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 Sarah on

    Suggest to the grandparents, as your daughter gets older, she would benefit from going to the toy store with them to pick out gifts for needy children. She can help choose the toys, wrap them, and deliver them to the charity.
    For all that giving, she certainly deserves a lunch out with her grandparents (extra cherries in the Shirley Temple) and a ride on the mall merrygoround.

  2. posted by Ed Eubanks on

    We’ve faced that too– and it’ll probably come around again for a new round, now that we’re expecting twins.

    One of my step-siblings told me that my mother and stepfather had told them outright that they were the grandparents, so they didn’t have to do what we said about gifts– they could give them all they wanted! So one of the ways I’ve dealt with this (with MY parents) is a frank talk about why we’ve decided to limit the number of things that our kids get, and also a discussion about how their prevailing attitude makes us feel disrespected as parents.

    Another step we’ve taken is simply to not allow them to bring out the many toys/gifts that they brought with them. This was a tense confrontation, and it basically amounted to me putting my foot down, saying, “I’m sorry, but we were clear about our preferences and allowances on this issue. You will simply have to take those back home with you.” They eventually relented, and the next time they visited they already had a stash of things to bring– so the shopping in-between was curbed. That appeared to break the cycle, for a while at least.

    We’ve made it clear to all grandparents that, for birthdays and Christmas, they may give our children one toy and one gift of clothing– amounting to no more than two gifts from each grandparent (or pair of grandparents, in my folks’ case). One of them got creative with this and packaged multiple toys in one box– her idea of “one gift.” (My son was smart enough to know that his grandmother had made a mistake, and understood completely when we told him to select one thing from the box and give the rest back.)

  3. posted by bms2000 on

    My inlaws tend to buy books for my kids, which is fine by me. I have my folks trained to ask what my kids want or need, and to limit the presents to no more than 2 per kid per event.

    One perpetual problem that I have is that, given we are a house with no TV, I favor toys that hold interest for a long time. So although they have 250 million pieces, I have never regretted any Playmobil or Lego presents, as the kids play with them for hours, combine them for different scenarios, etc. And although they take up a lot of space, I have never regretted picking up two garbage bags full of those big cardboard blocks from a yard sale – they get used every day. But the electronic noise maker toys get ruthlessly culled. They get used maybe twice, then gather dust, unless you bump into them in the middle of the night, when they wake everyone up. The boys room has lots of shelves and labeled bins, so the clutter can be tamed somewhat. But I trade a bit of clutter (or a lot on some rainy days) for the ability to get chores done without having to resort to purchasing a TV.

  4. posted by Katybeth on

    I just don’t get what the big deal is, grandparents want to shower there grandchildren with gifts and we shut them down with by “allowing” and “rules.” Toys are short lived in a child’s life, why not accept the gift with the graciousness and love it deserves, and move the gift forward when appropriate. I am a fan of living the uncluttered life but never at the expense of my child’s grandparents or any member of my child’s life’s feelings. The appropriate response to a gift given with love is a “Thank you!” and a big hug and kiss.

  5. posted by make art every day on

    my kids’ grandparents (for the most part) don’t really care what we say about gifts either. we’ve asked for contributions to their 529 plans and one of them actually said “what if they don’t go to college?” since my husband and i have three degrees between us, i’m pretty sure my kids will head to college one day.

    i think grandparents of the current era may be a little more concerned with their pleasure of giving rather than what the child actually needs (which is not more plastic). and they surely don’t want their children telling them what to do.

    i’d much rather the grandparents save their money and come spend time with our kids rather than send boxes of toys that don’t last. i can’t remember a single gift my grandmother gave me but i can recount dozens of memories of time spent with her. i’d like for my kids to have some of those memories too.

  6. posted by Emma on

    My Son was two at the weekend and I think we managed to escape without too much extra stuff. That said he seems to have a huge amount of toys. I cleared out all the baby stuff a while ago – but as soon as he sees something he demands to play with it!

    My Mother is pretty bad for buying toys for him (not just for birhtdays either) but luckily she takes care of him three days a week while I work, so I can legitimatley keep stuff at hers for him!

  7. posted by Michele on

    I agree with Katybeth, above. It’s important to be gracious with gifts, even if the gift doesn’t jibe with your personal values or restraints on physical space.

    To keep things from accumulating too much, you can keep a box (or several boxes) on hand and retire toys, books, and clothes to the boxes on a regular, near-daily basis. Then take a box to Goodwill or some other charity every month. Helps keep your child from being too attached to things, and helps keep your living space sane.

  8. posted by tay on

    @ Ed,

    Wow!!! you are really good with dealing with the Grandparents. You even scared me a bit…and I’m only reading the post 😉 lol. I hope I can get that strong… I so hate hurting feelings! Which is weird because those that know me wouldn’t think that I would mind telling my mom/dad my preferences when it comes to my child…I’m outspoking about most everything else! But I don’t know when it comes to my daughter and my mother…I hate to say it, but I’m a big PUNK!

  9. posted by tay on


    I do kind of feel like katybeth. My not letting my mother do for or give to my baby is like breaking her heart. She soooo loves that little girl that I really can’t argue. It’s actually a blessing because there are so many children who don’t know what that kind of love feels like. So I just let it be. But I will say that my situation may be a little different because
    1-My mother is my daughters baby sitter
    2-My parents are on a very limited income so I truly don’t get a lot of gifts for her from them.

    She mostly persuades me why I should and must buy this or that for my daughter. Sometimes I’m able to thwart off the guilty pleas and sometimes I just go ahead and bend..and then I leave them at her house. And you know what she loves it when I leave them with her.

    Also, whatever excess toys I have I put it in a nice wicker basket I have. The basket lives in her bedroom but she seems to forget it’s there and treats it just like another piece of furniture. When she gets irratible and to “needy” I pull the basket out and put it in the middle of the living room floor for her and I swear it’s like christmas time all over again for her! It’s great! I’m going to put some of her other toys in the attic soon.. I’ll revisit them one special day for a “treat”

  10. posted by Jasi on

    My folks know I won’t keep the gifts they give – not out of meanness, but if I want something I buy it, otherwise I probably don’t need it and therefore won’t keep it. So they limit their spending on gifts and aim for the most obnoxious. They try to find an addictive, loud, hard to assemble toy every time they visit. It’s a riot. Just a game to see how baby likes it and how Mommy will dispose slickly of it.

  11. posted by tay on

    Last time…I promise…Sorry for the lack of commas!

  12. posted by web doyenne on

    This post made me cry. We were older when our children were born. Their dad’s parents were already gone and mine both died when the boys were quite young. My folks took such pleasure in buying all sorts of things for the grandchildren who were the joy of their last years. Yeah, there was clutter. And you know what? We lived with it.

    I guess we’re fortunate that there are no longer any grandparents buying all this unneeded crap for my sons. Lucky us.

    Generally speaking, I like this blog and the suggestions it offers. But this post leaves me feeling queasy. I feel sorry for your daughter and your parents.

  13. posted by sarah on

    Most of our friends and family are understanding and do really well on the gift buying (and consult with us if they’re not sure) — they know what kind of gifts we prefer (things she needs, books, or additions to “sets” she already has, i.e. more blocks, more train stuff, etc). My MIL is our only real problem but truthfully, her stuff rarely makes it past the foyer into our house. If she asks about it (she generally doesn’t, because she knows perfectly well she buys things we have asked her not to) I say that it was great that she thought of X, but it didn’t work out for us so it’s been passed onto to another kid who loves it. It’s the big show of giving that she enjoys I think. And we let her have that.

    One thing that helps a lot is that we have involved our daughter (she’s 3) in the donating and giving away that we do from day one, we don’t just “disappear” things. She knows she has plenty of stuff and now actually brings me clothes that are too small or toys that she’s had a while and say she doesn’t need them anymore and I should send them to someone who needs them. I think it’s better that she knows things are really gone and where they went. it also keeps her from thinking toys have met some awful fate — she knows (or, okay, thinks in some cases) that another kid is using them. This is not going to work with all temperaments, obviously!

    Also — IKEA’s Trofast storage bins made a big difference around here. I can’t recommend them enough.

  14. posted by Trent Hamm on

    We have the exact same problem with both sets of grandparents. They continually buy all kinds of unnecessary stuff for our kids and we’re running out of room. We’re about to have a yard sale in a few weeks of nothing but excess kids’ stuff.

  15. posted by Lee on

    In hindsight, I believe that it’s important to stay strong in limiting the gifts. We are preparing to move after 35 years in this house, and have 30 years of toy clutter in the basement that was given to my 2 now grown sons. Even though we had the best organizing bins we could find and label, I think we all missed out on lots of opportunities to entertain friends because the house was so cluttered with toys and trying to keep things picked up was stressful for all of us. My mother was the worst, and could lay on a guilt trip about how she wanted to give them things that would make their little eyes light up and we were depriving her of that joy. Dealing with the “stuff” took away from time we could actually spend together doing fun and relaxed activities and left us frustrated. If I could do it again, I would be firm to the point of sounding offensive if someone didn’t follow our wishes, knowing that having calm, clutter free and stress free lives was one the most important thing I could give my children and my husband.

  16. posted by MikeDude on

    I have a 1 year old, so I can relate to both points of view about the joy of giving and receiving, and the need to limit the amount of “junk” or “accumulation”.

    Those who are uneasy at asking loved ones to limit gifts need to ask themselves and their relatives this: is the amount of gifts really a measure of how much you love your grandchild/niece/nephew? Do you want the child to learn to measure how much someone loves them by the amounts of gifts presented?

    Small children don’t need many toys. We had a disease outbreak and had to pack up most of her toys and wash any she played with every night. Guess what, she was perfectly happy with a few key toys. She did eventually get bored after a few weeks and wanted other things, but she did not miss all the electronic big plastic monsters.

    Grandparents love getting gifts, just let them know that you don’t want your child learning that gifts equal love, and more gifts equal more love. So, let them bring a few good gifts, donate ones that aren’t suitable, and hopefully everyone will get along

  17. posted by Jay on

    Two tips:

    (1) Designate toys you don’t want inside the house “outdoor toys.”

    Those toys might be large, bulky toys (huge Caterpillar or Tonka trucks, large toy oven); toys that make a noise you don’t want to hear for the next several months; toys that are “messy” (however you want to define that); etc.

    After our son received a toy that we did not want inside the house (and after the giftgiver was gone or otherwise out of earshot), we said to him with great (and sincere) enthusiasm something like, “That will make a nice outdoor toy. We look forward to seeing you enjoy playing with it outside.” Once home, we put the toy on the porch or in the shed. It never came into the house.

    Just as kids understand that they can’t ride a tricycle or bicycle in the house, so too can they understand that they must play with some toys outside, i.e., some toys are not meant to be in the house.

    You can always change your mind later and make an outdoor toy an indoor toy. But, at least with this initial designation, you do not have that dreaded feeling of being surrounded by unwanted (by you) toys at home after a birthday, Christmas, or a grandparent visit.

    (2) Tell relatives in a joking manner to give to your child items no bigger than a hand (an adult hand, of course) without checking with you first.

    When they laugh, look at them and say that, actually, you are serious. Explain that you don’t want clutter and that less is more. Suggest small stuffed animals, toy trains, toy cars, gift cards, donation to college fund, money, etc.

    Even if the relatives don’t follow your rule, you have at least had a chance to transition to a conversation about your desire for less clutter.

  18. posted by Carolyn on

    We too have this problem and our daughter is only 6 months old. Every time we see my MIL (and she’s 20 minutes away) she has another outfit or doo-dad for the baby. I understand that she enjoys buying things for her, but we have a 900 sq.ft. house. I have a carload of clothes and stuff, that has not yet been used, that will be put in the Goodwill drop box tonight.

    I completely second what MikeDude said. The goal isn’t to p.o. the grandparents, just to have a reasonable understanding so everyone can live with the result.

  19. posted by Laureen on

    We live on a sailboat, with a 6 year old, 3 year old, and new baby on the way.

    Clutter really isn’t a problem for us, simply because we enlisted the kids’ help in reducing it. Either their berth is crowded with stuff, or it isn’t, and it’s their choice. And when it’s the kids telling the grandparents what they do and do not want, somehow it’s far more effective than us instituting rules that get between the kids and the grandparents.

    “Don’t buy plastic junk” isn’t nearly as effective as the three-year-old asking for the fishing pole he really wants, or the six-year-old requesting a real camera… and I’ve discovered, as have the grandparents, that these kinds of “real” gifts, even at a young age, provide more activity for the kids and grandparents to engage in together, which is where the real value is.

  20. posted by Vicky on

    I think this is probably one of those things that you have to be a grandparent to understand (I’m not and I too get frustrated, although my parents are pretty good). I can sort of understand how easily it is for grandparents to want to shower their grandkids with things, esp. since in this day and age most of us live so far away from relatives. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is one of the things I let slide, b/c I know they mean well. I have no qualms about donating said items, however, if needed.

  21. posted by Leslie Hope on

    It’s a shame all this unnecessary stuff ends up in the waste stream. Why can’t people see the consequences of mindless consumption? The contribution to the college fund will be so much more appreciated in the long run. I say take the hard line or if the gifts are from a local store or a chain, convert ’em to cash by returning them.

  22. posted by LivSimpl on

    Great post and great comments. As I read through them and realize my son’s birthday is next month, it might be a good idea to start a tradition of giving gifts that are more about spending time together, rather than molded plastic.

    For example, instead of a toy, grandpa could give a fishing pole and the real gift is teaching him how to fish.

    There’s certainly a place for toys, but if expectations are managed early on (on the part of both the giver and receiver) the real *gift* becomes the experience of spending time together.


  23. posted by Mary on

    I’m a grandmother; our grandchildren have so many toys they can barely get into their rooms. Yet I want to give them gifts they can hold and sense the strong love that I have for them. Two of them live far away and I don’t get to see them much.

    Here are some solutions I’ve found:

    * great CD’s where we can laugh ourselves silly together and then they can continue to play them when I’m gone. Veggie Tales makes some great ones. This would work for any kind of music that you enjoy sharing together.

    * books (small footprint – great rewards)

    * We often ask if we can help the family with a larger purchase (if they are going to buy a wii anyway …)

    * magazine subscriptions – Ranger Rick was a favorite

    * write them letters, email them funnies …. our oldest grandson talks more about a silly email I sent him at Easter than all the stuffed bunnies combined (he has 15 of them — it’s crazy!)

    * consumable art supplies – those things add up and the parents have appreciated those gifts very much.

    * we are going to start buying Disney stock for the oldest — he’s 8 and is showing an interest.

    To summarize – I want to leave a gift but one that will leave memories and hopefully not too much clutter.

  24. posted by Vered - MomGrind on

    I struggle with this too.

    My solution: bins and boxes to neatly hold all their stuff, and periodical donations to Goodwill.

    Organize Your Kids’ Room

    So, we do accept the gifts, but many of them quietly go to Goodwill after a few months.

  25. posted by Ann at One Bag Nation on

    wow, this is an emotional subject, and I can appreciate the issue from both sides.

    One way to tackle too much stuff – whether gifted or not – is to have a “transition box”. I put things in there that my daughter has lost interest in, or outgrown, but isn’t able to let go of on her own. This is a great place for all the “goodies” that come home from birthday parties. There’s even an old, worn-out toothbrush in there right now.

    I leave the treasures in the box for a month or so, and if she asks for something I can retrieve it (she’s never asked yet); then I either toss or donate, or offer to a younger child we know.


  26. posted by Harris on

    WOW! Everyday the news is full of stories about abused, unwanted and unloved children. I adore my grandchildren and enjoy giving them gifts and spending time with them. I think you parents better appreciate that your children have loving grandparents that are probably willing to babysit, pick them up from school, do anything you ask, etc. Clutter and excess is always something to deal with but come on, pick your battles! Do you really want to insult your own parents and in-laws over gifts? Be careful, there is a special bond between children and grandparents and your strict rules may backfire on you.

  27. posted by Anne on

    Kids are fun to buy for…my parents are hilarious, very spend thrift with us growing up, but no limit to what to get grandkids. I laugh at their excessiveness, but it is so special to me. My (4)kids are all adopted via foster care and before we adopted, I called my parents to make sure that they could “love” these kids. Their response, “Love our grandchildren…of course” I am so thankful for each and every hug, gift and memory my parents share with my kids.
    They missed out on alot of “childhood” as abused kids, and although we can’t make up for this, being a loved child and grandchild is a good thing for their lives now!
    They know thank you notes are forth coming, and enjoy it, cause Gramma hangs each one up on her office…which is papered with letters from her grandkids!!!
    We cull our home and rooms on a regular basis, and that keeps the clutter down. I guess I don’t get the overabundance of toys being a 🙂 burden.

  28. posted by Pat on

    @doyenne: This one made me a bit queasy, too, even from the first sentence: “I have a hard time expressing my disdain…” and then something about his family’s stuff. And I look and, yup, it’s by Matt. I first noticed this sort of post a few months ago: “My wife needs to get rid of all those cookbooks”, and every time since when I notice a post in which the poster wants to decide whether or not *other people* need something in their life, it’s Matt.

    Even the Unitasker Wednesday posts, which are supposed to be light-hearted fun, seem almost angry at the products sometimes. There’s increasingly an undertone of “I don’t need this, so why does this product exist?” Well, in some cases because other people might have needs and priorities that differ from yours.

    I’m rather obsessed with uncluttering my life, but I’ve been feeling this blog is moving away from a goal of Zen-like simplicity and getting into control freak territory. When you want to get rid of your own things, that’s uncluttering. When you want to get rid of things that belong to other people, and need to “express your disdain” when people don’t comply with your uncluttering mandates, that’s a game of control.

  29. posted by Nancy B on

    I despise toy clutter too, but so much of a person’s self-esteem is wrapped up in his/her ability to give gifts. Both of my parents shower my kids with gifts – it makes them feel better about being 2 states away. One thing I said to them that turned the tide somewhat was that “Max will someday forget about the Lightning McQueen toy you got him, but he’ll never forget the time when you took him on the antique train ride.” I try to emphasize to them that the kids will remember the EXPERIENCE, not the toy, when they remember their grandparents. And that it they give him a toy, play with him with it!

  30. posted by Megan on

    How about this? Instead of limiting the gift giving, instill a good habit of purging and giving into your daughter’s life as well. About a week before her birthday explain to your daughter that her birthday is coming up and people will be giving her gifts. Wouldn’t she like to make some room for those new gifts by making gifts of some of her old toys to other little children who don’t have families who are able to give them such nice things? You can make this a family tradition. And you should do it before your own birthdays as well, to set an example. That way she will see her parents doing it, and it will seem perfectly normal, and there may not be as much of a fuss. The holidays would be another good time to do this.

  31. posted by rayette on

    Yes, kids’ clutter is overwhelming. I have a couple of thoughts.
    First, I just really wounded my mom by complaining when she bought my son a new Lego set every day during a five day visit. She got her feelings so badly hurt that I saw it really wasn’t worth complaining about. We agreed to leave some of the Legos at her house.
    Second, if you think it’s bad with a two-year-old, just wait. At least when they’re little, they don’t have much of a say. My 9-year-old is passionately attached to every little trinket and toy and book he owns–and he owns A LOT. They all mean something to him–he can remember exactly where it came from and when. I have occasionally convinced him to purge a few things or sell things in garage sales, but mostly he just loves his stuff so much…I am a disciplinarian, but after all, this is HIS stuff, and I don’t like the idea of forcing him to get rid of things that are meaningful to him. I often remind myself that, before I know it, he’ll be moving out and my life will be free of his clutter…so why not tolerate it now, keep it in designated areas, and let him have his fun? It’s all part of my favorite life motto: “Lighten up!”

  32. posted by Beverly on

    I’m having a little trouble with the extremism of this post too. It’s one thing to want to find ways to organize the inevitable stuff that comes with kids, which includes toys, clothes, and other “unnecessary” things. The point is, it comes with the territory, and in the overall scheme of life, it’s transient. If you don’t want to deal with it, don’t have kids.

  33. posted by Liz on

    I have three kids now and we live in a two bedroom unit so I really do have to put reins on the amount of toy clutter we allow – well any stuff, be it clutter or useful.

    It doesn’t matter how firm you want to be able “stuff” people will buy it for your kids. We really shy away from cheap plastic rubbish and prefer good quality items and open-ended toys. If anyone asks for suggestions we suggest practical items that the kids want or need. We also suggest additions to sets the kids currently have (such as lego, train sets etc) or tickets and passes to activities. Our family are generally pretty understanding but there are always exceptions or ill-thought-out purchases.

    We really don’t place restrictions, as such, on toys. We don’t allow Barbie or guns in our house at this stage of our lives, but that’s it really. We have a few “rules” with clothes – the most significant being that clothes must have covered shoulders and sleeves of some sort – this is partly a modesty issue (as we disagree with the culture that turns our children into sex objects) and partly a sun protection issue as where we live (Australia) it is quite easy to get sunbirnt and we have an outdoors-oriented culture. That said, we have made some exceptions (such as the dress our daughter wore to a wedding).

    Generally if you set one or two basic ground rules (such as “no weapons” or “no black clothes” or even “no soft toys as gifts”) then people are generally happy to abide by that.

    Having children is an exercise in relinquishing control. We try to control our children’s lives but, in reality, we can’t. Trying to control every item that comes into our home will only serve to hurt people and alienate them.

    Take a deep breath. Life is not all that serious. Little John or Jenny will not be scarred for life because their grandparents have bought them Mrs Plastic Paraphernalia or Sergeant Lots-Of-Stuff for Christmas. Enjoy your kids and what they enjoy, not what you want them to enjoy.

    On a slightly different note, Matt, please leave the judgemental attitude at home. I really enjoy this blog but a little more grace would be most welcome.

  34. posted by Sue on

    When DS was born, my FIL said, “Just remember, it’s your job to raise him, it’s my job to spoil him.”

    When we were asked what DS wanted, we listed Legos, Brio Trains (high quality wood–and the price of the pieces made Grandpa feel generous–LOL!), books and miniature CAT machines. The cheapie plastic stuff came and went, we lost Grandpa to cancer, but the Brio Trains are still treasured and DS is now 15.

    My treasure is a photo of Grandpa down on the floor, playing with DS and those trains.

  35. posted by Sean on

    Having children does indeed bring with it an enormous accumulation of stuff, not the least of which is toys, and any parent would welcome advice on how to cull, organize and purge it all. But to express so much anger and consternation towards “unnecessary gifts” (an oxymoron to be sure), especially those given to your children with the best intentions, simply because they offend your aesthetic sensibilities is saddening and bewildering. Is gift giving a zero-sum proposition? All gifts received must inevitably be clutter? I can’t imagine anyone accepting such a proposition. Your parents clearly enjoy giving your daughter gifts. Allow them that joy; they’ve earned it. And let your daughter revel in the joy of two loving grandparents. She deserves it. Who knows, you might be happier too. Your anti-accumulation project can wait.

  36. posted by bunny on

    This post really upset me. Probably simply because I wish my parents were around to trash up my young child’s life.

    As it is, my children will never know them or the unconditional, over-the-top love that grandparents provide. They no longer clutter my life or those of my children. How I wish I had that sort of clutter back, even if it means toys I have to live with for a while before donating them.

    Living an uncluttered life is a lovely goal, but the disdain shown for people who love you by telling them what is and isn’t an acceptable gift is potentially more damaging than the temporary clutter from toys.

    Perhaps, rather than seeing your parents working against you, see it for what it is: people who are overwhelmed with love for you and your child and who want to show it in their own way. It may not be your way, but no one said it had to be to be valid.

    In the same way that clutter can rule one’s existence, when one says that the most important thing is to have a clear floor, above relationships, they are letting material things rule them.

  37. posted by becky on

    matt, matt, matt. uncluttering = good. hurting grandma’s feelings = bad. not worth it. as katybeth says “Toys are short lived in a child’s life, why not accept the gift with the graciousness and love it deserves, and move the gift forward when appropriate.”
    a gift from grandma is not about the stuff. it’s about grandma wanting to make a connection with your child. especially if she lives far away. if it’s not harmful to your child, (like toy guns or barbies, if you lean that way…) why would you want to disrupt their relationship. accept the gifts graciously, weed out the toys when necessary, and pass them on when kids are ready to let them go. for a 2 yr old, that’s pretty darn quick.

  38. posted by angie on

    I agree with many of the people above about graciously accepting gifts. In my mind, making such a big deal of it speaks to some sort of control issue that you’re playing out with your parents and in-laws.

    I felt very much like you do and expressed it over and over when our oldest child was a toddler. So much did I make my desires and opinions known that now my mother cannot buy my girls the simplest things without copious disclaimers of how I can return the item if we don’t want it or don’t like it and here’s the receipt, etc. I am ashamed at how my soapboxing early on has turned what is a simple joy for a grandparent into an issue fraught with landmines at least for her mainly because I have matured as a parent.

    I know where you are coming from, etc. but consider just accepting the gifts and then passing them on to someone who would appreciate them. In the long run, you will be glad that you treated your parents in a more respectful manner.

  39. posted by Mary on

    I just had to come back and say the grandparent comments are very touching. @Sue – your comment was like a sneak peak into our future and it was incredibly moving. Thank you so much for taking your time to write about your father and what he meant to all of you.

  40. posted by Chief Family Officer on

    Wow, can I relate to this! My husband and I have politely (and not-so-politely) requested that our parents not give our kids toys with lots of pieces. Unfortunately, they sometimes “forget.” Our house is inundated with toys everywhere. We too have taken to leaving toys from the grandparents at their house (and it does seem to have had some impact on the volume of toy purchases).

    Cycling toys can be a huge help, especially if you have storage space the kids can’t get to (out of sight, out of mind; plus, when you bring the stored toys back out, they seem “new” again). Regular purging also helps. I have friends who purge when their kids can’t see but I prefer to let my son know that we are donating toys and giving them away to good homes. We obviously never give away anything he is really attached to, and we explain why we think the toys are no longer appropriate for our home. So far, he’s been pretty good about it (he’s a little over three, and he’s understood the donating/giving away thing for at least six months now).

  41. posted by Kat on

    We made a “no big toys please” request last Christmas, but we won’t be doing that again because our toddler was visibly, though quietly, upset when his younger cousin got amazingly huge stuff and he got a big pile of clothes. No matter how you try to spin it, a 3-year old will only understand that his presents weren’t as impressive. But I reckon we will be allocating toys to the grandparents’ houses, and I don’t think they mind.

  42. posted by Mer on

    I think it’s really tacky to dictate to people who want to give you a gift. It’s one thing to offer ideas and suggestions; but “expressing one’s disdain” is just a slap in the face to someone who cares about you.

    If you get a gift, be gracious and say thank you. Whether you then decide to use or give it away later is up to you. But don’t be surprised that by being such a jerk you stop getting gifts altogether.

    I agree with whoever suggested teaching the child how to purge their belongings periodically and give things to charity. That’s a great idea.

  43. posted by Dee on

    I live in a 1100 square foot house and at the moment am squashed into a bedroom with one of my children because we are trying to get the funds to add on an addition. If my MIL gave my children money instead of the endless junk she brings into my home I would have that addition done by now – I think its a sin to pass this kind of overconsumption onto your grandchildren!

    Ever since my first child was born four years ago I have struggled with my MIL and her mass purchases of all things related to baby and toddlerhood. The clutter control (while masive) is not necessarily the whole issue – the main issue is that showering my children with possessions EVERY time she sees them conflicts with my overall goal of raising my children to VALUE possessions. I want my kids to know that a. immediate gratification/rewards is not the way of life b. possessions do not equal happiness and/or love. My MIL actually has a consumption issue in my opinion and does not know how to show affection so instead she is “buying” or at least attempting to buy my childrens affections. I wholeheartedly agree with @make art everyday’s response that todays generation of grandparents isn’t necessarily “spoiling” their grandchildren out of the sheer pleasure of it – not to say all grandparents are like that but a good handful are. As @Mary above pointed out – there are ways to enjoy being a grandparent without having to rock the boat. I have tried telling my MIL that I want my kids to love her for her, not what she gives them but unfortunately she has her own issues with clutter and purchasing and it just doesn’t click.

    Sometimes gift giving is a power struggle between grandparents and parents and I just don’t see why a grandparent wouldn’t honor a parents request to help them raise their kids in a manner consistent with the values they are trying to instill in them. A little bit of spoiling is fun for everyone, CONSTANT buying and gift giving is a whole other level of issues that doesn’t have anything to do with a grandparents right to spoil their grandchildren a little or a parents inability to be gracious.

  44. posted by Sue on


    “If you get a gift, be gracious and say thank you. Whether you then decide to use or give it away later is up to you. But don’t be surprised that by being such a jerk you stop getting gifts altogether.”

    Amen! And be the gracious example to the little eyes that are watching you and learning!

  45. posted by 2boysmom on

    I agree that you need to be gracious – but I think that goes for the people giving the presents too. You say, “just be gracious, what’s the big deal!” Well, for me, in addition to the fact that it makes our home VERY uncomfortable, and the fact that the endless stream of plastic toys is devastating to the environment and may even be bad for the kids health – well, for me, one big issue is that my kids are not learning the kind of restraint that will allow them to spend their adult lives doing work that they love, even if that work doesn’t make them much money.

    Obviously, there is a balance. I try to be gracious, but happily, my family took the hint quickly when I put the word out that we just had too much stuff and I hoped people would scale back a bit. My sister has given my kids some of the greatest gifts ever, but she doesn’t do it in volume any more. The kids enjoy the presents much, much more. And my kids are a little older (5 and 6), so they also have come to understand my environmental views. And I don’t hold a VERY hard line.

    I did apply the same rules to myself; I try myself not to buy too much stuff, not to impulse buy, not to demonstrate consumerism to my kids, but yes – they are watching and they are learning, and I want them to learn that you don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy. Because if they need a lot of stuff to be happy, then they will need a lot of money, and they may have to have a job that they hate as much as I hate mine these days.

    You can’t take these things too far, because there are always many lessons to learn, even in a situation like this – graciousness to relatives, self-control, respect for the environment, enjoyment of surprises, tolerance for differing views, standing up for reasonable requests – but there are strong moral and ethical reasons to NOT want family members to give your children too many toys, and as much as you should respect your family’s generosity, they should respect your principles as well. Somehow, you should be able to meet in the middle with affection and respect for each other.

  46. posted by Lee on

    We need to remember that we are all different in our own emotional and physical ability to deal with “lots of stuff”, our children are all different, even in the same family and some do have more trouble letting go of something than other children do, and that grandparents are all different, sometimes even in their generosity to individual grandchildren. There are also differences in our individual family dynamics. What works well for one of us may be totally impossible for another. I hope we can share our thoughts and be open to learning from each other, and not shoot each other down for feeling strongly about an idea or method. This topic is gift giving, not whether or not we should beat on our children.

    I don’t think that anyone here wants to deny grandparents the pleasure of giving fun gifts to our children or deny our children the pleasure of receiving something special (that may even spoil them) from their grandparents. I do think that we should be able to share with grandparents our philosophy on the way we would like for our children to be raised and the values we wish to instill in them, whether it is in not expecting grandparents to constantly be bringing extravagant gifts or in lessening the amount of plastic we continue to consume (if we buy it, someone will continue to produce it). I believe that it does take a village to raise a child, and hope that everyone in our respective villages can work together so that everyone will feel good about the gift giving philosophy and that it will be a win situation for grandparents, parents, and children.

    I agree with Dee that there can be power struggles among grandparents, especially if both sets are nearby, to outshine the other side in the number and complexity of gifts they give. I also think that children can come to expect a gift every time they see grandparents if that is the pattern that has been started.

    My grandparents had to live very frugally and were only able to give me, the only grandchild, a gift at birthdays and Christmas. I remember the gifts of my grandparents first dining room table and 2 vases that had belonged to my grandfather’s mother that my grandmother gave me the Christmas before we were married. Beyond that, I can’t remember anything. But I do remember shopping with her in the little general store downtown, going with her to get the mail from the post office and learning to open the combination lock, learning to play chechers, dot, and tic tac toe, and learning to embroider and trying to learn to crochet. I remember that grandpa took me fishing until his health prevented it. I remember helping in their garden and learning to peel potatoes, snap peas, and cut grean beans. I remember that they stayed with me after I had my tonsils out and my parents had to work. I looked to them for companionship, not for tangible gifts.

    I remember a letter in Ann Landers or Dear Abby many years ago from a grandmother who felt badly that she didn’t have the means to take her granddaughter shopping and buy expensive presents like the other grandmother did. AL or DA told her to tell her granddaughter that her other grandmother was the shopping grandmother and that she was the cookie baking grandmother. It’s nice to have both.

  47. posted by Andamom on

    Baby, toddler, children’s clutter makes no sense… Living in Brooklyn (in a 907 square foot apartment with 4 people), I constantly remind family and friends that we don’t have space (or need) for stuff. I pick through toys and clothes regularly and pass them on to friends or Salvation Army on a regular basis too in order to cut down. My son also prefers not to be overwhelmed either – so keeping things to a minimum for him ensures that he plays with the toys he does have.

    Non-toys (like spoons, boxes, blankets, and tupperware) also are wonderful. My son’s imagination can run wild, and I don’t have to worry about finding a place for a random toy.

  48. posted by Dee on

    @Lee – beautifully said! Your re-count of your memories with your grandparents is much of the same sentiments that I can recall with mine and I cherish those memories beyond any possessions I own. I am blessed that my own grandmother (now 93) is still here to enjoy my children and that particular relationship is not overburdened with setting boundaries or expectations from either side. It is the kind of relationship I hope my children will attain from their own grandparents.

    My mother has adopted the Ann Landers philosophy that you shared in lui of getting into a gift giving war with the other grandmother and its served us well so far. If anyone has issues with conflicting viewpoints on grandparents gift giving – printing out your post and passing it on may just break the ice and make for some honest introspection from both parties – lifes too short to be battling over something that should be pleasurable – well done!

  49. posted by Ed Eubanks on

    A follow-up to a few of the comments above:

    I appreciate the different voices speaking the truth about many different circumstances, particularly those who don’t have loving grandparents (or grandparents at all) in the lives of their children. I sympathize with the grandparents whose feelings are bruised by the sentiment of this post.

    I just spoke with my son about the way he treats his things; he has so many toys, and he is given more so often (my parents are in town this weekend and, yes, brought him ANOTHER Matchbox car), that he has very little regard for how he treats his toys. He throws them, kicks and stomps on them, leaves them in the yard in the rain… he simply doesn’t take care of them.

    Folks, this isn’t because he sees this modeled in my wife and me, and it isn’t because we haven’t worked HARD to teach him better stewardship of his toys. It’s because he has had the overabundant, disposable everything mindset drilled into him by grandparents and aunts who have difficulty exercising any discipline or self-control whatsoever.

    Another problem: as soon as my parents arrived, my kids asked them, “do you have any presents for us?” My kids have learned a good lesson: the value of their grandparents is what stuff we get from them. Frankly, I’m ashamed of this; when MY grandparents came to visit, I was simply delighted that they were here to see me! I got to spend a few days with my beloved grandmother. My kids’ sense of anticipation about their grandparents is not focused on the relationships they have, but the things the will get.

    Here are the lessons my kids are learning from my parents (and my wife’s mom): materialism; poor stewardship; “anything I want I can get;” relationships are based on things, not on people; “my lust for more things and increased clutter is perfectly justified;” “it’s totally okay to ignore and disrespect my parents’ wishes and requests.”

    This isn’t love; love would actually do the opposite of all of these. If grandparents want to “shower their grandchildren with love” then spend time with them, take into consideration the parents’ wishes and cooperate with them, be thoughtful about the things you buy (considering space, what they already have, etc.).

    I’m sorry: you DON’T get a pass to act irresponsibly, disrespectfully, or selfishly just because your children now have kids of their own.

  50. posted by Briana on

    The real problem with overwhelming children with a lot of toys isn’t clutter–it’s that they learn to associate love with material possessions.

  51. 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!

  52. 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.

  53. 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”.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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…

  57. 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.

  58. 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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