For the last few years, we’ve embraced the ‘rule’ that circulates the internet encouraging people to only gift each other four presents; something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. In addition to this, we have stocking gifts – that actually fit in a stocking – and a small gift from Santa. I’ve also fallen hook, line and sinker for Christmas Eve boxes too… but even then, these are not jammed packed with stuff.

I would’ve have thought most people would be in favour of attempting to stem the tide of excess. Personally, I find an over flowing playroom quite stressful – the kids just flit from one thing to another and so many toys just lay untouched.

I’m just not sure a mountain of presents is really necessary to fulfil childhood dreams. I’m also not convinced the kids would want that either – my nephew recently turned two and was far happier that someone had brought a dog to his party than any particular gift. In fact, he point blank refused to open more than two. I’m just not convinced the kids would have a more enjoyable Christmas if we quadrupled the mound of presents.

However, I recently read an article on the BBC in which one parent decreed that people who follow the rule are:

“incredibly smug… and all over social media telling everyone how great they are (as per all the stupid breastfeeding selfies) – it’s as usual, nothing to do with their children.”

I was quite taken aback by this response and wondered if this was truly the case…

Am I simply a Grinch who is depriving my children? Perhaps I’m more concerned about my dwindling bank balance rather than my children’s happiness. Am I really writing this so that I seem wholesome rather than admitting to the fact I drink Starbucks despite their tax dodging habits?!

Maybe, in my selfishness I’m condemning my kids to a lifetime of counselling and perhaps I am smug. Smug that I’ve actually really enjoyed Christmas since adopting this rule. Smug that I’m not in debt come January. Smug that my kids can tell me exactly what they received for Christmas last year.

But honestly? Aside from getting to enjoy Christmas and value each present – I think there’s some cracking reasons to follow this mantra:

Is it bad to be left wanting?

Katie currently has numerous ‘wants’ – a Sylvanian families caravan and car, a life size doll (that is the height of creepy), a superhero outfit for her Lottie doll, and to be honest… anything that is advertised on Milkshake TV.

Whilst I could buy all of these things – would it actually make her any happier? Would it ‘make’ her Christmas?

Firstly, I think it’s sad that ultimately there’s nothing she actually truly wants. She has toys that are similar to all of these things but obviously, anything on TV is brilliant to a five year-old. I know that this is my fault for buying her gifts throughout the year, but I don’t think she’s ever really experience that feeling of longing for something badly.

I’m also not convinced that ‘more’ really makes Katie happier. When we’ve visited friends who have less toys, I watch her play in a more creative manner. I see her focus on those toys for much longer. I watch her engage with the wider environment around her or utilise other objects that she can find within the play. All of which seems a lot more fun!

I think so many toys actually make kids a bit bored – play becomes too easy – too much is provided for them or dictated. Instead of seeing cars that can be anything, we’re meant to buy one of each variety – a fire car, a police car, a spy car…. I’m just done with it. What’s wrong with imagination?

More thoughtful gifts

I’ve really enjoyed shopping within this rule for a number of reasons. Firstly, I can think carefully about each gift as I want to ensure that each one is really good. Secondly, because I don’t feel the need to buy a lot, I feel like I can choose things that are more expensive. Finally, because there’s not a lot of things to buy – I actually have the time to shop in person.

Whilst, shopping online is easy – I miss being able to actually look at things rather than relying on other people’s reviews. So many of our local shops have these amazing displays and are actually pleasant places to visit too. I think the act of visiting them is actually a nice way of preparing for Christmas.

My local children’s shop, The Treehouse in Stockbridge is a prime example. Obviously, it’s got a smaller range than say, Amazon, but instead of having endless shelves stacked to the roof like some factory the displays are actually attractive. You can tell that the stock has been selected thoughtfully and more importantly, it’s an enjoyable shopping experience.

On Instagram last week, I shared a picture of Katie’s Lottie doll (dressed as a pirate) and explained how happy we are to have found a company that provides dolls with a sensible body shape, has cool clothes, and yet is also great quality. I wonder if I would’ve found something like this if not for being able to find it locally in The Treehouse.

I have to say the same is true of Magformers – a magnetic construction kit – where the pieces just snap together to form different shapes. They’re really easy to use and even though they are aimed at older kids, Thomas plays with them too. I know construction toys are really important for encouraging spatial awareness and is basically the foundation for the STEM subjects, but Katie just isn’t that engaged with Lego.

Support local business

I wrote a whole post last year on why I think people should support local businesses, but ultimately it’s obvious: the people who own these businesses are a friends and neighbours. They are the shops that make up our neighbourhoods and make them enjoyable places to live. Stockbridge was given the accolade of Scotland’s ‘coolest place to live’ no doubt, because of the array of coffee shops, delis, restaurants and unique shops. I have SO many favourites in Stockbridge… The Pantry, Coco Chocolatier, The Method, Treehouse and of course, JS Mellis – I just can’t imagine life without them.

But if nothing else, bear this in mind:

When you buy from a small business an actual person does a little happy dance. Shop Locally in Edinburgh

Finally, I have to point out that my kids are not actually only getting four presents. As I said before, they receive Christmas Eve boxes, a stocking, and a small gift from Santa. But obviously, they are also lucky to receive gifts from other family members and assorted family friends. The space under the Christmas tree can definitely not be described as sparse.

But I also hope that it’s not excessive – I would like my children to feel grateful for what they receive and know that people have thought of them. I would like to appreciate that the act of giving is one of love, not of habit or convention.

So, if I have come across as smug or sanctimonious – then I’m sorry. This may not be something you would like to do and that’s cool. But I do actually hope that you’ll support local businesses when you can and find a way to appreciate the very cool city that we live in.

3 thoughts on “The four present rule – Grinch or Genius?”

  1. I think there is too much blaming other parents for being “smug” when really they have simply made a different choice to us and we feel like that is questioning the validity of our choices and we get defensive! In reality I think parents have every right to feel a little “smug” when a choice they have made seems to work out well, because let’s be fair half the time parenting feels like a baffling puzzle with no solution 😉 So if it works for you, then I want to hear about it!

    Whilst I don’t do the 4 gifts rule (I personally find it hard to stick to those 4 areas) I love the idea behind it. This year we’re going to head around the charity shops to find family games, as O adores them and we’ve previously found some great bargains in there. He can never think of what he really wants (although he mentions lots of things in passing that he forgets about once we’ve left the shop haha) but I know he’ll love this.

    1. In all honesty, I’m pretty flexible on the categories myself – like my read could also be like food that has text on it or a CD that has info on the back – so it’s highly interpretive. But I do try to stick to the number. It’s a great idea to hunt in charity stores – I also have a great deal with one my close friends that ‘reloved’ items are acceptable so I’m actually sending her son a bit box of toys that my kids don’t play with (he’s a year younger!!).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *