As the original poster writes:
"We just celebrated our twins' first birthday, and our family overwhelmed us with an onslaught of gifts (all toys) for them. it was very kind of them and while I am grateful for their efforts, it's way more than we need and/or want our kids to have. We are just constitutionally opposed to too much STUFF.
We'd like to avoid a similar windfall at Christmas: how do we tell our family we don't need as much as they'd like to give? (the adults get way too much too; it's not just a kid thing)
Our family enjoyed picking out and giving these gifts and did it with the best of intentions; for them, more is more. but for us, less is more, so we really have different philosophies here, and I have no desire to ruffle feathers or hurt anyone's feelings. if you have suggestions as to how to handle this delicate issue (which I am fortunate to be faced with, I know), I'll take 'em."
1) Establish rules and gift-giving boundaries.
Some parents institute a one-gift rule or a "nothing with batteries" rule or a "please, no more stuffed animals" rule. You can also try referring people to pre-established wish lists (even if the list lives on Amazon, you can encourage folks to purchase items locally).
2) Circulate toys.
Circulating toys is smart, if you've got room to store what's not in use.
3) Accept it—think of the kitsch and quirky and memorable!
One parent pointed out that the quirky gifts from family can end up being some of the most memorable—if not exactly appreciated—gifts, like the bunny costume in A Christmas Story. (Quirky I would take, but our particular problem is an overabundance of those less creative, often beeping, blinking hunks of plastic.)
4) Offer gift alternatives
IF you're lucky enough to be asked what you need for the kids, you can jump at the chance to offer ideas. Suggestions include contributions to 529 accounts, donations to charities in kids' names, and passes to activities like music classes.
5) Suggest activities and outings instead of toys
Remind them that they can use the money on an "experience gift" such as a special day doing certain activities with your child instead of just buying things. Tell them that will be building grandchild/grandparent memories that could last a lifetime!
6) Don’t be shy about dropping hints!
One parent suggests: "Also, we drop hints about what the kids are really into (a.k.a. what I want for them). My kids are still little so we can get away with it. Right now, I suggest art supplies. Why, you ask? Because you use them up and they disappear! It's the best kind of toy!"
TIPS ON GETTING RID OF CLUTTER AND COPING WITH TOYS:
-"Donating unwanted gifts to charity is very appealing to me in theory, but how to make it work in practice? I wouldn't feel right accepting gifts I plan to give away and anyway gift-givers often want me to report to them how the kids like X toy. We also learnt that her daycare accepted book donations too, which was great. So we have been bringing a couple over each morning to "share with your friends". She was quite happy and excited to bring them to school herself and give it to her pals. I think she felt quite proud doing so."
[See here for a list of places to donate gifts and any other items that need a loving home.]
-"We have Ikea Expedits in my daughter's room and then these strapping cubes from West Elm, but as she gets older the pieces of toys get smaller so I am thinking of swapping some bins out for these clear plastic boxes (also West Elm)- you can fit four boxes in each section of the Expedit and though my husband thinks they won't look nice, I think they will enable her to see and play with more and not always be asking where things are...”
-"I have heard that some parents will open up all the toys themselves in private and then stash them in a closet and dole them out throughout the year, like on rainy days or whatever, but if your MIL gets joy from watching her open everything that may not work for you.”
-"If you don't use it or love it, purge. One thing I learned is that a gift is not an obligation—it's a gift. If you don't like it, won't use it, don't have room for it, etc., you are under no obligation to keep it. When you free yourself from having to keep it (or like it, or display it, etc.) it gives you great power. I don't believe in kids' stuff "magically disappearing" (tho some people have great luck with that). Instead, I let the kid decide—hold up 2 things and ask them to pick 1 to keep, one to give to other kids who don't have as much. You can get creative with which toys you made them choose between (one you know is her favorite next to one you don't like). That gets through 1/2 of the stuff pretty quickly—repeat if it's necessary to get rid of more stuff.”
-"We have a toy library of sorts where I have bags of stuff (sorted in themes) in a closet that we rotate and pull out to play with. I don't think you need to pay for an organiser - just be willing to let go of stuff and to restrict access to certain toys at certain times. Follow your instinct, not your guilt.”
-"There are huge forces at work against us in wanting to limit consumption but I think it is a worthwhile battle. Both of our children have their birthdays close to Christmas so we usually have a ridiculous number of toys entering our apartment at once. We try to put a good amount away that we can take out on rainy days (especially art supplies, books, etc).”
-"As far as organization, I try my hardest, but cleaning up is a constant issue. I've found some ideas from this website (for the play area)."
-"I have to recommend the FlyLady. This woman Marla started a website and a free mailing list devoted to helping people get rid of everything they don't need or love, and keep our homes clutter-free and peaceful. The emails and site can be very hokey, cheesy and middle-American but it WORKS. I was directed to the site by a terrific (and very cosmopolitan) acting teacher who recommended that all actors follow the Flylady's maxim, 'you can do anything for 15 minutes' - exhorting us to fling our clutter and clean our homes a little at a time instead of getting mired in our own perfectionism. Check it out! I hope it helps.”
-"As for de-cluttering-- check out the book Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui—it's not so much about Feng Shui as it is about helping to understand why we have the psychological attachments to certain stuff."
- "We have a lot of boundary issues with my parents regarding 'stuff' and we have had to set some hard and fast rules that followed OUR family's philosophy that made us comfortable. This is with a lot of insisting from my minimalist-type husband. My parents live here in NYC and buying stuff for my daughter (and my sister and I growing up) gives them great pleasure, but my husband and I don't believe in a lot of stuff or a zillion toys, so after weekly visits where they would always bring our daughter new toys, we put a stop to it and asked them not to give her new stuff anymore without clearing it with us first. This was painful for me, as I realize that giving her new things gave them lots of pleasure, and I am a people pleaser and love to see them happy, but it was making us pissed off, and uncomfortable, and even causing a rift in our marriage and I just had to stand up for my 'new' family of me, my husband, and my daughter and lay down the law. They have been very respectful of this rule and really toned down Hanukkah with one big gift for my daughter vs. The millions of gifts I know they wished they could buy."
"It's much more important that you follow your own philosophies instead of giving in to granny's desires. This is, afterall, YOUR kid, not hers—she already raised hers, and now part of her job as grandma is to respect you and your partner as the parents. Best of luck—I really know how hard this is to navigate!!!”
I wonder if it might work to 'share the dilemma' with your MIL, especially because it sounds as if you enjoy a good relationship. Share how grateful you feel, but also what you observed in your daughter's not seeming to take in the gifts because she was so ready to move on to the next. And your problems with clutter (unless it might feed into her advising you to move to the suburbs…). Then ask for her suggestions--could this work? It does sound as if she's gone over the top, but maybe if you 'empower' her to 'give' advice on how to deal?”
We have the same 'problem' and my kids are now 6 years old so I can tell you it only gets worse. My stepmother also cried when I asked her to buy less! Because of the step-parent situation we are actually dealing with three sets of grandparents and they all give generously (although one is the worst). After the crying I have learned to be more sensitive when gently requesting them to limit what they give (mostly they don't listen). I have had to learn to be less attached to things and encourage the kids to give up their toys as soon as they outgrow them (this has been very hard - they grow attached to things).”
I do have to decide what to do with it all. Some of it will certainly go. I will feel bad but I don't think my boys will be hugely concerned. Sometimes I talk with the older one about passing things on but I have so far found that there is little that he is truly attached to and those things are easy to identify and respect.”
"I have been honest from him from early on (age three or thereabouts) about how having and buying too much is not good for our earth. He has really taken this aboard and does not ask for the plastic toys many of his peers have. Believe it or not I can take him to a store like Toys R Us and emerge happily empty handed. We enjoy making and repairing toys together. Yard sales and craft supplies are our mutual downfall in terms of conquering the clutter! I think next year I will lodge a carefully worded request in writing to the grandparents before the holidays so it will be more difficult to willfully ignore. I don't know if this will work but it seems kinder than starting an argument now.”
ON JUST GETTING OVER IT:
"You know a little abundance never hurt anyone, especially a child at Christmas. Perhaps you should just try to relax and enjoy your child enjoying the experience. There really are not that many years when Christmas is truly magical as it can be for a youngster. Cherish it ‘cause it's over before you know it. And be grateful your MIL wants to help in creating some magic for her."
Remember, you can purge later!
"Many grandparents LOVE giving (and in the case of my MIL—shopping for the kids). Not 100% sure what to tell you except that the relationship is more important than the stuff—you can get rid of stuff, but if you damage the relationship it's harder to get that back. I have learned to tolerate and purge later. Thanks particularly to Susan for your quote: 'One thing I learned is that a gift is not an obligation—it's a gift. If you don't like it, won't use it, don't have room for it, etc., you are under no obligation to keep it. When you free yourself from having to keep it (or like it, or display it, etc.) it gives you great power.'
Once I let go of being beholden to these gifts, I stopped feeling guilty for giving them away & felt truly free. I understand now that we can choose to accept the gift and we can show appreciation of the intention behind the gift, regardless of what we choose to do with the gift afterward (re-gift/donate/etc). This was a major shift that allowed me to release the stress I felt on holding on to them and then feeling guilty if I let them go.
As some of you have warned, it'll probably be less easy to donate stuff as my now 2.5yr old daughter gets older. She had seen the 4 boxes I kept in my room and was all, 'oh! What's this?' and I said 'these are books & toys we are going to share with your friends.' She started to want to play with some of them, but I held firm and told her that we have to save it for her friends who aren't as lucky to have as much as she has, then distracted her with a toy that we were gonna keep. When the boxes were out of the house, she was all, 'oh! All gone! Where did they go?.' Ha! We will definitely have to navigate how to deal with her reactions to the 'disappearing' toys as she grows! We laughed this weekend when she took out all her toys from a box and laid them out, like she felt something was up and has to start taking inventory of her toys.”
I don't think my MIL will stop giving her toys and I do not wish to press the issue with her any further. It's something that gives her joy and I don't intend to insist otherwise. I'm happy that I shared my view about it to her though (despite the crying), and hope that it will be at least part of her thought process the next time she wants to get that overpriced a little trinket from Disney. We will simply focus on all of us (parents & kids) showing her love & appreciation for the gifts we do receive, being liberated to de-clutter when we choose, and teaching our daughter how to be generous with donating and sharing.”
"I still find this to be a sensitive issue—and maybe this should be the subject of a separate post—because I think there is a bit of a culture clash going on here. it doesn't occur to the suburban gift-givers in our lives (again, I realize this is a nice problem to have!) that Too Much Stuff could be a bad thing, while I (snob that I am) cringe at the thought of a Christmas filled with yet more Fisher Price toys. so I'll continue to mull, and wish for a less sentimental world where everyone gives you gift receipts.”
"After this post, I cleared out 4 boxes of toys and donated them to Lutheran Family Health Centers, and I felt amazing, liberating, like a load off my shoulders. It felt great to de-clutter and know that the stuff didn't own us.”
One elegant solution is establishing a rule with grandparents that whatever they buy for the kids lives at their house—maybe they'll think twice about buying that walker/ride-on toy/oversized miscellaneous hunk of plastic!—but this only works if your family is close by.
Another thing I do is that I ask for events instead of toys--like a Broadway show or a trip to the Russian tea room so that my girls and MIL can get dressed up fancy and have a grown up date together. the special trip or event is sometimes what I buy for my MIL so that I can help create special NYC memories. I also ask for classes-like ballet and music.