Non-Clutter Ideas for Stocking Stuffers

I love Christmas. It’s possible that Christmas music begins at or around Halloween in my home. I love the Christmas cookies, the Christmas trees, and the family time we spend together to make precious memories. One thing I do not, however, love about Christmas, is the clutter.

I don’t mind the kitschy clutter of Christmas joy…the glittery everything, the tinsely everything, the snowman candle that has been sitting on top of our fireplace since December 2011…but there’s one kind of clutter that makes my skin crawl. The Stocking Clutter.

Stockings are one of my family’s favorite tradition, and it seems to be more about quantity than quality for the kids, but after a few years of sticking 90% of stocking stuffers into the junk toy bin the day after Christmas, I decided to take a hard look at how I could save money by not buying junk, but still make stockings fun and enjoyable.

1. Give Experiences
-We try to give our children experience gifts when we can, such as Zoo Passes or amusement park tickets, and you can use the same principle, obviously scaled down, for stockings. These can be some of the most meaningful, yet inexpensive gifts you can give. Some ideas:

  • A sprinkle shaker, with a homemade coupon for making and decorating cookies together.
  • A homemade coupon book, including such privileges as staying up 30 minutes past bedtime, or going out for ice cream, or having a family game night.
  • An inexpensive DVD (Target often has family/children’s movies for under $5) and your child’s favorite sweet treat with a plan to have a family movie night. 

2. Useful Doesn’t Have To Be Boring
-I know, I know. You’re going to read: “give socks” and immediately go to the next idea. But, useful and practical gifts don’t have to be depressing. And you’ll save yourself some money buying something you’d probably have to buy anyway.

  • Fuzzy, cozy socks in fun colors (slipper socks are always a hit)
  • A toothbrush in a fun color/shape/size
  • Band-Aids with your child’s favorite character
  • Brightly colored hair clips or hair ties
  • A hat, scarf, or mittens
  • A flashlight (kids love flashlights, and they’re always good to have on hand in case of emergency!)
  • School supplies (maybe something you picked up for free with coupons during school supply season.)
  • A festive holiday plate, cup or utensils
  • Books

3. Consumable Gifts
 -Food is always fun for little ones to get in their stockings. At least mine. Junior’s nickname is “Beast” for a reason. The boy can eat! His whole stocking will probably be snacks this year.

  • Sweet treats your child doesn’t normally get
  • Mini cereal boxes for breakfasts
  • Fruit with a hard peel such as an orange or tangerine
  • Art and Craft supplies (considered consumable since they get used pretty quickly!)
  • Hot cocoa packets
  • Fruit snacks or other favorite snack items

4. Moderation is Key
-I still like a add a couple silly little toys, such as a mini My Little Pony figurine for my daughter or a Hot Wheels car for my son, or a little light up ball or wands, but those are the exception rather than the rule. And, since there are only a few, it makes the clutter more tolerable.

Tell Me!
What kind of stocking stuffers do you like to add? How do you manage the clutter?

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Slow Down…Laugh…Repeat

Remember the old days of computers…how if you had too many programs running at the same time, the whole thing would turn sluggish and freeze…Then you’d get frustrated and press CTL+ALT+DEL a million times only to have the computer shut down completely right in the middle of Oregon Trail and you never got to find out if Ezekiel and his family made it to Oregon City alive?!? 

Well, I’ve been like that computer for the last month. In addition to all of Junior’s usual appointments, and Stinker’s homeschooling and sports, I recently had surgery to remove a cranky gallbladder. I’m tired, overscheduled, and super busy. Do I know what day it is? No.
Did I drive to Souplantation to meet my husband for lunch last week and sit there waiting for him in the parking lot only to have him call and ask why I wasn’t at Red Robin? It’s possible.
Did I recently spend 10 minutes looking for my cell phone, only to realize it was in my pocket the whole time? Perhaps.

The funny thing is, it doesn’t even bother me anymore. I used to worry out about getting old, losing my mind, etc, but now I realize the brain can only take so much before it just freezes. When those lapses happen…daily…I just step back, try to take a quick break (maybe a walk with the kids, an escape to the backyard to clear my head, a little mental vacation by reading a magazine), laugh about it, and try to refresh.  It’s important to find opportunities to laugh everyday. It keeps things in perspective, and can provide a little joy on even the most difficult days.

I’ve been laughing a lot lately. But, they say laughter does the heart well, so I’ll just keep on laughing (and hope I find my keys soon…)

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“Is Ebates For Real??”

 Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

I get questions about cash back and points sites often. People want to know the whats, hows, and fine print before signing up. One site I receive frequent questions about is Ebates. Here’s the scoop:

1. How does Ebates work?
-The stores that Ebates offers cash back on give Ebates a referral commission for each purchase you make through them. For example, Home Depot might offer a 7% commission to Ebates for each purchase that is made going through the Ebates referral link. Of that 7%, you receive 3% cash back. Essentially, Ebates makes their money through your purchases, then shares the commission with you in the form of cash back. 

2. So, is Ebates legititmate?
-In short, yes. The site is a legitimate way to receive cash back on online purchases.

3. Okay, it sounds too good to be true. What is the fine print?
-There are some stipulations in order to receive your money. There must be at least $5 in your account in order to receive your check, which are sent out 4 times a year. Now, this isn’t usually an issue during Christmas time when I do quite a bit of online shopping, but there are times when I only receive one or two checks a year.

4. Are there any drawbacks to using Ebates?
-For me, there is the temptation to spend more, knowing that I will receive cash back on a purchase, so it’s been a testing of my self-control to only purchase what I was planning, and not making impulse buys :)

I have been using Ebates for about 3 years now, and have nothing but good things to say. And, since most of my shopping is done online anyway, it’s nice to get a little something back.

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*Links may be a referral link, but all opinions and ideas are my own, and have not been skewed in any way. 

10 Ideas for Delicious Smoothies

So half the country probably thinks I’m crazy for posting something about smoothies in February, but in my defense, it’s 71 degrees outside right now, with next week hitting the mid-80s. Welcome to San Diego, friends! (The mid-80s thing is a little excessive, I must admit, but I don’t control the weather apparently.)

I love making smoothies. Usually, at least once a week, I’ll take all the leftover fruit from the week, or whatever frozen fruit I have handy, and throw it in the blender. My 4 year old will eat, rather drink, at least two servings. She doesn’t even realize it’s healthy!

I always use coconut milk, just because cow’s milk makes my tummy wonky, but feel free to use any kind of milk you enjoy most! You can even omit the milk and use yogurt or ice cream for a slightly thicker smoothie. If your smoothie is too thin, add a few ice cubes and blend again.

Here are some of my favorite combinations. Feel free to mix and match! Do you have a favorite smoothie combination? Share it in the comments!

1. The Hawaiian
Coconut milk, pineapple juice, pineapple, strawberries, banana, shredded coconut.

2. Banana Berry
Milk, berry juice (mixed berry or any berry), strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, (or a frozen berry mix), banana, honey.

3. Blue Green Dream
Blueberry juice, blueberry yogurt, blueberries, spinach, honey.

4. Citrus Boost
Orange sherbet, orange juice, tangerine juice, honey.

5. Peaches N Cream
Milk, peach yogurt, orange juice, peaches, banana, honey.

6. Leftover Fridge
Milk, apple juice, cantaloupe, grapes, strawberries, banana, blueberries.

7. Berry Delicious
Milk, strawberry yogurt, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cinnamon (just a dash)

8. Apple of my Eye
Milk, apple juice, chopped apples, blueberries, bananas.   

9. Caribbean Splash
Coconut milk, pineapple juice, orange sherbet, mango, banana, pineapple.

10. Protein Package
Almond milk, vanilla Greek yogurt, quick oats, strawberries, bananas.   

Browse all my family’s favorite recipes HERE

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Living Joyfully:Today

There are a few life lessons that we seem to learn too late. I’ve learned in recent years that my parents were usually right…staying up late was not in my best interest (or anyone else’s that would be around me the following morning), high school drama would not determine the rest of my life, and that they didn’t hate me for making me eat broccoli. (I can’t say the same about the infamous “International Night” of dinner, though, in which my mother once served French Toast, Mexican Quesadillas with American cheese, and Chinese fried rice. On the same plate. I shudder to this day and wonder if it was some passive aggressive response to my not cleaning my room.) In any case, as I’ve gotten older, the list of “If I knew then what I know now,”s has gotten increasingly longer.

One lesson I’m trying to keep in mind right now is simple yet difficult to grasp. The concept that time is fleeting and nothing from this earth lasts forever is something I remind myself of when I need a little perspective.

We need to enjoy today for today. Not for what it was, or what it will be, but for what it IS.

When I was in college, I had my sights set on one particular guy. “If he only noticed me,” I’d think, “Then I’d be happy.”

Said boy fell in love with my and proposed. “If only we were married,” I’d think, “Then I’d be happy.”

We soon got married and things were good. For a while. “If only we had a house, then I’d be happy,” is what would go through my mind. (I think you see where this is going.) 

We got the house, next on the list was a baby. After the baby was born, I would dream of the day she’d start sleeping through the night. Then the day she’d start walking. Then the birth of the next child…the never ending cycle had begun, because I didn’t know how to be grateful for the now, and was just focused the next.

If we can’t be happy right now, we will never truly be happy. Ever-changing circumstances will determine our attitude and rule our perspective. 

Today, even in the trials, find something to be grateful for. Set your sights on goals and future plans, but don’t let them get in the way of enjoying everything you can in the moment you’re in. I can never go back to the days I missed by wanting something bigger and better, but I can change the way I look at things now.

Check out all the Living Joyfully articles for some encouragement.