Despite what anyone who is selling something says, you don’t have to buy something to make a present for someone. Thrift, a virtue I have come to appreciate more and more, is the near-magical talent of seeing what you already have, adding a generous dose of imagination, and a dash of willingness to try. It always manages to come up with something I never thought I could do, and whatever that turns out to be, it always far surpasses anything I could have bought because of the life that is breathed into something when it is handmade with love.
I know that many people will think that the magic of thriftiness is beyond them to accomplish. But the truth is that we live in a world in which almost everything has been taken away from us and delivered into the hands of merchants and manufacturers. From practical things like clothing, shoes and food, to even our songs and stories, these things once lived in the hearts, hands, and minds of all human beings, but now for some reason are left only to those who trade them for money. It is high time we reclaimed these wonderful things for ourselves, instead of waiting for them to be peddled to us by someone who is bent on making a profit.
One rule of thriftiness is to always use what you have on hand, and of course what I already have on hand is going to be different than what someone else has. Hopefully, however, these ideas will get your thrifty imagination fired up and inspire some creative elving!
1. Coloring books
All you need to make a coloring book is a black pen and some scratch paper that’s (at least mostly) white on one side. The best part of making your own coloring book is that the pictures can be whatever you dream up. I usually make a list of about 10 ideas for each of my children. Then I lightly sketch the picture in pencil before blacking it in with a marker. If the idea ends up being too hard to draw, I just skip it, or replace it with a different idea. Scenes from fairy tales, favorite stories, fantasies, friends, pets, and every-day objects make wonderful coloring book scenes. The pictures don’t have to filled to the brim, but are actually better if left fairly simple.
I know that 90% of people think they can’t draw, but you don’t actually need to draw very well to make a coloring book your children will adore. I made some, very hastily, one Christmas. They didn’t turn out very well, but I thought I might as well wrap them up and put them under the tree. To my surprise, my children LOVED them, and begged me to draw more pictures for them to color. I think one thing they really liked was that I chose things they really loved to put into the pictures. There were a few really bad pictures I had done in a hurry that turned out to be very comical and funny. So even if it isn’t perfect, it is still going to be fun.
2. Paper Dolls
Just like coloring books, paper dolls can be so fun. Draw a basic doll out of stiffer paper, or thin paper glued to cardboard. Then you can make all sorts of different outfits – make sure to leave the little tabs that can be folded around the doll so that the clothes stay on. This is a fun resource for making paper dolls.
3. Story Books
Make up a short story and write it down on printer paper/scratch paper folded in half. There are several ways to make the binding, either with a stapler, or punching holes along the fold and tying it with string or yarn. You can also sew the pages together with needle and thread. Stories can be something that is just made up, an adventure you child would love to have, or even something funny that happened in real life.
4. Mad Libs
Mad Libs are the best way I’ve found to teach basic parts of speech. Otherwise, why else would you need to know what a noun or an adverb is? And it is so easy to come up with your own!
Write a short paragraph, such as a description of something you have around the house, a bad habit someone has, a family misadventure, etc, and replace some of the words with blanks, with whatever part of speech has been removed labeled in parenthesis underneath the blank (verb, noun, adverb, adjective, part of the body, and plural versions of these seem to be all that most Mad Libs ask for).
5. Story Cards
Draw pictures of different scenes or objects on note cards, or even just plain scratch paper if you don’t have any cards. The cards are used in a game to create a story. It can be played alone or with other people, and in several different ways:
- You start by a card and begin making up a story from what ever is on the card (a cooking pot, a stone, a girl, a dog, a tree, a path, a house, etc). Draw more cards to progress the story along.
- Draw a certain number of cards, and arrange them into a story.
- (for multiple players) Everyone draws a card and a story is created together with each person having a turn to work their card into the tale.
This is a very creative, imaginative, and fun game! The stories are endless.
6. Math Books
(See picture below). I am making these for Rose this year, who is learning her times tables. Little accordion books made from scratch paper, with all the times tables written out on them up to 12’s.
7. Repair Favorite Toys or Clothes
We are always having things break or tear around here, and the repair pile gets backed up. This is a great opportunity to repair these things. Getting a favorite toy or dress back all fixed up again is almost better than getting something new, because it is already loved.
8. Be Creative – What Do You Have On Hand?
Look around you for what is needed and what you have. Paper, scraps of cloth, or pieces of wood are all you need to make all sorts of things. Scavenging in nature can also be fruitful – acorns, twigs, leaves, pine needles, and feathers can surely be turned to good use.
For example – Clo is really wanting to learn her letters right now. I really wanted to buy her a Montessori self-teaching letter set this year, but of course I can’t. We had some scraps of wood lying around that seemed crying out to be made into something. I cut them into 2-inch lengths, and borrowed Mirin’s wood burning tool to draw little pictures of things that matched the phonetic sounds of the letters. I chose things that I knew she would like, mostly animals whenever possible, and I made sure only the short vowel sounds were represented. I colored them by painting them with non-toxic kid-safe watercolors (the same ones they paint with!) and finished them by rubbing them with broken pieces of last year’s tallow/beeswax candles. (if I hadn’t had the wood burning tool, I probably would have used a pen or marker to draw the pictures).
With a little imagination, some scraps of wood destined for the burn pile have become a lovely Christmas present!