Holidays 2017

December 9, 2017 9:00 am

Toy alternatives: Gift ideas for over-cluttered parents

Kid-sized kitchen supplies will keep little ones occupied during long winter afternoons.

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Christmas can be a time of dread for parents. It’s not just the rush to wrap-up work deadlines coupled with a slew of holiday errands. It’s also the thought of an onslaught of new toys that will take up what little room is left in the house.

READ MORE: The most popular holiday gifts of 2017: the Instant Pot, Google Home and many toys

Perhaps you’re a parent hoping to preserve a clutter-free corner of your living space. Or maybe you know such a parent and are trying to think of the best gift for their kids. Either way, this list is for you.

Things that take up zero space

Adding to the toy pile is easy. Know what’s not easy? Finding something fun to do to occupy all those long winter weekends.

The gift of experiences helps everyone in the family avoid cabin fever and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Indoor playground pass

Outdoor playgrounds are out of commission for the next several months, but their indoor cousins can be a great alternative. There are many of them out there, featuring anything from rubber rocking horses for pint-sized riders, to trampolines for older kids. Find an age-appropriate one in your area and give the gift of a season’s pass. For example:

Sprouts – 6 Visit Family Play Pass (in Toronto)


Price: $66.50

Available here

Activities pass

Many children already have at least one activity scheduled for the weekend, and you might not want to add another fixed commitment. You can keep things flexible with a pass that opens the door to a multitude of activities during the whole school year, such as the one offered by Kids World in Vancouver:

Kids World – School Year Pass (in Vancouver)


Price: $50 for a September to June pass (price prorated for passes bought later in the year)

Available here


Another option is a season’s or yearly pass to something like the aquarium, a local museum, or the zoo. For example:

Calgary Zoo – child membership gift card 

Price: $31.45

Available here

Financial gifts

Know what else doesn’t take up any space? Money. Financial donations are often appreciated by parents squeezed between mortgage and daycare costs (or footing the grocery bill for a growing teenager). But your gift doesn’t have to be as impersonal as an envelope stashed with cash:

Annual contributions toward an epic trip when they’re 18

Help your little one fulfill their future bucket list by creating a fund for them to travel when they’re a bit older.

RESP contributions

Here’s another good use for the money: A child’s Registered Education Savings Plan or RESP. This is a special savings account designed for parents who want to save up for their children’s post-secondary education. Contributions earn a government top-up up to a cap. Your little beneficiaries might not understand the significance of the gift right away, but they’ll thank you for it later.

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Things that take up a little space and require no DIY

Gift ideas that aren’t toys often involve some kind of DIY on the part of either parents or kids. But many tired-eye moms and dads have no desire or ability to spend hours cutting, sewing, gluing and stapling. And, let’s face it, some of us just aren’t crafty enough to produce something that will elicit wonder and cheers on our own. And DIY kits for children can be equally treacherous, easily leading to glitter explosions, paint splashes and other creativity-linked disasters.

Instead, try any of these:


Books, of course, are a wonderful toy alternative. But if you wanted something a little different, you could try audiobooks instead. Classics like Peter and the Wolf, the timeless fairy tale narrated to orchestra music by Sergei Prokofiev, will jog their imagination and help them to focus and listen.

Peter and the Wolf audiobook

Price: $14.99

Available at Indigo

A magazine subscription

If your little reader already has plenty of relatives gifting books, buy them magazine subscriptions instead. A digital one won’t take up additional room on the bookshelf. But if you’re keen to limit screen time, you could opt for an old-fashioned print subscription with the understanding that most older issues will have to be periodically tossed in the recycling bin.

National Geographic – print + digital subscription

Price: $24

Available here

Gardening equipment

How about enlisting your little ones for a little help with yard work? Raking leaves can be a lot of fun for toddlers especially. Plus, you can leave all of it in the garden shed.

Melissa and Doug Giddy Buddy Rake

Price: $13.46

Available here

Kitchen tools

OK, when it comes to the kitchen, little helpers aren’t mess-free. But cleaning up edible spills from your counter is generally a lot easier than, say, scrubbing gluey fingerprints off your couch.


Price: $29.99

Available on

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