Up for Discussion: Gift Giving

Christmas is sometimes just as much a time for stress and frustration as it is for joy and celebration. At our last committee meeting, we were talking about the dilemma of Christmas gifts for our kids. Lots of us – possibly all of us – don’t want to end up on Hoarders drowning under a mountain of toys, but we also have a society that glorifies having more and more stuff. So in order to blatantly solicit blog comments open things up for discussion, we thought we’d ask you a few questions:

Do you struggle with getting too much stuff for your kids over Christmas? Do your kids’ grandparents give them things that you’d really rather not have them exposed to? (Brand names, violent toys, princess stuff, whatever your personal preference may be.)

What are your strategies for circumventing this conflict? We had some interesting answers at our meeting, but I’ll let the committee members comment themselves. Has anything in particular worked for you, or do you prefer to put on a generous face?

How do you handle toy overload in general? Do you have a one-toy-in, one-toy-out rule? Do your kids help you weed through old toys to donate or discard old stuff? Are you sentimental, with a box in the closet to keep for (yikes) grandkids? Or are you an uber-minimalist?

Don’t feel shy! We’d love to hear your philosophy and ideas, and if your kids are too small to have this problem, let us know if you’re worried about drowning in toys, or if you have plans made in advance. (I totally laid my scheme before Lucy was born – I think Nicole may have mentioned something last week about Type-A personalities? What?)

~Annemarie

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10 thoughts on “Up for Discussion: Gift Giving

  1. I’ll start off the comments – we have really understanding grandparents that are willing to go with us on our restrictions. Lucy doesn’t have many toys at all because we just don’t have the space for them, and we’ve tried to stay away from too much pink plastic girl stuff, mostly for gender neutrality – minimalism reasons. Plus, they seem to get that in an apartment, we’re not big on storage space, so for now we feel extremely blessed and lucky that we only have one Rubbermaid for her toys. Of course, if we had a basement, I’d be putting a train set ALL OVER that business.

    Plus, Lucy is super appreciative of other people’s toy collections because they far outstrip her own. 🙂

  2. We do not like getting presents.
    We are very upfront with people who buy the kids gifts that it is eventually going into the garbage. Evan got a truck from his grandma on his birthday, he played with it for a week or two, then came up to me and asked me if he could throw it in the garbage. Done!
    We have very few toys, one toy each and they share a mini trampoline and gym mat. I do have some books, puzzles, and games, but those only come out on rainy days. I like having only the one toy because they actually play with it, and then when they are done with it it goes in the garbage. It’s also great when it’s time to clean up..really easy :o)
    My kids also play alot with “non-toy” items, blankets, pillows, hats, clothes etc
    I could go on about this for a long time, but basically, I favour imagination over toys, so less toys, more imagination!
    p.s a good alternative to toys is asking for swimming lessons, museum/zoo memberships etc

  3. Well, here’s an essay for ya! I love discussing these questions with others b/c I get more ideas of how to make Christmas work for our families. 🙂

    Both Jeff’s and my families try to be creative and small… gift exchanges instead of to every person in the family; keeping the amount of money spent really low if buying; and in the last two years we’ve made a concerted effort to give gifts that aren’t always “things” (i.e. concert tickets, park passes, gifts of time, homemade gifts of all kinds).

    Two years ago Jeff and I had my parents’ names in our gift exchange so we put on a private music concert for them: Jeff plays guitar and writes his own songs and we sing together and I even dusted off my violin and played a bit as well. That year we gave Jeff’s brother’s family an out of the norm present, too: a homemade dinner/date night for the adults and a sleepover/party for the kids.

    Giving in these ways will definitely reduce ‘toy clutter’ but if not everyone is on board with your idea you have to resort to other methods. We practice the “one toy in, one toy out” rule once Christmas has come and gone. We also go through our house every two months and donate to Cdn Diabetes. They call, they schedule, they pick up at our home…it’s easy, it’s free, and it de-clutters the house!

    We try to keep the amount of gifts under the tree small – but it’s so hard! I keep seeing things at Costco or at McNally Robinson that I would like to buy for my kids! So I’ve created a “rule” that Santa brings each of our kids one large gift, one book, plus the little stocking stuffers, and Mommy and Daddy give a few gifts to each. I TRY to give at least one homemade gift (i.e. I’m sewing aprons). Placing a limit on the number of gifts given has really helped me out.

  4. SIGH. This is a great big giant neverending debate in my head… Here comes another essay!

    It’s no secret that we have an only child. And we have very few friends with kids. That is a DANGEROUS combination, because B has so many people in her life who love her and have the disposable income to SERIOUSLY shower her with gifts. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s hard not to buy stuff for her sometimes when I feel guilty about being sick and/or not giving her a sibling to play with. (THERE. I SAID IT.)

    But our house is not big. And excess makes me uncomfortable. So we definitely encourage things like memberships or tickets or activities. And last year for her birthday, we bought her a play kitchen and encouraged people to contribute to that gift or add on play food or dishes. That worked well. If people ask, we make suggestions for gifts that will add onto things she already has vs brand new stuff – I love when something new can make something existing totally exciting again (and be stored in the same amount of space). I LOVE it when people ask for ideas. But even when it gets a little bit ridiculous, I’d rather view it as an excess of love vs an excess of stuff – and use those opportunities to reinforce ideas of manners + gratitude.

    As a family, we keep birthdays and Christmas pretty simple. At Christmas, B gets one larger gift, a book, a pair of PJs, and a stocking (which has a mixture of small things that are fun + practical – stickers, toothbrush, etc). We definitely clean off the shelves every few months and decide together what we can give away ‘to kids who don’t have toys.’ But even among the things she loves + plays with, there’s a lot. Our house looks increasingly like a preschool.

    I don’t know what the answer is. It’s actually been stressing me out a lot lately.

  5. I should add, since my previous comment runs the risk of sounding self-righteous, that I am about to go buy Lucy some new stuff because OH MY WORD she is driving me crazy and I’m sure it’s because she’s BORED. So we’re going to do a toy trade-out, even though Christmas is only a few weeks away. I’m sure there are things I could do to avoid hitting up the stores right now, but I need to take the quick solution because I do not have the headspace for anything else.

  6. What a great topic! It’s a topic we talk about A LOT around our house. I came from a family where you typically only got gifts at your birthday or Christmas. My husband came from one of those families where if something new was available you could bet that he’d get not just one but 3 of whatever the item was before anybody else because his parents made sure to get it when it was first out in a whole other country! COMPLETE opposites, to say the least.

    While we have more than enough toys in our house – most are as a result of other people giving them to our kids. We like to do a sweep of toys twice a year (summer and before Christmas) to weed out any broken ones, ones they’ve outgrown or just plain don’t play with – we donate the ones that are in reasonable condition.

    At Christmas we generally do 1 gift from Santa, 1 gift from us as well as an ornament and book each, and a board game and movie to share. It’s amazing how even trying to keep it small it still winds up being 4 individual gifts and 2 shared for both kids. I’m just grateful my parents stand by the one main gift and a couple small stocking stuffers for each because my in-laws do not agree with the all things in moderation view. Last year they sent two massive computer boxes (we’re talking before they went flat screen style boxes) and it was *just* for the kids. 12 gifts each and I think we have 1 left from each kid that they actually play with on a regular basis – the rest either broke or were donated because they simply didn’t use them.

    I know some people have the time and energy to rotate the toys their kids get, but I don’t have the desire to find the time or energy to do so. Not to mention that I’d have no idea where I’d store them that the kids couldn’t find them anyhow, but I think it’s a great idea if you can do it.

  7. A few things that are working for us well so far:
    – We have a bin on each floor of the house, and all the toys must fit in the bins. Essentially this creates a toy-in toy-out setup. I’ve found that having toys that stay on specific floors make them a bit more special (books upstairs, regular toys main floor, trains basement)
    -For Christmas this year we are doing a theme: dress up box. Everyone who feels like giving a gift to Ellie we’ve asked to make/buy/invent a costume for a dress up box. Our plan for her birthday is to do the same thing with a play kitchen.
    -So far we haven’t really bought her any gifts, as she is small and has lots of other adoring people who are happy to give her things.
    – So far it’s worked pretty well to sensor the toys she gets- when we’ve received what I consider plastic junk I just donate it right away, leaving her with toys that actually require imagination to play with. Nothing with batteries, essentially.

  8. I’m already dreading Christmas, birthdays, valentines day and just because occasions. As a mom with a baby fresh out of the oven, my house has become the dumping ground for toys and all other baby/kid paraphernalia. Some of it is useful right now or in the near future, and some of it is really hard to say no too because you don’t want to hurt anyones feelings. The suggestions I’ve read so far have been really helpful thanks.

  9. I know I am late with this discussion, but I have learned that I need to be ok with whatever does get accomplished, especially these days.
    Gifts….I’m a giver by nature so I LOVE to shop for others, kids included. I agree with the over-toyed events. But I have TRIED so hard to get the family members to buy zoo memberships, or swimming lessons or to even have a play date….but they just want to give toys.
    So I make a list of what is acceptable, divide it out between everyone and in the end, Pete and I don’t really give much but their stockings, 1 bigger item & 1 educational. This year we bought Ava a doll house and I gave everyone a room to buy furniture for.
    The best part is, I do all the shopping so I get my fix and they pay me back.
    We also buy gifts to donate and the kids are familiar with the Diabetes truck that takes our stuff (mommy’s, too) to people who need it.
    Having said all that, I enjoy playing with my kids toys as much as they do.

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