Amy's Story

Staring into my closet where I stored the Christmas gifts I had picked up for my young daughter throughout the year, I felt overwhelmed and even a bit disgusted as I looked at the mountain of gifts I had accumulated and considered her play room already bursting with a wide assortment of playthings. How could all of this excess be good for her? What sort of relationship between love and material possessions was I modeling for her? With so many toys, would any particular one ever become cherished and Velveteen Rabbit-real for her? Could I impart the importance of creativity, frugality, and experiences over material goods to my young daughter with this heap of toys? And, finally, the thought that always lingers in my mind while raising an only child, was I raising Veruca Salt? It was in this moment I knew something needed to be done and fast.

Photo by Marissa McClellan

My feelings of discomfort led me to several favorite resources, including the Center for a New American Dream site, and I began to ponder long and hard the messages being sent by the gifts my family gives. In years past we had focused on goods with a certain provenance—free trade, made in the USA, artisan, and handmade by my husband or myself—but ultimately these were still material goods and they caused clutter in our home and the homes of loved ones just as much as goods purchased from the mall or a big box retailer did. These gifts were also not truly personalized for the recipients. They were not made especially for somebody in particular, nor did they provide the gift of something most of us want the most: love and time. It was in this moment I realized I could give my time and talents to my family and friends, even my husband and daughter. And our holiday coupon book gift was born.

One of my friends had desired to learn how to can her own food for quite a while, and, fortunately, I am an avid canner. To her, I gifted lessons in water bath canning. And when she redeemed the coupon, we made jams, marmalade, and other fruit preserves together. Another friend frequently took weekend trips with her family and left her dog behind under the care of a critter sitter. I gifted my pet care services to her family knowing it not only allowed her the ability to save money on her trip but also the comfort of no longer fretting about the safety of her dog and the possessions in her house when a different stranger was sent by the service each and every trip. My gift list included a fellow homeschooling mother, one who was busy with many young children and often overwhelmed with her domestic tasks. I gifted her an extra set of hands, meaning call me at a moment when you are struggling and I can do whatever you need me to do with my hands: watch the children, help with domestic chores, run and errand and pick something up at the store.

The coupon book also proved to be the ideal solution for the vexing conundrum that brought me to it in the first place: a better and more nourishing gift for my daughter. Her first coupon book consisted of ten coupons and my husband and I came up with five coupons each. Among her gifts: 2 coupons for “screen-free parents” weekend, 1 restaurant dinner of your choice, 1 s'mores making & ghost story reading bonfire, 1 hike at a state park of her choosing, and 1 geocaching Saturday afternoon at a destination of your choosing. These gifts didn't just provide time and experiences but also the power of choice for a child, a little something I know she enjoys immensely.

As for the too many toys, I donated over half of the brand new toys, knowing that other children would appreciate and delight in these items more than my daughter who has so much, too much really. The others I stretched out over two years, giving little by little at different holiday occasions, and having an emergency stash of goodies for birthday parties. With her stack of new books, a beautiful horse stable made by Daddy, and the coupon book, my daughter was thrilled and more than content, proving to me just how misguided and foolish I had been to have ever acquired such a large stash of toys.

Toys do not make an occasion special; the people and experiences do.

— Amy