Swimming in children’s clutter

I have a hard time conveying my disdain for the inevitable accumulation of more stuff for my two year old. We are about to celebrate her second birthday and the grandparents are the nemesis against my anti-accumulation project. My wife and I tried to head off the unnecessary gifts by suggesting to the grandparents that they simply invest in a pass to the Children’s Museum here in Pittsburgh. This objective was achieved, but the grandparents were not satisfied with such a modest purchase.

Apparently, my mother in-law has a box of stuff that is awaiting my daughter when they return from their winter retreat in Florida. I’m not sure what is included in the box, but I’m fairly certain we will be finding a home for all of these gifts at grandma’s house. That is our short-term solution: Clutter the grandparent’s house with the gifts that they feel compelled to purchase. I don’t feel great about it, but we decided that this is the best solution at the moment. We appreciate that they want to buy our daughter gifts, we know that a lot of children don’t have this opportunity, we just wish that every gift they give didn’t have to be a toy. The gift giving guide that we compiled for the holiday season can also be applied for birthdays, but getting the grandparents to comply has not been successful.

The accumulation of more children’s clutter is a constant struggle, and it seems that Merlin Mann is right in the middle of an all out war against baby clutter, too. Good luck, sir. It is a tough thing to get under control with so many others (grandparents) working against you.

58 Comments for “Swimming in children’s clutter”

  1. posted by Kat on

    I don’t agree with the posters who are saying that if you give grandkids presents every time you see them, they’ll associate your love with material possessions. One of my grandfathers used to buy me anything I asked for (within reason–my parents would intervene subtly if I went too far). But I never, ever thought of him as the buy-me-anything grandfather. I remember him as the grandfather who would take me grocery shopping and let me smuggle in a random treat. It was fun, and it was a special grandparents only treat. Part of the fun of playing with a toy (or eating a smuggled chocolate) was the process of asking for it (politely, tactfully, as taught by my parents) and the excitement of receiving, knowing that my grandparents were thinking of me.

    As a parent who started off trying to control every little thing my parents and in-laws were doing, I’ve come to realise that part of my job is to help my kids apply our values to other people’s behaviour, because frankly, there’s not much you can do if they (the grandparents, not the kids) willfully ignore you!

  2. posted by Sarah on

    @Ed Eubanks – Just tell your parents the twins don’t need two of everything! Trust me!

    Everyone else – Another reason to limit gifts from grandparents is to allow plenty of space for gifts from another set of grandparents, godparents and other relatives.

  3. posted by Karen on

    So many great comments. One thing I’ve learned in my life is it’s never good to be too rigid with other people. My late mother-in-law was a person who was always right and had to have things her own way. When she died, I felt nothing but relief. I realized that I never wanted to impose my own values and ways on other people to the extent that they would be glad when I was gone!

    As far as the kid clutter goes, I have 2 kids, ages 13 & 10, so I’ve been at this for awhile. Your situation is a great opportunity to teach your daughter organizational and decluttering skills as she gets older. There’s nothing wrong with saying, a few days after another new toy comes in, “What generous grandparents you have. What are we going to give away to make room for this new toy?” If you start early, the level of stuff will stay under control. If the grandparents ask where a certain item is that you have gotten rid of, apologetically explain your limited space and the “one-in/one-out” rule.

    Both my kids are getting better and better at purging and organizing their own belongings as they grow up, because I have taken the time to teach them how.

    The other side of this is that your daughter is learning how to treat YOU by watching how you treat your own parents. You are her role model, so be sure to treat your parents with respect, if that’s what you want later. People are more important than things, even if the issue is actually “too many things”.

  4. posted by disconnect on

    I can’t remember any specific things my grandparents gave me as gifts, but I can remember spending time with my grandpa, helping him build an addition to his house. He did it all: laid out the site, poured the concrete, put up the frame, ran electric, insulated, hung and finished the drywall, painted, and installed the carpet, AND he showed me how to do each of those things. I can vividly remember the way he smelled when he was working up a sweat. My brother was in Prague last summer, and he sent me an email that read in part, “The old men here look and smell like Grandpa.” And I knew exactly what he meant.

    I do remember Christmas as involving lots and lots of presents, but not the presents themselves. So I don’t mind if my parents or in-laws go crazy buying crap for my kids, because part of the holiday is the anticipation of opening all those beautifully wrapped packages (which are themselves decorations) (and “beautifully wrapped” includes boxes wrapped in the Sunday comics). It helps that all the grandparents like each other, so there’s not any competition or anything like that.

    Also, just as clutter can control your life, controlling that clutter can in itself go from good to overboard. Pick your battles.

  5. posted by Lisa S. on

    I’ve seen what happens when the grandparents get into a gift-giving war, and it isn’t pretty. Frankly, I dread birthday parties and Christmases because my otherwise sweet nephews turn into ungrateful little goblins; my niece is pretty much a lost cause because, at age nine, she has made it clear to her grandmas that she will favor whichever one brings her things all the time.

    My SIL and BIL are frustrated and exhausted by the fact that both sets of parents ignore their reasonable requests (like “no foosball table — we don’t have room”) and overwhelm the kids with stuff. The kids certainly aren’t grateful and the grandparents respond to the whining “is this all?” with bigger piles next time!

    It’s nice that grandparents love their grandchildren, but why can’t they love their kids too — and give their kids the gift of less stress around the holiday?

    I also don’t truck with the “someday, you’ll wish they were around” argument. The threat of someone dropping dead in the future should never give them a right to run over your parenting in the present.

  6. posted by Amy on

    just found your blog and really enjoying it! We have the same problem with the grandparents and do the same thing. We leave the clutter at their house. I figure if we tell them NOT to buy and they still do, then they need to take responsiblity. And I really don’t feel bad about it. It also makes for easier visits because the toys that the kids haven’t seen in weeks are new to them and we don’t have to pack as much for the trip. I have a 4 year old girl and a 1 year old boy. The toys just keep piling up. I have found some relief with freecycle…

  7. posted by amy on

    I had this same problem. The grandparents gave them toys every visit and holiday and none of it was going to be a long term momento. . SInce I had my children in my 30’s and the grandparents were 55+ I said it would be really nice for my daughter to have something significant to remember them by as an adult instead of all the toys and toss away items. I suggested to my mother and mother in law they start my daughter off with her sterling silver and present it to her a piece at a time. I picked out a classic pattern (Kirk Stieff Rose) when she was a year old and now at 17 she has 10 complete place settings plus a few serving pieces. My mom bought old pieces at antique shows and 5 piece place settings on line at great prices and doled them out so it made her shopping easy. Everyone wins! I never came up with a comparable plan for my son so at 19 he has nothing of significance from his grandparents. I suggested bonds but that didn’t go over very well. Good luck.

  8. posted by Nisa on

    Wow! Very strong feelings here. I will become a grandmother in June and only wish I could be the cookie baking grandmother because I love to bake and would love to spend time with the grandchildren. Unfortunately the parents of our future grandchildren live overseas and we can only see them a few times a year. It breaks my heart to think I won’t be there to see the weekly and monthly changes in them. I will spend every minute I have with them being with them. I am already wrestling with the over-consumption problem and asking the parents what they want and need for the baby, plus adding a few small treats. After reading this I plan to let them know to feel free to pass on anything they don’t want or need to someone who does.
    When our children were small their grandparents showered them with stuff until we let them know they really needed clothes and would enjoy a shopping/lunch trip more than more toys. Each child had at least two trips a year with each set of grandparents, armed with a list of what they actually needed, and I rarely had to pay for clothes again. The grandparents bought some more expensive and some less expensive clothes, we passed them on after they were outgrown, and our grown children enjoy going out to lunch and a movie with their elderly grandparents and they arrange it themselves when they are home.

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