It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Simply brilliant

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. If it’s inexpensive, even better!

For about two years, my children’s favourite toy was the “Doctor Box”. I know I’ve talked about this before. No, I don’t know why it was called that. It was just a shoe box, filled with a dozen or so small non-toy items: clean pill bottles, measuring spoons, a funnel, small scraps of shiny fabric, some oddments of wee bits of hardware… The games this odd assortment of stuff engendered were wide-ranging and never-ending. Every so often I’d top it up with a new item or two, as items were lost, broken, or worn out. Two years this thing lasted. A shoebox of stuff that most people would call “junk”.

Here’s another application of the same principle: A couple of years ago, my friend Cindy (aka Darcy’s mom), was giving her sister gift suggestions for Cindy’s two (lovely, LOVELY) children.

“Don’t spend a pile of money,” Cindy told her. Just go to Value Village and buy a heap of dress-up clothes. Throw them in some sort of container — a toy chest, a plastic storage bin — and boom! Done!” Cindy, a busy woman, likes to keep it simple. “Boom! Done!” gifts are totally her style.

Apparently the sister did just that, and on Christmas day, Darcy and his little sister were thrilled to receive capes, skirts and shirts, beads and gloves, aprons and hats, scarves, and necklaces. That was two or three years ago, and the kids still enjoy playing with it.

Years of play, for less than $40, probably. (Forty dollars buys a LOT of stuff at Value Village.)

Is that not brilliant? I think it’s brilliant.

How about you? Any super-simple, super-inexpensive, super-long-lasting gift ideas out there? What’s a fabulous gift you’ve received, or given?

December 11, 2009 - Posted by | Christmas, crafts | , ,


  1. My brother and his wife did exactly the same thing for my oldest daughter when she was two. She got a PILE of dress-up clothes from Value Village. She’s now 9 and she and her younger brother and sister are still using those clothes for dress-up. Youngest brother is only four, so we have a few years to go with the dress-up box. I imagine we’ll get at least 10 years out of that gift.

    The gift I wish some kindly aunts and uncles would give my kids is the gift of their time. Tell my kids you’ll take them one at a time for an afternoon outing. Spend a couple hours wandering around a museum or downtown, stop for a leisurely hot chocolate – it would be a cheap gift, but you’ll create special memories for you and the child, and you’ll give me a much-needed break, too.

    Comment by Dragon | December 11, 2009 | Reply

  2. I know it sounds odd, but my 7 year old got a gift certificate to the used book store for her birthday, and it was the best gift ever. First of all, she had the power (!!) to go shopping and pick out her own books. Secondly, the used book store has excellent prices. She did not care that the books were “pre-owned”. She was able to buy 4 books with her $10.
    And since she has geeky teachers for parents, we were thrilled with the math lessons that come with shopping.

    Comment by Tammy | December 11, 2009 | Reply

  3. I made explorer packs with real items in it, twine, real maps, magnifying glass, and some other bits and bobs that I found at the craft store. By the time the birthday party was over adults had already dipped into the bags to tie the bottle opener to the cooler.

    Comment by Rayne of Terror | December 11, 2009 | Reply

  4. I once made a teacher gift by wandering up and down the office supply aisle and putting in tape, stapler and staples, notepads, stickers, a hole punch, markers… kept going until I reached my financial goal. She loved it- teachers can spend way too much money on their own classroom supplies.

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | December 11, 2009 | Reply

  5. They’re called prop boxes. I have my students make them and they’ve come up with some great ideas. Try: restaraunt, vet, flower shop, grocery store, dinos, the beach,a farm or a fast food place. Ask parents for donations if any of them work anywhere interesting. I also ask my students to include a coupple of books on the subject.

    Comment by jwg | December 14, 2009 | Reply

  6. Hi,

    I’m new to your blog but I just found this and wanted to comment. One thing I do with my own kids, is I go to the Dollar Tree and get a lot of art supplies. Watercolor paints, markers, crayons, construction paper etc. Put it in a box, and let them make their own art. When it’s done I frame it and put it on the walls. Keeps them occupied and lets them work out their creativity along with making memories that will last forever.

    The dollar store is a very popular place around here! I do exactly as you do… except, this being a daycare, we couldn’t possibly put it all in one box! Instead, I have a four-drawer toolchest FILLED with that stuff, and a shelf with crayons and paper beside it, all of which they access daily. It’s so fun to watch them go!

    Comment by Kat | February 4, 2010 | Reply

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