tiny gifts for tiny people.

November 22, 2022

Everything’s cuter in miniature. Kids know it. Toy manufacturers know it. Parents begging their children to walk past the quarter-eating bodega vending machines stuffed with bouncy balls and adjustable rings and tiny dinosaurs know it.

At the perennial risk of sounding like a plastic-hating Scrooge, it makes me sad (and a little grumpy) that so many of the adorable tiny things offered to kids in advent calendars and Christmas stockings and in holiday gift bags are made out of plastic. Nevermind holding four year’s worth of trash, it’s easy for parents of young children to fill up a whole mason jar with tiny plastic tchotchkes after a single school holiday party.*

This year, as always, I’m hoping to make a little bit of miniature holiday magic without contributing a lot of waste to landfill. Toward that end, here are a few ideas for turning some of the regular-sized projects that Rose and I have made over the years into miniature-sized things for stuffing into advent calendars, or Christmas stockings, or offering on eight nights of Hanukkah.

These aren’t labor intensive gifts requiring advanced sculpture degrees or hours of time, but they do take more than zero time. As always, if the idea of sitting around crafting tiny versions of paper envelopes and rolling adorable matchbox scrolls fills you rage, this is not for you! Stick some chocolate in that calendar, scribble a love note on a piece of paper, forgo the whole rigmarole of gift giving altogether!

Here, a few tiny ideas. Please add more of your own in the comments!

Matchbox scrolls! (Scribble a message on a rectangle of scrap paper, roll up the paper using the end of a paintbrush to guide you, tie it up with string and slide into an empty matchbox. Irresistible.)

Tiny recycled matchbook notebooks! (Fill with paper, confetti, flower seeds, bath salts, chamomile tea etc!)

Mini shadow puppets! (Cut a simple shape in corrugated cardboard and stick a skewer right into the cardboard to secure. Add a festive scarf from a fabric scrap!)

Tiny pennants! (Cut triangles from paper or starched fabric and run ’em through a sewing machine (or sticking em through a needle! It’s a party!)

Teeny, tiny folders. (Fill with a miniature watercolor palette and paper or a tiny bracelet making kit, or an invitation for hot chocolate!)

Little love notes! Stick ’em in tiny envelopes traced and cut from kid art.

Clothespin puppets! (Moderately more time consuming than shadow puppets, but hilarious in a muppet kind of way. Carolers!!)

Monster puppets! Lollipop lips and mustaches! Abstract notch puzzles! Just about any of last year’s Cardboard Gift Ideas can be reimainged into tinier versions of themselves!

Block stamps! Use an old wooden block or a piece of thick piece (or two) of cardboard!

Glow-in-the-dark Stars! Take wooden craft stars or cut your own from cardboard and paint with glow-in-the-dark paint. Include a strip of sticky tack and hero status has been achieved.

Pom-pom hair elastics! Make a pompom from scrap yarn and instead of tying the center together with string, use elastic (this is a good spot to use scrap elastic salvaged from beyond-repair sweat pants cuffs etc.

Fold a miniature paper masu box! Matte-catalog pages are perfect for this. Fill it up with an assortment of beads or bracelet making supplies you might have lying around. Sometimes it’s the packaging that really matters.


+ Five years ago, I put together a post called 25 SIMPLE GIFTS UNDER $25, FOR KIDS. I stand by the list as being some of my very favorite, most easy-to-find, inexpensive, and likely to please gifts for little kids. I’ve updated broken or otherwise inferior links and added a few links to projects that Rose and I have developed over the years that make for an even cheaper (and lovelier) version of the same thing. I have not updated the photos of a very little Faye because who could bare it?

+ My STOCKING STUFFERS post from the same year still holds true. I’m still a sucker for going heavy on what’s comestible, for including a few things already in your possession, and for excusing myself when I just can’t find the good gummies in bulk.

+ Not for stuffing stockings only, here’s the whole list of CARDBOARD GIFTS FOR KIDS.

+ Here are about a million other ADVENT CALENDAR ideas, including how to make the CANVAS ADVENT CALENDAR shown in this post.

*If your family is fated to receive lots of plastic miniatures and you manage to fight the urge to hurl them directly into the garbage, a mason jar is a pretty good place to store them. I’ve had good luck saving these up and offering them to teachers and other folks on my neighborhood Buy Nothing Group looking to keep the same little treats in rotation.

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  • Reply annie November 22, 2022 at 3:56 pm

    brilliant ideas. thank you!!!!!

  • Reply Eva November 22, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    Exactly what I have been looking for! I was just talking to my partner about how I don’t want the kiddos to think/expect that stockings should be filled with brand new, in the package things fresh from the store. But I still want to fill the stockings with a bunch of joyful surprises. So, this is a perfect post! Already looked back at your cardboard toys post, but this gives me even more ideas. Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 22, 2022 at 4:20 pm

      So glad!

  • Reply AnnieH November 22, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    That advent calendar is adorable!

    A number of years ago we stopped exchanging regular gifts and now only do stockings stuffers, mostly comestibles. As kids we used to turn our noses up at the clementines my parents would put in our stockings, but now I love to receive them and some good dark chocolate caramels too!

  • Reply Gillian November 23, 2022 at 7:15 am

    We do an activities advent calendar. It may have been partly inspired by one of your previous posts. Activities include thinks we would do anyway (put up the Christmas trees) and treats like a trip to the Nutcracker or to see Santa. Smaller activities for busier days including making a card to send to great-grandma and choosing a charity and donating some of your allowance money (matched by parents) and baking Christmas cookies. I write the activities on little cardstock stars and reuse them from year to year.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 23, 2022 at 7:23 am

      So glad! I reuse lots of mine from year to year too!

  • Reply Allison November 23, 2022 at 7:47 am

    Thank you for this. I put a lot of the plastic Halloween toys we received from daycare into our Halloween trick-or-treat bowl in hopes that their short-lived joy can at least be extended to one more child. The next issue: to gently ask my daycare not to laminate every artwork that my child makes. Thanks for reminding us that we can promote joy and sustainability.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 23, 2022 at 8:33 am

      oh god, the lamination is killing me this year!

  • Reply Erika November 23, 2022 at 1:02 pm

    1. All those plastic miniatures definitely go in a basket and then dumped in the trick or treat bowl. Whhhhhhhhy do they even exist in the first place?

    2. I had to look up the date of the four years of trash video because I was shocked there were no COVID tests or masks in there. Zero waste expectations have changed so much post kids and COVID.

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