What’s in a Gift? – Homemade Lemon Sparkle Playdough

Hubby: ‘You’re not honestly giving her that are you?

Me: ‘Yeah, I think she’ll love it.’

Hubby: ‘But it’s playdough. Don’t you think that’s a little cheap?’


We went to a birthday party on the weekend. The special girl was turning two. And what do two-year olds love? Playdough! So I made her up a batch of playdough, added some lemon essence and some glitter, attached a star cutter and was done. I was really happy with the gift. But then my husband got me thinking. Is it cheap to give someone something which cost next to nothing? Will the gift be accepted and appreciated?

We have certain expectations towards gift-giving, don’t we? And particularly with Christmas coming up, it is easy to get caught up in obligatory gift giving – I need to get something for Aunt May and the kids next door and the teachers at school and the neighbours and everyone whose coming to lunch…. and then there is the expectation that you’ll (or your kids will) get something from each person. And so, so much stuff is bought and wrapped. It’s all too much. And I don’t think that is what gift-giving, at birthdays or at Christmas, should be about.

Last Christmas I asked my mum to collect a basket of pinecones for the kids for Christmas. She couldn’t do it. Not that she couldn’t physically do it, she lives opposite a park filled with pinecones, she couldn’t bring herself to give them only pinecones that she had collected ‘off the ground’. ‘Oh Kate, that’s not a good enough present!’  

Why wasn’t that a good enough present? Because she didn’t spend any money? What about thought, and love and effort? Or what about relieving ourselves of the sense of obligation in the first place? What’s wrong with a hug or a letter or spending deep quality time together?

This is what gift-giving should be about. Not about the stuff, or how much money was spent, or not spent, but the thought and the effort and love behind the gift. And that gift may not be something you unwrap, it may be something you do together, or something you write or something you say. Or it may just be a hug which says, I am so glad you are here with me today. 

I know my friend appreciated the gift. And I sure hope her little daughter enjoys playing with it.

I just hope as Christmas draws ever closer, that my children receive less presents and more phone calls, more hugs, more kisses and more time spent together, surrounded by those who love them. That is a gift. And that is enough.

21 thoughts on “What’s in a Gift? – Homemade Lemon Sparkle Playdough

  1. What a great gift so thoughtfully prepared. I am with you on the gift idea. I am trying to concentrate more on the thought than the cost. It’s hard because there is a part of me, and perhaps more people than I thought, that think the cost should be more of a concern than the thought or time taken.

    • It took me a while to get over the cost factor. It wasn’t until we had kids and so just how much stuff they got that we realised how overwhelming and nonsensical it was. The following Christmas everyone got homemade gifts or baked gifts. But mostly I think it is the feeling of obligation – I have to get something for … that really makes people stressed. And then you end up buying things that that person would really want and so in the end it’s a waste. I would really like to see that sense of obligation gone and just the thought of being together or talking to each other as being enough.

  2. Couldn’t agree more! And beautifully expressed too. I think a basket of pine cones would be a wonderful present. Where our family and friends struggle with this idea, I am suggesting they take the kids to the park or the zoo so they can share an experience, rather than always having to give an item.

    • A few years ago my husband and I started sharing experiences on our birthdays and anniversary instead of gifts. It’s such a lovely idea, you get to spend quality time together and also create beautiful memories. This would be wonderful for the kids too. I’m going to suggest that next year for birthdays as well as Christmas.

  3. A beautiful and thoughtful gift! I was asked, with the rest of my son’s class to put in $10 each so a gift voucher could be bought for his teacher. I declined as I like to make something handmade for the teacher so that I can hopefully convey how much we appreciate what they have done for our son. And as a teacher I always appreciated the simple, thoughtful gifts I received…

  4. I love giving and receiving home made and practical gifts. I also love recycling cards and wrapping paper. But I do sense that others just perceive me as cheap. Thanks for your insightful words on the importance of spending time with loved ones rather than just showering them with gifts.

  5. Oh what a beautiful story. I love the fact that you wrapped it so beautifully and supplied the cutter….a great idea….I will make some for my Grand Nephew for Christmas….I know he will love it. I am all for those special made, collected, huggable, kissable gifts as I too see that we manufacture far toooooooo many things….using up the worlds resources. Love to you all at Christmas time.

  6. we are doing the exact same thing this year. Offering a supply of homemade play dough. We are customizing it to the child’s age. Our christmases have changed a while ago to being present and having fun rather then gift giving. And we have been oh so happy with this change.

    • I think this is what we are trying to do with our everyday lives; being present and having fun. I think our Christmases are changing, gradually, it is such a beautiful feeling to spend time together, happily without stress.

  7. I think it is a perfect gift for a two year old 🙂 It is so easy to get carried away at Christmas time especially, especially with an inbox flooded with enticing specials from all of my favourite retailers! But you are so right, it is about time and smiles and hugs and laughter so much more than things.

    • I’m actually thinking about putting a ‘no junk mail’ sticking on my mailbox just so I won’t be tempted by flashy catalogues. Jack and Sarah get a gift from each of us, so two gifts each. That’s all. I already have them so now I just need to restrain from impulsive buying for the next 4 weeks….

  8. Oh my gosh I couldn’t agree with you more! We get so caught up in the “well so and so obviously spend this amount of money on me so I have I give a present of equal monetary value” or “I spent x on her so I need to spend x on him” and it’s so silly. I personally would hate to know that someone gave me something simply because they felt they had to do spend a certain amount. That’s not heart felt or personal. That’s what makes it a “present” and not a “gift”. If I know my son will love a used spice rack so he can open the doors and close them, and put stuff in it, then why do I need to spend $50-100 more just to add more “stuff”. And I’d love to get homemade simple things so long as I know the person thought “huh.. I bet Nicole would really like this!”

    • I completely agree. We used to have that internal dialogue too…well I spent $50 on mum so I need to spend the same on dad and my sisters… besides it being waaaay too much money for our budget, I used to get stressed over the shopping. Now we have simple homemade gifts – a loaf of bread, some rocky road, or some other crafty/sewing project and the stress has all but gone. Plus it feels so nice to be making something for someone else.

  9. Very well said. 🙂 I totally agree, and I would have loved to receive a gift like that for one of my little ones! I have suggested in the past that my mother in law make something for the kids (she is great with a sewing machine), but she just can’t understand how I would find something hand-made by her, better than something she can spend a lot of money on in a shop. Sad.

    • My mum took A LOT of convincing. But over the last two years she has made all the kids’ gifts. We now have some beautifully knitted dolls, quilts, clothes, all kinds of things. All handmade, and all very loved. I just had to convince her that these gifts would be cherished and kept, and that we appreciated the effort she put in more than the money she spent.

  10. I completely agree. Your time is a great gift, if you are not good (or think you are not) at making things. And doing this gives other people “permission” to do it too, so you can break the whole unvirtuous circle of expensive meaningless gifts.

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