Giving and Sharing: Creating A Way of Life

In May of 2009, I had the opportunity to take my eleven-year-old daughter with me on a work-related trip to Uganda, East Africa.  I had no idea how much it would change her perception of the world and my perception of her.  While we were there, we spent most of our time serving the people in rural villages- we built a brick house and we Tiffany 285taught art in a school.  She played with the other children as I laughed with the other women.  We also had a chance to spend the day in two urban schools- we started a lending library in one and were treated to a musical performance in the other.  The backdrop of all this was extreme poverty- unsafe water, mud huts, limited access to education, no health care- poverty beyond what we could imagine.  However, when we returned, my daughter said, “Mommy, it’s so strange. They don’t have anything but they were so happy and so proud of the little bit they had and they worked so hard.  Nobody every complained.  Here, we have everything and complain all the time!” Out of the mouths of babes…….

But that got me thinking about how important it is to establish a sharing and giving attitude in our children at a very young age. With the holidays approaching and the current economic pressure most of us are feeling, it’s even more important that we help our children look beyond the material and help them gain a greater appreciation for the more important things in life. So, I thought I’d share just a few ideas of things we’ve tried in our house.

Make gifts: It sounds simple but sometimes we can get caught up and forget that less is more. Several weeks ago, there was a bookmark craft on this site.  What a great idea for a teacher gift- all teachers read!! And it will probably get more use than the “Best Teacher” lapel pins or the odd-scented body washes your child’s teacher has collected over the years. Or, go traditional- I’ve appreciated receiving baked goods as gifts during the holidays. It allows me to do spend time doing other things and still have great homemade goodies for my guests.

Last  year, my kids and I played with the gift-in-a-mug idea. But, I know that mugs are another one of those things teacher get way too many of, we made the mixes in holiday-themed ziploc bags and instead of spending money on a mugs, we put together little gift bags and baskets with a couple of different mixes (like a soup and a hot tea OR a hot chocolate and a muffin).

Creative recycling/gifting: My older son is 7 year older than my younger son but he has managed to hold on to most of his toys from his toddler years.  For his younger brother’s birthday, he went through his toy box, found all his old Disney Toy Story stuff, cleaned it up and gave it to his younger brother. It was like Christmas!! My little son was so excited to get so many of his favorite characters and older son had no idea that he had the power to give so much joy by simply cleaning out his toy box. And, better yet, they play together more because my older son still likes to come “visit” his old toys now that they have a new owner!

Shopping across seasons: Anyone who knows me well teases me about this one but off-season shopping is NOT just for clothes.  Last year, my older daughter and I created the most awesome dress-up kit for my then 2 ½ daughter by buying clearance Halloween costumes.  We got 5-piece Hannah Montana sets for $1. We got generic princess costumes for less than $2. We caught Claire’s 10 for $10 clearance and found shoes for $1.  When all was said and done, my 2 ½ year old got a dress up kit for Christmas that had more than 20 fancy, sparkly dress-up items and 3 pair of shoes. The best part was, including the bin that we decorated with sharpies, it cost me less that $20 and everything was an appropriate size to last a little while and better quality than those $40 or $50 pre-made kits. Plus, my older daughter and I had fun spending time together, scavenging around for bargains to make the kit and my daughter tween was focused on what would make her sister happy instead of what everything she wanted for Christmas.

Also, remember to stash things away for birthday parties and other holidays. Buy red Christmas stuff on clearance to use for Valentine’s Day. Halloween clearance items (especially the trick-or-treat toys) make great goody-bag stuffers for birthday parties or stocking stuffers for Christmas.  Who says you can’t give a Valentine’s Day Barbie for Christmas? Last week, I bought 6 pair of swim goggles for $1 and I’m going to use those for a March birthday party.

Keep one/give one: It seems every Christmas we have one relative the goes over board OR my kids end up with 3DSC05336 versions of the “it” toy for the year.  In my house, when we open gifts, we leave everything in its package until we’re done. Then each kid gets to lay everything out and inventory it. They decide what they absolutely have to keep and what they are willing to share. We go through a similar routine for birthdays. The “share” items go in a tub and we use that for birthday gifts, shelter donations, and toy drives. Some years, we’ve had enough stuff that we have even been able to sponsor a child at Christmas the next year. They have even sent some items to Uganda to give to children there, especially stuffed animals and books.

What are some of your ideas for simplifying the holidays and helping your children focus less on the receiving and more on the giving and sharing?.


  1. Thanks Tiffany. I love the dress-up kit idea and the keep one/give one!

  2. You’re awesome Tiffany!! Love it all!!

  3. I love this too! My extended family has stopped exchanging gifts between the adults. Instead we come up with ways to help our neighbors/community and do that in honor of our family. I LOVE doing this and it does change our outlook on the season as Christmas day approaches. And we also get to spend more time just being a family instead of opening endless gifts. I find so much more joy to battle the holiday crowds to buy coats and clothing for children in need than to try to figure out what junky items I can get for someone in my family who already has lots of things.

  4. Cayce, I think this year, we are going to do charity for teacher gifts, along with some homemade goodies.

    Tiffany, you never cease to amaze me with your awesome giving heart!

  5. My daughter reminded me of her absoluter favorite holiday giving experience. She and I go shopping on Black Friday, simply because we’re adrenaline junkies!! But, this past year there wasn’t really the IT item we needed to stand in line for at 2am. So, instead, we served hot chocolate to those who were standing out in the cold in from of Walmart and KMart at 3am. Weeks later people would come up to me and say, “Aren’t you the Hot Chocolate Lady- thanks!” It’s a little selfish to think about how good it made me feel to be remembered but for my daughter, it reinforced the idea of how much little acts of kindness can stand out in a person’s life.