The War On Stuff: The Social Distancing Edition

By Melissa Stefanec

This year, many of us will be robbed of the very best part of the holidays — spending time with the people we love.

The loss of that kinship will be felt deeply and send us on a journey to make things right.

I’m no soothsayer, but I’ve been around enough American blocks to see how many of us will try to compensate for this loss.

The future is littered with stuff and giving too much of it. However well-intentioned this giving is, it’s a terrible solution. I get it. It’s only natural. When you can’t be physically present in your family and friend’s lives, you try to make stuff speak on your behalf. However noble, this tactic is hopelessly flawed, especially when it comes to kids.

Giving lots of stuff isn’t the answer. Here are a few reasons why:

Time heals all “stuff” origins

Unless the kids on your holiday list are moving toward early adulthood, stuff won’t make the impact you want it to. Young kids have terrible memories when it comes to the lineage of their gifts. My children (who are 6 and 9) have stared me in the face and raved about a toy their grandparents gave them, only to be reminded that I gave that very toy to them. So, if you want them to remember you for something, it won’t be for a gift.

The joy of stuff is fleeting

Don’t get me wrong, kids like stuff. However, the joy stuff brings is short lived. Once the novelty of a new thing wears off, my kids are looking for a new fix. For what it’s worth, that fix usually involves playing with the same magnet blocks they’ve had for four years and the bubble wrap that came in the shipping box for my dish soap.

People are better than things

People make lasting impressions. The joys of family and kinship are what actually impress on kids. The gifts my children are most likely to remember are those that involved time. They remember who gave them a book when the giver repeatedly reads that book to them. They remember who gave them a baseball and tee after that person fielded their hits and watched them run the bases. I’m certain it’s not the gift that stays with them, it’s the quality time that makes an impression.

This year is real conundrum. If stuff isn’t the answer, how do you stay present? When you can’t physically be there for the kids in your life, how do you make them feel your love?

Here are just a few pandemic-friendly ways to make them feel your love. These stuff-free or low-stuff options to are sure to make a meaningful impact.

Books and a virtual read-along

If you give a book, buy two. Then you can schedule time to read through the book together. If you choose a chapter book, you can set regular times to get together and read aloud or recount the happenings book-club style.

Subscription boxes

No matter what the child in your life is interested in, there is a subscription box for them. There are geography, STEM, art, baking, coding, fashion and sock subscriptions. Sure, these boxes have stuff in them, but you can keep it collaborative. When they finish an activity, they can share their accomplishments with you.

Passes to spring activities

With any luck (and science), the spring and summer of 2021 will be a time when we can re-engage in group activities. Until then, you can give passes to zoos, go-carts or other outdoor attractions. The great thing about this gift is it has the promise of gathering.

Winter sports gear

Sleds, snowshoes, skis, snowboards and other get-outside gear will be great gifts this year. Whether or not you use the stuff together is up to you, but every time the kids have fun, they will remember where that fun came from.

Virtual lessons

If you have a talent, virtually share it with your favorite kid(s). Similarly, you can buy them virtual lessons. Whether it’s lessons in violin, yoga, cooking or martial arts, this gift will engage a child who misses socialization.

Virtual movie night

Instead of buying something, you can arrange to watch the same movies on the same nights as the kids. Then, you can set up a video call and watch the “movie” together. If you don’t want to do a video call, you can talk after about your favorite parts of the movie after it’s done.

Virtual craft night

You can make or buy craft kits for yourself and the kids in your life. Then you can have video calls and craft together or meet after to show off your crafts.

So, when you find yourself trying to stay present while being far apart, don’t let stuff be your go-to remedy. If you don’t like these options, let them serve as a starting point. Challenge yourself to come up with creative ways to give the gift of time this year. Time is the very best way to express your love. And, for all its foibles, 2020 gives you the opportunity to share that life lesson with the ones you love.