This Christmas I’m not sure what to do about presents. I grew up in a household where the christmas tree was pretty much hovering off the floor because of all the packages underneath and that is before you even get to thinking about how generous santa was. I loved it and I want to pass that excitement on but we live in different times now – every time I buy something I think about it sitting in a landfill site in 100 years time. And yes, I can give them gifts like nice days out – we did that for birthdays this year but that doesn’t get over the ’empty room syndrome’, which made me acutely aware of my own need for a big pile of things to unwrap. Obviously christmas isn’t just about the getting, I know that and I want my kids to know that too but… well, I think it’s hardwired in me now. I’m not sure who would be more disappointed if on christmas morning my gift to the kids was just a talk on ‘how family time is more meaningful than presents’.
That said though there is research to show why having too much stuff can be bad for kids, and helps to explain why most things they get are discarded after about 5 minutes. When children have too many choices they end up being less engaged with the thing they finally pick. Adults get this too, the evidence suggests choosing from a bigger number of options leads to feelings of regret about the final choice (“what if…?”). Regret doesn’t really develop until age 6-7 so younger children don’t get post-choice jitters, but from around age 7 having a large number of options could decrease feelings of satisfaction.
When faced with a lot of choices adults can get over-loaded stopping them from making any choice at all, often they apply short-cuts to simplify the choice by limiting what they actually consider. Preschool children also do this, they tend to focus on what they can see more easily like size and shape, rather than quality or price – something cheap and colourful is obviously better than something more sombre and higher quality. As they get older they become a bit more strategic in their choices, applying different rules more flexibly – sometimes the biggest biscuit might be best, but other times it might be how tasty it is.
So, this is my rationale for buying just enough to keep my pangs of present guilt at bay but not too much that my kids feel overwhelmed by all their new found choice. They’ll enjoy what they get way more if they don’t get too much of it and I can keep my christmas footprint to a minimum (and it’s nice to know that something big and bright trumps something expensive at least for a wee while yet). Maybe over time we can work together on reducing the need for more and enjoy the freedom that less brings.