How to avoid the dreaded toy aisle

I hate the term “life hack”, though I’m not too sure why. Perhaps because it’s one of those modern constructions that sound so important when really previous generations were getting along fine without. And perhaps because it feeds into that myth that there’s somehow a better way to be doing everything, and it’s all the same way…. like that phrase “parenting (or whatever) done RIGHT” that I see bandied around on the internet. There is no RIGHT here, people.

Possibly I’m just a bit oversensitive to this because I’m resisting my innate urge to do things RIGHT. I’m a 1 on the Enneagram, and I am constantly looking to improve. This is a soul-wearying task when it’s playing out unhealthily, but when you’re healthy it can actually be a super power.

So in the spirit of that super power, I thought I’d offer a few of my favourite life hacks. Suggestions for a better term are greatly appreciated.

My first suggestion for little practices that can make life significantly easier is THE PRESENT BOX. This isn’t a new idea, but today I found myself working it so beautifully. Simply put, I have a box, under our bed (don’t tell the kids) where I stash presents–sometimes for our kids but mostly for gifts for other kids.

Because it such a pain to have to make a special trip to the Warehouse (or wherever) to get a gift for a birthday party. Especially when that also entails taking your children to the dreaded toy aisle. The horror.

You know there’s going to be nagging, you know there’s going to be indecision, and you know you’re going to leave with some crappy flavour of the month piece of plastic.

So instead, you visit the present box. It’s just a quick trip upstairs and inside you find a curated collection of present possibilities. Easy.

Of course you need to create that curated collection yourself in advance.

That’s the key to most life hacks I suspect. Thinking ahead. Acting now to make life easier later.

So when I’m out and I spot some cool present ideas I often nab them then and there. Especially if they’re on sale. I think in categories: usually along the ages of my children as that’s what their friends will be. But also “new baby”, “nice gift for a stylish lady”, “comforting present for a weary heart” etc etc.

Today I went into Warehouse Stationery for one thing. One small thing: a pen. And I came out with this…

5 presents for 5 different age groups. All with that beloved yellow sale sticker.

I’ll work the same idea if I’m buying something online. Every baby should have the opportunity to hear Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s classic book “Peepo” many times over. So I bought a few copies for my stash all at once from Book Depository. When the shipping is slow, you’ve got to plan ahead.

Not only does this habit make birthday parties easier. It makes it easier to be generous. When a friend comes to mind who I think would appreciate a “just because” gift, I can usually find something appropriate in my stash. And so I can easily give her something. Whereas if I had to find time to go to the store, it would probably get no further than a kind intention.

Another more abstract version of this life hack is THE PRESENT LIST. Because sometimes it’s not time you’re short on, it’s ideas. I have a running note on my phone, broken down into sections for each member of my family, where I add ideas as the come to mind throughout the year. Maybe your father-in-law mentions a book he’d love to read–note it down. Or a friend tells you about a great creative gift she received–note it down. Or, best of all, your kid nags you about a thing they’d like–note it down. I find now that often just saying “I’ll add it to the present ideas list” silences the nagging. Even when you’re in the Warehouse toy aisle. Sometimes.

Now, of course, if you’re the kind of person who loves shopping, then this might steal all the joy out of gift-giving. So do it your way.

Like I said, there is no one way to “do [it] RIGHT”.


3 thoughts on “How to avoid the dreaded toy aisle

  1. Oh I love this so much! I’m going to start a Present Box!! I especially love that it’s not just for kids presents, but “just because” gifts for friends etc. My only life hack to add to this is that I have a “card box” with stacks of cards for all occasions, which also saves time and money


  2. Pingback: How To Get Through A Shopping Trip Without A Toddler Tantrum

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