The Abandoned Cart

The Abandoned Cart

My last shopping trip to Plastic and Batteries R Us occurred about 25 years ago. I normally got my Christmas shopping done early. Many years I was done by Halloween, but that particular year I was behind schedule. Not because I was lacking spirit. Not even that I was lacking the money necessary to finance the event. No… the reason for my delay was that my children were indecisive about what they wanted. The way I see it NOW… the problem was that they already had all the toys they needed AND the industry had not managed to produce an original toy that truly caught their fancy.

But it was Christmas. And Christmas meant gifts under the tree… many gifts under the tree. If my children were uninspired, I’d have to make the choices for them. So I joined the masses of other bedazzled parents, grabbed a cart, called on the Spirit of Christmas to inspire me, and started out. As it turned out, my strategy was simple that day. Buy what other parents were buying. I soon figured out what the “hot” items were, as parents stood in line to grab these toys off the shelf or to wait for the coveted items to be restocked. I found myself scrutinizing other people’s carts. In the end, I was victorious! My cart was full of toys that were sure to please.

I was lucky that day, because the lines were long, and while I was still four people away from my checkout clerk, I looked down at my booty, and I realized that this was ludicrous. There was nothing in this cart that was right for my children. This was obligatory buying at its finest! I could see the unspoken joy on the people’s faces behind me in queue when I got out of line. I made my way to a quiet area of the store, where I abandoned my heavily laden cart. I sprinted out of the store before I could change my mind.

I went back home, empty handed and decided then and there to reassess established commercialized Christmas practices. Instead of looking at what toys were AVAILABLE that year to purchase, I looked at my children and decided what they would BENEFIT from that year. Our lives were already full of rich and meaningful experiences. Why I felt compelled at Christmas to mindlessly buy toys the INDUSTRY deemed valuable, can only be attributed to environmental conditioning… Thank you, Pavlov!

So, that year I reclaimed Christmas… no, I CLAIMED Christmas as our own. Christmas morning there were still many gifts under the tree, but the nature of the gifts changed. As a family we began to explore the differences between, “I want” and “I need”, and to realize how fickle “Want” really is. To be honest, I am probably still excessive at Christmas… there is such a joy in giving… but I like to think the gifts I give today are more thoughtful and appropriate. I guess all those years ago, amid the chaos and confusion, the Spirit of Christmas DID inspire me. I am truly grateful!



  1. This rings so true for Christmas as well as birthdays. I have started what you did this year. My daughter only had a few well thought out presents for her birthday. As a matter of fact, I hardly notice her playing with the presents her friends gave her… she is playing with markers, crayons, paper, my sewing scraps and the blank books you can get at Bare books.

    Christmas is going to be even more different for her. I am making everything except for one present (which is coming from Magic Cabin – so I do not feel so bad– the Forest Lodge Trunk house. I am not that great with a scroll saw… so at a later date when I have time we can just add to the Fairy/ Gnome housing ).

    I think this year has been a big time for reflection and this has spread to Christmas as well. There are too many things out there… more than any child or adult for that matter will ever want. This is where the need part comes in you talked about. What is needed and what comes from the heart.

  2. Oh yes! Hear, hear! Personalizing gift giving is a wonderful way to create wonderful celebrations. It means thinking about the person receiving the gift rather than being sucked in by the media. You put it beautifully.

    There are always piles of gifts under our tree, lots of handmade items, crafted with love and individuality. The purchased gifts were carefully thought out.

    Preach it, sister!


  3. Boy, we are going through this right now in our household. Unfornately, me and Hubby don’t see eye-to-eye on this. Coming from a very large family he was always jealous of the gifts his friends received when their family had far less. It is hard to keep his Christmas spending in check. Usually far exceeding what we should spend. Say a little prayer that the Spirit of Christmas can pay our family a visit this year!

  4. I’m a very practical person. I always think about gifts and the usage that the kids will get out of them for a long time before I buy anything!

    My husband, on the other hand, is a compulsive shopper. He loves to just go and grab and spend!! Drives me crazy sometimes.. ha ha.

    Thanks for this great post. I think if more people realized the craziness of buying just to buy, and changed their shopping “habits”, Christmas would return back to the actual joy of giving and of receiving thoughtful gifts.

  5. Yeah! I’ve had the same dilemna with some past Christmases–found out that my kids would rather be spending time with me than have me out shopping for more junk for them.

  6. I would love to have you give some examples of what you did get the kids that Christmas. Really!

  7. We feel the same here, except that we celebrate Yule. I try to make as many gifts as I can and buy the things I can’t possible make. Our extended family is not on the same page however. We have a few kids in our family who are, shall I say, spoiled? We make room in our home for good quality, and educational toys and the others get handed down to charities usually within a year. The things that troubles me sometime is I have to fight the Christmas crowd to get my supplies so I can make my gifts and I end up feeling quilty since now I’m just part of the crowd trying to get my shopping done! lol

    1. To be very honest, I cannot tell you exactly what we bought for the children that Christmas, but I can tell you about the type of gifts we started buying. First off, let me say, it’s not that we never bought our children any fad toys. They were just bought judiciously and we had to see some value in them 🙂 Mainly, we moved over to buying toys that required more imagination and interaction to play. Blocks and building sets of all kinds. Crafting and art supplies. Books and magazine subscriptions. Essential clothing, that I would buy anyway, became a Christmas mainstay. BUT if I was buying boring clothes as Christmas gifts, I made getting them fun. Pajama prints were wild. I wrapped EVERYTHING separately, because I believe opening a gift is almost as much fun as what is inside. I would buy fun socks… and wrap each one separately. As the children were opening gifts, they’d giggle as they finally found the mate to a lonely sock. There were lots of science "things", including family gifts like telescopes. We also got games and things we could do together as a family. We started making more gifts. Knit gifts like sweaters, mitts, socks and scarves. Wooden toys like checker boards and hobby horses. They got quilts and samplers. The biggest thing was that I needed to become more mindful of what I was giving my children. I learned, for us, less of the right things was better than more of the wrong. Hope that helps a little! 

  8. I had virtually the same experience you had. Last year my husband’s parents sent a VERY sizeable check for Christmas gifts. They were coming for a visit and wanted me to buy gifts for them. I had already shopped for my children. A combination of handmade and highly considered purchased gifts. Now here I was 1 week before Christmas commissioned with buying expensive gifts for the family. My husband and I went shopping. We were at a loss. We wandered up and down the aisles. We threw a few things in the cart which didn’t even scrath the surface of what we had to spend. WE put the toys back, hehe, and left. Then we went to Best Buy. We thought maybe we’d buy a large screen tv. You know, a gift for the whole family. But we barely watch tv as it is. So we wound up going home without buying anything. Somewhere in the night (perhaps I was visited by an angel 🙂 I had an idea. The next day I told my husband my idea and he loved it. Christmas morning the children opened 1 small box from Grandma and Grandpa. In it was a checkbook with instructions to use the money throughout the year when the need arose. We had opened a seperate checking account for the money. Although the children had a hard time understanding that, and I think the Grandparents were a little disappointed at the time, everyone grew to love the idea. Throughout the year the money paid for dance classes and soccer. It bought art supplies. We bought a few games. Each time we used the money for something else, the children called Grandma and Grandpa to thank them again. This year they plan to do the same thing. We are so grateful that they are so generous and that they now see what a wonderful gift it turned out to be. The children were able to do many things that wouldn’t have fit our budget this past year. Sorry this is so lengthy, but this has worked so well for us I wanted to share it. I know most people aren’t given as much money as we received, but if your children receive many gifts, consider putting something away for later in the year when it will be appreciated instead of being lost in the shuffle.

    1. I’m thinking that this would be a great way of teaching children fiscal responsibility. I know when my children were young they always thought we could go to the bank and get more money. Setting up a discretionary family checking account, where a certain amount of money is added to it periodically, and decisions need to be made collectively on how the funds get spent would be a truly educational experience. Probably as much for us parents as for the children! Brilliant idea!

  9. What a wonderful and thought-provoking post.

    I have had the same experience as ‘nightshade’ in that my husband and I differ greatly on our beliefs about buying Christmas gifts. In fact, one year we had an argument in Costco because he was filling the cart with (what I would consider) crap for our daughter – buying presents for the sake of buying presents – and I mentioned that she didn’t need that much. He said I was cheap. I said she wouldn’t appreciate or play with all that stuff. Guess what? I was right. She had so much she didn’t even know what she got for Christmas that year.

    I’ve always tried to buy meaningful gifts, but I think that intent gets overshadowed by greedy producers are marketers. My husband doesn’t think a handmade gift is a real gift and prefers to spend our hard-earned money on ‘stuff’. It makes me crazy. I would rather have a close, loving family and a happy child than a house full of store-bought items!

  10. how perfectly do i agree with you! the year I changed to this was of thinking was when one year in July, I found some wrapped gifts in a basement nook that had been completely forgotten — that is what turned on the light bulb — we never even missed opening those gifts, my sons did not feel any lack or presents and worst of all we never even noticed the waste til that day… Now, we do not even give gifts at christmas, we just give things any time one or the other seems to need a pick me up — at christmas for us, now, it is a nice dinner together, maybe a movie and each other’s company…

    1. I’ve had that same thing happen to me too. Or, I’ve bought gifts early in the year, just to buy more as the holiday approached because I forgot about the others!

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