Fun, Eco-Friendly and Minimalist Gifts for your Favorite One-Year-Old

by - Monday, December 17, 2018

brown paper package for a twelve month old with a caterpillar toy

Ok, I have a secret for you about gifting for one-year-olds...

They have no idea they are getting presents.

You can give them things, but they don't really get it.

Have you ever watched a baby try to open presents at a first birthday party? They are usually completely uninterested (or enjoy the wrapping way more than the gifts). The adults around them act excited for the gifts, or try to get the little one excited, but mostly? Not a ton of awareness.

So we can safely assume that every gift you give a one-year-old is as much for you or for the parents as it is for the bub.

But it's their birthday! Or it's Christmastime! Or this thingy is really dang cute!

We teach our kids that getting stuff matters. We teach them that it is normal, but when you watch a one-year-old "open" gifts, you can't have much doubt that they wouldn't get there on their own. So we have the power to redefine normal, different than how we grew up. We can stop focusing on materialism and make holidays about celebrating, not receiving. You can help break that cycle now!

And we need to. We know that Climate Change is a real and deep threat to these babies' future, and we know that consumerism plays a significant role in this. We have to change our culture (one seemingly unimportant purchase at a time) to protect their lives. That's way more important than any gift you can give them.

This blog uses Etsy and Amazon affiliate links. That said, I highly recommend you don't shop from Amazon, and instead pick up one of these great gifts at a locally-owned shop near you. They are still out there, and you can help them survive by shopping this way. 

That doesn't mean you can't give the best gift in the bunch. I will prove it to you. Let's do this.

1. Experiences

Babies at this age are absolute sponges, soaking up everything around them. They may not have the words to tell you yet, but opportunities to see new things and explore the world are absolutely important to them. Also important, if they have a stay at home parent, the opportunity to get out of the house is extremely important. A happy parent means a happy baby.

So instead of buying more.... freaking... stuff... consider doing an experience gift. What Parent and Baby classes are available near where they are? What about museums or play spaces? This focus may seem too early- they won't remember these gifts- but honestly, they won't remember the random stuff you would buy them either. Some new experiences (and some photo-printing gift cards for baby's parents) is actually the best gift you can give a baby.

2. Your Garbage

Haha! You think I am kidding, but I am so not. For our son's first birthday, we asked his party guests to bring something from their recycling bin... and he loved it. You know that cliche about how toddler only care about the box? It's true. So bring that little one a really great box (you can even decorate it if you are feeling fancy).

It really can be straight from the recycling (as long as it is safe. I guarantee you the kid will be all about it, and the people who give you funny looks at the beginning of the party will think you are a baby genius by the end.

from Marley's Monsters

3. Eating Tools, Snack Storage, and Sippy Cups

 Toys make great or at least cute presents, but as a mom, I now live in fear of them taking over our house. You can help these new parents survive by skipping toys and buying them the useful items they need. These little ones will quickly grow out of their veggie mush and baby bottles, so getting the next phase of eating stuff could be fun and helpful! It may not seem like a fun gift, but the Bub carried around a spoon for two+ hours today, so he would tell you differently.

If the baby or his/her parents are obsessed with their lifefactory glass bottles (like I am), you could get them the sippy cup tops, so those same bottles can last multiple years.

Green Eats sells all recycled, Made in the USA silverware set that we already use all the time with our adventurous eater. I think Re-play has the best selection of sippy cups, plates, and Snack Stack. Reusable snack containers is the ultimate gift for a one year old- awesome for the parents, good for the Earth, and it will get use for years and years.

If the family you are shopping for is trying to do things plastic-free (for good reason- plastic's connection to cancer is becoming clearer and clearer).  We have these stackable containers from Kids Konserve, and we use them every day to lug around cheerios and raisins (The Bub enjoys using them to bang on things on the daily). Snack bags like these ones from Marley's Monsters are also excellent.  Secondhand Corelle is also perfect for toddler use, as it is essentially unbreakable without being plastic (and you can find tons on Ebay.

from Nooches

4. Clothes (The Useful Kind)

 If you want to give a kickass gift of clothing, I have two very important tips for you. First, buy in a variety of sizes (12-18, 18-24, and 2T maybe?), because parents of babies are always thinking ahead to the next size.

Second, buy basics and one cool thing, avoid cutesy sets or outfits that can't really be used on a regular basis. We always need pants, socks, and pajamas. We are in less need of baby suits or foofy dresses (moms of girls please let me know what you think is most useful). We have no need for anything that says "Daddy's Future Accountant" or the like. Babies are cute on their own, so you don't have to point out how cute they are.

About 90-95% of our Bubs' wardrobes are secondhand (from hand me downs or consignment), and I know I would think it was cool if people bought clothing items at places like these for gifts. For example, you can buy one super cute button up onesie on the Gap for about 30 bucks. Or you can buy 5 or 6 of them in consignment for the same amount of money. You can get a lot more bang for your buck!

If I am going to buy new, I want to buy ethical. For basics,  I like LA-Made City Threads or fair trade companies like Pact or Etsy stores like Nooches.

 If you want to get something with a bit more impact, you have lots of great options as well! Winter Water Factory makes their jammies, sweats, and dresses in really fun and unique prints.On Etsy, you can get all kinds of baby leggings that are basically the cutest things ever. If Etsy trends are any indication, all toddlers will be wearing these- my favorite came from Lola and Stella, but you can also check this post for baby stuff and this post for toddlers.

5. A Wet Bag

Another option would be a reusable Wet Bag for the parents' diaper bag. It is such a simple gift, but accidents, messes, and really great puddles happen. This reusable number can keep hundreds of plastic bags out of a landfill. You could pair it with a Tuffo Muddy Buddy or baby boots to get muddy (Kamik is our favorite).

blowing bubbles

6. Bubbles

They easily fit in your diaper bag and are endly fascinating to small people. Not expensive, but sometimes the simplest gift is the one that kicks everything else's ass. I think bubbles are the gift that makes the baby ignore all the fancy plastic Fisher Price nonsense. A perfect little addition to any gift. Bonus points if you reuse a container and make the bubbles yourself.
uncle goose blocks
Uncle Goose on Amazon

7. Blocks

We love Uncle Goose blocks. This company sells many great sets of good old fashioned wooden blocks, all of which would make a beautiful gift, but I LOVE our nursery rhyme blocks, because it opens up multiple avenues for play and learning at once. We can build towers and I read the nursery rhymes off the block as we do it (I forgot them all). I imagine Uncle Goose as Mother Goose's kid brother, so it serves reason that he make this spectacularly cool block set for those of us who need a nursery rhyme refresher. They also make regular alphabet blocks and ones in other languages for all the bilingual babies out there!

If you think your little one is ready for duplos, definitely get them used! They are everywhere secondhand. Only fools buy Duplos new.

If you are looking for something bigger, Mondo Bloxx are made of cardboard in the USA. Skip the Melissa and Doug nonsense, and support a real American business instead.

8. Books

If you want a gift guaranteed to have a positive impact on the child you love, you cannot do better than books. This year, the little baby you love will transform into a verbal little person; books can make a profound difference in this development! Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Blue Hat, Green Hat were the first books my kids could read and participate with easily (and before turning two). I can't send enough love toward these two books.

 If you want to buy board books, I recommend looking at children's consignment stores first, because board books are almost all printed elsewhere. If you want something tactile, you can get soft quiet books at Etsy stores like Rose in Bloom Creations. On the other hand, most regular children's books are still printed in the US, so you can support children's writers, illustrators, and publishers.

I am no expert, but a few of our favorites so far are The Pout Pout FishGiraffes Can't DancePigeon Wants a Puppy, and The Monster at the End of this Book.


9. A Date Night (and babysitting?) for the Parents

Happy parents = happy baby. It's another one of those gifts that encourages family survival, so I am all about it. Yes, it may seem weird to buy a gift for the parents for a first birthday party or holiday gift. But it is GENIUS and everyone benefits (it may even make you the favorite party guest). 

Poor parents that are exhausted can't be good parents, and sometimes people need a reason to go for it, but a dinner out (or going to a movie, do you know how much new parents miss going to the movies?) might make a perfect gift!

green toys pink dump truck
Green Toys on Amazon

10. Green Toys Tug Boat, Airplane, or Kitchen Set

 When I found out we were having a boy, I had waking nightmares of trucks, hot wheels, and race cars. Eeek! And you know what? Even though I tried to keep it from my kids, all little ones love things with wheels. Those plastic toys are popular for a reason, but one company can keep you from wrecking the environment while making your favorite little person happy.

It doesn't get better than Green Toys. These gems are made in the US out of recycled plastic. With that much good behind them, it's hard to fight with a convertible or boat or helicopter.

We have so many Green Toys, and they remain beloved by kiddos and mother alike. If you want to go the toy route, these are a homerun. They also have super cool cups (perfect for the bath), gardening sets (a PERFECT activity with a toddler), and way more. Check them out. No one is paying me to sing their praises, I just genuinely think they are the best.

If you have another plasticy gift you are dying to give, may I suggest trying Buy Nothing or thrift shopping before you get it? Fisher Price is just the worst for the environment, so even if their toy is oh so cute, it may not be worth it.

11. Artifact Uprising Gift Certificate

I have an addiction to photo books, but I think that this makes a good gift for anyone who spawned, because they took lots of pictures in the last year. Artifact Uprising offers lots of products, but even if they just want to put their instagram pictures into an album, the site makes that happen pretty easily.And they print on recycled paper, so way better for the Earth!

little wagon for a first birthday present
from Amazon

12. A First Wagon or Outdoor Toy

Wagons are a rock solid gift idea, because they will probably need one in the coming year, and children love them. You can also find one used pretty easily. My son loves putting things in things and taking them out over and over again. Those little red wagons are all made in China, so let's look at some other options (though we got a radio flyer secondhand, and it continues to make life so much easier)- Berlin has a wood wagon made in the US. If you want a plastic one, Step2 wagons are listed as Made in the USA and look like the kind of thing you take to a parade.

Other outdoor toys can be real winners as well- Little Tykes still makes about half of their stuff in the US (be sure to check if this matters to you). We have one of their little cars at my Nana's house that was a hand me down when she got it 20 years ago, and it is still a grandchild favorite. So this could make for an awesome gift? Even cooler? Buy an old faded one and refinish it in colors all their own!

Fun, Eco-Friendly and Minimalist Gifts for your Favorite One-Year-Old

Want to buy your little one something amazing but still take care of the Earth? We have so many ideas for you! Be sure to check out our Stocking Stuffers for Kids post.

Want more gift ideas? We have thousands! Check out the Green and Easy Gifts Page for sustainable gift ideas for everyone on your list. If you want more holiday ideas, check out the Green Family page.

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