When Sonya was a baby, I started doing an Advent calendar for her and a decade later, it’s something I love and hate. I love it because it adds to the magic of the season and I hate the Elf on the Shelf nonsense because who really has time after the kids go to bed every single night to come up with some new creative location for the stupid elf? Also what are you supposed to do when the nutjob puppy chews the arm off of the overpriced, supposedly magic and alive elf in the middle of the night? Here’s what: you say “we do an Advent calendar and that’s our family tradition” and throw the mangled elf away.
I love it because I can set it up by the end of November and then forget about it completely every day. I love it because I say “you can open the calendar present after you’ve brushed your teeth, gone to the bathroom, gotten dressed, and brushed your hair,” which makes mornings in December a breeze. I love it because it’s fun.
I kind of hate it because I’ve set myself up for a rather expensive situation. When Sonya was a baby, it was possible to get 24 presents for like $.20 apiece, individual crayons and tiny tubs of knock-off Play-Doh. Now I’ve got three kids, and I’ve lifestyle crept my way into a situation where I’ve got three kids, 24 presents each, and even at a buck a pop, that’s a $75 project. And 9-year-olds don’t find magic in unwrapping individual crayons. It’s also important to me that I don’t give them a bunch of presents that end up immediately in the trash, so the “stocking stuffers of cheap plastic” aisle at Walmart doesn’t do it for me, upping the overall cost.
I know, there is a solution here, and that is to just stop doing it, or just give one piece of chocolate each day, or just teach my children to somehow appreciate one crayon apiece. Be minimalists, kids! Except philosophically, I feel pretty strongly that the fastest way to turn your kid into a hoarder is to insist that they be minimalists at a time when their brains aren’t developed enough to make those choices for themselves.
Beyond that, I love the Advent calendar, and I love the magic, and I love how easy the mornings are, and I don’t want to change that.
So I love the calendar, I don’t want to change the calendar, the kids love the calendar. I want to fill it with small presents that will get use and are not just trash and also things that don’t cost too much money. In the past, I’ve filled it with nail polish, headbands, bracelets, bubbles, art supplies (more than just one crayon, though!). These have all proven to be good ideas, but many of those items can be $3-$4, and let me remind you, there are 72 slots to fill.
This year, I had such a great experience going through Ali Baba to get souvenirs for Disney World that I decided to try again for the Advent calendar. The thing is – many of the items that I buy for $4 from Kohl’s are the same exact thing that I can get from Ali Baba – probably made in the same factory – for $.75.
The main drawback of this is that while Amazon Prime gets me things in 2 days, the shipping from Ali Baba can take days or weeks or even months.
So, it’s basically July, I want to get this stuff taken care of so when birthday/Christmas season comes around (it’s a full four months for us), this will already be taken care of in terms of budgeting. Plus, it gives me plenty of time to wait for shipping and get everything wrapped and ready.
I went on Ali Baba yesterday and started clicking around, looking for the usual suspects. Key chains, jewelry for little girls, headbands, those colorful hair extensions, metallic nail polish, glow-in-the-dark rings, knock-off Twisty Pets, sand art kits, gel pens…probably even more stuff than I need, which means I’ll be able to move some of it to stockings. The total for all of it came to about $100 including shipping, which is a win in my book. My last year’s plan of going to Five Below (a store where everything is under $5, in theory) ended up being much more expensive, because again, at an average cost of $3 per little gift…it adds up way too quickly.
Since most of the items are hair supplies and jewelry and art supplies, it’ll be fun to open but still something they get some use out of.
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! Christmas is coming! And December will be amazing and affordable! Now I can scheme and dream and plan and try to forget how sweaty and muggy it is in our house.