll be forcing my kids onto tandem bike rides well into their teen years, probably into college as well.

And our goal is starting as soon as possible. Hopefully even during the winter with those base layers, we're going to start doing longer range, bike trips, and we'll even investing in some bike, camping gear so we can carry lightweight camping supplies on our bikes and bike. A little camp, a little bike, a little camp, a little I've been thinking about how travel is going to change as my kids grow. Since they're past the age of being able to ride around in a stroller, taking naps.

And I think it's going to involve being much more active in biking is such a fun way to cover a lot of ground and see a lot while being active and technology free. Let's be honest, you can not be on an iPad while you're on a bike. Therefore you're going to see and absorb a lot more than you would on a road trip. My husband thinks I am super idealistic about all this taking a four and six-year-old on a multi-day bike trip. And there may be some truth to that. So I'll report back next year.

But in the meantime, that's our big investment for this year. So instead of saving up money all year and allocating it for Christmas gifts, much rather focus on allocating it towards experiential items that our family can use to make memories together. Now, if you asked my kids if they wanted a tandem bike versus a new transformer, my kid is definitely going to tell you a new transformer. But as the adult who really understands this purchase, I'm looking bigger than just that moment of excitement. When you're getting something new, I'm looking bigger at making memories that are going to last a lifetime with my family.

And sometimes kids don't quite understand that right from the get-go because just like adults, they can be distracted by new and shiny and exciting things. So a couple of other things that made my list in the adventure category were kayaks or kayak rentals and lessons, definitely something that's easy to social distance, and you don't have to buy it.

You can absolutely rent Kayaks. You can even in most places rent a series of kayak rentals. So maybe you buy a package of six rentals for a year that will encourage your family to get out multiple times and perhaps even make a hobby of it or maybe not. Another adventuring item I put on here with snow shoes. We first snowshoed with our son when he was three, I put in some links for the little kits, no shoes that we have. If you're not familiar with snowshoeing, it's basically hiking in the winter. You can usually use the same trails as you do when you're hiking, but you're just walking on top of the snow rather than sinking down into it.

And lastly, in my adventure category, I put birding because we are semi-amateur birders and it's such a great family activity and gifting this around the holidays. We'll allow you to get it set up and ready for spring. When getting started with birding, I would suggest doing two different kinds of bird feeders and a hyper-local birding book. We have birds of New York field guide, and I find that it's much, much easier to identify birds when I have this book that is very specific to my location.

We also have a bird book that has all of the birds of North America and if I see a bird at my feeder, it's much harder to flip through that book and identify it as opposed to the smaller book that's limited to just the New York birds. So I definitely recommend a hyper-local bird book here in the US you can easily find it State-by-state and I put a link to the series of the ones that I like at simplefamilies.com/2020list. So, if you don't know anything about birding, there are different types of feeders that cater to different types of birds. You could start with a basic squirrel proof, tubular-shaped feeder, but also doing a tray.

A flat type feeder is helpful as well because some birds are attracted to flying landing and eating right on the feeders and others like it. When the bird seed gets kicked on the ground and they eat almost exclusively off the ground. So, if you have a couple of different types of feeders, you're going to get more variation in birds. Now don't go crazy. I just start with two. I put the links to two in there.

Moving on to the eat category. I found a lot of inspiration in this category on uncommongoods.com, which is a great website. It's a B corporation. They do a lot of work with sustainability and working with small artisans. They had a few really fun ideas for cooking together with family. So, one that I really liked was a mochi ice cream Kit. My kids are obsessed with mochi, and I think they would really get a kick out of making it together.

Another is a Mexican hot chocolate kit. Three years ago, we took a family trip to Wahaca, Mexico, and fell in love with Wahaca and hot chocolate. And this kit is particularly beautiful and includes some authentic Mexican chocolate. I also loved the fortune cookie kit, which I think my emerging writer would really enjoy writing some messages to put inside the cookies, to pass out to friends and family.

Another thing my kids love to do together with us in the kitchen is making tortillas. So I included a tortilla press and a bag of Maseca making corn tortillas fresh at home is one of the easiest and most delicious things that you can do with your kids. It's literally just Maseca, which is corn flour and water and then they are smashed down in the tortilla press and they're cooked so easy, delicious, and your kids are going to love it. The last thing, yeah.

In this eat category is the snack crate. Now I haven't tried this myself, but it's a subscription box that each month they send you a box of snacks from a different country. So one month you'll get a box of snacks from India and another one, you'll get a box of snacks from Japan. Now I haven't tried this, but I think we might because my husband loves trying new snacks. And I can see us all sitting down together as a family and going through trying these snacks and talking about the country of origin and learning a little bit more in the process.

All right, moving on to the play category. Now I am a strong believer in the fact that if you're going to play games with your kids, that it should be games that you enjoy too. I finally decided to throw away Chutes and Ladders because playing Chutes and Ladders made me basically want to shoot myself from the foot. I really don't enjoy some kids' games. So what if we can find games that we enjoy as adults too, we're going to be more likely to play them more often and more likely to engage with our kids more often.

So I picked a handful of games here. One is called Pucket where you're flicking a puck back and forth. It's a beautiful wooden game. Another is called the orchard game, which has been around for years and years. Also a beautiful wooden game. That's suitable for kids as young as two or three. I've also included the Family Scavenger Hunt, which we Have. It's really cool because it includes four decks of cards, two for adults. And two for kids.

The adult decks are one for inside or one for outside. The kid's decks are one for inside. And one for outside the adult decks are a bit more and the kids' decks are a little bit easier, so everyone can stay engaged. These are fun for the coldest winter days when your second side of the house, but also a great way to keep your kids engaged when you're outside too if you have a kid who's reluctant to go outdoors, which there are many of them, so don't feel bad if you do next step in the play category is the Wonder Women Bingo game. So not Wonder Woman, but Wonder Women. It's actually a bingo game with photos of inspirational women. This is made by a company called Laurence King publishing. And if you're looking for a beautiful game or book or kit, go to their website, you will find the most beautiful things.

Last year, I put Ocean Bingo on the gift guide, which has also by Laurence King publishing. And I know that many, many of you loved it. And you might say, why add another bingo game? Well, I actually found that having Ocean bingo really compelled us to learn more about ocean creatures. So I know that by bringing in this Wonder Women Bingo game, it'll also help to peak the conversation in interest in these inspirational characters. Next step is a ricochet game. It's called Rollette Ricochet, fast-paced, high-quality materials. Definitely check that one out too. And the last in this category is a subscription box. It's called Year Cheer. Year Cheer is brand new to me, actually, a simple families audience members suggest that I included in the gift guide and I contacted them and they are going to send me a subscription box for November and December to try them out.

So I'll share those on Instagram. When I get those, essentially what it is, is it a box of materials to celebrate the season. So it includes seasonal games, seasonal decor, and activities. So if you're someone like me that doesn't really like to put a ton of time and energy into getting really Pinterest you with my kids around the holidays, but I enjoy creating some of the magic and celebration. I think a box like this could be a really cool fit. They only do eight boxes a year, which correspond with some of the more major holidays like Valentine's day and Thanksgiving, and 4th of July. So definitely check out Year Cheer and on simplefamilies.com/2020list. I have a 10% off code there. All right, last but not least the learn category. So I chose a lot of nature-inspired objects where we can learn together with our kids about nature, because I don't know about you, but I find that I learned so much through kid materials.

I was just reading a book about storms to my daughter last night. And I was shocked at how much I learned a really rather how much I didn't know about basic storms. So the first thing on my list is a Worm Farm, which might sound kind of gross, but don't worry. The worms are contained. You can see through the container to watch the worm activity and see the work that they do, and hopefully, gain a greater appreciation for these creatures. Next up, I have a Flower Press. I have a kid who loves to collect flowers, and I think she would love nothing more than a way to preserve them. Definitely simple and kid-friendly, but something that we can participate into as adults, also a see-through composting container.

So this one that I've put on the list has three different and apartments. You can put different things like a piece of food versus a styrofoam cup and watch how they deteriorate as they age. This is a great way to see what type of waste breaks down and what type of waste doesn't break down. I know that some of us do compost, but it's usually happening in a black barrel in your backyard where you can't see what's going on inside.

This is a way of really bringing it to life and understanding the process and see the process at work. Also on my list is a Rock Tumbler. I've got a big rock collector in my house, and I think that she would really enjoy putting them into a Rock Tumbler and seeing the polished shiny results, and to more non-nature specific items in my learn category are the Week Junior Magazine, which we've really, really enjoyed this subscription over the past few months, as we've all been leaning harder on the news in 2020, our kids have started to take an interest too. And this magazine provides a really easy way to talk to our kids about what's going on in the world, but it also offers fun suggestions or new movies and books and beautiful photography and art across the world.

I think it says you're towards ages six to nine, but I definitely think that there is something for at least ages three-plus in every year and last but not least is a subscription to Masterclass and wanting to do an online poetry class to learn more about reading and writing poetry. And I saw that there was one on Masterclass. So I went ahead and I bought the whole subscription and I'm totally nerding out about Masterclass right now. There are so many cool things on this.

Now, if your family loves documentaries or just loves learning new things, I think you'll appreciate it. I see Masterclass as an awesome way for couples to connect and learn and try new things together, but also for families with older kids, my husband and daughter have recently expressed an interest in getting skateboards together and on Masterclass, Tony Hawk does an intro to skateboarding or the basics of skateboarding. Misty Copeland teaches ballet technique. Simone Biles teaches gymnastics fundamentals, which I want to say, be careful if you are young at heart, it doesn't mean that you are young in body.

My daughter had an intro to gymnastics book last year and she challenged my husband and I to try some of the partner's activities. And it did not end well, but I still think it'd be fun for a family to listen and learn about these things together. Especially if you have a kid who's interested in gymnastics, Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsey teach cooking classes, Serena Williams teaches tennis.

And even if you're not looking to actually execute these things that they're teaching you, it's really cool to see inside the craft and technique of these experts. All right. So I have probably inundated you with ideas, I'm hopeful that you'll find some inspiration, maybe not from these specific things, but for ideas that are going to engage everyone in your family. And I hope that you will truly become a believer in the idea that we can and should give gifts that are focused on making memories rather than just creating excitement on Christmas morning.

I'm pretty sure almost all the things that I talked about on this list can play a part in making really precious family memories for years to come. If you've enjoyed this episode, take a screenshot of yourself, listening to it, and post it up to your Instagram stories so I can reshare it. And I'd love to hear from you about your favorite ideas to engage the whole family. Again, if you want to get that list to go to simplefamilies.com/2020list. Thanks for tuning in and have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.