How to use Elf on the Shelf to inspire the real meaning of Christmas

It’s time to declutter that play room, parents!

. (Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels)

Now that December is underway, you know what that means -- and yes, we’re talking to the parents out there: It’s officially Elf on the Shelf time, if your family is into that kind of thing.

But we have an idea. (Or, we found a cool one online). Instead of just hiding the little guy like usual, here’s a bold question: What if he could inspire your kids to get rid of some of their toys, and bring back the true spirit of the holidays? Does that sound crazy? We’ll explain more. Because the Elf on the Shelf should work for you, not against you.

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First, let’s rewind. You know the elf, right? He’s dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent to “keep a watchful eye on the children and make sure they stay on Santa’s ‘nice’ list,” as the story goes.

Does your family have an elf?

It seems to be a fun holiday tradition for many families, especially with small children. You set him up before bed, the kids find him in the morning; it’s a whole thing. Yet, we keep hearing this theme coming from parents who are responsible for said elf -- and they complain (often online) that life with this guy gets to be more stressful than fun.

Were you racking your brain last Christmas season, trying to figure out new set-ups for your elf?

Are you eye-rolling at the thought of having to brainstorm all over again?

Here's the elf; you know the one! He's shown here in balloon form, floating along the parade route during the 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. (Getty Images)

Here’s that solution. To give credit where it’s due, Dawn, also known as “The Minimalist Mom” on YouTube, came up with the idea. And it’s perfect. Here’s what you’re going to do. She says ...

The elf has got to go.

Well, you can keep him in your house if you’d like, but let’s stop hiding him. Instead, you’re going to type out a quick letter for your elf to “arrive with” this holiday season. Or, you could steal Dawn’s letter, by clicking or tapping here.

The letter is going to say something along the lines of, “I’m back, and I have a request from Santa. There are so many good kids this year, yet we have a shortage of toys. I have a mission for you. Each night, we’d like for you to place a bow on a toy that you no longer play with, or have outgrown. I’ll take it back to the North Pole with me, the elves will fix it up and then it’ll be used for other boys and girls.”

And here’s the kicker: “This will help make room for the new toys that you will be receiving this Christmas.”

Mind blown?

Next, you’re going to buy a big bag of bows from the Dollar Store and you’re going to give your children the responsibility of parting with their toys. Just one a day -- for however long you’d like. Got a ton of junk? Do it through the end of the month! Or are you just hoping to clear out a few things? Just do it for a week.

“This is Elf’s (and your child’s) new mission for this year, so there isn’t time for mischief or other shenanigans,” Dawn says in the letter.

You could also have your kids fill out a wish list, so that Santa knows exactly what new toys your kids are hoping for -- which should make your life easier. You can give encouragement cards, as well, if your child is struggling or even doing better than expected with this task. And hey, maybe there’s a special toy Santa’s been looking for … perhaps that Cozy Coupe your son hasn’t touched since he was 3?

This is an easy new tradition that you can start this year -- today even! -- and it’s sure to please parents and children alike.

If we had to guess, there could be some resistance at first, but we’re willing to bet your kids will come to really enjoy “helping Santa.” It declutters your home, makes room for new things, and best of all: No more scouring Pinterest at 1 a.m. looking for a new elf hotspot.

You in?

This story was first published in 2018. It has since been updated.