Dear Well-Meaning Relatives: Please respect our request of fewer gifts for our kids.

posted by Andrea | 12/5/2013

dear well meaning relatives

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be offensive, rude, or disrespectful — and it is in NO WAY directed towards Dave or my relatives. It’s simply intended to be a humorous letter in response to the loads of emails I get from frustrated parents who don’t know how to get this message through to their well-meaning relatives.

Dear Well-Meaning Relatives,

Let me start off by saying that we love you, our kids love you, and we know you love us. We also know that you enjoy showing your love by generously lavishing our children with an enormous amount of gifts for every single birthday, holiday, and special occasion.

It’s sweet, we know you mean well, and we love that you love our children so much.

However… our kids don’t need more stuff!

In the past, we’ve tried to gently imply that we’d be totally OK with fewer gifts, we’ve suggested clutter-free options, and we’ve set spending limits — but you still continue to graciously bestow massive amounts of gifts upon our children each year.

We totally understand that you are just trying to be generous and helpful, but here are a few things you might not think about when you load up your shopping carts with gifts for our kids…

1. Our kids already get so much stuff.

Unlike when we were kids (or you were kids) our children get stuff, trinkets, toys, and gadgets given to them ALL the time.

Free cookies at the grocery store, special prizes and trinkets with every single kids meal at every single restaurant, a pig toy (and Smarties) at the bank, stickers at music class, a book of the week at play group, a special magnet at Children’s Church or Sunday School, prizes and treats at school, etc. etc.

Everywhere we go, they get more stuff — it’s almost to the point where they EXPECT stuff to be given to them just because they are cute or because they smile. (Nora already knows to ask for Smarties at the bank!)

Add in all the birthday and holiday gifts on top of these everyday gifts and we’re simply drowning in stuff.

2. Our kids don’t need much, but they naturally want everything they see.

Aside from a few basic necessities, our kids really don’t need much — we are so blessed. However, the minute they see something, they want it.

They might be perfectly happy playing with older toys or reading the same favorite books over and over again — but as soon as something new and different is introduced to the mix, they simply push away the old and focus on the new (even if they were completely happy and satisfied with their old things).

After a while, they get bored more easily and continually want more newer, bigger, and better toys… obviously, this is not what we want to teach our children.

3. We’re already fighting a loosing battle to keep our homes clutter-free. 

Yes, I realize a clutter-free home is not the most important thing in life, but for many of us with small children, it’s already so difficult to keep things relatively clutter-free — more gifts and more stuff just add to the issue.

And yes, we are the parents, so we should just be able to purge our kid’s toys when they aren’t looking… right?

Well then you try explaining to a 2 year old or a 6 year old (with an amazing memory) why their precious rock, sticker, or stuffed animal is suddenly missing due to the accumulation of so many new toys and not enough room to store them all.

Purging kid’s toys can be a pretty traumatic event, and the more stuff we get, the more stuff we need to purge.

4. We actually like to buy our own kids gifts every once in a while.

Believe it or not, we like to do fun things with our kids and buy them special gifts every now and then — but when so many others are giving them SO much stuff, it’s hard for us to get super excited about adding more gifts to our child’s stack (and the amount of stuff in our homes).

When you give our kids so much stuff, it actually takes some of the fun out of it for us :)

5. “More Stuff” is just not the message we want to send our kids.

Yes, it’s fun to get special gifts on birthdays and on Christmas. Yes, it’s exciting to receive a special surprise every now and then. And yes, it’s really enjoyable for us parents to see our kids so happy with all the gifts they get to open.

BUT… that’s really not the message we want to send our kids — especially at such a young age.

The purpose of Christmas is not for us to give them more stuff. The focus of Easter should not be special candy, dresses, or gifts. The point of doing a good dead shouldn’t be to get a reward.

However, when our kids continually receive gifts for every special day, every good deed, and even “just because”, we’re sending them the message that “stuff” is the priority.

It’s difficult for us to just come out and say “don’t buy our kids so much stuff” — especially when we really do know that you mean well; and we certainly don’t want to offend anyone. So instead, we’ve tried to drop hints, beat around the bush, and subtly imply that less stuff would be preferred.

But since our efforts have fallen on deaf ears, here is our relatively simple and straight-forward plea:

Please respect our requests of fewer gifts for our kids.

A couple gifts are fine, clutter-free gifts are even better.

Thanks — we really appreciate it!

Sincerely,

All the totally-overwhelmed-with-clutter-and-stuff parents.

OK it’s your turn… how would YOU answer these parents’ emails?

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47 comments

  1. Ann

    12/05/2013

    Oh man!

    This was directed right at me! I am the queen of buying my grandkids (and kids) stuff! I can’t wait for the next developmental stage so the next thing can be given. I love to give them! (I even give them toys that “Stay at Nani’s house” (which could help the problem!)

    However, since some of mine live in a very small place (trailer) and others are absolutely against “stuff” I need to learn this lesson. After Christmas. (Since my shopping is already finished!)

    (And who are we kidding! I also have next Christmas finished as well!)

    [Reply]

  2. Deni

    12/05/2013

    Well said, Andrea! My parents are spoiling my son by giving him most anything he expresses an interest in. I have had to purge so many nice toys because we simply cannot house them. I have tried so many times to express to them the impact this has on everyone, and my Mom will agree and shortly after purchase another gift. I am very grateful for the love they have for him, but my daughter gets left out. That’s a whole different topic. Maybe a letter or email will spell it out more seriously. Thank you for writing on this sometimes painful subject.

    [Reply]

    Not Fair Reply:

    Same problem here! My inlaws spoil child #1, who looks like Daddy, and neglect #2, who looks like me. How can we fix this?!?!?

    I had to write a fake name to stay anonymous. :)

    [Reply]

  3. Kimberley

    12/05/2013

    Amen, sister!!! I love #4. We enjoy buying a few things here and there for our son but when everyone else is buying stuff we would like to buy him, there isn’t anything left for us to buy!

    [Reply]

  4. Mother Undercover

    12/05/2013

    Well I have it even worse, on top of gifts, my mother-in-law has saved every.single.toy of her teenage son. Now she gives them to my 4 y/o and there’s tons of broken bits and bobs, headless and armless men. I could go on. I end up throwing all the broken stuff out, like who wants that? She also loves thrift stores now and brings half-broken items over, large and small. I am trying to declutter and she’s bringing more “cluttery” useless crap. She’s also the kind to get highly offended if I say anything at all. So out it goes when no one is looking and she’s none the wiser. Sorry, just had to vent to someone/anyone who can relate!

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    Letiav Reply:

    Are we related lol. She hasn’t save but the highly offended for sure!

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    Maria Reply:

    I feel your pain! My little sister is only 11 and even though I explained that we did not want our child to Ever have that many toys (Their Large home was busting at the seams). My mother still kept an entire basement full of Stuff. We were very appreciative of the crib and necessities, But even after turning down specific toys she will hold on to them and try again later. It is Madding!

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  5. Mary

    12/05/2013

    You might include in the letter one family gift idea or even one or two ideas for each child. As a grandparent when I don’t have direction I tend to buy too much hoping one of these things will catch our grandchild’s interest.

    [Reply]

    Jamie Reply:

    Love the family gift idea! We started doing this a couple of years ago for our siblings’ families. We are also able to get a nicer gift for the family rather than a smaller, cheaper gift for each individual person.

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  6. Hope

    12/05/2013

    When our kids were little and we battled this problem with grandparents, we implemented the three kings principle. Christ received three gifts from the three kings/wise men. This meant one gift from both sets of grandparents and one gift from us as parents. Choosing ONE gift made the choice more meaningful and thought out. Now, of course, this doesn’t work in all cases (when there are multiple sets of grandparents, etc…), but it’s the principle that helped.

    We later relaxed that ‘rule’ somewhat, but it did help to set a limit early on.

    [Reply]

    Karen Reply:

    Love this idea. Ours are teens now, and we decided on a one gift with a price limit rule. There are four of us, so we each buy three gifts. For extended family, each child gets a small gift and their parents exchange food baskets with a variety of special homemade foods. Last year I included a huge freezer bag of homemade potato chips. My mom makes thinbread, my sister does meat rubs… That way no one goes over budget and we don’t spend half the day opening gifts. We go straight to the celebration of the day. So much less stress.

    [Reply]

  7. Jennifer E.

    12/05/2013

    Since so many of the “offenders” are looking to express love or affection, time & memories make great alternatives to toys. Dance lessons, walks in the park, trips to the museum, hay rides- all make great lasting memories for the giver and the receiver.

    Looking back, I would love to have more memories of playing scrabble with my grandmother, rather than the dozens of porcelain dolls she showered us with. I’m feeling a little maudlin this morning, but time is a much better present than toys!

    [Reply]

  8. Tori

    12/05/2013

    For birthdays, we give my nephews and nieces outings with us. We took my nephews to Power Play (arcade) and then out to eat. With my niece, we gave her 3 gift cards then took her out to use them, along with lunch.

    The gift recipients always loves the time spent together and there’s no extra stuff to bring home. The same thing could be done for Christmas.

    [Reply]

  9. Joyful_2010

    12/05/2013

    I might add that what we all typically treasure when looking back on our childhood is the EXPERIENCES that we had and rarely the toys/stuff. Tickets to events can be cost-prohibitive for families. A sporting or cultural event or amusement park can cost a family $200+. Even a day out at a museum can be expensive. That’s why we ask for museum memberships and tickets to special events or for the well-meaning relatives to take the kids and share the experience together. (One of our best memories was a birthday gift of tickets to the circus from grandparents and babysitting of the baby so hubby & I could take our daughter.)
    Another great experience is to have a day of volunteering together somewhere to make a difference. This helps us all define needs vs. wants and appreciate our lives in comparison with those truly in need.

    [Reply]

  10. Stephanie

    12/05/2013

    My husband is one of the worst when it comes to buying “stuff” for our 4 year old son…. His parents get a little carried away at holidays, too…but not as bad as they used to.

    My parents have learned to give the fewer, better thought ou,t and even clutter-free gifts, I’m thankful for that.

    One of the best gifts I see my son get at birthdays and holidays comes from his three great-aunts and their husbands. These are the sisters of my father-in-law (all of which have been unable to have children and didn’t adopt.) When a great niece or nephew is born, they set up a college fund and put money in for each occasion. If there is a party, they do bring one small item for the child to open, and always write in the card, “Money has been added to your college fund.” This is a gift we truly appreciate, and know when the time comes, our children will as well. :-)

    [Reply]

  11. Jeni

    12/05/2013

    I really want to be sympathetic and I totally understand the need for less clutter and fewer “junk” toys and constant handouts, BUT I am actually envious. My family barely gives gifts to my kids at all. My mom has never bought my children a toys or clothes (and they are 7 and 4) and only one of my four siblings ever makes an effort for birthdays and she usually buys one per child. My husband’s family never buys anything although they are out of the country so it is more challenging I guess. We have a very small budget and are very selective about the items we buy and what price we pay (Craigslist and Goodwill are my friends!) This year we are saving to re-up our membership to our local science center but they expanded it last year and more than doubled the price so it is a stretch for us now, especially on our own dollars. So, like I said, I want to be sympathetic to your “please stop giving my kids gifts” pleas, but I wouldn’t mind being in your shoes for just one round of birthdays, Christmas, back-to-school, etc. Maybe I should just be thankful I don’t have extra trips to make to Goodwill! Haha. Although knowing me, I’d regift a lot of things and help my budget out that way, too.

    [Reply]

  12. Jen

    12/05/2013

    A few years ago, we had this discussion with my in laws. Thankfully, they were very gracious and agreed to our request for a “family check”. They write me one check for the amount of money they would normally spend on gifts for our family. Depending on the year, I have put that money toward one big family gift, toward a more expensive gift I was planning for each child or, like this year, we are using it toward a special weekend away in January. I am always careful to let them know we received the check (they live far away), tell them exactly what I plan to do with it, and send them handwritten thank yous after the holidays!

    I feel for all of you who have to deal with this. Good luck!

    [Reply]

  13. Terri

    12/05/2013

    I try to share that message each time I’m in a toy aisle. Fun Aunt/Uncle – DON’T buy the giant stuffed animal that all stores put out this time of year!! No child has room for a life sized baby elephant. It’s too big to play with and much to big to store. (If I see one in the cart, I ask if they’re buying it for their own child. They’ll proudly say “no” and then I ask how big the house is…)

    I always point them to small sets of play food, crayons, play-doh….things that my kids have had hours of fun playing.

    We’ve had our grandparents purchase scout uniforms, bike helmets, magazine subscriptions, movie tickets….and then we take a picture with the child & generous gift giver – it becomes the post-holiday thank-you note. We’ve been to their homes in July and that photo is still on the fridge!

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  14. Melinda

    12/05/2013

    So, yeah…I just shared this post everywhere! I could not have said this better–I mean, I have not said this better. I’ve tried several times to say it and, well, it has always fallen on deaf ears. Thank you SO MUCH for this post!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha thanks Melinda!

    [Reply]

  15. Lynn

    12/05/2013

    Oh my goodness – you hit the nail on the head. My kids are of the age where I want them to have more experiences with other individuals rather than more stuff.

    All of the other commenters have great suggestions that I just might have to incorporate into our gift giving.

    Thank you so much for addressing this in your blog.

    [Reply]

  16. Carla

    12/05/2013

    I didn’t read all the comments, but we’ve tried to implement only 4 gifts:

    something you want
    something you need
    something to wear
    and something to read

    It has helped to have a specific guideline like that.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    LOVE this Carla!! We’re actually planning to do something similar with Nora (and future children) for Christmases. I already have something fun that I know she’ll want (PlayDoh!), something she needs, and something to read. I’m not sure we’ll do anything to “wear” this year just because she’s gotten A LOT of hand-me-down clothes lately and she doesn’t really understand it all yet.

    Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

  17. Raquel

    12/05/2013

    I do not have children yet, but I know my parents are ready to UNLEASH the gift giving on my children. They already talk about the time they will spend with them and I would hate to burst their gift giving bubble. Instead I think there are some things that can be done instead so you are still managing the type and number of toys:
    1. Encourage gifts only on special occasions 2. Make an Amazon wish list with the types of toys your kids like (and what you want them to have). 3. Rotate toys in and out so they will not have so many to deal with at a time. 4. Leave some of that stuff at grandma’s LOL 5. Donate some of the toys to your child’s church nursery or day care. They will still get to play with them and share them with others. 6. Donate them to kids who do not have anything to open on Christmas.

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  18. Glenda

    12/05/2013

    We’re grandparents and love to buy for our grandchildren; however, they have too many toys anyway. Most toys and gadgets these days, we don’t particularly find ourselves eager to spend money on as the values related to these objects are poor.

    Here’s a suggestion for grandparents who want to do something special for the grandchildren:

    Open a Savings Account in their Name. Instead of five or ten big gifts, give them one nice gift and put the rest of the money in the Savings Account. If they are young they won’t understand it yet, but as they age, they can be shown the balance and know this is their money when they reach a certain age. It teaches savings, gives them something to look forward to, and is more prudent than a bunch of toys they will outgrow anyway.

    Just another viewpoint…..

    I appreciate your blog, Andrea, even though I’m old (LOL).

    [Reply]

    Heather Reply:

    Glanda, I love this idea! Please share with other Grandparents!! Mine won’t listen! i have asked for this for years and they continue to over- buy!

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    Sarah Reply:

    LOVE this idea also…after 20 years of parenting, with kids receiving so much junk from one side of the family, it makes me sick to think of all the money wasted and how it could probably have paid for a year of college!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing this Glenda — this is an awesome idea and definitely something most parents and kids will appreciate!

    [Reply]

  19. Melissa

    12/05/2013

    I don’t have kids, but I have this problem with my mom buying tons and tons of stuff for my husband and myself. I’m grateful that she cares about us and wants to shower us with gifts, but I’ve been trying to encourage her to scale back. We need space to live comfortably in our home more than we need more stuff. We have a modest sized home and have been working hard to reduce our number of belongings. I just purged my costume jewelry to make room for a few new pieces if I receive any for Christmas. With the costume jewelry I’ve limited my storage space to two hanging organizers and that is all the space I’ll allow for jewelry. They were both full and I knew there were a few pieces I hadn’t been wearing for one reason or another so I’ve put them in our donate bag which I hope to drop off either tonight or tomorrow along with a few other things that were not being used.

    [Reply]

  20. Heather

    12/05/2013

    Amen!! I have been asking my family not to spend so much for years. I’ve even asked if they must spend a certain amount, might they give it in the form of actual money we can put in the bank. It’s a losing battle here, and it makes me very sad. So many toys go unplayed with.

    [Reply]

  21. Preety

    12/05/2013

    Hi,

    I am a silent reader of your amazing website for a long time now…Today i wanted to break my silence and let you know that you write such an amazing posts and with every post you make me think again of what & how i am doing everything in my life/home/family and i do make changes …and its helping me a lot…I just love reading each and every word and advice you write and the way you write..its direct, on the spot but in a SO RIGHT WAY…I have been meaning to do this “no toy thing” for a long time and i am going to try it for sure on the next birthday party … thanks for putting everything in a different perspective for me …

    Keep up the good work..Always waiting for your next post to show up in my inbox and getting mesmerized by it…:)

    LOVE
    Preety

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Preety!

    [Reply]

  22. Anon

    12/05/2013

    I have to say, I was a tad bit envious when I read this post. I am an only child to parents who don’t like to spend any money on my kids and I married a man whose parents have passed away. They have no aunts or uncles on either side of the family. My parents don’t buy our 3 kids ANYTHING during the year and at Christmas time it’s 2-3 gifts each and $50 on their birthday. I have a hard time imagining a world where someone else buys a lot of gifts for our kids. Count your blessings :-)

    [Reply]

    Sarah Reply:

    Anon-
    I grew up very much like you-except I came from a big family and my parents didn’t have much money to spread between all of us…we received very simple gifts at Christmas’s and birthdays, clothes, a new notebook, etc. One grandmother would send us new socks, the other would knit mittens-some years. I do remember being envious of friends who received so much. But now as an adult, I consider it all such a blessing. I truly treasured everything I received, much more than friends who kept rooms messy and careless with the plethora of toys. I learned to live with less and be grateful for what I had -what a gift-a priceless gift- that is.

    [Reply]

    Kimberly Reply:

    Well, I would say at least they do something so try to focus on the positive side of things. There are MANY people in this world that don’t have parents or grandparents involved in their lives at all (my biological father abandoned our family when I was 7 and I didn’t receive a phone call or card from him on my birthday or Christmas, let alone a gift). Even though we are on speaking terms now, he still doesn’t acknowledge any special holidays/events in any way and has never given either one of my children a gift or even bothered to show up for their birthday parties (oh and he only lives 15 miles away so its not like he has a reason to not show!). But lots of people had it worse than I did, and I’m more grateful the things I did have and the people who do show up in my life.

    [Reply]

  23. Nicole

    12/05/2013

    yes. yes. yes.
    And some of the would-be recipients of this letter are prime culprits of #1!!!!! My mother in law cannot see our kids without giving them something. And they live in town, so we see them a LOT.

    [Reply]

  24. Allison

    12/05/2013

    oh my gosh
    I have been having this same dialogue with my ex for the last 2 days. He asked me for ideas for gifts for our 11 yo twin girls and apparently i did not get back to him fast enough because on tuesday he told me he let them go online and pick out $50 of stuff each from toys r us!!!!! (not even going into the letting them pick it out/no surprise issue)
    you just have no idea how this is the last thing my kids need. they don’t take care of games – pieces get lost – the dog eats it – they lose interest – and it never never lives up to the commercial!
    i tried to convince him this was not the way to go but he is standing firm. i did suggest bowling lessons; drum lessons; cooking lessons; arts & crafts stuff.
    But it fell on deaf ears!
    I did mention this was with my ex right???!!!
    lol

    [Reply]

    Glenda Reply:

    Allison, this is a stressful situation, but try to remember this:

    Toys R Us gifts will break and they will get bored with them soon enough. Giving your daughters lasting values, integrity, teaching them how to cook, sew, and clean, how to manage money; well, these are things they will carry with them and use their entire life.

    As adults, we remember what people taught us, but rarely do we remember what someone bought us.

    Best wishes to you.

    [Reply]

  25. cap710

    12/05/2013

    As a stay at home grandmother by choice I see this all the time. I like to give them a book and money to put in their bank accounts!! too many toys, Also i have done memory gifts too ie play dates

    [Reply]

  26. Gina, book dragon

    12/05/2013

    I love most of the letter . . . only because I gave up after the smarties at the bank comment.

    My side of the family doesn’t exchange gifts. My husband side does. Christmas? We draw names. Not only to have only purchase one each, we only get one each and so much now it turns out to be a gift card. Dinners and movies are very popular with the family. Birthday are done differently, Card and $10 only. Those $10s add up and you can get something nice instead of six smaller things.

    I read in a novel about “empty stocking fund”. If I’m going to be spending $20 on each gift them I would write you a note and let you know that I donated to the empty stocking fund. Toys for Tots, a local food pantry, it sounded like such a nice idea.

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  27. Claudia Karabaic Sargent

    12/06/2013

    I have 2 nieces (26 and 21 years old) and a nephew (14), and what I started doing was making donations in their names to Heifer Foundation. Last year, “they” gave a flock of ducklings, a flock of geese, and a flock of chicks to help a poor family sustain itself. We ALL felt good about that, and there were cute visuals to go with the warm fuzzy feelings.

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  28. Michele

    12/06/2013

    I love this and wish I could do the same because, like you, I’ve tried over & over again, and I’ve been quite direct, asking to have experiences instead. However, in my family, if I were to write a similar letter, I’d be called a b**ch behind my back, and it would give more reason to speak negatively about me. So I keep the peace, and just deal with passing on my values to my kids. That might mean donating more than they feel ready for. I’ve had to come to terms that I can’t control people’s actions about buying stuff. It’s not worth having family members not communicating with me for several weeks or not being understood, or being considered the black sheep. Those things aren’t for me, but maybe someone stronger wouldn’t mind! If anyone has done this letter, please let us know how it went!

    [Reply]

  29. Holly

    12/06/2013

    Thank you for posting this, I’ve had friends who have this problem, and it’s so hard on them when they have to get rid of things that family have given them because they just don’t need them.
    I’ve been so blessed in this respect. My parents don’t have much money and I have siblings, most with children, so they tend to talk to me about what our daughter needs/wants and get one or two things she’ll really use. They’re also more likely to come visit, they live a distance away and we only see them 2-3 times a year, presence is better than presents. Plus my mum knows I’m struggling with my clutter. My husband’s mum tends to buy a few quality gifts, often clothing and toys that encourage open ended play. Our daughter still plays with the blocks she got last Christmas. Plus she gets her a book or two most months.

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  30. Jenni

    12/10/2013

    I like this, but am also at peace with the fact that people like to give gifts and sometimes you just need to let them give them. We do have generally understanding family who like things like Amazon wish lists, and our wish lists are usually filled with items like books, educational games, and art supplies.

    [Reply]

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  32. Lynne

    12/20/2013

    I’m a grandma, and it IS a different world from mine where things meant more and were harder to come by. I take my cue from my own mom, who instead of giving lots of things to my children, gave herself. She was the fun grandma, the one who played with my kids, and laughed and knew how to speak their language. May I be even half the grandmas she was.

    [Reply]

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