Please Get My Kids Nothing for Christmas
By Greg Hanscom /

Dear family and friends,

I hope this Black Friday finds you well. I also hope this reaches you before you head for the mall …

I’m writing to send a heartfelt thanks for all of the wonderful gifts you’ve given my girls over the past four and eight years of their lives, respectively — and to ask you to stop. Really. It’s not that we don’t love each and every one of these hand-picked gems. We do. It’s just that at this point they have one of everything. In some cases three or four.

You don’t believe me? Go ahead, shoot.

Stuffed animals? Har. The girls have hundreds of them. Dolls? Dozens. Legos? Crates full — both the big ones and small. Bikes? Yep, and scooters, too. Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, blocks? Check, check, check. Pillow pets — do they have those yet? They each got two of them last Christmas, and they’ve somehow acquired more since then.

Marbles, playing cards, pick-up sticks, jacks, pre-packaged arts and crafts projects. Crayons, paints, toy cars, tops, board games, sand shovels. A monkey suit, a kangaroo costume, a pink octopus outfit, at least four fairy dresses, and several pairs of plastic high heels with Disney princesses printed on top (I throw them in the trash every time I find them — the girls fish them back out). A miniature piano, a drum, a recorder, a plastic trumpet, two harmonicas, and a pair of pink plastic guitars.

These, dear friends, are the kids who have it all — and then some. And you know about my pathetic housekeeping abilities. It’s really becoming a problem.

Last summer, Tara and I bought a house just across town from the one we’d been renting, and we took the move as an opportunity to root through the kids’ stuff. One Saturday, we sent the girls over to their cousins’ house for a sleepover, giving us 24 hours to whisk everything unneeded or unloved or outgrown off to Goodwill, with their owners none the wiser.

The first hour was great. It was immensely satisfying — de-cluttering our lives of all manner of neglected knickknacks. We piled them in the living room and began to divide them between boxes that would come to our new home, and boxes that would soon clutter some other family’s house.

We were having fun! We were listening to our own music! We were getting away with things that would have elicited howls from the young Hanscoms if they knew what we were up to! Tara cried, “This is better than sex!”

But my god, the stuff! The sheer volume was mind-boggling! Two hours in, Tara looked at me: “You look like you need some food.” An hour later, she stood, staring wonderingly at the mountain on the living room floor. “And think of it,” she said. “You’re married to a woman who doesn’t shop.” Four hours after we started work, as I descended from the girls’ room with another box full of goodies, she grabbed me by the shoulder and said, breathlessly, “I had no idea.”

The stuffed animals alone were a wonder. Some, we knew would be missed if we got rid of them, but we stashed 34 of them in a box for recycling. (I got some good advice from Umbra Fisk on how to do that.)

But it was the “treasure boxes” that really blew our minds. You see, Chloe, the 4-year-old, is a collector. Each day after preschool, she stomps into the house, kicks off her pink furry Uggs, and quietly goes to work. She finds a purse from the dress-up box, or a yogurt container, or a plastic bag, and she makes her rounds, going room to room and through the backyard, picking up small items along the way.

A Lego, a marble, a miniature rubber cupcake, a shiny rock, a piece of broken glass, a seashell, a shred of polka-dotted ribbon, bits of garbage, our silverware — the little blond-headed hoarder puts them all into her bag or box. When she’s done, she looks at my wife or me and says, sternly, “DON’T do anything with this, OK? This is my treasure.” Or she just quietly hides the day’s take in a corner or a drawer where she thinks we’ll never find it.

Occasionally, Tara or I will find one of these collections and put all the pieces back where they belong. It can take a good 20 minutes to unpack one because you have to retrace Chloe’s tracks — and she covers some serious ground.

Can you find the rubber penguin?

That weekend, preparing for our move, we must have found 50 of them. To make cleanup easier, we spread the contents on the floor — and before long, the floor had all but disappeared from sight. Walter Wick would have been proud. No really, here’s a small sampling. –>

Eight hours after we’d begun, we were finally sweeping up. We’d packed one of our cars to the roof with giveaways — and the work wasn’t even done. Tara spent two more hours that evening rifling through the “crafts” cupboard, and found three more bags of odds and ends that she would sort through the next night while the kids slept.

Since the Great Clean Out, life has been just fine. We’ve settled into the new house, which is tiny and, thus far, blissfully uncluttered. In the three months since the move, the girls have missed just one thing that we tossed into a giveaway box — a Piglet costume that I’d deemed too small for Chloe — and by some miracle of motherly intuition, Tara had spared it at the last minute and stashed it in a box that made it to the new basement.

We’re doing our best to buy as little new stuff as possible, and focus on having fun adventures instead. (Although Tara did break down the other day and buy a $10 “Smackers” lip gloss kit to keep Chloe happy for that last part of a five-hour car ride. “Whuuuut?” I said. “You weren’t there,” she said. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”) And you know what? I think the girls like living with a little less stuff around, too. On occasion, they even play with the toys we spared, which fit nicely into a few small bins Tara bought to organize them.

So please, this year, do us all a favor and get my kids nothing for Christmas. And me? I’d like nothing, too.

Sincerely yours,

Greg Hanscom is a senior editor at Grist. He tweets about cities, bikes, transportation, policy, and sustainability at @ghanscom.


Recommended by Films For Action:

Consuming Kids throws desperately needed light on the practices of a relentless multi-billion dollar marketing machine that now sells kids and their parents everything from junk food and violent video games to bogus educational products and the family car. Drawing on the insights of health care professionals, children's advocates, and industry insiders, the film focuses on the explosive growth of...



Religion aside for a moment, there’s a terrible addiction that has swept across this country, and it’s one of the nation’s best kept secrets. Mostly everyone will tell you that it’s a really bad thing, but nobody can seem to stop doing it. And it doesn’t come cheap, nearly sixty percent of us are in long term debt because of it. No, we’re not talking booze...



From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us...



4.3 · 2
What's Next
Load Comments (6)
Trending Today
M.I.A. Just Dropped a Killer New Track in Solidarity with Migrants
5 min · 7,248 views today · Borders is dedicate to her uncle Bala, in a tweet posted this morning M.I.A wrote "One of the first Tamil migrants to come to the UK in the '60s who went [on] to inspire so...
Australian Comedian Perfectly Sums Up Why Other Countries Think US Gun Laws Are Crazy
14 min · 6,728 views today · At least 10 people were killed and 20 others injured when a shooter opened fire on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon Thursday, October 1. According to Douglas...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 5,771 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
John Pilger on Paris, ISIS and Media Propaganda
18 min · 4,988 views today · Afshin goes underground with one of NATO imperialism's greatest chroniclers, John Pilger. The award-winning journalist and filmmaker tells us how Washington, London and Paris...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 4,183 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into A Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,600 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Confessions of a Walmart Hitman
11 min · 2,527 views today · Former Walmart executive recounts how he would watch Associates sit in the break room during their lunch hour without eating because they couldn't afford food. Walmart banned...
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 1,234 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
The Image Hollywood Created of Africa
3 min · 1,210 views today · After viewing Mama Hope's video, "Alex Presents Commando," Gabriel, Benard, Brian and Derrik (the Kenyan men in this video) told us they wanted to make one that pokes fun at...
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 1,205 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
We Created Islamic Extremism: Those Blaming Islam for ISIS Would Have Supported Osama Bin Laden in the '80s
Ben Norton · 993 views today · Jingoists conveniently forget the West's Cold War strategy was to arm the Islamic extremists that became al-Qaida
John Pilger: "There Is No War On Terror... There Is A War OF Terror."
3 min · 984 views today · John Pilger speaks frankly about the "War on Terror," saying that no such thing exists. "There is a war OF terror," he says, and it is primarily state-sponsored terror, and...
Where Is Our Jeremy Corbyn?
Chris Hedges · 958 views today · The politics of Jeremy Corbyn, elected by a landslide Saturday to lead Britain’s Labour Party after its defeat at the polls last May, are part of the global revolt against...
The Century of the Self (2002)
230 min · 933 views today · The Century of the Self tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in...
In 5 Minutes, This Student Destroys Our Double Standards For Men And Women
Tyler Kingkade · 861 views today · Chaz Smith has a problem with boys being taught to play aggressively while girls are taught to "play it safe." Smith, a 20-year-old cinema studies major at the University of...
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 662 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 598 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Capitalism Is Just a Story - Rise Up and Create a New One
6 min · 589 views today · How many of us have a sneaking suspicion that something pretty fundamental is going wrong in the world? We keep hearing about the potentially devastating consequences of...
A Brief History of European Colonization in Africa
4 min · 544 views today · This clip, narrated by Kevin Spacey, comes from the feature documentary Uganda Rising. It shows how Africa was carved up by European colonial forces, using divide and rule...
Plutocracy: Political Repression In The U.S.A. (2015)
109 min · 524 views today · Plutocracy is the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history through the lens of class. A multi-part series by filmmaker Scott Noble, Part I focuses on...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?