Ask Unclutterer: Dealing with gift-giving grandparents

Reader Sarah submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

We have a 3-month-old child who is just delightful. He has everything he could need or want at this young age! We had a conversation with both sets of his grandparents prior to Christmas explaining that he has everything he could want, but if they felt the need to buy for him then a book or two or some clothes would be sufficient. However, both sets of grandparents bought a heap of toys and clothes and books! It was very generous of them, but this is not something I want to see become a habit. We have trouble with storage as it is, so I would really only prefer one or two items to be given at holidays and birthdays. How do I have this conversation with our loved ones?

Thanks for a great question Sarah. You mention that you already had a conversation with the grandparents and they didn’t seem to understand your request. You are not alone in your dilemma. At this time of year, Unclutterer receives several inquiries about dealing with generous extended family members.

The short answer, is that I do not know how you should have this conversation with your loved ones. I do not know them or your relationship with them. I will provide several suggestions below perhaps one will work for you in this situation.

If you are having trouble knowing how and where to start a conversation you may wish to read Crucial Conversations. Unclutterer Alex reviewed the book and says it is a must read for anyone who is intimidated by discussing potentially sensitive topics. The book may also help you communicate your wishes without the conversation becoming emotionally charged.

Read Editor-at-Large, Erin Doland’s post on receiving unwanted gifts. You may find that it is easier emotionally and on family relationships to re-gift and donate than it is to keep having the same conversation every year.

Unclutterer Jeri has some great tips for dealing with unwanted gifts. Although the post deals mainly with gifts from friends, her advice applies to gifts from family members as well.

As Erin mentioned in her post, grandparents want to give. Rather than saying “no gifts” consider providing alternatives. For example, babies and toddlers don’t need a lot of “things” but eventually, that child might need tuition for college. Asking the grandparents to contribute to a college fund might be an option for your family. (Investing $100/year for 17 years can result in $3000). Grandparents could write a special memory or life advice in a card each year and the cards could be presented on the child’s first day of college.

We would love to hear our readers’ suggestions on how they deal with this issue. Please feel free to leave advice for Sarah in the comments below.

Thanks for your contribution Sarah. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

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11 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Dealing with gift-giving grandparents”

  1. posted by Lily on

    Perhaps Sarah could realize how lucky her “delightful” child is to have two loving sets of grandparents who are so generous. They won’t be around forever, there are many ways of dealing with this without having “the talk”. Get over yourself Sarah – you are blessed.

  2. posted by Diana in Indiana on

    As a new grandparent I totally get the need to shower gifts. This child is much loved and gift giving is a love language for many. Maybe ask the grandparent if they would keep the toys etc at their home for when the child visits.

  3. posted by Serena on

    That’s a tough one! Baby is only 3 months old now, so the stuff will only accumulate. It’s so loving of grandparents to shower their grandchildren with gifts, but maybe parents can hold onto some of those gifts and ration throughout the year? Though it sounds like storage is an issue too…agree with idea to have some of those toys stay at grandparents’ houses for visits.

  4. posted by Miranda Conn on

    Another good option is to ask for “experience” gifts. For example, suggest a zoo membership or play area membership or something similar. That way the grandparents feel that they’re giving something substantial and tangible, but it’s not in the form of toy clutter. I know for my mom, she only wants to give tangible gifts – not just gift cards or money. She does will with giving experiences, though, because we can text her pictures of our trip to the zoo – all thanks to her – so she can see that she gave us something tangible.
    Also – I unwrap a few, but keep the majority of the unneeded toy and clothing gifts that we get in their original packaging so that I can re-gift them later. I keep a drawer of them and wrap them and give them as gifts when I can.

  5. posted by bc girl on

    I love the experience idea and try to gift that to others whenever possible. However, someone recently pointed out to me that requesting science centre, zoo or aquarium membership usually means buying a family membership for that child. They suggested that I was basically asking them to get a gift for the whole family( self centred! costly!) and they wouldn’t necessarily get to participate in it (if they were out of town relatives). An object for a child would be much cheaper. I was a bit stunned at this revelation and have not requested this as a gift since! Has anyone else has this experience or concern?

  6. posted by A on

    I have a similar situation with my parents although there are no children involved. I would suggest limiting the number of gifts maybe suggesting 5 gifts total so they can still fulfil their need to give a gift but then it stops at a certain number so it’s not overwhelming for you. Since you already spoke with them as well, as I have done in my situation too, I would also suggest to then donate the rest of the gifts to children in need. Unfortunately we can’t control our relatives actions but by setting a limit on gifts we’re establishing boundaries and then we get to choose ultimately what we do with them if they don’t adhere to the boundaries…hopefully that can help you 🙂
    In regards to Lily’s comment..Sarah just doesn’t want extra clutter and clearly realizes she is blessed but it can be a waste of money and time if people are buying more than necessary and she wanted a resource to help her avoid this which makes total sense. I can really relate to her struggle. Hopefully some can get donated and then everyone wins! The grandparents fulfill their need, the parents don’t have clutter, and those in need receive help as well.

  7. posted by Linda G on

    When my kids were younger and were both active in sports, I *begged* for relatives to “sponsor” a meet or tournament as a Christmas or birthday gift, but was never taken up on it (although a few times they did buy equipment if it met with their idea of a present). It would have made a perfect gift and a great excuse for grandma or aunt or uncle to come to watch (which they did anyway). Although I was not successful, maybe someone else can use this idea.

  8. posted by Louisa K on

    What is it about turning into grandparents that turns so many otherwise sane adults into blithering idiots? Don’t you remember what it was like to have your kids and how you wished your parents/the in-laws would butt out? Or maybe not give those inappropriate toys? So many parents are out there with student loan debt and an uncertain economy. A donation to grandchild’s college fund or a box of diapers (at three months) is a better gift and probably more appreciated by parent and baby.

  9. posted by C N on

    Wow, guilt-trip comments are not at all helpful, Lily.

    Anyway, I’m in the same boat. Since my father is compelled to give gifts, I asked him to put money towards my son’s college fund for any item he felt compelled to buy instead of actually buying the gift. That didn’t work at ALL. It’s very frustrating when you try to direct someone’s generous gesture towards something that would be used or appreciated but instead they purchase something that isn’t at all appreciated. Instead of generating appreciation, their generosity brings frustration. I gave up & just donate everything we don’t need or put it on consignment. However, I don’t know how much longer that will last. Once our son is old enough to remember gifts he received, it’s going to be harder for it to “disappear”.

  10. posted by Her from There on

    My son’s grandparents live on the other side of Australia. Each year they send presents the boys either already have, or aren’t interested in. I asked them if they would please check with us each year with their ideas, or ask us what the boys have/want, since they can’t see for themselves. Nope. Like the first poster at the top of this reply thread, they said ‘we will buy them whatever we want, thanks very much’. So, each year the boys unwrap their presents, smile for the camera and then we rehome them. I tried to let the inlaws know they’re wasting their money but they didn’t want to hear it.

    I do the same with their presents for me. I explained our house is full, and I have everything I need. I asked for a photo each year. That’s it – a photo. Then I would scrap book it, because I like scrap booking (and, they like photography). If you want to be extra impressive, scrap book it for me on a 12×12 page. They didn’t want to do that, so they continue to send me presents I don’t want, and I continue to pass them along. I have long gotten over feeling guilty about it.

    Perhaps Sarah could regift some of the clothes and toys to some place where she knows people are in need? A refuge, or a church who will pass them on, or a play centre somewhere?

  11. posted by Meli on

    I’m coming in late on this, but had to add my two cents. The best thing you can do for yourself in this situation is give up the expectation that you can control what they give. It’s stressful and creates resentment and doesn’t work. I don’t say anything anymore, but just donate or return anything that doesn’t work for us. And I don’t feel guilty. I’m the parent, it’s my house. I don’t believe the gift becomes my responsibility – that was the philosophy that made the situation so upsetting – I felt like I had to keep everything to make the grandparents happy. But not anymore. It would be great if we could tell the grandparents what to buy and how much, but it doesn’t work. I tried for years to control the avalanche of junk my parents and inlaws wanted to give my kids. It was overwhelming. They came to my house, they saw it was small and crowded, but they still wanted to give us piles of things we didn’t need. I couldn’t control them, but I could control my response to their actions.

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