paper & twine

In the lead up to the children’s birthdays, as I gather ribbon to tie around presents and jot thoughts and wishes on cards, I look at what I’ve bought and always put something back in the cupboard.

In this age of excess I’m wary of giving them too much.
For almost five years I have observed Che create imaginary worlds and make-believe characters. He has built towers and rockets and pirate ships. A pile of toys has occasionally attracted his attention but a small basket of miscellany always inspires beautiful play. He places more value on a handmade bow (imaginary arrow) than a store-bought truck.
So when it comes to buying for celebrations I remind myself that simple is best. I stumbled upon a rhyme when Che was only little and I repeat it to myself when considering gifts:
“…something I want, something I need, something to wear, something to read…”
Poet chose a brown haired boy earlier in the year and I couldn’t think of a more perfect gift than a sweet Steiner doll for her first birthday – a forever companion. Che is giving her a few books and I found a delightful pom pom hat for her little garden party. I decided that the rainbow could wait till Christmas…
So tell me, how do you decide what to gift your children? Is simplicity harder to achieve as they get older? And if there’s a really long list, how do you prioritise?
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Showing 43 comments
  • Max

    I agree wholeheartedly, i know my girl would much prefer a basket with string and all kinds of making things. we tend to make things for her, last year we renovated an old fashioned stroller, for her birthday we made her a tree swing. we leave the gifty-gifts to the grandparents who just can't help themselves no matter what we advise! but, she's not at the asking stage yet, that could change things, but hopefully not x

  • mamizeit

    when it comes to birthday presents I always try to please the kids and make them really happy. We have a very nice tradition with cake in the morning and party in the afternoon – gifts are given in the morning and there will alway be three: one: something the kid truly wishes two: something to read, three something made by myself or made by my husband – and the other tree will get a gift, when the birthday child has her celebration xxooo Denise

  • m.e (Cathie)

    my ones can sit for hours on end drawing, cutting, creating things so I love to give them something to feed their creative minds. Journals, pencils, stamps.
    the majority of their plastic toys are opshopped or gifts. I don't feel the need to buy more new plastic and dread birthdays surrounded with those things.
    Aidan can turn a simple little box into a car or a rocket ship and it's such a wonderful thing to see.
    as they say, kids are really more interested in the box than the toy inside, so why do we give them sooo many toys?
    yay for kids with boxes and imagination I say ♥

  • Mother Down Under

    I love that little rhyme…will have to remember that for when Baby turns two!

    My problem is that I am terrible at keeping secrets and I want to give people their presents as soon as I have bought them! I just love the joy that a perfectly selected gift can bring someone and I hate waiting for the actual birthday or Christmas Day to share the surprise!

  • Jane @ Shady Baker

    Absolutely Jodi…less is more. We keep things minimal for birthdays, Christmas and Easter. This year Easter bunny brought books and just a few eggs. I love the Steiner doll 🙂

  • look see

    "…something I want, something I need, something to wear, something to read…"
    Perfect. Using this mantra from now on!

  • jasmine

    I'm definitely going to remember that rhyme when the time comes to buy my little girl presents. I definitely agree that simplicity is best. As a child, my favorite play was always imagination-centered, and I want to provide that opportunity for my daughter too.

  • Reply

    What a lovely sentiment.

  • Nicole

    Amazing…I have those same steiner dolls from dragonfly toys (brunette and blonde) in the christmas cupboard for my girls…together with a tent and some books. I figure this is enough to inspire fun play. I always use a list and once my presents are brought, that's that. I love giving gifts but I'm cautious not to spoil. My husband wants to buy for their next birthdays so that he feels a part of all the gift giving…so we'll see what he comes up with 😉

    You've brought some lovely gifts for Poet. Enjoy this wonderful milestone. I hope you all have the happiest day xx

  • Nikki Fisher

    Lovely post Jodi and timely too for me as my eldest boy River turns 6 in a couple of weeks. We buy one small gift for our boys birthdays, perhaps a book or art supplies, last winter I bought River a jacket. Grandparents and extended family usually go overboard so we hold back. I am really giving a lot of thought to the way we celebrate birthdays, to creating rituals and traditions such as having a birthday flag, telling stories about the birthday person, displaying photos from the year. A friend does a lovely thing for her children and that is to write the story of their year in their card, such a great thing to keep. Too often lots of gifts and too much sweet food become the means for celebrating, I'm seeking other ways. Wait until Che starts school and the birthday party invitations increase then you will be thinking about what to buy or make for those birthdays too! Happy celebrating x

  • lou

    Oh I always use that rhyme when it comes to christmas not for birthdays. I don't know why I don't use it for birthdays! At the moment my 2 boys are playing in a cardboard box which has been made into a castle. Simple things. And they are 6 and 4. But for me a timeless classic toys are the way to go.. like Lego or Wooden Holtz animals.. a nice t-shirt, great books are toys they love. Also the joy of opening a new box of brightly coloured pencils… they always squeal with delight and rush to draw. xx

  • dear olive

    I love that rhyme, and am going to endeavour to use it too. I'm all for keeping the presents down. It just gets ridiculous, especially if you have a party and everyone brings a gift. I'm kind of embarrassed to say that on Olive's first birthday, we got her …. nothing. Shane was outraged! IOU's are a long standing tradition in my family. Kellie xx

  • Vanessa

    I love less when it comes to presents and birthdays. I insisted on no presents when friends came to Luca's 4th party. We always give a book or two and one special present (this year was an orange ukelele). I think if simplicity is a theme in a family's life throughout the year, then it's much easier to keep it simple at birthdays too. What a beautiful rhyme.

  • Anonymous

    I really love this. Although, one thing is missing….something to create! I have never heard that rhyme. Now I have written it down and will be using this idea from now on. I will also explain to our eldest that this is the way it will be from now on. My hardest thing is keeping the $ value the same. I feel terrible if I spend more on one than the others.

  • Victoria

    I know that my daughter would love to have a cardboard box to make believe with & I forget those simple little things, this year I plan on printing out photos & making a photo album on her growing + a macca's party which she asked for.

  • little wild moose

    I stumbled upon that rhyme too, just after Everly was born, and we used it for her first Christmas and first birthday. This Christmas will be even simpler again. I would love to make Everly a Waldorf doll for her second birthday, but I'm not sure if I'm up to the challenge yet (sewing scares me! and I'm a terrible perfectionist!) I may end up having one custom made by a local dollmaker. The part I most struggle with is 'something to read' – I always end up buying sooooo many books! But I don't feel so bad, as I don't think you can ever have too many books 🙂

  • Lucinda

    I utterly agree- I love it when my son receives hand made toys from dear friends, I know they will be treasured forever. I love to give gifts that encourage creativity or a good book. And always, always tied up with brown paper and twine.

  • jody

    What a wonderful Rhyme. And a great reminder. I always seem to be excessive with gifts but am starting to re think and hold back a little. Especially from an environmental point of you. My hubs often likes to make something for them, last year was a cubby, who knows what it will be this year. But all they really need is their imaginations.. and maybe some lego. I look forward to seeing and hearing about your celebrations this week. xx

  • Angie

    beautiful post jodi! We just had this problem with our little ones recent 2nd birthday and although we knew she would love the BOX that her kitchen came in, we opted for something big since we have only ever gotten her little bits and pieces.

    I love their imaginary play, and I am totally going to use the 'want, need, wear, read' xx

    {P.s THANKYOU! i have been looking for those rainbow blocks for a while!}

  • Nell

    Jodi that is the sweetest rhyme. I've never heard it before, but will be sure to remember it for birthdays and Christmas. Ben and I have already made the decision to give Phiney a select few gifts for both so this will certainly help.
    I've actually already bought Josephine two presents already, one of which will be for her birthday and one for Christmas. Super organised I know, but I believe in buying things when you see them if they're really good.
    All the pieces for Poet are so lovely. Things to cherish forever. xx

  • Linda

    I read that same line sometime last year and have done exactly that ever since. It makes giving that much easier and much more pleasant – and affordable! And it puts limits on things, which we need as adults too. Kids don't need much anyway. They'd much rather a happy family, than one that is broke and cluttered 🙂

  • oscarlucinda

    We are using a similar sentiment for Sassy's birthday (although we are giving only 3 gifts – something to read, something to wear and a treasure). I came across the same sort of idea on Claudia's blog a while ago, and both K and I agreed that we'd prefer to give fewer, more meaningful gifts at birthday and Christmas. What I am finding harder to simplify is the 1st birthday party. In Brazil, the 1st birthday is Big Deal (yikes). Lucky it only happens once. Happy birthday to little Poet. Hope she loves her garden party x

  • ally

    It's a beautiful sentiment… And perfectly appropriate…if you are a mumma who can resist her urge to spoil!!!

  • Sarah

    My parents taught me and my sisters that same rhyme growing up! It always made for personal and treasured gifts during my childhood, and although I remember wanting much more in my teens, it all makes much more sense to me now as an adult. Less really is more. I try to embrace it when I'm gift giving, and I'm sure I'll pass it on to my children on day too 🙂

  • one claire day

    I'm sure Poet would probably have more fun with the twine and labels in that basket than the actual gifts you've got her!

    And so funny about the rainbow – I intended to give it to Lalie for Christmas… but at the last minute decided to put it in the cupboard for her birthday!


  • Imogen Eve

    Both my babies are under 2 and I'm yet to actually give them gifts. Oscar received a dinosaur I'd sewn last christmas, but that was all from us. They both get enough gifts from their grandparents and Aunties. Honestly. I haven't even had to buy clothes for either of them yet, because everyone else in my family enjoys shopping for them so much.

  • Sarah Humphreys

    "…something I want, something I need, something to wear, something to read…"

    SO beautiful and such good advice. I will keep this in mind from now on. I tend to show my love in any way possible with Jude, yet i forget that he is so little and he is happy with just a little. As we are reminded by shopping centres to LAYBY NOW FOR CHRISTMAS and TOY SALE! PUT THEM AWAY FOR CHRISTMAS!! It's nice to remember that birthdays don't have to be massive, they can be small and special and beautiful markings of time.

    Thanks Jodes


  • Maxabella

    I love that rhyme – my sister buys exactly like that.

    I am hopeless and need to do better. I am breeding 'want want want'ers and it's all my own fault. x

  • jay

    so beautiful. we gift like you do but within that include something that either Scott or myself has made. I haven't found it harder as the children have grown and they really do appreciate the simplicity and the beauty in the gifts (they also really love the letters Scott and i write to them). For parties we try not to encourage people to bring presents but if we do we request handmade or secondhand, however friends of ours recently had a party requesting all guests to bring two of their favourite preloved books to swap with other's preloved books, it was a huge success and bypassed the consumerism and excess of stuff that can happen at parties.
    The pom pom hat is so adorable. xxxx

  • Col @ Hello Olive

    We usually only give our little boy one gift for his birthday. He already has sooo much and ends up with a massive pile of gifts from friends and family. x

  • Luna

    I don't have a mantra but I have always asked myself, Do I need this or do I want it? It helps to curb my own spending too (I was very bad before kids). It's used basically for everything we do/buy nowadays.

    As the parents, it's a day out to remember at the Circus/Farm/Zoo etc. The Grandparents bring in the big toys that we ask them not to go overboard with, never works. My siblings bring new clothes and shoes. Then books or dvds come in the mail from overseas relatives, as always. Our eldest is quite used to a busy children's party while our youngest is the opposite and equally enjoys an intimate gathering. I'm very happy with this as the party planner.

  • Vicky

    I went to a wonderful talk at our (Steiner) school about gifts. The speaker said there is only one gift for a child. meditate on that gift and when you find it it will be the only one they need. I have found this true with my 3 boys (7, 5 and 2). in the pile of gifts they receive there will be one they love and the rest are irrelevant. This year for my 7 year old it was a nature journal. For my 5 year old it was a small pile of rubber bands. There is nothing like finding that perfect gift. I like to give a special book too. These are our favourite of the moment. The other thing about not having loads of gifts is that it reduces the 'stuff' in our house.

  • Kristy

    my daughter turns 2 in 2 weeks time. she is receiving a mini micro scooter – so that she can keep up with her big brother (a bigger gift, but something that will give exercise and lots of outside time for everyone), a framed Anna Walker print from her favourite books "I love my …' (we did the same for her brother, who loved "how to catch a star" by oliver jeffers) and I made her a little tent thing for her room, to encourage quiet play & reading time. I don't think she got anything when she turned one, as she needed nothing.

    i always give a book (one that has been a favourite in our house) for little friends birthdays. And encourage books and small favourites from family.

    my children definitely play with only 90% of the toys they own, i need to cull.

    love to know what others think of a wooden toy kitchen?

  • Christy

    I love the idea of them using the imagination. My little boy just had his 1st birthday. After looking at a lot of things of Etsy, it is just too hard to decide sometimes, I finally decided on making him something. I made him a play quilt with the left over fabric from his circus birthday decorations. It will be a fun keepsake from his party. I also knew my family and friends would give him other fun toys.

  • Brave New Fiona

    thank you for the rhyme Jodi! My son is 4 in 2 weeks and I am having the same dilemma. We are not big gift givers on birthdays as we also like to give to our children at random times during the year, for no reason other than surprise, (we are trying to teach them not to be pressured to be conformed to consumerism – doing nice things or going to nice places for celebration rather than risking token-gift-giving). But they are not spoilt and toys are regularly put away for either rotation or donation. And yes, its the pretend play or the packaging that has amused them the most. Even though I have never heard the rhyme, I have actually abided by it unbeknownst to me. It must be a mother thing! And now I am endeavouring a hand made thing too. xxx

  • Amber

    I completely understand, but it's hard not to be "materialistic!" For Eva's 2nd birthday I did try to stick to the "something I want, something I need, something to wear, something to read" —

  • Anonymous

    My children are 4,6 and 9. This year we decided on giving our children an "experience". My youngest boy chose to go to the Aquarium and our two oldest went to the theatre to see Annie. This will be our new family birthday tradition. They also each received one gift from us and one small gift from each sibling, enjoy the birthday celebrations!

  • Princesspillar

    hmmm..this is hard. I so wanna give everything to my children. But
    I know its not best. I love the rhyme and think its perfect. The rainbow will be better for Poet at 1 and a half. I didn't choose my sons birthday present that well this year for his age, but he will grow into it. We just didn't need much for him right now. Happy birthday Poet! Happy birthing day Mumma. Enjoy reminiscing.

  • Mariela

    Hmm, that's a hard question : ) , we have only one child, he is 7 and my husband and I spoiled him a little I am not going to lie, maybe because he is the only one, the only grandson because I am an only child too, but as he gets older we are teaching him the values of things so he can appreciate more and learn to be grateful for what he have.

    Beautiful photo, have a lovely week! xo

  • Miss-B

    At my niece's 6th birthday party I was shocked that every present she got from friends included at least 3 items. No one present was just one toy/gift. For the 10 seconds each present got before she moved to the next I was shocked. She's not generally spoilt by her parents so I guess the balance was ok – but I was shocked at the materialism instilled in these kids from such a young age.

  • Lisa Jay

    I have done the same thing often, put things away in the cupboard while I am wrapping their christmas presents because I suddenly just sense it is too much. In the younger years we emphasised creative play & didn't buy brand toys etc. When my eldest turned 5 last year she asked for things like 'My little Pony'. I found it really hard. Then I realised that I had to let go a little. So we gave her her first My little Pony. Of course she then created imaginary play with it & I realised that as long as we don't bombard her with these things then in small doses they will be appreciated. I don't want to just be asking for the next thing & the next thing according to a tv commercial. Mostly I want my children to be able to know & create happiness that doesn't come from something we/they have to buy.

    ps. I love the pom pom hat 🙂

  • mary catherine

    We tend to give really simply as well–the hard thing to balance is the kind and amount of presents given by our family members. We came back from Declan's 1st birthday party with a mountain of plastic toys…we'll put half in a closet for rainy days. 🙂

  • cocosea

    We only have one little girl.. she is nearly 9 months. we decided at this christmas since it was her "first" that my husband instead of getting everything on her "wish list" and a bunch of stuff that is not needed that we would get her:
    something to wear
    something to read
    something she wants
    and something she needs

    Although we have only done this once…we decided we would put the 4 items into a hat and we would each choose 2 and be responsible for those 2 gifts for her.
    We hope that in a few years time she gets excited about this "concept" as well!

    With her birthday only a little over a month before christmas…we figure that family and friends will be giving her plenty then! ( we have hardly bought any toys or clothes for her yet!)

    I have just discovered your blog. and it is so refreshing. EXACTLY what i needed right now. I am having a poor me anxious kind of day. just needed a little dose of simplicity thank you!

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