Simple Gift Giving: Want, Need, Wear, Read

a SIMPLE Holiday: sharing our traditions |

This Christmas I find myself with my hands a little fuller than usual, after the birth of our fourth child in August.  And, perhaps like many of you, we’re finding that the budget at the Fleck house is a little tighter this holiday season, too.

Instead of focusing on the things we cannot do, I’d rather shift the focus to appreciating what we can do, and enjoying the spirit of the season.

I’ve always been more of a quality over quantity person, and I hope to raise my kids to have the same attitude.

So, this year, more than ever, I’m committed to a simple holiday. 

Simple Gift Giving: Want, Need, Wear, Read |

Simple Gift Giving

This year we’re going back to the basics regarding our gift giving philosophy for our children.  Our Gift Giving Philosophy is based on something I heard years ago on a parenting e-list I’m a part of and it goes like this:

  • something they WANT
  • something they NEED
  • something to WEAR
  • something to READ

Over the years, sometimes we have added to this list, but to be honest, when we did it started to morph into something … well, something less than simple with all of those extra additions.

So, this year I want to keep the focus on the season and not on the number of presents under the tree.

Want, need, wear, read and a few goodies in each Christmas stocking will be more than enough.  With six people in our immediate family, there are going to be plenty of presents under the tree, even with this guideline in place.  To be honest, I don’t think the kids will even notice the change, but I know that my husband and I will – for the better.

This simplest of gift giving philosophies has served me well, not just at the holidays, but for birthdays and other gift giving occasions, too.  I just need a little reminder of that from time to time.

What are you doing to make the holidays simpler this year?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. craftyerin says:

    I heard this idea a couple of years ago and was drawn to it. Many of my friends do the the “three gifts for the three wise men” thing, but that feels contrived to me. I would love to buy 10 Christmas gifts for each of my kids, but my husband (rightly) wants to keep a lid on the influx, so something like Want, Need, Wear, Read works well for us. Except that I could never think of a “need”. I’m awful at saving “needs” for Christmas. I tend to just grab them when we’re in Target. So I tweaked it.

    We now do Read, Wear, Play, Share. The first three are the same. “Play” is the same as “Want”, since at this age and stage, the thing that my kids want is a toy. 😀 We omitted Need and added Share. I buy one thing intended for the kiddos to share. Last year it was the play kitchen. This year it will be a DIY lego table, which I’m very excited about! I can see it being a board game or a video game system some day.

    Thanks for the post. Just thought I’d throw in our variation in case it helps a reader!

    • I love your change! My kids always struggle on the “need” for the same reason 🙂

      • Natalie LeBaron says:

        I like your variation!
        I changed our “need” to “improving a talent”, but I didn’t create a cute poem for it! 😉
        So things I have done for that: art kits, origami, puzzles, music books, science kits, sport equipment, roller blades, cooking stuff, etc.
        I feel it works great for us!

  2. Oh, I love your categories! We’ve done something similar for the past few years–pjs, book, toy, game–but I love the flexibility of your categories. (Plus, our game cabinet is getting a little full!)
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s latest post: How to Deal with Your Crazy Family (from an Accidental Expert)

  3. This year my husband will be unemployed beginning mid-December for the first time since he was a teen! Big adjustments coming our way… We plan to get the kids one fairly small toy/game they’ve mentioned they want, but then we are traveling to see a friend who lives in the snow (no snow here in CA). The snow trip will be part of their gift, as they love it. This next year will be gifts of “experience” rather than tangible gifts for Birthdays as well. I’m thinking art class or playing on the baseball team as gifts rather than soon-forgotten toys.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly! We have tried to do largely handmade gifts for Christmas the last few years. Outside of knits, sewn items and the like we usually do make the larger gift something for all the kids, like a game (last year it was a Wii, but that is bigger even than normal). We do little fun/practical things in the stockings. Honestly, I don’t remember the last time we bought them a toy and I don’t even think they have noticed!

  5. We’ve been doing the “something you want, something you need, something to do, and something to read” gifts for several years. It really helps to keep my gift buying in-check. (I know when I’m done!) There is also a gift that my kids give to each other so they each have 5 presents to open plus the little silly stocking things – usually a toothbrush, toothpaste, underwear, socks, etc.

    I like the “share” present idea- when I was a kid, we always received a “family” gift at Christmas.

    Merry Christmas

  6. We’ve been doing this for several years now (want, need, wear, read). We love the simplicity and it makes Christmas day so much more enjoyable! At the ages our girls are (3 & 7) we choose two toys to give them (one they “need” and one they really want), an outfit or pajamas to wear, and a book. Two toys plus what grandparents give them is more than enough for them to focus on and results in calmer happier Christmases.

    We also discovered that it’s much more enjoyable to give gifts when we’re limited to just 4 choices. We have to think more carefully about the recipient and what the best choice will be. In some respects that makes it a bit more challenging because we have to choose more carefully but it also speeds up the gift making or buying process because there are fewer gifts to make or buy.

    This year I’m focusing on purchasing handcrafted gifts from etsy sellers or local artisans and continuing to make some of the gifts myself. I’m eschewing the big box corporate stores as much as possible and focusing on small businesses.

    That’s how we simplify. 🙂

  7. I love this idea! I wish I would have seen this before my Christmas sshopping was done, though.

    This year we’ve decided that “Santa” will get our two kids a few gifts, and I am going to make a few things for the kids from us. I made them each a pair of comfy pj pants, I am going to make some shoe storage containers with ocean animals and rocks or a construction zone for my son with beans for boulders, I am going to make a bed for my daughter’s American Girl sized doll and a stuffed lightsaber toy for my son.

    Simple things that they will enjoy and won’t cost us a fortune, or take up too much space 🙂

  8. I love the concept of this system, but the one year we tried it, I found it to be too stressful. Buying gifts to fit each category actually felt like an ADDED layer of complexity. I’m leaning toward the “three gifts/three wise men” philosophy. No matter what, the idea is to simplify, and there’s freedom in simplicity!

    Here’s a question: How do you manage gifts to the kids from each other? It’s not a big deal for my two kids, but what about when our family is larger?
    Alissa´s latest post: Summer Camping

  9. What a simple way to look at it. I think this is one we will take to heart around here this year!
    Kelly @ Ahimsa Mama´s latest post: Peaceful parenting means loving other people’s kids, too

  10. Kara, I did this last year based on your rec and really like it. As a tradition I get him pjs for christmas eve. Read last year I got him books and baby animal magazine but this year Ive already picked up a handful of books from the thrift store. im going to wrap each separately. Then a want, he has MANY of those and a need may be new sneakers or a backpack.

  11. Oh and Santa only ever brings one gift…theres just too many kids in the workd fir him to bring more for each kid. Havent figured that one out yet…

  12. Hi Kara–
    I love this idea! Do you give the gifts or does Santa? And if Santa does, then do you give anything?
    Thanks for sharing!

  13. I LOVE this concept and share it often!
    Angela´s latest post: Settling in? What’s that?

  14. We’re doing even less this year. Just one gift from us and one from Santa. With four kiddos and generous extended family, I’ve started to feel like anything else is too much. I say this every year and then I go shopping and see just “one more cute thing” that one of the kiddos would love and end up with so much stuff. Not this year…really this time.
    Dee´s latest post: Weekending

  15. We have been doing the three gift concept for years. I love it because it simplifies my life. I don’t have to do a lot of Christmas shopping for my kids and it helps me to stay home and focus on making and baking gifts for friends, neighbors, and my husband’s co-workers.
    Yvonne´s latest post: Ishimwe and Nexson

  16. Thanks for the great idea! I’ve never heard of this – and as a single mom this year with 2 kiddos (whose presents keep getting more and more expensive) I’m going to adopt this. I am sad to say that there are 2 toys – still in their boxes – from last year’s Christmas sitting in the game room unopened. What a waste (I’ll end up donating them).

    Love this! Thanks again!

  17. I tried a similar formula last year. I did want, need, make, read. I think the need gift was clothes. This year we are getting the kids excursion gifts so I think it will be want, need, do, read. I love the idea of 4 gifts, and the possibility of changing #3 are endless.

  18. I love this idea and we have used it in the past. Kids are grown now, and typically they get one bigger item, electronics which are usually more expensive, lol!
    Successful Woman’s Resource Center´s latest post: Truly grateful

  19. Samantha Savva says:

    I had never heard of this concept before yesterday. I wish I had of seen this 6 months ago when I started buying Christmas presents.

    I love the idea i head of for the three gifts just like the three wise man. However I also like the flexibility of the four gifts. I went bought hubby and myself a book yesterday for our “read” which we both had on our Christmas list anyway!

    Can I ask your readers – what do you do for presents for the nieces and nephews?

  20. We share you give less sentiment. Your way of giving is beautiful and I’ve shared you link with our readers. We’ve been encouraging others to choose well (and buy less this year too):
    It’s delightful to find others who are doing the same and sharing the joy of giving this way. You’ve shared this beautifully.
    wordplayhouse®´s latest post: buy less + give well = more creative play

  21. Would add “Recycle and Upcycle”, it’s amazing how much fun and how rewarding it can be 😉

  22. Cute idea! We aim for 3 gifts plus stockings. As the kids get older I’m shooting for this theme: Body (something to wear), Soul (something to spur on their walk with the Lord) and Spirit (something that would really want/love).
    Nicole {Simple Organic}´s latest post: Toward a New Yuletide Tradition

  23. I love the idea but know that I couldn’t stick to 4 especially as my kids are so little and many items are quite small so I was thinking:
    Read – for me getting up in the morning can be celebrated with a book
    Wear – clothing or pjs or dress ups
    Do – one on one time with a parent or family experience
    Share – something for the kids to enjoy together
    Play – something to encourage play and or music ie blocks, cd, rain stick, train etc
    Create – something for the art and craft collection or for cooking together
    Move – outdoor/physical activity ie ball, trampoline
    Appreciate – charity gift or donation
    I was thinking this list would cover 1 bigger item , 2-3 smaller and the rest stocking items
    I know they just need love and opportunities to play and be themselves but the buzz of Christmas for me is giving gifts
    Thank you for post

  24. We do the same thing. I have 4,10&12 year old girls. This way of giving has allowed us to really sit down and have a conversation about each category. We are a minimalist family and do have conversations regarding that, but this makes the kids really put thought into it. The 4 year old took a long time to make her wish for her need but in the end she decided she truly NEEDS a pair of new high quality sneakers as the old ones are getting tight. I don’t patril clothes and shoes, so until they inform me they truly need it we don’t buy it. I like that they think things through. Sadly they almost know what is under the tree in their 4 gifts, but that’s ok. We do add a 5th gift into the giving which does involve one extra thing from one of the categories given by a sibling. (We have them write 3 for each category, but give one)


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