Simplify Christmas with the 4 Gift Rule

twins and older sister sitting in pajamas in front of christmas tree 4 gift rule

Learn how to instill the 4 gift rule in your home for Christmas and learn why it will make Christmas more meaningful and affordable.

Having spent 13 adult Christmases without children, I can confidently say that kids definitely make the holidays more fun! There is nothing better than watching your kids rip open a present and see their eyes light up when they realize they got that really cool THING they wanted so badly! 

I enjoy the gifting part of Christmas so much; I’ve been known to go a little overboard. I can’t be the only mom that sets a Christmas budget then has a hard time sticking to it! And it’s not because I love stuff. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I wouldn’t call myself a minimalist, but maybe a “stuff needs a use and a purpose” kind of person. However, when it comes to Christmas, I just want to buy all the stuff!

baby sleeping in a bucket set up in front of christmas tree 4 gifts rule

The Christmas letdown

As I prepared for my first born’s second Christmas (she was born in October, so for her first Christmas she just received a stocking), I had visions of my daughter’s face as I watched her open that perfect Christmas gift. I tried to be sensible, but I’ll be honest: I went a little crazy and so did our extended family. 

My kids are the youngest in the family by quite a few years on both my side and my husband’s side of the family, so most years our extended family can’t help it either; it’s so much fun to buy toys and little things for little people.

My daughter caught on quickly to the whole unwrapping thing, and seemed to be loving it… for the first five gifts. I spent an hour trying to convince her to open just one more. Her Christmas morning grin was soon overshadowed by my own grumpiness when I had to unwrap all the gifts that I had wrapped two days earlier. It was at that moment that I promised myself I would scale it back because this was not the kind of Christmas I wanted year after year!

I shared my story with a friend, and she mentioned that they do the 4 gift rule at their house to avoid the overwhelmingness that can come with a Christmas filled with too much stuff. I was intrigued! What is the 4 gift rule?

twin boy and girl holding a stack of gifts 4 gift rule

How does the 4 gift rule work?

Here’s how the Christmas 4 gift rule works:

  1. Buy something your child wants
  2. Buy something your child needs
  3. Buy something for them to wear
  4. Buy something for them to read

That’s it. That’s all they get: four presents from their parents, one Santa gift, and a stocking. It’s specific enough to stick to your budget, but broad enough that you can still achieve that perfect present delight. The beauty of the 4 gift rule is that you can modify it to fit the ages of your children and their stages of development. 

Modifying the 4 gift rule

With my singleton, I stuck to the want, need, wear and read for her first five Christmases. But honestly, this year, I’m modifying the read rule. She has discovered the library and loves to go, browse, and check out new books to read every two weeks. Because of this, we are going to skip buying a new book. Instead, she will be getting a Harry Potter Lego set (her newest literary obsession). I feel good about this. Although it doesn’t seem as educational as reading a book, LEGOs do require discipline, direction following, and allow for imaginative play. 

twin toddlers standing next to small christmas tree 4 gift rule

I’m also taking some liberties with the need rule for my twins. Usually, the “need” is filled with an article of clothing or shoes. All of my kids have birthdays in October so most years the “need” is hard to fill because they got a lot of what they need for their birthdays. The twins are officially “three-nagers”, so this year they need something that will help them practice how to share and will allow them to play together. Therefore, their “need” will be filled with a couple of board games to play together that will (hopefully) encourage sharing and turn-taking. 

How to adapt the 4 gift rule for older kids

As my kids get older, I plan to change the 4 gift rule to want, wear, read, and share. This way, they will get three gifts from mom and dad, and I will use the share category to allow them to pick out a gift to donate to Toys 4 Tots. I love giving gifts exponentially more than getting gifts and I want to instill this in my kids, too. 

little girl opening presents in front of christmas tree 4 gift rule

What if my extended family isn’t on board?

I’d be lying if I said following the 4 gift rule is easy. Finding gifts for each category is easy. It is not easy to stick with the one gift rule for each category. 

But the really challenging part is getting the grandmas to get on board. I have tried repeatedly to get my extended family to adhere to a “one present only” rule. I get the need to keep things even. No one knows this more than a mom of twins. My family likes to keep the amount spent fair, which is more than generous and understandable but often results in multiple gifts for each child. 

Every year I try to reason with my family, politely asking them to only purchase one gift per child, even if the gifts do not cost the same amount. Some years I win, others I do not. I have learned some tricks over the years, and one way I help my family stick to one present is by giving them a Christmas wish list with only one item listed

We’ve been doing this for several years now and it works for us. Each gift is thoughtful, personal, and Christmas bliss has still been experienced by all three kids!

amanda hadleyAmanda Hadley is a mom to a sassy seven-year-old, and 3-year-old wondrous monster twins. She is a mom first and a photographer and journalist second. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband of 10 years. She spends her days repeating cliches she was sure she would never say, such as “because I said so” and “stop licking that”. She is an accomplished cartoon theme song repeater, and has no idea what is happening in current events and dreams of traveling to exotic places, alone. She enjoys hot cups of coffee, silence and Atlanta Braves baseball.

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