Rediscovered Families

The 4-Gift Rule

The Kid Approved Change To The 4 Gift Rule For Christmas

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The 4 gift rule for Christmas can make the holidays a lot more fun for kids and their families. Still how many kids really enjoy getting clothes? We’ve still got something you want, something you need, and something you read. We’ve crossed out something to wear. Click through to find our kid approved change. We’ve also got a cute 4 gift rule printable for your kids to fill out.

The 4- gift rule for Christmas

One Christmas we had a house full of people. There six adults, five kids under 10 and 3 dogs. It was noisy, chaotic and full on fabulous. The mound of gifts was a sight to behold. Everyone had gone to town and there were dozens of gifts for each child.

Christmas morning saw five excited boys gathered around the tree. The gift giving began and there was much ripping of paper and excited responses. The joy lasted about five minutes and then I noticed something was happening.

The excitement died down and suddenly unwrapping gifts became almost mechanical. The boys still ripped off the paper and dutifully said thank you, but there was no joy in it. All five boys had gone into serious overwhelm and  their excitement had fizzled out. There were too many gifts and unwrapping them had suddenly become a chore.

Has that ever happened in your house?

Christmas 4 gift rule examples


What we saw that Christmas is something that economists call the law of diminishing marginal utility. It works like this

  1. When we consume/buy/receive something enjoyable, our satisfaction increases.
  2. However, a point is QUICKLY reached where it starts to reverse. As we continue to consume that thing our satisfaction decreases.
  3. Eventually we get to the point where we no longer want it.

Have you ever been really hungry? Those first few bites of food taste and feel so good. However, there comes  a point where that feeling of satisfaction starts to wane. Eating more does not lead to increased pleasure. In fact, continuing to eat can make you feel sick. If you are listening to your body, you will stop eating.

The simple truth is that our bodies and brains are wired for moderation. It makes sense when you think about it. Moderation is good for us physically, emotionally and mentally. Our bodies instinctively know this and send signals when it is time to stop.


Receiving gifts at Christmas is exciting and fun… at first.

However, a point is quickly reached where more gifts do not increase that joy. In fact, unwrapping them quickly becomes a chore. That is when you get the glazed eyes and the mechanical unwrapping.

Think about it this way. A recent study showed that an abundance of toys reduced the quality of children’s play. Limiting them led to better quality play.

That Christmas our kids instinctively knew that too many toys was not a good thing. Their brains were trying to put a halt to what was happening, but like most children they dutifully unwrapped every gift.

We all want our kids to have a magical Christmas, right? Nobody likes to see their kids go into a robotic state. We want them to experience the excitement and joy of receiving gifts. But we don’t want them passing that tipping point where unwrapping them becomes a chore. So how do we stay in the joyful zone. The answer? Limit the number of gifts our kids receive.

Yes, it really is that simple

4 gift rule printable


You have probably heard of the 4-gift rule.

The 4 -gift rule is a simple guideline that protects you from the law of diminishing marginal utility. With the 4-gift rule, our children get four gifts for Christmas:

  1. Something you want,
  2. Something you need,
  3. Something to wear, and
  4. Something to read.

Now 4 gifts may seem stingy, particularly if you are used to mounds of gifts. However, think about that tipping point. It seems to occur at about 4-5 gifts in. This means that 4 gifts are guaranteed to let your child experience the excitement without the overwhelm.

Particularly if you choose those gifts wisely.


I was delighted when I first heard about the 4-gift rule. I think it is a wonderful way to keep the joy in Christmas. There are just enough gifts to be exciting and not so many that it becomes overwhelming

However, I CAN NOT embrace the, “Something to wear” category.

When I was a kid I HATED getting clothes for Christmas. It was always such a let down. I was a good girl and dutifully expressed gratitude, but deep down inside I was disappointed with the gift.

Let me ask you something. Do you kids really like getting clothes for Christmas?

Christmas joy


My job at the public library brought me into contact with hundreds of children. Every year I asked them to tell me about their favorite Christmas gift. I was always interested to know, because I like to track the gifts that delight kids.  

The children would tell me (in detail) about their new Lego set or science kits. Some enthused about a video game, or craft kits or the stretchy alien toy that glowed in the dark. But they NEVER mentioned clothes. NOT ONCE.

Let’s face it, clothes are not a fun gift for most kids. Unless of course you have one who has discovered fashion and then clothes are everything.

If you are giving dozens of gifts, it doesn’t matter if you slip in some clothes. After all you have loads of toys to balance things out. But if you move to the 4-gift tradition with your family, you want every gift to be special.

You only have 4 gifts in total. What if the something you need is an item of clothing? Then 2 out of 4 gifts would be clothes. Oh, the horror!

I would like to suggest that it is time for a change. We’ll keep the 4 gifts but change one of them.

  1. Something you want,
  2. Something you need,
  3. Something to wear CREATIVE,
  4. and something to read.
CHristmas magic


Over the years I’ve talked to many parents about toys. Time and time again I’ve heard that kids get the most play value from toys that engage their creativity. These are the toys that involve pretend play, building, making arts, and STEM play.

Have you noticed the same thing? Take some time to observe your kids. What non screen toys get the most mileage? I can almost guarantee it is something that fosters creative play


Creative play involves any toy/item that encourages creative expression and sparks the imagination. This kind of play is often self-initiated and self-directed.

Related: How Self-Directed Play Gives Your Child An Academic Advantage

Not only do these kinds of toys provide hours of play, but they are good for our kids.

A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that creative play benefits

  • Emotional and social development
  • Cognitive benefits:  problem solving, and even basic math and science concepts go hand in hand with creative toys. Children’s ability to concentrate is improved with this kind of play.
  • Physical benefits: particularly motor/fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination

This video talks about the benefits of visual art, but I think most of this applies to all creative play

A creative toy is going to be good for your kids and it will provide hours of play.


The best part of choosing something creative is that there are so many things to choose from. Creative play encompasses a wide variety of toys and there is something for every budget.

Related: The Best Creative Toys That Provide Hours of Play

4 gift rule printable

Creative toys can include

  • Building sets
  • Science kits
  • Dress up clothes
  • Small world play
  • Art materials
  • Craft materials

The list goes on and on. And the best part? Even the cheapest creative toy is way more fun than clothes!


Kelly at Happy You, Happy Families has a great post about implementing the 4-gift rule for Christmas. It includes sections on getting your kids on board and how to approach well meaning relatives who like the bombard your family with gifts.


4 gift rule printable

A wish list is one of the best ways to ensure you are getting gifts that your kids truly want. I have created a simple list based on the 4-gift rule. We have two kids. The first is a list that includes something creative and the second is the original list.

  • Download the free wish list.
  • Print one for each member of the family.
  • Explain the 4-gift rule to your children. You may want to have a discussion about the difference between wants and needs. My boys regularly told me they NEEDED the Star Wars Death Star Lego set.
  • Have everyone fill out their list. Younger children may need help to go through each category, but older children can fill it out independently.

Download the file today

Exclusive Bonus: Download these free 4-gift printables from the library. The library is my gift to subscribers. It contains eBooks, printables, and inspiration to support you in your parenting journey.


  • Give older children enough time to think through their decisions. Making these decisions will be serious business to your kids. They only get 4 -gifts, so they will want to make them count.
  • Consider giving older children a budget. We did this when our kids reached the age of 10. It gave them valuable practice in making money stretch and also kept their expectations in check. They quickly realized that one big Lego set meant fewer gifts, but it was their choice to make.
  • Don’t be too rigid. If your older child decides they want to get a RaspberryPi starter kit  and a book of project plans that will probably use up most of a generous gift allowance. It fills out 3 out of 4 categories and it really doesn’t matter if it is only two gifts. If your kids choose 2 inexpensive gifts for one category it will be ok. Give older children enough time to think through their decisions. Making these decisions will be serious business to your kids. They only get 4 -gifts, so they will want to make them count.
  • Consider giving older children a budget. We did this when our kids reached the age of 10. It gave them valuable practice in making money stretch and also kept their expectations in check. They quickly realized that one big Lego set meant fewer gifts, but it was their choice to make.
  • The 4-gift rule is supposed to be a guideline that will help you keep the joy in Christmas. Don’t turn it into a legalistic requirement that ends up sucking the joy right out of receiving gifts.


Do you use the 4-gift rule with your kids? Do you like this change or do you disagree? I’d love to know what you think. Please leave a comment below.

simplify gifts giving at Christmas