In the realm of gifts and toys, my kids are lucky kids. They have grandparents who love to spoil them, friends who will come to celebrate their birthdays bearing gifts, and parents who will once in a while pick up something they know they will love just because. They have a playroom in the basement where all this stuff is kept, and it is a continuous "weeding out" process that I perform. When they are done with a toy or they "outgrow" something, I either put it aside for Jack for when he is old enough or I donate it. I try to keep the level of toys down to a minimum, and that seems to work best. If they have too many options all of those options usually wind up on the floor, scattered about, pretty much discarded. My oldest two are 7 and 5 now, old enough to know how to put toys away. My general rule is that if they can't put it away when they are done with it they can't play with it.
In years past I have noticed that the process of ripping through the gifts at warp speed on Christmas morning became what is most desirable, and I would cringe at the gifts that get tossed aside in search of what's next. Most of the time these gifts will eventually get picked back up and played with, but there is a giant flashing sign that went off in my mind saying "TOO MUCH". Especially because after they get done at our house they get to travel around to the grandparents and add on even more gifts.
Almost by accident, I decided on three gifts per kid this year. I say "by accident" because I walked past Levy's "Wish List" in school the other day. It had three items on it, because that was the only space allowed. One, two and three, and that's it. She wrote in "Sofia's Castle, perfume," and "a jump rope". It was so cute. And so simple. (Sofia's Castle was already bought by a grandparent, and since I am committed to shopping local this year I supplemented a secondary list item that I bought locally). This was in contrast to her original list which she wrote for Santa at home one day. It included Barbies (she has a ton, both my old hand me down Barbies and ones she has gotten as gifts), My Little Ponies (ditto on these), makeup (you are five so no, still not sure where to buy five year old appropriate "perfume"), and like ten other items at least. Most of which she saw on television commercials while at her grandparents house (we don't have cable, probably one of the best reasons to not have it is that they usually never see these commercials), most of which she has no real idea why she wants, most of which are just plastic junk, plain and simple. When I asked Levy what she wanted she replied with this toy I had never heard of. "Why do you want that?" I asked her. "Because I saw it on a commercial at grandma and grandpa's house". Okay then.
So as I was thinking of the Rule of Three, I decided to google it, to see if anyone else has a similar idea. I found this story, and although my decision for doing 3 Gifts isn't related to the Magi and is more about just getting past the commercialization and over spending, I like their ideas a lot too, especially about doing some homemade gifts.
I had the kids sit down and write out their "Top 3" gifts, and to really take their time to settle on what they really, truly wanted. I let them think about it for a few days, to make sure they knew what they wanted and why they wanted it. I told them that by choosing their top three they were finding out what would be the best of the best, and that other gifts can be kept on the back burner for birthday presents, or another year of Christmas gifts. Rather than stressing about "leaving something off" their wish list, this was actually easier for them, giving them the limit of three gifts closed off the door of this idea of dozens of presents under the tree.
The other thing I liked about it was that I wasn't making the kids behave just to get presents. Being on good behavior and trying their hardest at school, treating each other with respect, these were things that I didn't want them to do because they thought they would either get more or less gifts. I've been guilty of using Santa as a threat MANY times in the past, don't get me wrong, but as the kids get older I want them to realize that being good to each other and treating each other well is something that they should do regardless of any "rewards" they may get. Being under the threat of no presents if they misbehave sort of sucked the meaning out of the season of giving. So we separated the idea of being "naughty or nice" for the holiday season, and reiterated that they are to be good no matter what, all year long, not just when the Elf is "watching".
What doesn't fall under the Rule of Three? Books. My kids can receive as many books as they want, we'll take 'em all. Especially because their reading levels are always improving and we read together every night, they need new books. The "old" ones either stay in our little kids book library as all time favorites or get donated. I also throw in some clothes/winter gear that they need, and explain that although these aren't "fun" things, they are lucky to be able to get the things they need to play.
It also should go without saying that I am eternally grateful for the gifts the kids receive from other people, outside of our little family. The Rule of 3 doesn't extend outward to anyone else, although I have told my extended family about it. If they do it, great, if not, that's also fine. The Rule of 3 has also been helpful for me too, as a way to be mindful of what I'm spending, mindful of what they actually need or will play with, and mindful of what I want to teach my kids about giving. There are a ton of cute things out there for kids, and while a handful of them will be under the tree this year, I'm glad I scaled back this year.
I'll put some extras in the stockings I'm sure, and my unlimited books idea will certainly pad the take this year, but I'm excited about the Rule of 3. It was super easy to do my shopping, way less expensive, easier to wrap, and hopefully overall will leave all of us satisfied because the kids will get "everything" on their list. Jack technically is only getting one "new" gift (not counting books and clothing) since he's not yet two and has zippo idea of wanting anything. My mom picked up a little set of three wooden magnetic trains to add to his hand me down train set that used to belong to Finn. We're going to wrap them each separately to maximize the unwrapping fun.
There was an extra this year too though, which is a companion to their Rule of 3. I asked the kids to do their lists, then write another list of 3 items they though another child their age might like. It could be something they already have, or something they think is cool. They each came up with three items, which we bought together and wrapped together to donate. They are getting three gifts in, and giving three gifts out. It helps make their own three gifts mean more, to know that there are kids right here in our area that don't get any gifts. How do I keep all of this under the grand "Santa" umbrella? It's complicated, but we make it work, for now.
I told the kids that Santa doesn't give grown ups gifts, so it's up to them to make something special for the grown ups in their lives. We are working on a few craft projects at home, instilling along the way that what means the most in giving is that you are thinking of the other person, that you want to see them smile, and want them to know you love them.
Click here for a follow up post on how our first "Three Present Christmas" went over with the kids.