Battle of the toy bulge

By now, most families have taken down their trees and house lights. And if you're like me and live in the Midwest, you might be counting down the days until the first signs of spring. A new year of goals, hopes and beginnings has begun…

Meanwhile, a battle is taking place in many homes. Many people with children, like me, are finding that they have been overrun by an absurd number of new toys and games. Especially in minimalist dwellings like my own, the amount of new stuff is overwhelming. The funny thing is, I thought that I had taken some preventive measures to stop this from happening. Months before Christmas, I began purging baby toys that my youngest daughter no longer plays with. I got rid of duplicate toys and others that served a similar function. Our children's book collection was whittled down to the top 50, and our toy inventory seemed under control.

Then…BOOM! Santa came in waves as we attended various holiday functions. We had braced ourselves for what we assumed would be a ridiculous toy explosion, and unfortunately, we were right. Well-meaning family members and friends generously showered my children with way more than they could ever play with or need. And while each individual gift does not pose a problem on its own, the accumulation of all of them is insane.

But at this point, what's done is done, and all of these extra things need to be dealt with. Many of these new arrivals still remain in their packaging as I decide their fate. Should I open all of them and let my children enjoy them? What harm could possibly come of it? The answer is not simple, for me at least. I'm having a problem indulging my children the way that many feel I should. Something just feels wrong about letting them keep every last gift when they clearly do not need them.

Now where did I put that parenting handbook?

Other issues cloud my thought process as I decide which toys go and which toys stay. If my children are always surrounded by everything that they desire, how can I convince them that we live in a world of scarce resources? How will they ever understand that there are children who do not have clean drinking water or enough food to eat, let alone toys? What kind of parent will I be if I spoil my own kids, when other children go without basic needs? At the same time, what kind of mother withholds presents from her own children?

I refuse to stick my head in the sand and pretend that poverty doesn't exist. On the other hand, I don't want to burden my children with the dark realities of our world. Childhood is a time when they should be able to learn and grow in ignorant bliss of many of the problems that we face. I suppose I'm trying to find a balance. I want to preserve my children's innocence while also teaching them to be responsible citizens of humanity.

As we all know, there is no parenting handbook. However, I did ultimately come up with a plan for some of the excess gifts that are lingering in my closets. Hopefully, I won't offend all of my family members and friends in the process. After all, they love my children and only want to see them happy. At the same time, I'm sure they understand that they just cannot keep everything.

It's simply more stuff than we want or need.

First, I decided which toys we could keep. We allowed the kids to play with some of the toys right away. Others were held back to be given to them throughout the rest of the year. This way they can discover them a few months from now, when their other toys have lost their novelty and newness.

Various other toys will be re-gifted. This should be easy since we buy for many children at almost every age and level of development. In order to stop my children from losing the value of the gift that was given, its approximate value will be transferred into their college funds. So, in essence, I will be “buying” the gift from them. This strategy will also allow me to do a little less shopping – an activity I happen to despise.

I managed to return a few of the gifts to Walmart for a store credit of almost $75. Since a Walmart gift card can't be transferred into my children's college funds, I decided to buy the gift cards from my kids instead. My local Walmart does sell groceries, so I will use the store credit in lieu of part of next month's grocery budget.

The rest of the toys will be given to charity the next time that an opportunity presents itself. My 3-year-old will definitely be involved in the process. Although giving away some of her toys may result in a temporary sadness, my hope is that it will make her realize that there is joy in giving, not just in receiving. I also hope that she will discover the thrill of generosity firsthand, knowing that she may have brought some happiness to a child who has so much less than she does.

The fact is, we live in a world where many have way more than they need. If I don't tell my daughters this unfortunate truth, who will? I also don't think that just telling them is enough. Showing them how to confront excess at all levels is a necessity. As we all know, actions speak louder than words. I certainly don't expect the world to change, but I do have a say in how much we consume as a family. I can only hope that my children will learn to find happiness in ways that aren't wasteful or detrimental to society. And one day, maybe many years from now, I hope that they will understand that an entire season of excess is just too much.

What do you do with extra toys and gifts you accumulated during the holiday season? Do you think there is anything wrong with re-gifting or giving gifts away to charity?

More about...Frugality, Giving

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AMW
AMW
7 years ago

My children are teenagers now so we don’t have the same problems we did with toys (mostly clothes and make up and giftcards now). We always had the “one in, one out” rule. If you got a toy you had to give one away. When they were toddlers, I would decide. When they hit about five years old they got to decide. Sometimes they chose to give away the old toy and sometimes they chose to give away the new ones. Because this was always the rule, they never seemed to question it.

Sandy
Sandy
7 years ago

I can’t help wondering how relatives would feel about their gifts being returned and kept back for a later date…

How about just letting people know that you despise so many toys for your girls, that they truly have all they need and if the family member still wants to give a present, perhaps they can make a deposit to the college fund?

My husband and I don’t have any kids yet but this is what I plan to do anyway.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Sandy

That is much easier said than done. I didn’t count…but I would estimate that my kids got 50-70 new toys for Christmas this year. Although it might hurt someone’s feelings, I cannot possibly let that many new things in my home. My kids have had college funds since they were babies and I sent out an email to let family members know about it in case they ever wanted to contribute in lieu of gifts. I have told everyone in my family that any gift they give has a likelihood of getting returned or being given to charity. They are… Read more »

Erin
Erin
7 years ago

Another thing you might try is encouraging family members to buy experiences rather than gifts. My brother and sister in law try to keep toys to a strict limit, but like many aunts, I want to give my nephew something /fun/ that he can enjoy /now/. Saving for college is all well and good, but it’s not going to light up that adorable face when he opens it on Christmas! So what I’ve started doing is looking for things I can pay for that they’ll love, but that don’t take up space. A zoo membership. A trip to a children’s… Read more »

Ellen K.
Ellen K.
7 years ago
Reply to  Erin

I like the gifts of experience, too. You can also ask parents whether the kids could use new outfits or equipment for extracurriculars and sports in which they already participate or will soon try. A new leotard and slippers for dance class, gloves and guards, equipment or gym bags, art supplies, sheet music, etc. It’s best to find out what colors, logos, or teams the child prefers. There is always some personal favorite or trend.

Amy F
Amy F
7 years ago
Reply to  Erin

I have 19 nieces and nephews, ranging in age from 6 – 21 years. When the first ones were small, I made a decision to stop buying gifts for them. Instead, once a year, they get to pick anywhere they want to go with Aunt Amy. Movies, laser tag, manicures, baseball and football games, Renaissance festivals, water parks, the zoo….you name it, I’ve been there. These outings can be difficult to schedule, but looking back over the many years of doing this, I know we’ll all have great memories of our times spent together. Priceless, compared to the waste another… Read more »

Pauline
Pauline
7 years ago
Reply to  Erin

My grandfather did that and it was awesome. He took us all 10 kids to a fun day or when we were older to a show and really nice dinner. I remember those experiences very fondly especially now that he is not around anymore. And it brought me very close to my cousins too.

Megan
Megan
7 years ago

” They are fully aware but I think they just enjoying giving gifts regardless of what happens to them in the end.” This, this, this. With my family, the more I say “Please don’t give as many toys,” the MORE toys my kids end up getting. A friend told me that her kids got a ton of toys for Christmas, despite her and her husband telling everyone to cut back. Three days after Christmas, she rounded up some of the toys and donated them to Goodwill. It’s been a few weeks, and her kids STILL haven’t asked about any of… Read more »

Aryn
Aryn
7 years ago

At first I thought you were being a bit cruel to withhold gifts, then I saw this. Whoa! 50-70 new toys? That’s nuts. For my younger cousins (there aren’t many), my mom, sister, and I pool our resources to get one pricier gift rather than a bunch of small toys. This year, now that my sister and I have babies, the parents of those cousins did the same for us. It worked quite nicely. Maybe you should encourage that!

Nathalie
Nathalie
7 years ago
Reply to  Sandy

Sandy, I hate to burst your bubble but Holly is right. When kids are in the picture, well-meaning relatives, no matter how many times one has respectfully asked or discussed the issue, will do whatever they please when holidays and birthdays come around. We’ve tried every tactic to slow the onslaught of “things”, and while our family is getting better about purchasing experiences or gift cards instead, gifts are just that – gifts. Ultimately it is up to the giver to decide what he or she wishes to give. I’m also in total agreement with how Holly is handling the… Read more »

Sandy
Sandy
7 years ago
Reply to  Nathalie

Having no kids of my own yet, I’d never have thought this would be about 50+ gifts. Oh my… No, i wouldn’t be able to handle that many either. Nor would I want my kid to be so spoiled!

But I love the idea of giving experiences rather than stuff. Perhaps, if it comes to that, I can coax my relatives into buying those for our future kid!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Sandy

I don’t have kids either, but I can certainly understand the impulse to buy stuff for the youngsters in your life! Every time I see a cute toy or piece of clothing, I want to get it for my nephew. (I don’t, though) He’s too little for experiences yet, but his parents are excited about the education savings account they’ve built so far.

I have fun picking out the occasional book for him, but it’s an amazing feeling knowing I can contribute to someone’s future like that.

Nathalie
Nathalie
7 years ago
Reply to  Sandy

Sandy ~ I wouldn’t have thought so either. This was before my mother-in-law explained that it’s not her privilege to “parent” her grandkids (i.e. how she describes she will discipline and/or spoil them rotten), it’s her RIGHT. Eeeshk. Kids have a way of bringing out the best AND the worst in some of us. Elizabeth ~ I know… I sometimes felt like I was raining on the parade of genuinely excited and well-meaning relatives. It was an easier conversation after Christmas #4. There were so many gifts, our son had to take a nap in between gift opening sessions. A… Read more »

Megan
Megan
7 years ago
Reply to  Sandy

My kids got quite a lot of gifts this year, too. I have two, and now that I think about it, none of the toys were really “shared” gifts – it was understood “This toy is for Child #1, and this is for Child #2” based on their interests. It adds up so quickly, and it’s so overwhelming for everyone – the kids don’t even remember most of what they got, and I’m stressed because I don’t know where to put everything and can’t find a way to keep toys with a billion pieces all together. I realize having too… Read more »

Ellen K.
Ellen K.
7 years ago
Reply to  Nathalie

I would estimate that my daughters each received at least 50 gifts for Christmas. I only had control (i.e., Santa gift) over 16 gifts total — 6 for each child, and 4 to share. Everything else came from relatives, and their babysitter and teacher gave them small gifts as well. There were 4 gift-opening days in a row. I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, and I know it’s great fun to shop for little kids, but it is overwhelming for kids and parents alike. My daughters are twins, so very often they receive two of everything. And children pick up… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago

My children are just a little bit older than yours (almost 5 and 3), and I have certainly experience many, if not all, of the emotions you describe in this post. I believe it was two Christmas’ ago that I returned a bunch of duplicate toys. I swear some family even gave our second kid almost identical toys that they gave my eldest. I didn’t feel bad returning duplicates. But ultimately I think it is untenable as the kids get older to return their toys unopened to the store. That really isn’t your decision to make and they will definitely… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Thanks for your perspective, Jane! However, we will have to agree to disagree. It is 100% my decision to make. My kids are 3 and 1 and can’t possibly know what is best for them. It’s up to me as their parent to decide what is reasonable.

However, I do agree with you that this is probably only temporary. As they get older, they will probably start getting fewer large gifts! I am just going to take each year as it comes. This year, I am happy with the decisions we made.

celia
celia
7 years ago

I would add that my children received an car-full of toys this Christmas. We have tried to keep it low-key, but well-meaning friends and relatives kind of went overboard. They do this at every birthday and holiday, along with giving our kids what amounts to an entire new wardrobe (at each instance). While it may not be completely my decision, I am the parent and have to make some tough choices. I always include the kids in these choices (they are 6 and almost 4). Look, we live in a 1000 square foot apartment. If we bring back an entire… Read more »

Paularado
Paularado
7 years ago
Reply to  celia

I have toy purgatory too. I stash toys there for a few months and then spirit them away when no one asks for them during that time. Then we’ll be looking at photo books and they’ll see the toy in a picture and ask about it…I always feel like I’ve been busted. LOL! Most times I just say that no one was playing with it so I gave it to a kid that needed it. Sometimes, I must admit, I just shrug my shoulders and say, “I dunno where that toy is” and hope that they forget about it! To… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago

Holly – Certainly when they are 3 and 1, but I think once their awareness increases, the dynamic changes a bit. The gift wasn’t given to you, it was given to them. How would you feel if you got a gift and your husband told you you had to return it? I know these are not entirely parallel events, and children are not mini-adults. We as parents do have authority in our child’s lives until they leave the nest. But I would take that responsibility very seriously and use it very judiciously. I would hate for my child to remember… Read more »

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Perhaps instead of the parent telling the child, “This is too much I’m taking X,Y, and Z away,” it would work better if the parent collaborated with the child on making more space. Sort of like, “The playroom is always messy, what can we do about it? Oh, your toys don’t all fit in the bin? Well, when that happens to Mommy and Daddy we give away the stuff we don’t use.” I think this helps prevent the child from feeling like the parent is a Big Blue Meanie, and it helps get them to think rationally and responsibly about… Read more »

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

Holly, it is 100% NOT your choice to make. You are stealing from your children. It is entirely your decision what you give to your kids and what of that you later remove, but nothing gives you the right to take away items gifted to them. You never owned these items and they are not yours to make decisions over.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Michael

Wrong. It is my decision to make what goes and stays in my home. It is also my decision to make regarding what toys they get to keep. For instance, occasionally someone will get one of my kids a Bratz doll dressed like a hooker. It is my job as a parent to decide which toys line up with our values.

Matt
Matt
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Jane – agree with this! We let our kids (4 and 1.5) keep all the stuff they open (unless it’s a duplicate). However, we’re now doing a post-Christmas cull… and I think it’s OK with both kids. My older one has even said that she has too many toys! One of the other things we’re doing is using some of the money they got (we have some relatives who give very generous cash gifts) to buy some new furniture that helps organize the toys we are keeping. I think having some sort of organization is crucial – my kids get… Read more »

Chris
Chris
7 years ago

Just out of curiosity, what do you think would be the calamitous fallout of *not* regularly disposing of gifts generously given to your children by people who love them? That they wouldn’t appreciate it enough? That they wouldn’t grow up with adequate perspective? I think you should have more faith in your ability to direct the moral development of your children without imposing artificial scarcity. Especially at ages 1 and 3, where I suspect the higher-order thinking necessary to evaluate the “want vs. need” paradigm of demand is probably underdeveloped, if not completely nonexistent. Actually, I think this reply will… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Chris

Chris, I find this very insightful. I especially like the idea of “artificial scarcity”. Ultimately as parents, I think we need to be honest about why we surreptitiously or even openly dispose of our children’s toys. It’s not because it is helping them but rather because WE can’t stand to have them around. I think that’s okay. The happiness of the parents in their own home is very important, but there’s no need to cloak decisions in some sort of moral lesson. Transparency with our true motives is helpful in the long run. I grew up in a household with… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Chris

The fallout? After three holiday seasons, they would accumulate 150-200 new toys. Add in each of their birthdays, and they could easily accumulate another 100 toys. First, I don’t have room for that much stuff. Second, it’s simply wasteful. My kids already have toys that they love and play with. They simply don’t need that many new things. Not only is it wasteful, but it’s terrible for the environment. The toys and their packaging have to end up somewhere…and unfortunately it is usually a landfill. We will just have to agree to disagree. I do think that abundance is a… Read more »

celia
celia
7 years ago

I do not think abundance a vice, but I do think excess is. I believe there is a difference between the two. My kids have plenty of toys, and we have plenty of belongings. But there’s a fine line between abundance and venturing into that “excess” territory. I consider 50+ new toys each Christmas (or whatever holiday) to be “excess,” and rather wasteful since realistically the kids will play with maybe 10 of them, but maybe that’s just me.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  celia

I know just what you mean!

My kids have quite a few toys but my three year old mostly plays with her art supplies and play food. Most of her stuff never gets played with at all.

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

Your care for the environment is admirable, but I think you’re missing an important point. When you keep an item someone else has given you, that consumes no more of the earth’s resources than when you give said item away. Your relatives and friends may have a more abundant view of the number of toys your kids should have, so by constantly discarding those items you are likely (albeit unintentionally) encouraing those relatives and friends to give even more stuff!

Anje
Anje
7 years ago
Reply to  Chris

The fallout (short term) might be what I experienced with much younger cousins: At ages 3-5 they started asking for clothes. Why? They already had so many toys they no longer wanted any more cluttering their rooms. Birthdays and christmas became a day to them where more junk entered their lives. Not desireable…

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  Chris

“It’s absurd to impose artificial scarcity as some sort of moral virtue.” I agree, at least if you’re making it a lifetime habit. I can see fasting for a day or living a week on the equivalent of food stamps as a way to learn about poverty, but morality through deliberate deprivation sounds a bit too much to me. It reminds me of people in the Middle Ages flagellating themselves. But, if you’re an adult and mindfully living with less helps you spiritually, then great. However, raising children in this manner could have unexpected and unwanted results. For starters, I… Read more »

Jenne
Jenne
7 years ago
Reply to  Chris

At this age, it’s probably not a big deal. However, as children grow older, instead of artificially limiting what they get, to give them a false sense of scarcity (my upbringing suggests *that* is not a good idea) why not instead be completely honest with them: “We don’t have room for all the toys you get, and there are children who have few or no toys. Can you help me pick out which toys we can give to other children who don’t have what you have?” That way, you’re not backing yourself into a corner and you *are* sharing your… Read more »

Anne
Anne
7 years ago
Reply to  Chris

I don’t think the term “artificial scarcity” is fair here. There is only so much STUFF that will fit into their family’s home. Paring down belongings regularly so that they fit into their home is not artificial at all – it is natural and necessary. I suppose we all define our own line between abundance and excess, but choosing simplicity is far from artificial. Narrowing down one’s possessions to fit in one’s dwelling is practical, not artificial. Just as you don’t have to accept every invitation you are offered, you don’t have to keep every object ever given to you.… Read more »

Allison
Allison
7 years ago
Reply to  Chris

I must disagree, Chris. “Artificial scarcity” is important for children. Check out the book “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne. Young children are driven to explore their world. Having too many toys can lead to an anxiety over too many choices and only a superficial exploration of each toy. Fewer toys that are not so complex promote imagination. More toys mean that the value of them all is lessened. I bet plenty of parents these days wonder why their kid has 200 toys and prefers to play with pots and pans in the kitchen. It is up to parents to… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Allison

Thank you- I will definitely check out that book!! When I read the comment about artificial scarcity, I thought “dang, I am doing a terrible job at making things scarce around here!” My kids have a 24 by 12 playroom with tons of nice things- a play house, a basketball goal, a kitchen with tons of play food, an art station. I don’t mind them having a lot of stuff really, but there has got to be a point when we have “enough.” We got three of the exact same ball popper for Christmas this year. It has all just… Read more »

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
7 years ago

My kids are 10 and 19. The older one just asked for cash and he got it in spades! How do I teach him that the well will eventually run dry and he’s going to be the giver not the receiver? A friend at church found a wonderful new book called The Sparkle Box. It’s definitely written for a Christian audience, as it deals with refocusing attention on the Birth of Christ, but it doesn’t trash anything. If you want to divert your little ones away from the gimmees, I recommend it.

Melissa
Melissa
7 years ago

It is rude to regift something someone took the time to pick for your child. Would you rather have your children get nothing from them? Even telling people to only give your children cash is just tacky, they’re kids! Let them play with the toys, they will grow out of them and then you can donate them later. The crazy toy pile is just a phase. Soon enough they will be off living in their own homes.

Anne
Anne
7 years ago
Reply to  Melissa

Do you believe it is wrong to regift any item that is given to you? I don’t. For instance, I am allergic to peanuts, but I often get gifts of food from co-workers that contain peanuts or nuts. I always re-gift something like that to someone who would enjoy it and appreciate it. I always thank the giver, and the fact that I pass along the gift to someone else does not mean that I don’t value it – it means that I want it to go to someone who can appreciate it more than I do. I have a… Read more »

adriano
adriano
7 years ago

I feel sorry for the stores that have to deal with stressed and demanding customers, throw in free or at cost gift-wrapping only to have the recipients of generosity return the items a few weeks later for the cash. That is a lot of customer service for free. Sure you usually get store-credit not cash, but when you use it you will still need service, so for the same amount of revenue they have to spend 3x time. On the broader issue i think it is impolite to ask for a certain type of gift. Simplest solution is to re-gift… Read more »

jxm
jxm
7 years ago
Reply to  adriano

I’m sure that’s a cost factor that big businesses have taken into account. Then again, they are making millions upon millions of dollars every day. I doubt whether it hurts at all at the end of the quarter.

SAHMama
SAHMama
7 years ago

My kids are ages 6, 2 1/2 and I have a newborn baby. We ask for a mix of experience gifts, things they need and things they want. Here’s what they got this year: From DH’s parents: Family zoo pass Family science / kids museum pass 1 toy each 1 pair of pajamas each From my parents: a whole lot of toys, including some junky stuff that immediately went into the donation bag as soon as my parents left from mommy & daddy: book for each handmade blanket for each in their favorite colors candy in their stockings game for… Read more »

Beth
Beth
7 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

You’re very lucky to have family and friends who listen to your suggestions. I have asked my own family repeatedly to give family memberships to museums or just do experiences (an overnight trip to grandma’s would be more fun and meaningful than another random toy). Yet, they still only buy tangible toys “So the kids have something to open.” These excess toys make me so angry. I don’t have the space for them, and I usually wind up donating them. I’d rather my family used their hard-earned money on something my kids could actually use instead of buying random garbage… Read more »

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago

We do a lot of regifting. DC1 is older now and has access to the gift closet so his preferences are taken into account these days but he also agrees that he has too much stuff. http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/frugal-confession/ The source of most of these gifts expects us to sweep out the stuff she got us previous years to make way for new stuff, I think, because she has to know that the stuff has overfilled DC1’s room, our great room, the nursery, and our living room (having seen that when she visited last year and still having given us a car… Read more »

celia
celia
7 years ago

I think your second link is interesting. I think this can go for a lot of family, etc., that goes overboard with gifts. For instance, stressing about retirement and then spending who-knows-how-much on Christmas gifts and other gifts over and over again. I feel guilty accepting those gifts, even though I know they love giving them, because a lot of it never gets played with or used and I know that money could have been used to ease their worries about the future. You know?

amber
amber
7 years ago

I will just say as a giver and not a parent, I appreciate that my nieces’ mom needs to control her space. I totally understand purging stuff when it is no longer useful, and I respect that the girls have way too much stuff so I try to give them crafts or things that will be used up. Some things though, I wish she would have asked me if I wanted them back before regifting or selling. I’m sure she assumed I didn’t want/need the stuff back because I don’t have kids yet, but a quick check and I would… Read more »

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
7 years ago

I don’t have any answers. I just remember watching LIttle House on the Prairie when I was a kid sometimes (I know, weird that a little dude watched that for awhwile), and I remember a Christmas episode where the kids each got an orange from their parents. An orange. That was it, and boy were they grateful.

Johanna
Johanna
7 years ago

On regifting, etc.: I’m firmly of the opinion that once somebody gives you a gift, it’s yours and you can do whatever you want with it – use it, put it in storage, regift it, return it, give it to charity, throw it away, whatever. (Of course, for gifts given to your children, the children should have input into that decision if they’re old enough.) If that upsets the person who gave it to you, that’s their problem, not yours. If part of the gift explosion is due to large extended families, you could do what my family did: Draw… Read more »

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

Very true! But, the flipside of that is you can’t really dictate what the giver gives. If they ask, of course answer honestly, but ultimately it’s up to them.

I’ve heard of large families using the “draw a name” approach. I wouldn’t be surprised if Holly suggests that many will like the idea. It’s exhausting to buy gifts for everyone! But, she also shouldn’t be surprised if people get her children gifts anyway – people LOVE buying presents for children. I know almost always bought more than I intended for my nieces, especially when they were little.

Johanna
Johanna
7 years ago

Exactly: The gifter can give whatever they want, and the recipient can do whatever they want with the gift. However, gift-giving should be primarily about the needs and desires of the recipient, not the gifter. A gifter who tries to make the gift all about them is being a jerk. A gifter who continues to give you tons of toys, even after you’ve explained to them that you have more toys than you know what to do with, and then gets bent out of shape for regifting some of the toys they gave you, is being a jerk twice. So… Read more »

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

I agree – gift givers who give to promote themselves are annoying. But, there is only so much one can do to get others to behave.

Stephanie
Stephanie
7 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

We had this discussion with my parents as well. Thier response was that they weren’t buying the toys for me, they were buying them for my children. As parents, we are neither gifter or recipient for those toys.

Sam
Sam
7 years ago

I don’t have children, but with my niece and nephew, my brother and his wife quickly trained me to stop giving gifts and to give them cash that they could save for a big toy, like a bike or skateboard and/or simply put money into their college funds. When they were little, I didn’t enjoy the giving of cash but I respected my brother’s wishes and I certainly was happy to not shop for toys. Now that they are in high school and college, they very much appreciate the gift cash and the cash in their college funds. I’m doing… Read more »

Jenne
Jenne
7 years ago
Reply to  Sam

Honestly, if my relatives were to say “give cash or nothing” I would be “ok, nothing” until the child was old enough to buy their own stuff. Because a child under the age of 5 or 6 doesn’t really understand buying stuff, let alone saving for it.

Babs
Babs
7 years ago

That sounds like a great plan to me Holly! I wish I had done the same. Some relatives will just inundate you with junk with no regard for individual family values or time and space constraints. You have every right to control what comes into your house and your family life anyone who thinks otherwise is the control freak.

Sara
Sara
7 years ago

Interesting post. I am a grandparent of 7, and my grandchildren all have plenty of stuff, plus I really hate going to toy stores. When they are little I generally give books and/or art supplies. As they get older, i give experiences, either a family pass or I take the child somewhere special. For teens, something specific I know they want, or a gift card to a store they like. Everything I mention has been well received by the kids and their parents, and I am not adding to household clutter. Maybe drop some hints along these lines? I think… Read more »

Hiram Carden
Hiram Carden
7 years ago

Limit the amount of stuff your children accumulate because it’s the right thing to do, but don’t do it because of others’ lack of resources. You’ll encourage in them a resentment toward others. Unfortunately, far too many parents on the other side of the equation have encouraged resentment toward others.

Beth
Beth
7 years ago

On Christmas Day my 2 great nephews got a bucket load of gifts (including mine). One of them received the same Little People Pirate Ship three times (one from me, my sister and an aunt on the other side). I took it back to Target and got my money back. I didn’t buy another present. Why? Because I found out that they had another bucket load of gifts that still needed to be opened from yet another side of the family. I just thought, my God. And that morning, my 90 year old Mother told me a story about when… Read more »

Johanna
Johanna
7 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Well…oranges aren’t as big a deal today as they were in the past. These days, between air freighting and hothouse growing, we’re used to being able to have pretty much any fresh food we want, whenever we want it. But it wasn’t always like that.

I suspect, if we were to try to subsist on canned/dried/preserved foods all winter, we’d be pretty overjoyed to get an orange as a gift too.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago

“If my children are always surrounded by everything that they desire, how can I convince them that we live in a world of scarce resources? How will they ever understand that there are children who do not have clean drinking water or enough food to eat, let alone toys? What kind of parent will I be if I spoil my own kids, when other children go without basic needs?” I think you’re overthinking this a bit. I don’t know enough about children’s cognitive development, but at some point soon they will be able to separate their direct experiences of having… Read more »

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago

Goodwill will not take toys, at least the one here won’t. It’s been their policy since the lead scare from China. So just giving things away isn’t easy.

victoria
victoria
7 years ago

That is a huge amount of toys! We struggle with toy clutter too, and we don’t get nearly that number of toys from the extended family. (The extended family is not huge, but still!) I’m guessing that most of those gifts were probably in the $15-$20 range or less — is that right? If so, is there any way you could maybe convince your relatives to go in together on one or two nicer gifts per kid? (If your family is “ask culture” you could just put it out there; otherwise, you could maybe instigate something like that for another… Read more »

KSR
KSR
7 years ago

Wow. This is a real first-world conundrum in PF. I’m imagining the reader that only wishes that this was his/her problem. The person that had to scrounge and scrape to get that special gift out of lay-a-way in time for the big day by foregoing a few things here and there.

Matt
Matt
7 years ago
Reply to  KSR

My family doesn’t receive anywhere near the numbers of toys others have mentioned – but we can still get easily overwhelmed (my house isn’t big), and I don’t want my kids assuming they can have anything they want simply because we have generous family members. Is it among the “better” problems to have? Definitely. But it still exists, and ignoring it simply leads to spoiled kids and a house full of toys that don’t get played with. I certainly feel for people who are struggling to the extent that their children don’t receive much (or anything) at holidays. That’s one… Read more »

Kristen
Kristen
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

Exactly. My little girl gets more than she will ever need or play with over the holidays. (Or in general, but that is another issue.) I ask people for experience gifts or for money for her savings account, but everyone wants to at least get her “a little something.” Those “little somethings” add up to a lot! So if she receives a toy that kind of duplicates one she already has or a toy that I don’t like (something overly gendered or loud, etc.) it goes to charity. I don’t think I’m being unfair to my daughter – I think… Read more »

brandy
brandy
7 years ago

i have a 4 & 2 year old. their birthdays are dec 14 & dec 16. to avoid total insanity, 2 out of 3 sets of grandparents just give me the money for the kids and allow me to decide how to spend it. last set of grandparents decided to purchase several of the toys that i got for their house (bike, wheelbarrow). i put at least half in their savings and spend the rest. because the 2 year old is always playing with the 4 year old’s older toys, a lot of this goes into “gift clothes,” special clothes… Read more »

BC
BC
7 years ago

I am struggling with the gift explosion too around my 3.5 year old son. We have nothing to regift or return. I have a very playful family and so as soon as something was unwrapped it was out of the box and everyone was playing with it. After hours of opening gifts though I was disturbed at the end of Christmas day because I didn’t like the message that my son was getting regarding what Christmas was all about. Also I have two degrees in environmental science so the waste issue was getting to me too. This was also our… Read more »

Jan
Jan
7 years ago
Reply to  BC

My daughter takes all of the gifts and evaluates. There is a “toy closet” in her house that her five year old is well aware of. He and she keep only a few toys out at a time. When he is ready he “rotates” them. He chooses whether it is time to give them away or not. He chooses what stays and goes. She started this when he was three because her mother (that would be me) gets SO excited about cool new things to play with. He fully participates. Children are much smarter then we give them credit for.… Read more »

RJF
RJF
7 years ago

We do the one-in-one-out rule as well, but after moving a few times, I now take 1 tote per child and put various toys in at a time, these totes are stored away for a month or even two and brought back out and a new round is put away (Out of sight/out of mind). It is like Christmas every 1-2 months for the kids…now they just wait for the next “toy party”! You would not believe how much more they appreciate the toys they used to just throw in the toy box when they are constantly rotated!

Chasa
Chasa
7 years ago

What the poster described is one of the stressors for having children for me. Every person I know who has a baby has more toys than they need and closets (plural! Yes!) full of clothes given by friends/family. It’s just too much. It actually makes me physically uncomfortable. I don’t buy people gifts – my immediate family (mom, dad, sister) and perhaps 2 friends get gifts for birthday/Christmas, and I don’t gift children. When one of my two best friends had a child I will gift that child, but that’s it. I give of my time, attention and thoughts; giving… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Chasa

“When I have children, and if I’m subjected to this misplaced generosity I will be clear on what will happen to the excess — straight to Goodwill with tags attached.” Sorry, but that’s just rude. I think back to when my sister and my mom gave me these really ugly flowery sweaters when I was a teenager. I had clearly told them that I didn’t want clothes for Christmas. So while I think it was passive aggressive of them to give me sweaters (it was the 90s and I was into grunge – a trend they despised), it was very… Read more »

Julie
Julie
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

This is one of those times I think that I might have stumbled onto the wrong blog. Aren’t we here for saving money and getting out of debt? I’m with Chasa on informing the giftgivers. I absolutley would want to know if the gift I was buying was going to be immediately given away so I could, ya know, save the money, pay down my mortgage with it or whatever.

Adrienne
Adrienne
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I find passive aggressive gifts rude. In some cases, don’t think they even deserve a response. Your family didn’t like your sense of “style” and bought you something you wouldn’t like. Not getting someone’s tastes, I get that. But to intentionally pick an item that the recipient would dislike…The pleasure is only for the gift-giver and misses the point..even if the giver believes it is for the recipients benefit.

Valerie
Valerie
7 years ago

Instead of material gifts, I give my nephews special time. For their birthday, for example, I take them to dinner and a movie, or to the zoo, or the beach or wherever they would like to go, just the two of us (which is a big deal to a kid with 3 other brothers). I think they’ll remember these experiences far longer than they would remember a toy.

Jon
Jon
7 years ago

Great post and great ideas in the comments. Everyone has to find the best balance and a plan that will work for their family and relatives. I know our challenge is letting our 5 year-old enjoy her toys but protecting our 1 year-old from some of the small parts that came with her big sister’s toys. Big sister is OK with storing a few of the toys to protect little sister. We have also been working with big sister to pick out a few of her older toys that she would like to share with little sister or with other… Read more »

Finance Inspired
Finance Inspired
7 years ago

Great post with some food for thought! My grandparents spoilt me, now my mum spoils my sisters children, its an ongoing cycle.

drea916
drea916
7 years ago

Did they write thank you notes to the people who gave them the gifts? Gratitude is important. They learn to be thankful for what they have without putting a black cloud over them by telling them about “kids in China.”

Greg
Greg
7 years ago

My wife and I do not have kids yet, so I can’t relate. But we are relatively new to being uncle/aunt, and I gotta say my nephews have a TON of STUFF. They’re rooms are just packed with toys, and they do not have the capacity to play with all of it. Because of this, we’ve gotten into a habit of buying puzzles and books as gifts, instead of just toys. Can kids really have too many books? No. I really like the idea of the gift experience. It’s difficult right now since they require car seats…and we don’t have… Read more »

Jenne
Jenne
7 years ago
Reply to  Greg

My son at nearly four now has almost 5 bookshelves worth of books. I’m thinking his dad will have to go through them with him and see if we can get rid of any; as a Librarian I’ve just compulsively bought any good kids books that came my way used, and also bought the books we loved best when we got them from the library. Whew!

kate
kate
7 years ago
Reply to  Greg

Don’t let lack of car seats be a deterrent! Drive your car to the kid’s house, make Mom or Dad put the car seat into your car, buckle in the kid, and off you go. I’ve been taking my little “niece” (my best friend’s daughter) to stuff since before she turned two. It takes my friend about 3 minutes to move the car seat from her car to mine, and I know how to safely buckle the kid into the seat once it’s installed. The munchkin just had her third birthday, and we’ve had three or four outings together, and… Read more »

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago

Was this ever a problem for some of you a generation or two ago? I don’t recall anyone getting bombarded with this level of toys when I was a kid. It seems like a more recent issue.

Jane
Jane
7 years ago

Jen – I don’t know if this will make it through moderation, but this was an interesting blog post that mentions how toys have become cheaper over the years. This has in some way fueled the toy purchasing. We get more bang for our buck, and well-meaning grandparents set a money amount they want to spend rather than an amount of gifts. This leads to excessive giving when toys are so cheap.

http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/05/too-much-stuff-last-year/#more-42205

Jana
Jana
7 years ago

Good for you!! I regularly clean out excess toys for my 3 year old and 2year old. My mom once commented that she thought my son (the oldest) was overstimulated by too many toys, so I started observing his play. He actually played better, longer, with more independence with FEWER toys! I think fewer choices encourages strong play and an active imagination. Plus, the more kids you have, the fewer toys you need – keep the favorites and let siblings learn to play and imagine together.

KWu
KWu
7 years ago

I’m not a parent nor giver of gifts to kids, I’m finding these various viewpoints about this dilemma quite interesting. I lean towards the more practical side of things in not keeping everything and involving the kids in the decision-making when they’re old enough, particularly with donating the charity. The one thing is that if there are homemade gifts or ones that are particularly unique in some way, I would be a little bit more sensitive to keeping those. I gave out a bunch of jam that I made myself this past Christmas and was so excited to share this… Read more »

Nina
Nina
7 years ago

Maybe because I only have one child so far, my kid didn’t receive 50-70 toys; probably more like 10. So for us, we don’t really have any crazy Christmas or birthday gift explosions.

What we’ve done though is store for future use or give them away to younger cousins once he’s outgrown them.

Juli
Juli
7 years ago

My boys are 2 and 4 right now. When we get gifts, if it is a duplicate or very similar to something they already have, I put it into the closet and we give it away when there is a birthday party, or save it till next Christmas when they need a Toys for Tots gift. If it is something different I will let them open that gift, and play with it. Before Christmas, we do a big clear out of all the toys that just arent’ being used, and we donate those to Goodwill. Between those things, we don’t… Read more »

Megan E.
Megan E.
7 years ago

I would like to make a suggestion of what to do with so much excess – donate it to those who would really benefit. In particular, I’m thinking of hospitals, shelters, domestic abuse situations, foster care… in all these cases, you could take your child with you and the gift and help brighten someone’s day. Many kids have to go through chemotherapy and they are scared – a new gift would be a perfect thing to make them feel better. Children who are victims of a fire in the house have lost everything – you can find these families through… Read more »

Darnell Jackson
Darnell Jackson
7 years ago

The only thing WRONG with giving gifts away to charity is when people use it like a garbage.

Don’t give away trash that NO ONE can use simply because you don’t want it.

If you want to take it to the next level GIVE AWAY your FAVORITE toy.

This is how we’ll change the world. It is better to give than it is to receive.

stellamarina
stellamarina
7 years ago

All Grandparents and Aunts and Aunties……Repeat after me.

” I will no longer give other peoples kids gifts for Christmas and Birthdays.”

Matt
Matt
7 years ago

Great post! I stayed in a house with my amazing 15-month old niece for Christmas, and was astounded by how many toys she had. The living room had three massive bins overflowing with toys. The bedroom was nearly half-full of toys. And her mother told me they had even more toys in off-site storage. Glad to see someone take a stand against toy bloat. 🙂

Michelle
Michelle
7 years ago

I can totally relate to this — and mine are 8 and 6 now. In a weird twist, the Great Recession helped part of my problem because the grandparents (the worst of the perpetrators) needed to be a little more cost conscious. There is nothing fun about spending Christmas Day with two toddlers overwhelmed by piles of presents. Nor is there anything fun about cleaning out their closets in January to find space for it. We’ve encouraged relatives to buy specific items. That only works part of the time. Last year, my stepmother simply told me, “I bought what I… Read more »

Marcy.
Marcy.
7 years ago

One of my sons has 5 children. My DIL shops great clothes clearance sales for the kids. I send half of the money I would spend at Christmas to them at clearance time and she buys clothes (in the next larger size) for the kids. Then they are saved & wrapped at Christmas. Then I select what I want with the rest of the money. (This year I gave the rest in cash, as they are doing a big project on the kids’ rooms. (Also, they got plenty of other gifts from relatives.) We do this for birthdays, too. But,… Read more »

Sarah L
Sarah L
7 years ago

To #46… I have a sister in law who doesnt give to cnildren, even though she passes around wish lists for her kids. Who does that bother and hurt? The parent AND the kids who are now old enough to wonder why so and so doesnt give them a gift though they give to their cousins.

As to the clothes with tags on at goodwill…buy larger sized clothes. Diapers. Wipes. Baby food. You dont have to buy toys but think how appreciative those parents will be for a useful gift.

Kelly@Financial-Lessons
7 years ago

That’s awesome that you were able to return some of the gifts for store-credit to Walmart, that is much more useful than having an abundance of toys. I remember when my brother was younger he would sometimes get duplicate toys and there was way too much stuff. I think its great what you did. And now you can use the gift card to get them things they actually need and don’t have.

Jenn
Jenn
7 years ago

Love this! More from Holly, please! While I do not share this particular problem this year–family gatherings were minimal, my parents are in job transitions, and one branch gave a museum membership instead of toys–with 4 kids under 9, keeping the toys under control is an ongoing battle. What I really resonate with, though, is attempting to raise children with a sense of security AND an understanding of scarcity. I very much want to avoid raising children with the sense of entitlement that is so prevalent in middle-class society, and yet I also want to avoid passing on the poverty… Read more »

Beth
Beth
7 years ago

I don’t understand how things have changed, when I was a kid no one bombarded us with anything!! We were typical middle class kids, but for birthdays, holidays, we got a couple of things. We were always happy with it too!

Mrs. 1500
Mrs. 1500
7 years ago

One thing I remember from my childhood that I see repeated with my children now is that a couple toys get 90% of the play time. For me as a child, it was Lego. My sister and I would spend hours building stuff. It was great! With my children now, its a similar building block toy.

I really like the idea of smart toy shopping. Get them a couple things that will engage the mind verses something they’ll get bored of after 5 minutes and toss to the side and forget about. Less is more.

Cat
Cat
7 years ago

I like the idea of the toys being given to charity…

And how do you handle your kids responses? I know you said you had one daughter who was young. Are the other children old enough to protest?

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago

Under your logic, you should deny your child water so they realize that others lack clean water and deny your child food because other children lack food. Really, I don’t children anywhere lack “toys” because the best “toy” anywhere is a playmate. Growing up in a very poor part of the US, I rarely played with toys unless I was alone. I recall some friends who didn’t have enough to eat, but in terms of “toys”, my favorite games were playing tag. Children in poverty stricken places have a real need for food, clean water, medicine. Too often, they are… Read more »

jessie
jessie
7 years ago

I totally agree with every word of this article and am happy to see that i am not the only person who thinks like this. Its clear that some of these people judging this article have probably not been in this exact situation. We are a society full of greed and want. And i’m afraid to say no matter how simply or unselfishly we try to teach our children to live their lives, there’s always going to be this sort of indulgancy from family and friends who just don’t quite understand.

liz
liz
6 years ago

I know when we were younger, both my brothers would often get Lego sets for birthdays or Christmas (I did get given a girl-specific lego set once, complete with incompatible figurines) and once they were done constructing and deconstructing the sets, the pieces would get added to their giant crate of lego, so they could use the pieces to build other things.

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