What is in a Gift?

Rethinking Gift Giving at Christmas - Simple Homemade Gift from An Everyday StoryHubby: ‘You’re not honestly giving her that are you?

Me: ‘Yeah, I think she’ll love it.’

Hubby: ‘But it’s playdough. Don’t you think that’s a little cheap?’


We went to a birthday party on the weekend. The special girl was turning two. And what do two-year olds love? Playdough! So I made her up a batch of playdough, added some lemon essence and some glitter, attached a star cutter and was done.

I was really happy with the gift. But then my husband got me thinking. Is it cheap to give someone something which cost next to nothing? Will the gift be accepted and appreciated?

We have certain expectations towards gift-giving, don’t we? And particularly with Christmas coming up, it is easy to get caught up in obligatory gift giving – I need to get something for Aunt May and the kids next door and the teachers at school and the neighbours and everyone whose coming to lunch…. and then there is the expectation that you’ll (or your kids will) get something from each person. And so, so much stuff is bought and wrapped. It’s all too much. And I don’t think that is what gift-giving, at birthdays or at Christmas, should be about.

Last Christmas I asked my mum to collect a basket of pinecones for the kids for Christmas. She couldn’t do it. Not that she couldn’t physically do it – she lives opposite a park filled with pinecones – she couldn’t bring herself to give them only pinecones that she had collected ‘off the ground’. ‘Oh Kate, that’s not a good enough present!’  

Why wasn’t that a good enough present? Because she didn’t spend any money? What about thought, and love and effort? Or what about relieving ourselves of the sense of obligation in the first place? What’s wrong with a hug or a letter or spending deep quality time together?

This is what gift-giving should be about. Not about the stuff, or how much money was spent, or not spent, but the thought and the effort and love behind the gift.

And that gift may not be something you unwrap, it may be something you do together, or something you write or something you say. Or it may just be a hug which says, I am so glad you are here with me today. 

I know my friend appreciated the gift. And I sure hope her little daughter enjoys playing with it.

I just hope as Christmas draws ever closer, that my children receive less presents and more phone calls, more hugs, more kisses and more time spent together, surrounded by those who love them.

That is a gift. And that is enough.

36 Replies to “What is in a Gift?”

  1. What a great gift so thoughtfully prepared. I am with you on the gift idea. I am trying to concentrate more on the thought than the cost. It’s hard because there is a part of me, and perhaps more people than I thought, that think the cost should be more of a concern than the thought or time taken.

    1. It took me a while to get over the cost factor. It wasn’t until we had kids and so just how much stuff they got that we realised how overwhelming and nonsensical it was. The following Christmas everyone got homemade gifts or baked gifts. But mostly I think it is the feeling of obligation – I have to get something for … that really makes people stressed. And then you end up buying things that that person would really want and so in the end it’s a waste. I would really like to see that sense of obligation gone and just the thought of being together or talking to each other as being enough.

  2. Couldn’t agree more! And beautifully expressed too. I think a basket of pine cones would be a wonderful present. Where our family and friends struggle with this idea, I am suggesting they take the kids to the park or the zoo so they can share an experience, rather than always having to give an item.

    1. A few years ago my husband and I started sharing experiences on our birthdays and anniversary instead of gifts. It’s such a lovely idea, you get to spend quality time together and also create beautiful memories. This would be wonderful for the kids too. I’m going to suggest that next year for birthdays as well as Christmas.

    2. I’m currently trying to get grandparents to do this for my step kids. They (the kids) already have so much stuff and the grandparents all like to spend HUGE amounts of money on them. I think that would be better spent taking them out for a day at the zoo or aquarium or seeing a show together and having a special lunch/dinner

  3. A beautiful and thoughtful gift! I was asked, with the rest of my son’s class to put in $10 each so a gift voucher could be bought for his teacher. I declined as I like to make something handmade for the teacher so that I can hopefully convey how much we appreciate what they have done for our son. And as a teacher I always appreciated the simple, thoughtful gifts I received…

    1. I also declined to put into a pot for a thank-you gift card. I find them terribly impersonal. And as a teacher too, I would much prefer a ‘thank you’ hug or a card with a heartfelt message.

  4. Yes, absolutely! I often give my family members a gift of my time in a special series of prayers for them. (invoking the violet fire especially)

    1. That sounds really interesting Patricia. I would like to hear more about these special prayers.

  5. I love giving and receiving home made and practical gifts. I also love recycling cards and wrapping paper. But I do sense that others just perceive me as cheap. Thanks for your insightful words on the importance of spending time with loved ones rather than just showering them with gifts.

  6. Oh what a beautiful story. I love the fact that you wrapped it so beautifully and supplied the cutter….a great idea….I will make some for my Grand Nephew for Christmas….I know he will love it. I am all for those special made, collected, huggable, kissable gifts as I too see that we manufacture far toooooooo many things….using up the worlds resources. Love to you all at Christmas time.

  7. we are doing the exact same thing this year. Offering a supply of homemade play dough. We are customizing it to the child’s age. Our christmases have changed a while ago to being present and having fun rather then gift giving. And we have been oh so happy with this change.

    1. I think this is what we are trying to do with our everyday lives; being present and having fun. I think our Christmases are changing, gradually, it is such a beautiful feeling to spend time together, happily without stress.

  8. I think it is a perfect gift for a two year old 🙂 It is so easy to get carried away at Christmas time especially, especially with an inbox flooded with enticing specials from all of my favourite retailers! But you are so right, it is about time and smiles and hugs and laughter so much more than things.

    1. I’m actually thinking about putting a ‘no junk mail’ sticking on my mailbox just so I won’t be tempted by flashy catalogues. Jack and Sarah get a gift from each of us, so two gifts each. That’s all. I already have them so now I just need to restrain from impulsive buying for the next 4 weeks….

  9. firefaery6683 says:

    Oh my gosh I couldn’t agree with you more! We get so caught up in the “well so and so obviously spend this amount of money on me so I have I give a present of equal monetary value” or “I spent x on her so I need to spend x on him” and it’s so silly. I personally would hate to know that someone gave me something simply because they felt they had to do spend a certain amount. That’s not heart felt or personal. That’s what makes it a “present” and not a “gift”. If I know my son will love a used spice rack so he can open the doors and close them, and put stuff in it, then why do I need to spend $50-100 more just to add more “stuff”. And I’d love to get homemade simple things so long as I know the person thought “huh.. I bet Nicole would really like this!”

    1. I completely agree. We used to have that internal dialogue too…well I spent $50 on mum so I need to spend the same on dad and my sisters… besides it being waaaay too much money for our budget, I used to get stressed over the shopping. Now we have simple homemade gifts – a loaf of bread, some rocky road, or some other crafty/sewing project and the stress has all but gone. Plus it feels so nice to be making something for someone else.

  10. Very well said. 🙂 I totally agree, and I would have loved to receive a gift like that for one of my little ones! I have suggested in the past that my mother in law make something for the kids (she is great with a sewing machine), but she just can’t understand how I would find something hand-made by her, better than something she can spend a lot of money on in a shop. Sad.

    1. My mum took A LOT of convincing. But over the last two years she has made all the kids’ gifts. We now have some beautifully knitted dolls, quilts, clothes, all kinds of things. All handmade, and all very loved. I just had to convince her that these gifts would be cherished and kept, and that we appreciated the effort she put in more than the money she spent.

  11. I completely agree. Your time is a great gift, if you are not good (or think you are not) at making things. And doing this gives other people “permission” to do it too, so you can break the whole unvirtuous circle of expensive meaningless gifts.

    1. That’s exactly it, isn’t it Rach? Feeling as though it is ok to give less, to spend less.

  12. Just came across this post on pinterest. I wholeheartedly agree with you. We have received so many gifts in the past which eventually find their way to the charity shop or even the garbage! We have too much STUFF!

    Playdough and cutters are actually a favorite of ours to give because we know it will be used. I try to make as many gifts as I can, and the ones we buy we put a lot of thought into to be sure the recipient will absolutely LOVE it.

    I believe, though, that if one feels they MUST purchase something, I’d love to see activities, experiences, $$ toward an education fund, or a donation in their name to a local charity/worthy cause. And here I’m talking about a special lunch out, a movie with a grandparent or aunt/uncle, season’s passes to local attractions (zoo, theme park, etc.). It doesn’t have to cost a lot for it to be special.

    No one needs more “stuff” to clutter their life. Simple and heart-felt is so refreshing nowadays. Thank you once again for a great post!

    1. Quite a while ago now my husband and I starting giving each other ‘experiences’ for gifts. It’s so fun. You never know what you’re going to get. I really like it because it is, like you said, special time. Next year, when Jack is 5, we are going to start this with him too. I think it will teach them the value of a ‘gift’, what a gift is (and what it isn’t).

      Always lovely to hear from you Kaly 🙂

  13. This is a wonderful post – and I think the playdough gift is adorable and would be very gratefully recieved – certainly by my kiddos! The obligation/stress/overabundance of ‘present buying’ (rather than gift giving!) concerns me greatly and makes me sad too. I am really trying to avoid this in my family. Keep things simple and let gifts be appreciated, no matter in what form they come. I am ALWAYS blown away when someone takes time to hand make a gift 🙂 and the gift of time (especially for someone to take w my kids) is the greatest of all. Love your blog and thoughts, Kate, and I am so glad I got introduced to it through the wonderful Amber!!! 🙂

    1. Thank you Kate 🙂 I feel a lot of the same things. We make a really conscious effort to present Christmas as a time of giving not receiving. We talk about the gifts in our lives, the people and our comfortable lives. We talk about what we would like to give others rather than what we would like to receive.

      I am so glad you have popped over too 🙂 Lovely to meet you xx

  14. I love this post Kate as its kinda been my think to give quirky homemade gifts to the nieces and nephews. I have really struggled with my daughter being in preschool this year and what the preschool ‘crowd’ sees as a suitable gift (or maybe its just my perception).
    For christmas this year my children are getting one thing each that I know they will really love and then we are getting a family pass to the zoo. Been trying our best for the past 7 year to get the word out to family and friends that our kids need presence not presents and it is filtering through 🙂 I have said for a few years now that a $5 ream of paper would make an awesome gift for either of my older children

    1. I think we are quite the same. I really love making gifts for family and friends. I really should give mum some credit though, she has changed her attitude towards Christmas and giving quite a lot since I wrote this last year. This year she is making Sarah a small quilted blanket for her dolls and I think she might be making some felt finger puppets for Jack.

      We are getting a family pass to the zoo too 🙂 Might see you there.

  15. I gave a friend a book I put together called 12 months of play dough, I laminated it and each month I make a batch of play dough with bit to go with it, she had pink with silicon cake cases and candles to start, last month she had black with little stars in it and sparkly pipe cleaners it was firework night in the uk on the 5th nov, next month its christmassy ….

    1. Katie that is a really wonderful and playful gift. I truly love that idea.

  16. This year money is very tight…i have saved my old large coffee jars…my 2 year old has had a blast painting and glittering them…im gonna get face masks and candles ..and am giving all aunties a pamper jar from us…the decorates jar is the candle holder and it all goes inside with a handmade gift tag…the aunties will love it.and bubble is so proud she made them by herself…the perfect gift i believe…they get a little bit of baby’s art exploration to keep for life…priceless :)… Love the play dough idea xxx

  17. Love these ideas.

  18. I have for a long time given homemade gifts but was perceived as cheap by many especially my husband’s family. So now I just buy gifts on super clearance and give those to them. My sister in law thinks I’m cheap but one year I made my nieces stockings but later found out she had thrown them out. I now keep my time and effort for those who appreciate it. I also gift my nieces experiences b/c those can’t be thrown out.

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