Giving family gifts in the year of Konmari

I read the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up this year too. As I sit here typing at my dining room table because the teetering pile of papers on my desk finally came crashing down into the spot where my laptop goes, I keep getting lost in daydreams where a crane lifts my house up by the corner and shakes all of it’s contents into a giant dumpster to be hauled away. (In this fantasy I’ll also pay someone to pick through the dumpster and donate anything that’s in good condition, so you eco-loving do-gooders can relax.) I don’t think I can ever keep up with the sheer volume of stuff that gets carted into this house on a daily basis by my children, husband, and sundry friends and relations, and (I’ll admit it) sometimes I bring stuff home too. But I can damn well try.

Yet here we are, deep in the holiday season, with parcels tucked away in closets across the land, rolling up our sleeves, and getting ready to plunge into the deepest recess of the suburban mall in order to buy more stuff. Stuff for you, and you, and you! If I really love you, I’ll give you even more stuff!

It’s inevitable, really. Exchanging gifts is a nice holiday tradition and the anticipation of Christmas morning followed by the great reveal of brimful stockings and shiny, new Santa toys is one of the great delights of childhood. So we get more stuff; it’s worth it.

Still, less is more. Here are some gift ideas that are thoughtful yet small.

Subscriptions and memberships

Gift giving in the year of Konmari

There are more subscription digital services than ever that cater to every member of my family. There are two that I use all the time. Ooka Island is a fantastic online reading program for kids ages four to seven. (They are also a blog sponsor. You can read more about them here.) Cook Smarts is an online meal planning service that offers recipes and a shopping list for four dinners a week (each meal has has a vegetarian, gluten-free, and paleo recipe, too). I’ve been using it since the spring and truly love it. (Use the coupon code PLAYCOOK15 to save 15% on subscriptions until Jan. 15, 2016.) It has revolutionized weeknight dinners for my family.  You can also buy family memberships to the Ontario Science Centre, ROM, AGO, Toronto Zoo, and your own local equivalents.


Giving family gifts in the year of Konmari

I think the value of real paper books are still more than worth their shelf space, and there’s no need to hold onto any of them forever and ever either. (She says as she side-eyes those Aristotle paperbacks from university.) Here are a couple favourites from local authors that have come across my desk this year. The Art of the Possible by Edward Keenan, Toronto Star columnist and my husband, explains how politics actually works for kids ages 10 – 14ish. The Joy of Missing Out by Christina Crook, Toronto writer and mother of three, is an inspiring look at what happens when you unplug from technology and embrace life in the moment. It will make you rethink your relationship with technology. Finally, Parenting Through the Storm by everyone’s favourite pregnancy writer, Ann Douglas, is guide to navigating the minefield of parenting children who struggle with mental, behavioral or neurological disorders.

ONE thing

Sometimes you want to give a child a toy and see their faces light up and get all the glory, their parents’ clutter situation be damned. FAIR ENOUGH. Now look at the pile of stuff in your basket, choose the one thing you think they’d like, and put everything else back. If the child loves Maplelea dolls, for example, a new outfit for her doll is a lovely gift. If she likes Star Wars, maybe one action figure from the new movie would be nice. You can fluff it up with stickers and candy (but don’t tell the parents you heard that here) if you think it’s not quite enough.


That brings me to my last point. Stuff you eat or drink, plants that eventually die (what’s that? plants aren’t supposed to be disposable? Oh.), bubble bath that gets washed away, and generally anything that gets USED UP is a wonderful gift. Affordable, slightly frivolous and entirely expendable: the ideal gift.

But, for the love of pine needles and red plaid, don’t give out anymore keepsakes. They are like weights tied around our souls. Not keeping things is the gift that keeps on giving.


  1. Devon

    Thank you for this post!!!
    It’s so hard to remember sometimes that we don’t have to keep things themselves in order to hold on to the memories they give us. I’m trying so hard to teach my kids that, so they don’t end up like me! :)
    Though I would say, books are a wonderful gift, but they are just as capable of taking over as anything else! I have books in my kids’ rooms, books in boxes, bookshelves in every room, books under our bed, books in closets, I had to get rid of books to get my son a crib, and still I can’t seem to let go of all those wonderful books!
    Or maybe I just have a problem…

    • Rebecca Cuneo Keenan

      We have the same problem with books too, but mostly it’s because I have to be better at regularly pruning the collection. For kids books, I need to get rid of anything torn, poorly written, or outgrown. But I do find them easier to keep shelved than toys!

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