Why We Have a One-Gift Rule for the Holidays

Hi, it’s me, your resident Grinch for the holiday season, reporting for duty. 

I actually love the holidays; I love decorating the house, baking Christmas cookies, looking at lights, singing Christmas music, and buying gifts for everyone I love. And yet, as far as my family is concerned, I’m a full-on Scrooge.

See, I’m the one who instituted the one-gift rule in our household for our kids, and effectively ruined the holiday spirit for all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and beyond.  

Listen, I get it. Toddlers are fun to buy gifts for! Everything costs less than $20 and is utterly adorable. Plus, toddlers are blown away by any and every gift. Last year, when my son was two, he unwrapped a box with some shirts in it, and as soon as he’d torn the paper away, he exclaimed, “Oooo! A BOX!!” as if he’d just unwrapped a Princess Diana Beanie Baby circa 1995.

So I understand why you want to buy my toddlers all the things. It’s not often you get to experience that kind of genuine warmth and gratitude these days. 

But as the parent, a.k.a., the person in charge of turning these kids into tolerable human beings, and also the person who has to actually live in this house of rejected toys, I have to draw the line somewhere. And that line is my one gift rule: one gift per kid, per person. 

Our family is blessed enough to have lots of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and great aunts and great uncles and even great grandparents who love our kids and want to make it rain plastic in my living room for them. We are so grateful for that, and we know it’s a good problem to have. But it is a problem, nonetheless.

Because for starters, there are only so many toys out there, so inevitably we get duplicates, or worse, toys that are technically different but basically the exact same as something we already have. Which means my toddler will excitedly rip the package open, play with it for five minutes, ensure it’s un-returnable, and then immediately get bored with it and never touch it again. 

And then there’s the overstimulation. Toddlers already have the attention span of a fruit fly, but when they’re surrounded by piles of brightly colored toys that sing and flash and vibrate and roll and bounce…it sends them over the deep end, fast. 

My son would pick up a toy, play for two minutes, get angry and throw it, move on to the next thing flashing in his line of sight, and then repeat. Less is more for their developing little brains.

But most importantly, while they’re still so little and untainted by the world and all its marketing and commercialism, I want my kids to appreciate what’s really important at the holidays—family, friends, and giving. I want them to look forward to the holidays as the time of year when we’re together the most. When we all take off of work and school, and just spend time together. When we sit by the fire and read Christmas stories as a family. When extended family comes to visit. When we cover the house in lights and garland and penguins. When we choose a family off the Angel Tree and pick out gifts for them. I don’t want those memories to be washed out by the memories of ripping open present after present, wondering what strobing Fisher-Price monstrosity lies beneath the next layer of wrapping paper.

I know there will come a year when all they care about is the stuff, but for now, I want to enjoy the time we have left while they only care about the magic and the sparkles and the time they get to spend with us. So if the one-gift rule helps prolong that time even a little bit, then to me, it’s worth being the family Grinch.


  1. I love this! We do a similar thing to limit toys – One thing I want, One thing I need, One thing to wear, One thing to read. The grandparents and aunts follow this, the rest of the family usually defaults to a toy and an outfit.

    We also started doing an advent calender where we place one item in a box for each day – nonperishable food, outgrown clothing, gently used toys, etc. That way we can teach our son the joys of the season all month. The wraping paper explosion is going to happen one way or the other, but at least that is just one day. It definitely is daunting being responable for raising tolerable human beings. And it always seems like us moms are ultimately the bad guys. If that makes you a Grinch, I’m right there with ya!

    • Love the Want-Need-Wear-Read approach. We do that too for our gifts from us/Santa! I LOVE that advent calendar / donation idea. My son is super into his “doors” this year, so I wish I’d thought of that! Filing it away for next year for sure.

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