4 ways I'm teaching my kids about sustainability this Christmas - without sacrificing new toys.


I’m going to be completely upfront and honest here: my kids love ‘stuff’.

My five-year-old daughter, in particular, is especially taken with what I fondly refer to as ‘tiny sh*t.’ If you’ve got a child vaguely around that age, you’ll get what I’m talking about. Ooshies, LOL Surprise Dolls, Puppy In My Pocket. Bits of tat disguised by some very clever marketing person, as toys.

And I’ll put my hand up and say that I have been complicit in these items entering our home (which might be why I feel no guilt at showing them the door, via the rubbish bin.)

Naturally, with Christmas on the approach, my kids have ramped up their desire to spend their eagerly anticipated weekend screen time watching American children ‘unbox’ random crap on YouTube Kids and mentally adding those items to their own Christmas lists.

I am also a self-confessed Christmas tragic who gets carried away in the aisles of Kmart at 11 p.m. in mid-December after one too many iced-lattes (‘I absolutely need an LED sausage dog for the house, Christmas will be ruined without it’).

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Finding a happy, sensible middle ground this Christmas between no-holds-barred carnage (the kind of approach I take to the annual cheesy bacon cob loaf dip made by my aunty) and complete austerity is kind of what we’re going for, and it’s been eye-opening.

Here’s how we’re trying to tackle it – and teach our kids a little bit more about the true meaning of Christmas (giving, family, community… and cheesy bacon cob loaf.)

‘Tis the season to play by the rules.

You may have heard of the ‘something I want, something I need, something to play with and something to read’ rule for tackling Christmas requests. And I’m a fan.

Surprisingly, my kids are as well and have quite enjoyed breaking their lists up into categories. BUT, because they are small humans, they’ve found a few loopholes here and there.

Like the book that is actually filled with LEGO (well played, son) and the Barbie plastic head thing that my daughter ‘needs’ to ‘practice her styling’ on.

So, we’ve broken it down a bit further. ‘Something I want’ could be the really cool toy, while something to play with might be a puzzle. The art and craft set complete with reusable stickers. Open-ended, slightly more sustainable toys that help generate imaginative play and will be used long term (and ideally handed down to younger siblings and cousins).

Experiences over ‘things’.

A good friend is all over this and I am here for it.

With family split all over the place, her kids’ grandparents look to buy them experiences instead of tangible ‘stuff’ each year. Music lessons, a 25-visit pass to the local swimming pool. An annual membership to the local zoo and water park.


Her kids love it and it’s an easy present to send internationally, not to mention a real savey for my friend and her husband.

My kids are into the idea as well and have been brainstorming different experiences they could speak to their grandparents and aunts and uncles about. It’s a really simple idea but one that hopefully teaches the value of learning and new experiences as opposed to toys with a limited shelf life (I’m looking at you, last year’s floating flamingo that didn’t last past Boxing Day).

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Giving (and not expecting to receive)

My kids are really into the receiving side of Christmas (surprising, I know) and it’s very easy for them to assume that receiving is an automatic after giving. I do find it tricky to strike a balance between teaching about the importance of giving without expecting anything in return and explaining their position of privilege without over-egging it and leaving them bewildered and the message lost.

It’s gotten easier as they’ve gotten older and my 5 and 7.5-year-old get it (kind of) now. Our two-year-old? Not just yet.

This year, we took part in ‘Operation Christmas Child’ where we filled a shoebox with each of the bigger kids for a child overseas the same age as them. They used some of their pocket money and helped with everything from shopping to filling their boxes and writing the messages.


I struggle a bit with this form of charitable giving in that it often doesn’t feel like ‘enough’, but it is helpful in encouraging the kids to think outside their bubble and give both their time and some of their money without any expectation of getting anything in return.

Initiating a ‘toy swap’.

We know that there will, inevitably, be new toys. Probably some tiny sh*t. To help balance this out, we’re rounding up all the good quality toys to donate.

But we’ve taken it one step further and asked the kids to choose a toy which they really enjoy playing with currently, and isn’t something just buried in the back of the playroom that won’t really have any impact. Something that they know a kid their age, without access to the cool things they have, would love to play with. And we’re adding that to the pile to take and donate.

We will no doubt end up making some impulse purchases. The kids will enjoy some new toys. They’ll experience a Christmas filled not only with ‘stuff’ but with food and love, two things that many dearly wish for.

And that’s the crux of what we’re trying to teach them all the time, not just at Christmas; that they are so lucky to lead the lives that they do. We might not always do the best job of explaining it but we try and keep that as a constant reminder to guide the choices and decisions we make as parents.

Feature Image: Supplied.