TOYS and GIFTS and CLUTTER oh my

January 4, 2017

Annabel and Cameron got plenty for Hanukkah.

A is currently into:

1) Shopkins
2) Glitzi Globes
3) Calico Critters*
4) Any crafting kits (Melissa & Doug are a huge win)
5) Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens (can’t imagine where she got this idea)
6) Costumes / accessories

C is currently into:

1) Duplos
2) Random things that light up
3) Things to throw
4) Anything that is Annabel’s
5) Trains

I am happy to report that we still can basically fit everything into the cube shelves (gallery below!) + closets.  Okay, plus a small IKEA set of drawers for craft supplies and a mini play kitchen.  But really, things are not overflowing too hideously.  Yet.

Thus far, I have maintained the status quo by either asking A to perform “give away or keep”, or just sneakily removing things during times a-plenty (such as Hanukkah/birthdays/etc) when they are too distracted by the Shiny New Stuff to notice.   But I would say we sit right on the brink of toy overload in our medium-sized home.  I live in (mild) fear of future birthday parties and overzealous family gifts.  Is it wrong to request only books or consumable craft supplies at a kid’s birthday party?  How about asking for a contribution to a larger gift (say, an American Girl doll)?  That sounds really gauche to me, and yet it would make such practical sense.

play kitchen filled w/ faux food / accessories

Annabel’s cube with books & toys

A’s costumes, games, and shared Duplo collection on the ground

C’s cube

Craft supplies in IKEA chest / balls in a basket

* These things are SO damn cute that I am honestly kind of into them too


  • Reply Bridget March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I am always looking for the best way to handle ALL THE TOYS! Like you, I get my kids to pick things to give away every so often and I will pack other things up when they are not around. When my first daughter was born, my husband and I took a hard line approach on toys the first year – we told every family member they could only give one toy (clothes and books not included). With 4 sets of grandparents (the joys of divorced and remarried inlays), aunts and uncles, our daughter still got tons of toys. We heard grumblings the first year, but now almost 5 years and 3 kids in, everyone still respects the rule and no one minds. We also asked all the grandparents to chip in on one big expensive gift one year which they were more than happy to do. We also set up savings accounts for the kids that grandparents can contribute too. Maybe that seems tacky, but one look at our playroom will tell you our kids are not lacking for toys. And for birthdays we are the annoying family that has "no gift" birthday parties. We generally ask guests to bring something for a charity (diapers for a diaper bank one year, stuff for a dog shelter another). Sometimes I feel like we are being overly restrictive, but it’s what works for us right now. And as the person who generally has to clean up the toy clutter, it is what saves my sanity most days.

  • Reply nicoleandmaggie March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I hate shopkins so much. My MIL buys them because the older girl cousin is really into them. But that woman unboxing shopkins on youtube and saying sexist crap while she does so is the reason that we no longer have youtube on the ipad. This Christmas I actually gave her back the shopkin and told her we were not fans (though I kept the barbie stuff that DC2 also really isn’t into and I’m not a huge fan of, at least in large quantities).

    Our post on the grandparents’ over-generous giving goes up next Monday, I believe.

  • Reply Danielle March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I only give me niece and nephew books or educational kits. My nephew litterally calls me "book lady". In a world of games and screens, I wear the badge proudly, lol. Before I started this habit I would ask my sister "What do you need?" I would get something that the kids would enjoy, but that my sister had already been thinking about getting. I personally think that all gifts should be cleared with the parents. It should be a suprise for the kids, not the adults trying to raise and live with said kids!

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

      You sound like a fantastic aunt!

  • Reply Zenmoo March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    One of the other mothers in my daughters class has started organising a single group present for birthday parties- she is my hero. It’s opt in – just transfer her the money by the nominated date and she works out wit the party host what present to get. sometimes it’s one big gift, sometimes it’s several smaller gifts.

  • Reply Susannah March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I don’t know if it is gauche or not, but we set up wishlists on Amazon for each boy and tend to add 5-10 things a year. Music, books, art kits, etc. Our parents actually really appreciate it and don’t seem miffed.

  • Reply beth March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I think you can make a request (or gentle suggestion) for the type of gift that you would prefer but, unfortunately, you can’t control what actually gets given. You can choose to allow it into your home or not. There’s a lot of individual family (and extended family) dynamics that go into this issue so I think how each family chooses to handle it is unique to their situation.

    For my kids birthdays/holidays I send out an email to the family telling people that if they want gift ideas for the kids I will be happy to provide them. Then I leave it up to the family members whether or not they choose to take me up on the offer.

    I think some of your toys may end up being a swap as your kids age. Old balls for newer balls. Duplos for Legos. Picture books for chapter books.

    Good luck!

  • Reply Heather March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    When my son turned 4 he was really into playdoh. I wrote on his birthday invitations for everyone to bring a playdoh toy $10 or under for a gift swap. Max got to choose first and then I drew names for the other children and everyone got to take home a play doh toy. I got this idea from a friend and the other moms didn’t seem to mind. Looking back, I feel like I was being obnoxious and anal about gifts. However, if I got an invitation requesting the same, I wouldn’t think anything of it.

  • Reply Kim March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I rarely comment but this is us right now. We only have 1 daughter (20 months old) but she is the only girl on both sides, and has a grandmother that loves to shop. The amount we received from her alone this Christmas was overwhelming. I acutally put aside a few of the unwrap but not yet opened gifts for later in the year for her to play with (when she’s home sick)

    In the past we have used Amazon wishlist for each other to get a sense of what to gift, and I made our daughter one this year, only to receive nothing from it. (blah)

    We need to do a clear out of some old baby stuff which is taking up much of the room in our laundry room/storage area, but then I think we will try the rotation method. Will purchase and number some large totes, and will switch out toys every few months to keep things exciting for her, and cut down on the clutter for us.

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

      I’ve thought about doing more rotation (simplicity parenting book I think is where I read about it) but we don’t have an easy place to put the ‘rotated out’ toys!

  • Reply Heather March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I think encouraging "bigger" experience-type gifts from grandparents could potentially seem less gauche than asking for contributions to a bigger toy? You’ve mentioned before the science museum (I think?)–maybe instead of purchasing the membership for yourselves, give that as an idea to the grandparents. And coming up with other ideas like that–day passes to the zoo, maybe a concert (Seasame Street Live or something Disney on Ice?), etc. I don’t think it is gauche to mention in general that you’d prefer experiences with the kids over things!!

    It is stressful though, and I’m not sure there’s a good solution without hurt feelings. Because even when you sort through things/pare down what is in the house, it ends up being–‘oh is little johnny enjoying the truck I got him?’ etc. Argh!

  • Reply Wendy March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    For my tator tot’s birthday this year, we plan to ask people to either bring dog/cat food or donate to the humane society instead of bring a gift. And, we have promised the child that he can get a nicer gift from us, the parents. Hopefully he will be still OK with this when the birthday rolls around.

  • Reply Angela March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I don’t think its wrong to suggest those ideas as gifts at all. I’m sure you are more than aware that not everyone may go along with it, and some may push back (depending on family relationships, maybe? but that has been my experience). I have tried to suggest limited gifts from my in-laws, but I have fond memories of being spoiled my grandparents ( but not near the level my in-laws go) so I try to tell myself this time is fleeting for the grandparents and the kids. But my view is a result and culmination of my memories and response from my in-laws. I am working on having the kids donate what they aren’t playing with (ages 4 & 6). I also talk to my in-laws about gifting experiences and point out that toys my kids reeeeeaaaaaallly wanted, are now neglected, but that they always remember special outings to new places or doing new things- that does seem to help the adults understand a little bit and may feel easier to implement as the kids get older and can do more.
    I’m vastly interested in this topic, and parenting in general- so I always love seeing your PoV and the views of your commenters too. Thanks for the engaging dialogue!

  • Reply Ana March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I think you can totally suggest that for grandparents/family but not for friends. I’ve had friends do a book swap for birthday parties, which was nice. But at this age, my kids really WANT the gifts from their friends, so we are letting go. We have SO MUCH stuff that we came home with from our trip, since both boys got Christmas gifts & B got birthday gifts (which doesn’t include the big Lego sets from us that we didn’t tote on the plane with us). We also have a medium house, and I work really hard at going through things periodically and letting them decide if they are OK with giving it to a younger kid. Very rarely I’ll throw something out covertly but it usually ends in tears, even when its a ridiculous plastic set of glowing vampire teeth that he got 5 of for Halloween and has been in his & his brother’s mouth several times. One mom’s trash is another kid’s treasure and all….

  • Reply Erica March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Something that I really appreciate among our group of friends is that almost all birthday party invitations come with the "No Gifts Please" note on invitations, and we do it, too. The one problems is that some kids inevitably bring a gift (and now G, at almost 5, can identify who brought one and who didn’t). But it really does limit the amount of plastic toys that accumulate at birthdays.

    As for family, I have absolutely no problem voicing an opinion on what grandparents can get! We give suggestions and tell them "Nothing plastic, electronic, or age-inappropriate." We’ve actually returned a few gifts my MIL sent that did not meet these requirements. I’ve also been encouraging them to buy museum memberships and such, but they prefer stuff to experiences (ugh).

    Our house is overflowing now. We have a playroom and G’s bedroom full of toys and it’s all tiny stuff (he’s into Playmobile and LITTLE legos – distinction his not mine). So tiny pieces of plastic everywhere.

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