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?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.