Children and Excess

My two children are extremely blessed in many ways. Perhaps their greatest blessing is that they’ve surrounded by a family that loves them dearly and truly cares about their future in a deep, fundamental way – and I’m not merely talking about myself. I’m talking about their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, even some of their cousins. They are surrounded by a cadre of people who love them, care for them, and truly want them to have a wonderful life.

Because so many people care so much for these two children, they’re often the recipient of gifts. Yes, their birthdays and Christmases are full of presents, but it even goes beyond that. Their grandparents often buy them spontaneous gifts. Their cousins sometimes literally give them their old toys and clothes. We even do it ourselves, though our influence is often in the form of books for their bookshelves.

This has a challenging side effect – the kids have accumulated an awful lot of stuff. Their toy boxes are overfilled. Their bookshelves are stuffed with books.

Several problems are made evident by this. First, it’s difficult to keep all of this stuff in order, simply because of the clutter problem. Second, it encourages our children to be overstimulated because as soon as they even have an inkling of being less interested in a particular item, they can just bounce onto another one. Third, they’re often much less enthusiastic about the wonderful gifts that their grandparents give them because they already have so many.

The solution is obvious: reduce the toy count. But how do you do this without upsetting the children?

My goals are very straightforward.

First, I want to reduce clutter. Dealing with clutter means more money sunk into stuff and more time spent cleaning it up. That means less money for the things that are important (like a less stressful career, deeply meaningful experiences, and so on) and less time for them as well.

Second, I want my children to enjoy life with less stuff around them. I do not want them to feel that lots of stuff is the norm.

On a smaller note, I want my children to increase their attention span. With a huge number of toys easily at their disposal, it’s very easy for them to just jump from toy to toy. By strongly reducing the availability of such items, the opportunity to jump around is less.

Here’s my solution for this problem.

First, I’m taking an inventory of which toys they like and play with frequently – and which ones they do not. I’ve actually been making a list of the toys that each child plays with over a multi-week period. If toys are on this list, they’re probably going to be kept. Toys that are not on this list are going to be targeted for removal.

Second, I’ll talk about the process with them. I’m going to ask them what their favorite toys are. I’m going to also tell them that I’m going to take some of the toys that they never play with and give them to other boys and girls that don’t have many toys to play with. Believe it or not, this works very well with our children, even the two year old.

Third, I’ll take advantage of a period when they’re visiting grandparents to reorganize and minimize their toys. When they return from their grandparents, I will have removed many of the toys from their sight, minimizing the clutter. What will remain are the toys I’ve identified as their favorite ones. The toybox will be only about half full (if that) instead of overflowing. The bookshelves will be filtered a bit (though I’m not as interested in reducing their book count).

Finally, I’ll keep the excised toys in storage for a short period, then either yard sale many of them or take them to Goodwill. The reason I’ll keep them in (hidden) storage for a short period is so that if I discover that I removed a toy accidentally that the children really value, I can retrieve it.

One thing I won’t do is discourage family members from giving them gifts. I understand that this is done as an expression of love for children that they don’t get to see as often as they’d like. Instead, I simply want to create a situation where these toys and gifts are deeply appreciated.

For a long time, we did some toy rotations so that the children would always have something new to play with. In my eyes, that doesn’t really achieve the goals I listed above. We still have a lot of stuff. It still doesn’t subtly teach patience and attention to the children.

Any thoughts on this plan?

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  1. I’ve been working on the same thing this week. Something that has worked for us is to donate some of their toys to our church. Usually when my kids know they can play with those toys with their friends, they are really excited about the paring down. Even if these are favorite toys.
    This might work with friends and even with daycare.

  2. Michelle says:

    This sounds like a great plan, Trent.

    I have a feeling you’ll be surprised by how few (if any) of the removed toys will be asked for while they’re in storage. Kids naturally adapt to what’s around them, so they’ll likely barely notice one toy’s absence and fill that absence with a toy that’s in their sight.

    We don’t yet have kids, but we’ve already discussed the very real possibility of too many toys. We want our children to have engaging, stimulating toys that require imagination (Legos, blocks, costumes, etc.). We’ve already decided that battery-operated toys will not come into our home until our children are much older, and plan to make that desire known to all gift-giving groups.

  3. Laurie says:

    To prevent further clutter, I would strongly suggest to gift-givers, especially grandparents, to give your children the gift of experiences. They could buy an annual zoo pass for your family and accompany you when they are able. They could pay for lessons: music, dance, sports, etc. There are so many gifts to give that are not things. They will also be much more memorable to your children.

    I still remember when my aunt took me and two of my siblings to “Smurfs on Ice.” It was awesome. I would have loved to have more of those experiences.

  4. mandolin says:

    We’ve got this problem too and since we live in a 700 sq foot apartment it is a real problem.

    We keep several toys at Grandma’s house and some extra clothes there too. I watch what my daughter enjoys and donate the rest to less fortunate children. She’s only allowed to fill one box of toys and I will stick to that rule as she gets older. We’ve gotten lots of thanks from many immigrants with all the stuff I manage to whittle down every couple of months.

    I never decline a gift either but I let her interest decide what stays.

  5. TopazTook says:

    I’ve been following a process very similar to this for a couple of years now (my daughter’s three and a half), and it works very well. One thing I do slightly differently is to set the toys that are in the process of being culled in a visible “staging area” before they’re donated, so she can see what’s going to leave. She’s retrieved one toy, once. I’m OK with that. She then goes with me to drop them off at our local charity thrift store, and the people there always tell her thank you for giving her toys to other kids who don’t have toys, which makes a big impression. And, as you said, the stuff that we keep, she actually does play with.

  6. Adrienne says:

    My kids are around the same ages (2 and 5) and keeping control of the toy clutter is hard. We have open toy bins (to make it easier for them to clean up). Once the bins start getting too full we purge. I used to do this by myself when they were sleeping (they never even noticed) but now my 5 yr old can actually decide to get rid of things. It is slow with him doing it but it teaches him to make decisions about what to keep. I let him choose (for the most part) as long as we have some room again. Everything goes right out the door. This has worked well for us.

  7. Greg says:

    Recently, I went to a bookshop to buy a children’s magazine to bring home from a business trip. I noticed that most of the magazines were bundled with flimsy Chinese plastic toys. I had to search hard to find a good magazine without any toys.

  8. triLcat says:

    One thing we’ve done (and so far, it seems to work) is that we’ve asked friends/relatives to stick to certain types of gifts – duplo, dolls, and books mainly, since that’s what our kids play with most.

    We’re also blessed that my parents, instead of giving a lot of gifts, have certain games/songs and snacks (for some reason, my mother is the apple-flavored rice cake lady) that are special for my kids. Whenever my daughter sees my mom, she can count on a good round of “open, shut them” and “the itsy bitsy spider.” When she sees my dad, he’s usually good for a game of “round and round the garden” (kind of like “this little piggy went to market”)

    There was a family I visited a few times who had a son who was around five. He asked me to read him a story the first time I visited. Each time after that, I read him a story. For years, each time he saw me, he remembered me as the person who came to his house and read him a story.

    Encouraging friends/family to have a special story that they read/tell your kids or a special song/game/activity that they do with your kids will give them even more of a bond than gifts.

  9. kat says:

    A couple of other places that would appreciate gently used toys would be the local childrens hospital and any homeless or battered women’s shelters in your area. Someone gave my son a lightly used stuffed toy when we were in a very bad situation, and he still cherishes it 25 years later.

  10. JW says:

    @ triLcat
    I love the idea of having rituals for the kids of what a special person in their life does, like read, or sing a song, or play a game. They will remember these long after the memories of material gifts have faded.

    I’m also a big fan of experience gifts. For our wedding, one of my husband’s groomsmen gave our family a membership to a children’s museum. We use it ALL the time. My son loves it, and it’s something fun that we can all do together. It was a fairly pricy gift, but it is something that family members could go in on together for a Christmas gift.

    Also, one of my friend’s mothers gives her grandkids an experience every year for their birthday and Christmas. She takes them somewhere – just the two of them. (She does have only 4 grandkids, so it is do-able for her. It might not be possible to do something one-on-on for a grandparent that has 18 grandkids.) It doesn’t have to be someplace expensive. Even an afternoon in the park having grandma to him/herself means so much to a child. The kids look forward to it for weeks beforehand. It’s very touching to see them make these memories with her.

  11. Sassy says:

    My parents stayed with our sons for a week (while we went on vacation: yay!). On her own, my mother decided that my kids had way too many toys (she was right) and began to send the kids a savings bond and a very small gift (sometimes some candy: not the healthiest but a fun treat for them, sometimes something disposable). The kids don’t have any sense of the value of the bonds when they are little (hence the small gift) but as teenagers now: boy, do they appreciate them! Not that they’ve cashed any in yet, since I swoop them into a safe deposit box pretty quickly after each birthday and Christmas. And then we instituted the annual “Santa won’t bring presents you don’t have room for so let’s see if you really love all your toys now or want to share with kids who don’t get as many” event. The key to success there is not to pull back toys they want to give up because you are too sentimental about them: that one has been tough (and we drew the line on the legos: we like them). Good luck.

  12. Nicole says:

    Excellent post.

  13. Emily says:

    I guess I”m a mean mom – I wasn’t near as diplomatic as some of you. We went to the toy room – black garbage bags in hand and together we started tossing. It was amazing how much we got rid of…we took it to goodwill and were done with it. If they wanted to keep something, I gave them a few items, but for the most part – I stuck with my guns.

    The amazing thing is – that one month later – the room is full AGAIN!! Too much stuff is definetly a problem..

  14. Christine says:

    Trent, be sure to call your local Goodwill before bringing them used toys. Some centers around the country aren’t accepting them anymore – it doesn’t seem to be a nationwide rule, but check first.

  15. Stephanie says:

    We try to stop the clutter before it enters the door- we ask do we need it, do we have something like it already, will it be useful/fun or just take up space? My stepson is 8 and has way too much stuff at both houses. What we have done every year since he was three is have him go through EVERYTHING in his room and decide what is garbage, what to pack away for his sister and what he is keeping. This has worked well for the most part but as he has gotten older we have had to do it twice a year. It is so much easier for him to keep his room clean when there is not too much stuff for the space.
    One way we have cut the clutter is to do experience gifts as the big gift- his holiday gift from us was a day skiing, his godfather took him to the science museum and his grandparents took him to a living history day.
    My daughter is 17 months old so she doesn’t have anything to do with purging her room- my rule is if it takes more than 10 minutes to put everything that belongs in her room away then stuff has to go.

  16. Kathy says:

    I’m going to take an opposite tact here.

    Isn’t it contradictory to be teaching your children to be less materialistic and have fewer things, but then say nothing when the gift givers keep giving them toys that just take up space and create clutter?

    I don’t see anything wrong with telling the gift givers, politely, that you are trying to teach your children to be less materialistic, and then suggest maybe they give an “experience” gift or something like that? The kids are going to remember the experiences more than they are going to remember the toys.

  17. Nicole says:

    Kathy– obviously you have never met my in-laws.

  18. Nicole says:

    Let me explain a little more…

    Even ignoring that Miss Manners never approves of dictating gifts to the giver (but does say it is perfectly find for the giftee to dispose of gifts any way wished)…

    My in-laws show love through giving material possessions. Telling them that that method of showing love is materialistic would be like a slap in the face. Add to that that they really enjoy picking out specific toys for their grandkids, it would be taking away a lot of their enjoyment of the holidays. They are very generous and give experiences in addition to toys every time they or my son visits, but it would be worse than impolite to tell them to stop with the toys.

  19. Barbara says:

    Trent, I have not read all your responses. Im going to encourage you, even though its the one thing you are unwilling to do it seems, to hve the gift discussion with relatives. Especially if these relatives are not over on a regular basis to your house and do not see your “clutter”. There are tactful, kind and appreciative says to have this conversation. Suggest that when possible the parents give gifts of meaning (something that belonged to mom and dad as a kid), experiences or other things. When it comes to toys, encourage relatives to give gifts that can be added on to (legos, a video or computer console, a big set of lego cars. This eases ideas of “what to give” and makes the toy or system more likely to stay. Also encourage relatives to give the gift of “doing” or “role playing” when they give gifts. dress up boxes, and so on.

  20. Gena says:

    I’m with the giving experiences. And, sorry, but I think it’s a cop out to say that suggest it’s a “slap in the face” to tell the grandparents/in laws they’re teaching the kids to be materialistic. There are way more tactful ways to encourage family members to choose gifts. Perhaps suggesting to them that the kids won’t remember the gift they got for their birthday, but they will remember going to the zoo/planetarium/beach/hiking/traveling w/ grandma and grandpa for years after the experience? Who is the parent/adult in this situation? And your DH certainly can be the “bad guy” here. We’ve laid down the law about certain types of toys, Miss Manners be damned and our family still manages to talk to us.

  21. Becky says:

    @ Kathy # 16 – I think it’s fine to tell someone who *asks* you, what type of gifts you would prefer they give your children in the future.

    But I draw the line at criticizing any gift already given, or the general type of gifts people “keep giving.”

    I believe I’d damage my relationship with the gift-giver that way. If Grammie isn’t as evolved as I am about stuff and clutter, does that mean it’s OK to hurt her feelings by denigrating the way she has chosen to express her love?

    When someone gives me a gift that is appropriate** but not to my taste, the *only* polite response is to graciously thank the giver. Period. This a vital lesson for children to learn.

    Criticizing a gift that isn’t to my taste is not teaching children to be less materialistic – it is teaching them snobbery, rigidity, and intolerance. To me, true non-materialism means valuing people over things.

    In other words, I’d value Grammie’s feelings higher than keeping my house 100% pristine of her cheap junky toys.
    __________

    ** Extremely inappropriate gifts – a puppy, expensive jewelry from a guy I’m not seriously dating, etc. This loophole is not for taste boundaries but emotional ones.

  22. shris says:

    Hi.

    I have five year old twins. They have three sets of grandparents, all of whom are far away.

    The kids’ birthday is January 3, so between all the stuff going on during the holidays, we get a massive influx of toys in the winter, and almost nothing the rest of the year.

    The kids have cubbies in their rooms, canvas boxes to put the toys in, and pictures on the front of the boxes so they know what’s in there. My son has a train table and my daughter has the biggest play kitchen available (all courtesy grandparents) and their rooms are constantly a mess.

    I go through with them before and after christmas and pull out stuff to donate–we just did another round and I’m encouraged somewhat by the results.

    I have asked the grandparents to reduce their budgets–now that they’ve bought the huge stuff, there’s really no room left. I’ve asked them to split the budget with no more than $100 on toys and the rest on clothes. I’ve asked them to add pieces to existing sets instead of getting new sets of zillion piece kits–with mixed success. I’m going to ask for zoo passes and stuff next, because there’s just too much stuff. The grandparents are very good natured about the whole thing, but it’s just unavoidably ridiculous, it seems, with toys being so cheap.

    We’ll be putting up shelves in the kids rooms next, to get the ‘adult interaction required’ stuff out of the way of ‘play by yourself’ stuff. I’d really rather throw half of it into the goodwill bag.

    It honestly makes me want to take a vow of poverty on their behalf. I dunno if there *is* a permanent solution, but I’m going to keep trying.

    Good luck with yours.

  23. Noadi says:

    I think it’s okay to suggest to frequent gift givers like grandparents to limit toys to birthdays and christmas. Instead ask them to give them books, clothes, or like some people have suggested experiences during the rest of the year. I’m sure if the grandparents are involved in their lives they’ll understand wanting to cut down the number of toys and make getting toys more special.

    It’s probably less appropriate to tell that to say a relative they only see a couple times a year.

  24. dangermom says:

    I rotate the books. We have tons of books–I’m a second-generation librarian–and I find rotating the books out helps a lot.

  25. Maureen says:

    When you start flinging, keep in mind that your children may become bored with certain toys as they mature. However, you have a new baby arriving soon. Keep some for the new arrival too.

    You can also suggest to family that you would appreciate some gifts that aren’t toys. Zoo passes, music lessons, etc. make good gifts. You might also suggest that they make contributions to the child’s education fund. My sister set aside one dollar for each child every day as my children grew up. At my daughter’s graduation she gave her savings bonds that covered the tuition for her first year of university! What a terrific gift! It was greatly appreciated too.

  26. J Brown says:

    “One thing I won’t do is discourage family members from giving them gifts.” — We have done this to an extend. We have a gift exchange for Christmas and make sure it is set $$$ and quantity. This was hard for the grandparents to understand at first, but now all the siblings do it too. In terms of money, we have separate ING accounts for the kids. We do love paperbackswap.com for easy book gifts for the kids.

  27. Vanessa says:

    My declutter plan is going to happen next week, during spring break. I plan on involving the kids in every step and we have talked about it on multiple occasions to get them prepared.

    Step 1: get rid of what we have. I am emptying out each of the kids rooms. While empty, they get a deep cleaning and a paint job (part of the motivation for the kids is new, fun paint!). While empty, the kids will go through all the toys and throw away what is broken. Then they will chose what they want to keep. For everything they keep, they must choose another item to go. It must be similar in size/complexity. If my daughter wants to keep all of her littlest pet shop, then out must go enough toys to fill a same size bin.

    Step 2: Organize what they have. They already have enough bins and shelves to hold what they have. It is just a matter of putting it back in a way to keep it accessible and neat.

    Step 3: Prevent this from ever happening again. If you want something new, you must find something old to get rid of first. For birthdays and Christmas, really unwanted and broken toys will be removed ahead of time (and counted). After gifts come in, everything over that amount must have something else removed. We have already done this for clothes, and it has worked quite well. I do have an exception for books and board games/puzzles (all of which are family property), but when new ones come in, we still will evaluate what we have to see if there is anything that is unused and can go.

    Hopefully, this will work for us. And I hope your plan works for you.

  28. Lisa says:

    This is such a touchy subject! Here’s what I did and to this day I am comfortable with it my child is happy and so are the relatives. It wasn’t just toys it was clothing also. And how can I expect a child to clean up more than he plays, with so many toys and clothes they are everywhere, its setting them up for failure and punishment. So I asked gifts to be limited to birthdays and holidays/special occasions. For B/H it should be one gift and I would give them a list to choose from. With thousands of toys out there they knew the one they picked would be appreciated and loved. They always gave cash also(there tradition not mine). The exH also gave cash that was put in a bank savings account with my son and he could spend 10% when young and up to 50% and 75%(16yrs) as he grew older. Since the money was intended for pleasure over the years he got a dirt bike, traded that in for a 4 wheeler, and eventually a car. Each time he made a purchase he had to write those family members a short one or two line note of thanks saying how he had used their gifts and thank you. Although he went through a rough time for about 3yrs managing money he proudly told me he is saving for retirement at work and he pays his bills with no debt and an emergency fund built up (he’s 19). For clothes (as the youngest and if I may say cutest) I encouraged handmedowns. However, my SIL bought brand name shirts for her 2 sons in every color(she did it for herself also)! My son adored is older cousins and vice versa and loved wearing something of theirs. I encouraged him to feel he was wrapping a bit of that cousin around him in a hug. He would see that cousin and say look Josh I’m wearing your sweatshirt and smile and Josh would smile back and then play with him. It was a bonding moment and I admit I loved watching it. In the end it is about encouraging love and family bonding. Best wishes to each of you as you wade through this touchy subject in your own families.

  29. Mol says:

    oohhh I smell a post suggestion — what about valuable gifts that godparents who can only see their godchild every couple years if their lucky can give? (due to distance)

  30. Kevin WIlson says:

    When my daughter was small we had a similar clutter problem with too many toys – I have a picture of her the Xmas she was two, with all the gifts, and it’s ridiculous!

    I do doubt the connection between attention span and number of toys, though. Although Liz had literally hundreds of toys to choose from, easy access to them, and no siblings to share with, she also had a startlingly long attention span from a very young age – over an hour at age 3, for example. I don’t have a good explanation for it (minimal TV, playing alone, and parents willing to spend a long time doing things with her may have contributed, as well as natural inclination) but the large number of toys available didn’t seem to reduce the attention span.

  31. jim says:

    My sister routinely culls her kids toys to remove the least used items. They have so many toys that the kids can’t even keep track of them all. If she didn’t get rid of stuff on occasion their house would be overflowing with toys.

  32. Nicole says:

    Becky– beautifully put.

  33. Brian says:

    I don’t have kids but my cousin has an awesome solution to this problem. For birthdays and Christmas, he lets the grandparents give a gift (4 total gifts, one from each set) and for everyone else he tells them to give money. A few days after the birthday, he takes his kids to a children’s hospital or a veterans hospital and they donate the money and visit the patients. I plan on doing something very similar if I ever have children.

  34. KC says:

    I’ve often wondered why people give gifts to show affection. I rarely if ever give the children in my life gifts – it seems to me like they already have enough stuff. Yet, I am their favorite (aunt, cousin, babysitter, friend), eventhough I don’t give gifts. That’s because I play with them – I kid with them, tell them jokes, and spend time with them – playing and doing what they want to do. So whenever there are a group of adults around I always tend to be the one they come to or show attention to, because I give them the one thing they really want – attention. And it sounds to me that’s what you want to, reducing clutter and toy choices gives you (and them) more time together.

  35. Teresa says:

    We employed these very same tactics with our own children. They were certainly successful from our and the girls’ point of view. The only difficulty was when my mother in law would show up and ask them about some toy or another she had sent them. We finally had to explain to her that the girls receive a lot of stuff from friends and family and we have limited space in which to store all of it. Only the favorites got to stay. As the girls have gotten older and they became more interested in clothes and jewelery and she wasn’t seeing her purchases worn, we were finally able to convince her to go one of two routes. One (our preferred method) to buy experiences. Vacation experiences, day trips, support their passions with lessons, etc… or Two to go the old standby of gift cards to their favorite clothing stores. That way they are getting what every preteen girl really wants (no more toys for us!) and we don’t have issues with stuff that never gets worn or used because it doesn’t fit or they don’t like it. Going forward I will continue to encourage these ideas with all of our family and friends.

  36. Kerry D says:

    Besides experiences, craft and art materials make lovely gifts–they get used up over time… Our children are always delighted to get new markers, beads and charms, perler (?) beads, etc.

    And don’t forget how wonderful it is to have those grandparents! Ours are all deceased, so we are very envious. (Of having the grandparents who want to dote on the children, not the gifts.)

  37. koilie says:

    @ ‘#9 Kat’ – that is such a lovely story about your son’s toy :-)

  38. RHJunior says:

    You wanna do this like a human being and not an ogre? Here’s a clue: it’s unnecessary— they’ll grow out of their toys eventually, the same as they outgrow their clothes. When they do, if you want to encourage charity, encourage them to give them away to a charity or toy drive (NOT Goodwill. Goodwill is not a charity, it’s a company that makes money by doing other people’s dumpster diving) or even by re-gifting. If you want to encourage thrift, let them run their own table at your next yard sale. Smuggling their toys out the back door to toss in a Goodwill dumpster is just BEGGING for grief, because sure as hell you will inevitably toss some child’s secret dearest treasure– or you will draw the outrage of your generous family members when they discover you’ve been selling their gifts to your children for pocket change.

  39. Rachel says:

    I’m battling with the toy clutter myself, so I will be bearing your thoughts on this in mind as my twins’ 3rd birthday approaches.

    For encouraging longer attention spans for each toy, I often suggest that they bring a toy to the living room to play with. They go to their room, choose a toy, and once they’re in the living room playing, it has their full attention, no other toys catch their eye, and they keep at it for a lot longer than when they play right next to the toy box.
    One of my sons spent at least an hour the other day giving playmobil figures rides on a playmobil horse. He helped them so nicely to take turns, there was a little bench that the others sat on, and he told them “you sit and watch, and it will be your turn soon”. “gee-up, gee-up, gee-up, gee-up…”

  40. Dawn says:

    Our children are 5 and 9 and have grandparents and many aunts and uncles who either have no children or their children have grown. They are all in good financial positions and want to give the grandkids/nieces what they couldn’t do for the own kids. For several years they all seemed to compete to get the best gift and they used every opportunity to bring a gift – even if it wasa $5.00 made in china piece of plastic. If one of my girls liked Dora we got everything Dora so that we had duplicates and sometimes triplicates of an item. We tried saying bring a book or a coloring book – the result, and I say with no exageration we had a 4 foot pile of coloring books. We had to stop.

    Not only was the clutter at issue, and believe me it was, but I think it was sending all the wrong messages to my kids. First, they did not look forward to the visit, they wanted the gift. Second, I think it was creating a consumerism mentality that we do not to instill in our children. Third, they had no idea about value, they had no toy they loved because new ones were always coming in the door.

    We told everyone no more gifts on non-holidays and on holidays we strongly encourage everyone to find one gift, rather than ten. If they come in the door with a gift on a non-holiday, I bring them to the playroom and show them were they could put it with the other Barbies, doll clothes, coloring books, etc., so they can see the excess themselves. Most of them having grown up with little were staggered when they could see the accumulation. We encouraged everyone to make a date with our kids, take them to lunch, a play, a movie. Almost everyone, barring one aunt, has seen what we are talking about and has found other ways to share their love without it being bought at a store.

    We also talk with our kids – we have de-cluttered together, again our kids are 5 and 9. They actively participated sorting what we would donate and what would stay. I gave them numbers – you can each choose ten Barbies, the rest (close to 40 more) had to go. They sorted through stuffed animals which we donated to our local SPCA – they put them in with the dogs and cats to cuddle and play. Books were split between the library and the local hospital, they keep them in the children’s ward. There are plenty of wonderful charities looking for well maintained toys.

  41. de Ruiter says:

    My Father built my rocking horse from plans in Mechanics illustrated. It was the sturdiest, best toy a horse loving child (now horse loving adult) could have ever had. I had around a dozen Beton/Bergen toy plastic horses bought by my Grandparents. I still remember so fondly going with Grandpa and Grandma to the ice cream parlor, the thrilling opportunity to choose a store bought ice cream treat (pineapple shake for me, chocolate shake for Grandpa, Vanilla shake for Grandma because she thought it had fewer calories!) and then afterwards picking the tiny toy horse and rider I liked best from the store window, being encouraged by the clerk to mix and match until I had the “best” horse and the “best” rider. This was an adventure so pleasurable that it couldn’t have been topped by an African safari. What happy experiences! My Father made my wood block set from left over 2×4′s from his job as a carpenter and I used the blocks to “build” stables for the toy horses. My Mother, playing “Lady Bountiful” (giving away my things made her feel good) gave my rocking horse away when I went away to college (my back was turned) and I have never forgiven her. She also gave away my brother’s childhood ceramic mug with a circus motif because it made her feel generous and he was sick with the loss of his little childhood treasure. Luckily, a few years ago, I found the same ceramic mug at a yard sale for my brother. No way to replace my rocking horse though. Suggest you let your children help with deciding what they no longer need, or have outgrown. Then have a yard sale and let them mind their own table and sell their own stuff. They can save half the money and use the other half to buy what they want. Let the children learn how little value expensive, mostly useless toys have once they are out of the store. Allow children to learn to do business by selling their stuff, learn about value by seeing that the $50. toy brings $5. at the sale, to interact with customers, and to do arithmetic as they add prices to get a total and make change. Giving’s nice and it makes the adult feel good. Selling their possessions teaches the child important life skills. Otherwise they are taught that there is an endless stream of toys and that you just pitch them when the urge strikes you, and more arrive. There’s no learning value or skills that way. Buying new, expensive toys which are then given away seems like a waste of money. I remember the experiences with my dear relatives, and the few, small things which they gave me because they were just what I wanted. In 1958 my Grandparents gave me a set of cast iron book ends shaped like horse heads (gotten by saving S&H greenstamps). Luckily I took them away to college so Lady Bountiful didn’t get the chance to give them to the more deserving, and the book ends still hold childhood gift books from my favorite Aunt on my coffee table, where I see them daily(all horse themed books with loads of pictures. My Aunt cared enough to search for what I loved! Seeing the books and book ends makes remember my dear, long departed relatives. Keep a few of your child’s favorite toys instead of tossing them. They can always sell them at a yard sale 20 years later if they don’t want them, but there’s a good chance they will enjy them for nostalgia.

  42. I have the same problem. We bought a lot for our son for Christmas, withou taking into account all the toys he got from relatives. We now have way too many.

    We have put most in an upstairs bedroom and have come up with a crude “rotation” system for them. I never realized the effect that having a ton of toys can have on his attention span, but its true!

  43. getagrip says:

    The problem isn’t always with an individual gift giver. If you have the only kids, youngest, or first kids of a family. If you have two grandparents, four aunts, and four uncles, that’s ten gifts for a birthday or Christmas. And frankly, try keeping a Grandmother from giving their only grandkid(s) a single gift at Christmas. It was easier as they got older, but while they were young it was tough. We often managed to get the uncles to get a single, suggested by us, gift. We had a harder time with aunts and grandmothers who seemed to really have a desire to get something “special”.

    Otherwise many of the suggestions are good. We did a little of all of it. Got them to help donate, just pulled certain toys, if they didn’t notice for a month or so, got rid of them.

  44. Jane says:

    “We’ve already decided that battery-operated toys will not come into our home until our children are much older, and plan to make that desire known to all gift-giving groups.”

    Good luck with that!

    I think that it’s okay to guide close relatives to what you would be prefer, but it should never should be “do not give this”. You should instead do what others have suggested and say that your child would really like this or that. Guide them to what you want, and if they don’t get the message there’s nothing you can do. It’s really rude to tell people “no plastic toys” or “no batteries” or whatever else you don’t want. If you get one, say thank you, don’t even open it, and give it to toys for tots next Christmas! It’s really not that difficult and spares some feelings.

    I recently had a discussion with one of the grandparents about baby #2 (due this summer) and how we would prefer not to get duplicate gifts like another bag of megablocks, etc. I only brought it up to them casually and because I knew they would be receptive to giving less to the second. Instead, I think I’m going to open a 529. But I would never say this to anyone but a grandparent. And even then I can only say it to certain ones who I know already think kids have too many toys.

  45. Steffie says:

    Children have the most amazing feelings for something you may think is junk. And these feelings never go away. I feel for the person whose mother gave away his rocking horse. My mother thought she was going to make many quilts and cut up all of our childhood clothes, even the red flower print dress with the ruffled sleeves and the rick rack sewn on the skirt. That was my favorite dress, she had taken great care to make sure all the ruffles were even etc. It was the only thing I wanted to pass on. This was 20 years ago, the boxes of material are still in the basement. Yes, she was raised in the Depression, is a hoarder and there is no cure.

  46. Moby Homemaker says:

    I am right on with this plan! In addition, we allow the kids to sell some of their older toys in our summer garage sale. That way they make a couple of bucks–which in turn they usually pool together to get a new Wii game.
    Our kids also annually get toys that are out of the rotation and we deliver them to the local Goodwill. This is an opportunity to discuss how lucky we are as a amily and how important it is to help the less fortunate. Toys………

  47. Most of the second-hand stores and charities in my area (Monroe MI) do not take second-hand toys. One charity had a logistical headache with new toys that were in their storage area when there is a toy recall.

    You may want to garage sale them instead.

  48. et says:

    Trent – I know your children are very young & there’s a temptation to avoid tears by doing this yourself. I found it worked even when my child was preschool age for us to work together to get rid of the true junk (broken toys, outgrown toys, odd pieces etc). Quite often she would begin adding in items she didn’t use much, especially if she knew I was setting some aside as donations. If she really balked at getting rid of something, I didn’t argue with her about it, just let her keep it. As she got older, we worked together to reduce the clutter. She also would see me periodically going through all my stuff & picked up very young that the job is necessary at all ages. And began thinking twice about adding to her stash. That way things don’t magically disappear. After gift-receiving events, she often would come out with things to get rid of as the new gifts took their place. If charities don’t accept toys, find a friend planning a garage sale & let them sell them.

  49. Hope D says:

    My sister loved to play the claw machines. She was very good at it. This was at a time when the machines were filled with teddy bear beanies from sports teams. She probably gave my children around 30. She gave my other sister around the same amount. She also kept some. My children accumulated so many other stuffed animals too. We told each child they could have only a certain amount of stuffed animals. We got rid of 2 big black trash bags full. Not one of those teddy bear beanies were thrown out. My kids loved them. They had games made up surrounding them. My sister said her children were the same way.

    In my house, the kids like collections. A barbie collection, a polly pocket collection, legos, bionicles, duplo blocks, play food and k’nex are some of the collections. If someone asks what my child wants for Birthday of Christmas, I tell them about the collections. They don’t always buy a barbie, but instead buy clothes or something that would augment the collections. That makes play more fun. Baseplates for legos make great gifts, too. It really allows more than one or two children to play at once. We put the collections in big bins that are easy to pull out and put away. Clear bins are great for this.

  50. Dennis says:

    Trent, I think it’s a great sign of your growth as a blogger that you end asking the readers for their thoughts – especially given the history with kid-related posts ;-)! Keep up the great work.

  51. Christine says:

    Wow, what a popular post! Here is what works well for us … At Christmas time, I limit the toy items that they can actually open (and play with). They are so “into” playing with only one or two, that I hide the unopened toys and either re-gift them or take them back to the store (yes, without a receipt and without telling the relative that gave it!!) My children are 5 yrs, 3 yrs and 7 months; so this works right now. Good Luck!!!

  52. Jeannette says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with politely explaining to the grandparents (usually the most extravagant in gift-giving) and others (aunts, uncles, friends) and others what your goals are. You aren’t saying Do not give gifts or discouraging their generosity, but you are providing a context.

    And, if necessary, you may need to set limits. Does that go against the normal rules of gift giving? Yes, but having witnessed this first hand with my brothers kids and our parents, I know how important it is to have this conversation, even if it is ignored.

    Some of these gifts are not small and create real issues for the parents and, more importantly, conflict with the parents overall values (which THEY do get to set and enforce) and house “rules.”
    (Not to mention unnecessary conflicts between children because there are far too many grandparents who do indeed have favorites among the grandchildren. I’ve seen it time and time again. Talk about setting up a family of brothers and sisters against each other. Whoa boy.)

    Not to mention that kids are smart, even little ones, and not above manipulating the gift-givers to get the very things that parents have expressly forbidden (cell phones, designer clothes, video games, electronics, etc.)

    Just because you are appreciative of gifts and respect the gift-givers doesn’t mean you should avoid a serious discussion of what you are trying to do in raising your family. It’s a serious mistake to NOT have this discussion, despite the discomfort.

    In fact, I’d take it one step further and make it clear that giving things that violate the ground rules you’ve outlined WILL result in them being returned. Does this sound cruel? Well, here’s the thing. There is a respect that needs to be shown for your role as parents, even if you are the grandparent and disagree. it’s NOT your call.

    There is so much emotional manipulation that goes on with gift-giving at all levels (whether grandparents admit it or not). creating limits is one way to help everyone, and not just the kids, learn about the nature of gifts, etc.

    And there is another important aspect to consider. In some families, one set of grandparents and relatives may be very well off financially, while the other side is not.

    This can create a lot of long-term issues as young kids, who are highly malleable, start to view one set of folks as “better” because they come bearing “stuff” they want. And do not delude yourself, kids are easily swayed by stuff, no matter who they are. It’s human nature.

    To me, as some others have mentioned, it should be all about personal and even home-made gifts for the kids.

    Someone here wrote:
    “Encouraging friends/family to have a special story that they read/tell your kids or a special song/game/activity that they do with your kids will give them even more of a bond than gifts.”

    This is brilliant and the way it should be. I still remember fondly the uncle who, as a child, not only read to me, but who taught me to read at age 4.

    That gift literally created a whole world for me that was much needed to help offset a lot of family stuff. And it set me on a course that literally changed my life.

    I can think of many relatives who taught kids to cook, to fish, to create crafts…all based on the love of sharing what they loved, passing it on and helping to expose those kids to arts, music, crafts, sports, etc.

    This is what creates real bonding. Not the stuff.
    (And please, remember when you were a kid. We all wanted stuff, whether, in the good old days, it was a bike, ballet slippers or lessons, etc.)

    And if grandparents and others want to be super generous, they should be welcome to contribute to a child’s educational fund.

    Parents DO have the right, I would even say an obligation, to set limits and maintain them, even if it means others are not happy.

    Anyone who really loves a child, will respect that child’s parents wishes and find more creative ways to give gifts, hopefully of themselves.

    I’m a doting aunt and I always consult with the parents re what the kids want, need, etc. as well as trying to create unique experiences one-on-one with my nephew.

    By nature, I love giving gifts but I would never buy anything without really thinking about the parents’ value system. Have I had to restrain myself? Sure. The pleasure of being an aunt is often being able to afford something a parent can’t, to get the nephew that really extravagant gift. But…that is about ME, not about the family and so I don’t just do it.

    I do not feel that my brother and his wife are being unreasonable or violating my “rights” as a doting aunt.

    For those who do not heed the wishes of parents, you should really think about your true motivation.

  53. DivaJean says:

    I have this problem at our house! And the really rough thing of it is- as the older kids are ready to move on from their toys, the younger ones are moving up into the age appropriate group for the toys we would want ot get rid of!

    We usually have the kids weed out their toys twice a year- at the beginning of summer and before the holidays. We do put up some of the toys the older ones are through with and reintroduce them to the little ones at another time. That seems to cut out the grabs to take back something that was previously determined to be babyish.

  54. Andrea says:

    My niece and nephew have the same problem and I know my two sisters appreciate that I give them a cheque for each birthday and christmas to go to their education funds. They don’t even notice that auntie, hasn’t given them anything since they have such a big pile of gifts already.

  55. Nicole says:

    I have no problem talking to my own family about gift-giving, but there’s two important differences between them and my in-laws. 1. They share the same cultural values regarding stuff that my DH and I do and 2. They ASK.

    The in-laws aren’t stupid; they know they’re a bit excessive about gift-giving, and we’ve been subtly warned not to address it (under threat of more Toys that Make Noise). DS loves the toys, even if they’re not the wooden European things we would have gotten for him. We’ve just adjusted so that Santa only fills stockings and my family sticks to books and experiences.

    DS loves all his relatives equally. I think so far we’ve done a pretty good job with materialism… he hasn’t gotten the gimmies yet. It probably also helps that he’s a Christmas baby so most of the year he isn’t getting anything (the in-laws do send candy, clothes, and small things for holidays, and my parents send books, but again, the Easter bunny, halloween candy buyer, and other assorted holiday folks adjust accordingly). It’s still too much stuff, but we can always cull.

  56. michael bash says:

    GENERALLY ON TOYS — Kids do have/get lots of toys, too many some say. BUT if a kid is playing happily and quietly with anything that is not dangerous, do NOT disturb him/her to get the child to play with “the special gift from Aunt Matilda”. That old tennis ball – or whatever – is, for the moment, the best toy in the world. That’s the voice of experience, i.e. 2 kids, now 30+

  57. partgypsy says:

    It is the nature of having kids, of having lots of “stuff”. Even if you don’t buy them a single thing they will bring in stones, pinecones, feathers etc into the house for their “collections”. There have been times we’ve had to aggressively cull the amount of stuff they have. I do a first round of stuff I know they absolutely don’t care about broken, aged out, etc toys. Then we go through categories, like stuffed animals, dolls, books where for each category I put them in a big pile and ask them to participate in choosing some to get rid of. Those we either donate or give to friends’ kids. Usually there is still too much stuff (particularly books) so a crate is put in the attic to rotate. Also seasonal books (Christmas) are put away until that time of year so they are “new” again. We also created a “rainy day” box with a variety of stuff, especially things with small parts that if left unattended would get destroyed pretty quickly, but saved for when we are actively doing things together. Since kids are constantly changing in their clothes, interests, and maturity, it is an ongoing process.

  58. triLcat says:

    We make an effort to throw out anything broken or with missing pieces immediately if it can’t be fixed immediately, since that’s pure clutter.

    Another thing to consider – the cheap junk from China is actually not always a bad thing. A lot of it will break after a few weeks of play, and then it will be something that can go into the trash can.

    I give my nieces and nephews Kinder Surprises (Chocolate + a small toy). They eat the chocolate, play with the toy for a few hours, and then the toy either gets thrown in with a box of similar toys (they’re all about the size of a peanut – appropriate for kids over age 3 only) or into the trash after a few days. The kids LOVE it, and it’s one thing I can afford even though I’m blessed with 26 nieces and nephews from just my side of the family.

  59. Rachel says:

    Another good way to reduce clutter without tears is to have a yard sale, and get your kids to pick which toys they’d like to sell. Explain that they can keep the money.

  60. Kim says:

    As a gift-giving aunt I would feel really upset to find out that my sister sold or gave to Gooodwill some of the gifts I just gave my nieces. I think you owe it to your friends and family to tell them that you probably will just be throwing out whatever they spend their hard-earned money on for your children. I’d gladly remove you from my gift list.

  61. I have a 4-year-old daughter and we do many of these things. I think with regard to garage sales, it’s regional. You watch those room makeover shows and you think having a yard sale is somehow the hidden treasure of the world! I had 2 here (Central FL) and won’t ever have another one. $5? Please. We’d be lucky to get $2 for something after the first couple hours and you end-up hauling most of the stuff down to the charity drop-off of your choice, anyway.
    I absolutely involve my daughter, even when she was 2, in picking what she gets rid of. I simply told her that we could only have so many toys, so if she wanted different toys, she had to part with something! Of course it’s hard for them at first, but believe me she took to it like a duck to water. She now even will volunteer stuff to get rid of off-handedly! I purge probably every few months, just because she grows out of things so quickly. I don’t know about the amount=lack of attention span argument. Personally, my daughter will flit from thing-to-thing, even if it’s what she’s picked-up off the ground outside. Then again, I’m ADD so it’s very possible she’ll have that as well.
    As to the ‘talk to the relatives’ deal, I didn’t really do that. Thankfully they mostly asked what kinds of things she liked, or are able to interact with her enough to know. Still, one thing we do (so far) is let everyone else get what they’re going to and then we don’t give her but maybe 1 thing. (This year it was a kid-sized set of real golf clubs) Sure, you can look at it as ‘mom and dad are cheap and letting other people buy their kid stuff’ but we look at it as clutter-control! LOL Why should I buy her even more crap just because it’s a holiday?! We spend quite enough during the in-between, especially since she grows like a weed at times and has a medical issue we have to fund. There’s also the inevitable change in likes/emphasis, too, which means purging certain types of toys and bringing-in new ones at random times.

  62. Melissa says:

    I’m one of the relatives that’s a gift giver in many occasions. SIL / BIL w/kids have asked nicely for books, gift cards, etc. instead of toys because the kids have waaaay too many. Totally not offended by this – and I usually give the kids cash, art/school supplies, or gift cards anyway. No need to bring up any subject of materialism – it usually just pisses people off.

  63. Nicole says:

    #60 Kim: Miss Manners would totally not approve of you being offended. Once a gift is given, it is the givee’s to dispose of. A gift giver should not be giving the “gift” of obligation with the object. You can avoid that by asking before-hand, which is much more polite than forcing your sister to either offend you by disposing of the gift or to be rude by dictating what you should buy. Of course, she might love the gifts you give so this isn’t an issue.

  64. reulte says:

    My mother was aghast to find out that I usually don’t purchase my own son birthday or Christmas gifts.

    She’s coming to visit in a few weeks and maybe she’ll figure out why. :-)

    We’ll be doing a declutter purge after she leaves.

  65. clc says:

    We have 2 boys and 2 girls (8 year spread in ages). We do live in a generation where kids can easily amass a TON of toys! Today they are aged 14-22, so I feel like I can offer our experience from the “been there, and it sure worked for us,” point of view.

    We kept most of the toys in the garage in clear Rubbermaid boxes: the Barbie box, the racecar/Hotwheels box, Legos, Duplos, wooden train, blocks, babydolls, kitchen/playhouse toys, puzzles, some even in boxes sorted by the kids into their own unique categories. We would vary as to how many “boxes” could be out at a time, and the kids loved the system as well as sorting things into boxes to put away when it was time to make a switch.

    It was a really flexible and useful system that evolved and worked for us over the years. Great for times like; the Lego box (or something else with small pieces) could only be out when “the baby” was asleep. This helped older kids be very aware of what types of things would be dangerous if a young child would put it in their mouth. Only a couple of boxes were toys that just belonged to one kid, most were “everybody’s.”

    If a particular box went for a long time without anyone requesting it, we could either seriously consider whether the toys were worthy of keeping, OR, have fun discovering the toys all over again as if they were new.

    There are so many ways this system worked that I can’t even explain them all here. Toys stayed in great condition, usually with all their pieces, which made for impressive toys the kids could sell when we had our few garage sales. We’d sort the toys into ziplock bags: Barbies with brushed hair and accessories, with the price written on the bag. Ziplocks worked for “little junk,” too. Kid’s meal toys, tiny balls, whistles — 10 or 15 items in a gallon ziplock marked at $1 was a bargain for young shoppers. We may have held on to toys longer this way and had too many…but, since they were stored clean and organized in the garage, we actually sold enough “little kid” toys at a garage sale when the kids were school-aged for them to buy our first used Nintendo video game system.

    Today, our kids are high-school and up, but I still have 1 box of play food/kitchen/preschool toys for visitors, and 1 BIG box of Duplos (by far the single best toy for the widest age spread, IMHO), and 1 box that has a few special toys that each of our kids wants to keep “forever.”

    The other thing that worked along with this system (just when they were very young), was that
    we used the 2 bedrooms we had for them as a sleep room (having only bed, clothes, books and stuffed animals in it) and a play room. This kept the rest of the house fairly clutter-free, and also made for a great sleep environment. We’d leave a low light on, and all kids went to bed at once (great for parents!). The older kids had peaceful winding-down time reading, and the little ones usually went right to sleep, or copied their older sibs “reading” before conking out. They had very natural sleep patterns – went to “bed” when it was time…went to sleep when they were sleepy. Don’t get me wrong, of course they’d fight or become disruptive on occasion, but looking back, I think this routine continued on to great sleep habits even today. I certainly appreciated not having 4 different bedtimes that basically took the entire evening away from Mom and Dad.

  66. Georgia says:

    With our kids, we only got one nice present and one smaller present for each. I let them give me a list and I would get one from their list and one I picked out myself. My son asked about this once. I said, “Did I ever get you anything you didn’t want?” He said, “No.” I knew my kids. They had one set of grandparents get them a gift or two and my parents sent us a check. I would cash the check and shop for each one of us for something to wrap and put under the tree from Grandma & Grandpa N. They did well. (They also got presents for other times, esp. birthdays.)

    When the toys accumulated, I would watch carefully for a week or two. Then I would get a large box and install what toys they weren’t playing with on a regular basis. In about 6 months, I would bring down the box and, usually with their approval, put up the ones they were tired of for another 6 months. Worked great. Although, I always teased them later that their stockings became the most expensive gifts in their teens. CD’s, DVD’s, watches, cosmetics, etc.

  67. Vanessa says:

    Another thing you can suggest to relatives that simply *must* buy something (and that balk at gift cards and experiences) is for them to take the child shopping. Certainly there are great shopping districts in most towns, or a even a mall or some of the larger toy stores would make for a great all-day trip. Walk around to see the sights, have some lunch, get an afternoon ice-cream cone. It is an experience spending time with them, and then they get to let them pick out a gift as well, one that they know will be loved/played with/worn/etc.

  68. Steve says:

    Excellent idea! It must be . . . I’ve done it myself!

    The only difference is that I had several good size boxes and plastic trash bags which I had the kids fill as they picked out their old and less desired toys. Then they went with us to the Salvation Army store, or to the church rummage store and helped me deliver them. I believe that made them feel more of a part of the whole thing.

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