My Gift Giving Philosophy

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Eva Amurri shares her gift giving philosophy

This blog post was originally published on December 18, 2019.

This blog post made waves when I published it years ago. I think because people expected me to spoil my kids with presents! I’m republishing it this year, because not only has my philosophy stayed the same, but the last few years have only reinforced the sentiment for me. I’m glad my kids already understand that the Holidays aren’t just about how many gifts you get, but mostly about the care and love that goes into picking the exact perfect thing for somebody you care about. I think reinforcing the celebration of it all is the most important part! I’m putting the original blog post below, but I added some updated pics…because we have a whole new kid now! LOL. It’s super fun that Mateo really understands Christmas this year. Let me know in the comments if you handle gifts in a similar way. I’d love to know how you do it all in your family!

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Last year, I shared some Christmas Traditions I grew up with that I’m continuing with my kids, and they involve giving back. It’s always really important to me that Christmas doesn’t become all about excess. I love that my kids get so excited about Santa, their Elf On The Shelf (thanks, behavior miracles), decorating the tree, and all the reindeer– but I’ve made a concerted effort over the years to NOT spoil my kids at Christmastime. I know that this is not the most popular stance to take, but my kids are VERY lucky and get so many amazing gifts and perks year-round from my very fun job, and from the lots of family and friends who are so sweet and spoil them too. They get so many amazing presents! I try not to pile on, so I’m pretty strict about gifting this time of year.  I want my kids to always feel gratitude for what they have, and not take it for granted. I’ve found that focusing on a mix of how we can give to and help others– mixed with a limited expectation of what they will receive– helps keep this in check. Neither of them has ever been super demanding about wanting “things” and I think this is a big part of why. (We have a similar strategy for Birthdays).

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So how do we handle Christmas gifting in Casa Amurri-Martino? I ask each kid to narrow down their ONE wish from Santa every year.  This year, Marlowe wants a Baby Doll, and Major hasn’t really locked it in yet (he’s getting a mini guitar and amp…which he will FLIP over. ). When they come downstairs on Christmas Morning, the gift for each of them is unwrapped in front of the tree with a big bow! In addition to this gift, my kids each get a gift from Kyle and I that is something they’ve been asking for, or expressing interest in. Major is getting a remote control submarine (He came up with this, and I found one on Amazon shockingly!), and Marlowe is getting a Science set (age appropriate) to do experiments since Science is her favorite subject in school and she’s really been excelling in it. Now that the kids are older, their final gift is one they pick out for each other! It’s so cute to see what they choose. I take them each to the toy store and they can buy something under $50. Major chose a really cute Animal Rescue Barbie for Marlowe, and Marlowe chose a Playmobil set for Major. They also receive some little gifts and chocolates in their stockings.  And that’s the whole shebang! My kids have always gotten three gifts each, and they’ve never felt like it “wasn’t enough”.  I highly recommend gifting LESS this time of year!

I’ve also found that limiting gifts makes them SO much more excited about the gifts that they do receive. My kids can tell you the few gifts they got for Christmas every single year, from Santa, from us, and from each other. I love that they still mean so much to them– and that they don’t expect much, but are so happy with what they get. The Grandparents are coming to town in the days after Christmas, and I’m sure the whole “don’t spoil them” thing will go right out the window (LOL) but it makes me feel good to set a more low-key expectation for them.

I’m curious about gift-giving in your home– do you have certain rules around what your kids receive? Please share in the comments below!

P.s. – I would love to bring your attention to a personal Holiday Season Fail: When we were shooting the photos for this blog post, I had unexpectedly run out of tape…and I had to wrap the gifts I’m holding in this post with Bandaids.  Yep.  So this is your official reminder that nobody has their sh*t together 100% this time of year! Not even the people who get paid to! LOL. Happy Holidays, guys!

Eva Amurri shares her gift giving philosophy

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Photographs by Julia Dags | Copyright © 2022 Happily Eva After, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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  1. Lauren says:

    I love this idea and my husband and I plan to do something similar with our kids! I am an only child and growing up I received Santa gifts, gifts from my parents and extended family. Luckily the way I was raised, I don’t feel entitlement to any certain number of gifts and I was always, still am, very appreciative of anything I did receive (my mom gave me an old pair of her shoes one year as a joke and I was still so grateful! lol). But now that I’m an adult, and Santa still exists for us even as adults!, it’s overwhelming to try and get ‘enough’ gifts and it’s stressful. I have imposed a limit on gifts moving forward in hopes that it helps alleviate stress and cost!

    12.18.19 Reply
    • Caroline Winterhoff says:

      This is similar to me. I’m an only child and got A LOT on Christmas. My parents didn’t have a huge amount of money and I was still taught to give back and be appreciative.

      12.18.19 Reply
  2. Stephanie Stefanoff says:

    Hey Eva!

    I’m a new mommy to an 8 month old so this Christmas is a bit of a trial year. I got my baby things she needs from myself and my husband and things like toys from Santa Claus. Just two gift boxes 🙂

    When she’s older I want to practise three rules for gift buying: 1 gift she needs, 1 gift she wants, and 1 gift she reads.

    As always great post!


    12.18.19 Reply
  3. Kristin says:

    I really really love this. I have a 1.5 year old and she got 3 gifts this year, even though the concept of Santa and gifts is still out of her grasp.

    My challenge is with grandparents – going forward we will probably be spending Xmas morning with at least one set, if not both. Both sets live far away and we usually spend a week during the holidays – which includes Xmas morning. They are good about not overspoiling so far, but def want to give a few gifts. Aunts and Uncles as well.

    Not sure how we will tackle that, so Xmas Eve and Day aren’t excessive, despite our efforts to rein it in. It doesn’t help that the adults all gift each other generously either, which is something I don’t agree with but have always just rolled along with since his side has their traditions and I didn’t want to squash it.

    12.18.19 Reply
    • Hilary says:

      Hi fellow mama! Our little one is a similar age and we are really trying to focus on minimalism and simplicity when it comes to toys and stuff. A few things we’ve tried with the grandparents that have been surprisingly successful:

      1. Requesting experience gifts for our little one, such as a zoo/aquarium membership, music classes, etc. The grandparents can do that activity with your child or not.
      2. Requesting that the grandparents keep the toys at their own houses, so when LO visits she can play with them there. This forces them to consider if it’s really worth buying, after all, they’ll be living with it! It also allows them to buy whatever they want, and I don’t have to see it all the time.
      3. Requesting financial contributions. Whether it’s for a college fund, travel fund, camp fund, whatever, we’ve been surprised that some relatives have just given us a small check that we save for her.

      All of these involve some kind of communication about our desires, but the grandparents usually ask what LO wants for Christmas anyway!

      12.31.19 Reply
  4. Ann Altman says:

    How do you manage presents from Grandparents and other family members? 3 gifts sounds totally manageable but the excess always seems to come from external gift givers.

    12.18.19 Reply
  5. Lee E says:

    My gift-giving philosophy with my nieces and nephews: one thing to play with, one thing to wear and one thing to read. They always get these from me.

    12.18.19 Reply
    • Glenda says:

      I do the same for my niece / nephews. A toy. An outfit. A book.

      12.20.19 Reply
  6. Anna says:

    I love this so much. Its our first Christmas with a little person around and he only has 1 present under the tree. I was wrestling with a bit of guilt around that but Im glad I decided to stick to my guns. I always knew I did not want our Holidays to revolve around gifts and I love this idea so much as he gets older and we add more babies to our family. Thanks for sharing! Merry Christmas to you guys ?❤

    12.18.19 Reply
  7. Nancy says:

    Hi Eva,

    This is such a humbling post. We have two children and we do one gift for each child. We’ve actually never done a Christmas wish list. We are very attentive to the things they desire and try and gift those desires for Christmas. In the recent years we’ve bought toys for the kids at a shelter my son volunteers in, in Norwalk. Its our way of giving back.


    12.18.19 Reply
  8. Dana says:

    I do things somewhat similar in fashion. We get each of our two kids one or two things to open (not including the little gifts in the stocking from Santa) and then we put money in their bank accounts. We do the same for birthdays as well. My husband is from Scotland and his whole family is still there. With that said they only see the kids twice a year (they come for each birthday), sometimes 3 if we go their in the winter and they do plenty of spoiling much to my dismay. However, that is why we now do what we do. Happy Holidays!

    12.18.19 Reply
  9. Sally says:

    I wish I could do this, my girls are expecting everything they see on the tv!
    I would like to blame my parents as they always spoil and go completely nuts but I’ve started to follow suit and now have no idea how to rein it in?!
    Happy Christmas to your beautiful family x

    12.18.19 Reply
  10. Lauren Bryan says:

    My Christmases growing up were always over the top-thanks to my mom. She made our needlepoint stockings-which she’s done with all her grandkids (my 1 year old got his this year!) and we had a pile of presents each with our own wrapping paper. Not that this is needed but it brings happy memories for me, so it’s what I do as well. Although, with my stepdaughter we’ve taken a step back. She has 5 sets of grandparents now so lots of presents. We took her to Universal last month and told her she would get that experience instead of gifts (although I did pick out some things there for her and stocking stuffers).

    12.18.19 Reply
  11. Sabrina says:

    We’ve been trying to figure out the perfect formula for gifts at Christmas time because I completely agree that it’s so overblown. I don’t want my kids to grow up with a focus on “getting things.” One philosophy I used when I worked at a Title I school and was in charge of Sub for Santa was that each kid would get “a want, a need, and a read.” So it might be one toy, socks or underwear or coat (whatever here most in need of), and a book. Thanks for sharing your philosophy! I love hearing other perspectives.

    12.18.19 Reply
  12. Staci says:

    I tried to do something to wear, something to share, something he wants, something he needs and something to read. These areas were always so much fun for me to figure out each year and he was able to have that want under the tree from Santa 🙂

    12.18.19 Reply
  13. Erica says:

    My philosophy is similar to yours, few presents on Christmas with the focus more on spending time together as a family. I have found extended family goes overboard so it is my way of trying to keep things in check.

    A friend of mine recently told me her family’s Christmas gift giving tradition which I thought was fun “Something you want, something you need, something for fun and something to read”.

    12.18.19 Reply
  14. Molly says:

    Such a good idea! I’m recently married and don’t have kids yet. A bunch of my friends have kids and I “have” kids from my babysitting days. I always try to get them useful things, which can span from clothes, to kid-friendly utensils, to fun character band-aids. Books are also a go to gift. My new “signature” gift is a bathing suit, because I teach swim lessons. I almost never give toys because 1) they probably already have plenty and 2) not trying to stick my friends with a noisy toy! LOL

    12.18.19 Reply
  15. Jane says:

    When my daughter was very young we had the tendency to go overboard…. she was a very long awaiting child/grandchild… it got all a bit too much. We simplified in our family both sides, only grandparents buy one thing to unwrap and a cheque which she got a bit of pocket money, rest in the bank. No extended family gifts. If you make a list 3 things only

    12.18.19 Reply
  16. Amanda says:

    We do basically the exact same thing in our house. I feel the same way and I also don’t like to give them a large or excessive “Santa” gift because I’ve learned from having older kids that the kids go to school and say Santa got me this what did Santa get you? This turns into why did Santa get so and so an iPad and he only got me a toy car? Hard to explain that one so I try to keep it average.
    Also, what are you going to do when your kids can read and check your blog posts? LOL We will no longer be able to get the early scoop!

    12.18.19 Reply
  17. Stephanie Allen says:

    When I saw the title for this blog post, I couldn’t click it fast enough…..even though you grew up in a really amazing upbringing, you always cease to amaze me with how down to earth you really are. I think this gift rule is spectacular and SO smart….this year it’s really gone around about how kids don’t remember the gifts but they remember the little things….I truly think Marlowe & Major will remember the whole shebang!

    You’re kicking butt at this whole mama thing and can’t wait to see little bro join the party!!!!

    Ps. I hope you turn these blog posts into a book one day, even if it’s just for your kids to show just how special their childhood was and your perspective of this magical time with them!

    12.18.19 Reply
  18. Brittany says:

    I super appreciate your stance! We are kind of the opposite in some respects. We rarely buy our kids new toys throughout the year so birthdays and Christmas are their time to reload. Santa usually leaves them the biggest gift, and we give them each a big gift and a few smaller ones and ALWAYS a book or two (??‍♀️ Teacher.) Their grandparents spoil them rotten, but I generally dole the gifts out over the months after Christmas or a birthday. Too many toys at once it overwhelming for young kids and the best play comes from less toys and deeper play with those toys. So we basically take a few out and let them play and get bored of them and then dip into the stash. My son is only 1, and my daughter is 3; but we had them give each other something this year, too.

    It’s also important to me that they don’t just rip open gifts with abandon. We take the time to go around the circle one at a time to appreciate someone else receiving a gift. It bothers me when people open and don’t even know who it is from. It’s special to give and to receive and it should be savored on both sides!

    12.18.19 Reply
  19. Jen says:

    We tend to be a little extra when it comes to Christmas morning. We don’t really buy them stuff throughout the year, so I save all my ideas for Christmas. We have the “bigger” or more special items from us, and the smaller things from Santa. We have two boys, 2 years apart so Santa brings a lot of things that are meant to share… games, puzzles etc. Easter baskets are full of summer fun activities. And birthdays are usually an experience. That’s sort of our gift philosophy for the year.

    12.19.19 Reply
  20. Ashley says:

    How do you tackle the grandparents giving way too much?
    I always suggest experience gifts or money in the college fund accounts but they always end up giving tons of toys and little trinkets that break/poor quality.

    My love language is not gifts (giving or receiving) and I’m so practical I hate this time of year, when it comes to gifts! 😉

    12.19.19 Reply
    • Cate says:

      Sell the unneeded toys on Craigslist or the like & add the proceeds to their college funds 🙂 As a mom of kiddos who will soon head off to college, I am thankful we added as much to their accounts as we could.

      12.20.19 Reply
  21. Andrea says:

    3 gifts sound amazing! Our son is an only child and while I try to keep presents under control my husband always goes overboard and buys things without discussing it with me. And guess what happens. The kid doesn’t play with 90% of the stuff he gets.
    This year we did better. We tried really hard to get him gifts that were related to his interests, not just stuff.
    When he was a baby/toddler I wrapped up toys he already had that I had put away months earlier.

    12.19.19 Reply
  22. Samantha S says:

    My family has always gone all-out with Christmas gifts, and it gives me SO much anxiety every year!! Now that I’m having littles of my own, this is exactly what I want to do! I’m not sure how to manage my own family, or set expectations that our babies will not be buying them gifts, but I think limiting to one gift from each of them to each kid, and then doing a secret Santa among the adults might work. At least I can try!

    11.03.22 Reply
  23. Jordan says:

    We don’t have kids but have 6 nieces and nephews – from toddler to high school. Each year we give them all the same or coordinated ornaments. Affordable for us (usually in the $10 range each, a lot of times I buy them during end-of-season sales immediately after Christmas for the following year). I like that it lets the kids build their own ornament collection, then their parents can pack it away with the other decorations and it’s not a giant toy taking up space in their house year round. Since they’re all different ages, too, it’s a gift we can keep consistent for all ages.

    12.27.22 Reply