Defining stash-worthy

By Mir
December 3, 2007

The very pretty Jean writes:

I looooooooooove your idea of having a gift stash. My question is, how do you decide what to put in there? I want to give gifts that kids will love, but how to figure out what that is? Any suggestions? My son is 3.5 and is already starting to get invited to a ton of bday parties. Thank you your pretty-ness 🙂

In addition to being a world-class suck-up (thank you, Jean—you’re looking quite beautiful today, yourself!), Jean asks a pertinent question for those who are new to the idea of a gift closet: How do you know what to buy?

Let’s face it; get this one wrong, and you could be squandering lots of money rather than saving it. Having a stash doesn’t mean “buying everything on sale,” it means “buying things you know you’ll be able to gift throughout the year.” So how do we do that?

My philosophy is a pretty simple one, built upon a couple of easy tenets:

I plan to make a large donation of toys in December. Donating to various charitable agencies at holiday-time is something that I personally find fulfilling (not saying you should, just that this is something I do), and it has the added benefit of taking the pressure off when I’m shopping. If I pick up a toy on a great deal and it doesn’t end up going out to a birthday party? No problem. I love to donate and can do a lot more than I would otherwise be able to afford because I shop so frugally.

When possible, I ask my kids. I’m always aiming to buy right around the age level my kids are currently at, so give me the widest array of choices for when they need gifts to give. If I don’t recognize a toy or other item, myself, I’ll ask my kids. “Is this something neat?” If they give it a thumbs-up, I’ll get it. If not, I’ll pass.

Under $5 is nearly always a good choice. Bear in mind that I’m not talking about a $6 toy for $5 here, of course, but anything that was $10+ before discount which is now under $5 that looks appealing is probably worth picking up. It it’s a really good deal on something that I am positive will be a hit (like when the Ologies were on sale at Amazon last time), I buy four or five instead of one or two.

Think ahead. I don’t generally buy a lot of baby stuff unless I know someone is having a baby soon, although I do pick up the occasional deal for donation. Likewise, when my youngest is close to outgrowing a certain item, I’m apt to skip it; though something that my oldest won’t be ready for for even a couple of years I’ll go ahead and get, because I have room to store it and they’ll grow into it.

Books and board games make the best stash items. Both are flat, compact, stack well, and don’t go out of style. I prefer “special” books for stashing—books that contain activities, crafts, how-tos for exciting adventures, amazing artwork, etc. “Just a book” is likely to go over like a lead balloon as a gift, but the right book will last a lot longer than the latest Bionicle. I cannot believe the mileage we’ve gotten out of The Daring Book for Girls and The Dangerous Book for Boys ’round here; if/when those go on clearance, I’ll grab up stacks of them. (And the previously-mentioned Ologies have been a huge hit everywhere we’ve given them.)

Use common sense. Here are some things you don’t want to stash: Edibles (duh), stuffed animals (they’ll get dusty/musty), art supplies which can dry out, and clothing (unless you’re okay with donating it).

When you come across a good deal on something for your kid, pick up an extra. A good stash starts with a few extras. If your kids like it, chances are their friends will, too.

That should get you started, Jean. Happy stashing!


  1. I *love* having a gift closet, especially now that my son’s in school and he gets invited to lots of birthday parties at the last minute. (Seriously, at the last minute. He came home from school on Friday with an invitation for a party on Sunday. We did not attend, but it wasn’t for want of a gift, it’s because Mama does not do Chuck E. Cheese, especially not Chuck E. Cheese in a far-flung suburb on a freezing-rainy Sunday night.) My son knows the drill, and he likes being able to go to the closet and pick out a gift on his own. FWIW, my favorite place to shop for gift closet items for kids is Target; frequently they’ll devote a whole aisle to toy clearance. I tend to buy anything that has been seriously reduced and looks cool to me.

    My least successful gift closet item? A beach towel. I’d stocked up when the Disney shopping site discounted their towels to $5 (seen here, of course!), and the birthday boy who got the extra Cars towel was seriously unimpressed. But then, he was rude about it, too, so ha! You deserved linens instead of toys, if you’re going to be rude about it.

  2. Since I began reading Pretty Mir’s advice, my gift “closet” has grown from one box to three boxes! I second the idea of board games (especially right about now before the holidays when they are on sale and then the manufacturers offer rebates!) Another wantnot-related score was stocking up on online Lego deals (1 tic tac toe game for a Lego-loving friend and 1 for my son). A third suggestion is the Klutz activity books (boys love the castle building cards and pirate cards) purchased from a big box craft store with a 40% coupon.

  3. My stash is mostly for kids, yes, but Webkinz is a good idea. That gives them not only a stuffed animal but access to the web page that is wildly popular among the kiddies, but also among us Grannas. They can be bought for about $10.99. That may sound a little pricey but the fun is double, no triple, that amount.

  4. My gift closet is seriously a life-saver! I don’t shop for my immediate family (children, husband) as much as I shop for random gifts we will need throughout the year for others.

    At Bath and Body Works semi-annual sale I always buy fun stuff for women I need to buy for. Who can resist Bath and Body stuff – and I can’t resist their prices!

    I also stock up on the Toy clearance at Target if I happen upon it (I’m far from a Target, but once in a while I have caught it.) And I watch Amazon’s deals as well. I usually don’t buy anything less than 60% off for my gift stash.

    I also hit up TCP and Gymboree for baby gifts at their big sales. I’m at the age where a lot of my friends are having babes, so I use my stuff up, no prob. The infant/newborn stuff is the stuff that goes on clearance for the cheapest and I’ve gotten a ton of super cheap stuff that has a high retail value. My friends receive a $50 value and I’ve paid under $10 – it rocks for both of us. 😀

  5. I don’t know if this really counts as a gift closet suggestion, but I just stocked up on Baskin Robbins gift certificates from my son’s school’s scrip table. My philosophy is that all the kids that I know have more toys than they can play with, and though they don’t really need ice cream, who doesn’t love it? It has the added bonus of a)not containing lead and b)not requiring too much in the way of petroleum products to manufacture it and get it to us. Plus, i don’t even have to find closet space.

  6. If you have a TJ Maxx or Marshall’s in your neck of the woods, they always increase their toy stock at the holidays. Full price is a usually a bargain there, in my opinion…but right after Christmas, the clearance prices are not to be believed. I love that they often carry high quality wooden toys, lots of educational and somewhat unusual stuff. I have a range of ages to buy for year in and year out, so whenever I find something there, I just go for it.

  7. Thank you Mir!!! Looking forward to stocking up 🙂

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