How do I deal with family members who want to get my kids tons of STUFF?

Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
Gemma's extended family @ Knettishall Heath, Suffolk
What if … they ALL wanted to buy your baby stuff?! Photo by Flickr user Tim Parkinson, used with Creative Commons license.

Laura sent us a question about dealing with family members who can't seem to stop buying your kid(s) more stuff that they don't really need.

My husband and I are very lucky to have both of our parents living close by to us and our daughter that is due in March. This is a first grand-baby on his side but the third for my parents. Knowing me and my take-charge-know-what-I-want personality, my parents take a backseat and only offer help or advice when I ask. I wish I could say the same for my husband's family.

Don't get me wrong — I know how lucky we are to have both sets of parents so close to us because they will all get to form such a close bond with our daughter. My only fear is that some family members might go a bit overboard with buying STUFF for her. Our house doesn't have a lot of storage space and more importantly I don't believe in the mentality of "just because they make it, means my baby needs it." I guess the heart of my question is how do I tell overly materially generous in-laws to stop buying stuff for the baby without stepping on anyone's toes?

I know their generosity comes from a place of love — but … I have to organize it and store it, someday get rid of it and I also don't want to set the precedent that stuff is more important than relationships and individual creativity.

You guys might also be interested in Ariel's post from December 2010: Copy 'n' paste phrases for when you don't need more baby crap. — Stephanie

  1. I took photos of my daughter in every outfit and using every toy, emailed them out to the people that send the clothes and toys, then donated everything we didn't need to a charity in our area that provides baby stuff to pregnant women in need, including those dealing with domestic abuse.

    2 agree
    • That is such a sweet thing to do! We just pack up what we don't want/need (no photos) and either return it or donate it to a charity for pregnant women who need it.

      3 agree
  2. Funny that this popped up today! Just an hour ago, I read this which popped up on a friend's Facebook status feed: http://mothering.com/green-living/no-more-junk-toys-rethinking-childrens-gifts

    I am eager to see what tips you receive. We struggle with this, too — both the quantity of gifts, but also sometimes the actual gift item being something we'd rather not have. Yet, I feel greedy and ungrateful sometimes if I don't eagerly embrace something given with generosity and excitement, and I also wonder if prioritizing relationships DOES in fact include allowing some of this gift giving, esp. from grandparents. Shouldn't I just play along and be grateful and encourage my child to feel the same?

    1 agrees
    • We have taken to sharing with potential gift-givers (as subtly as possible) how excited we are about wooden toys, organic clothes, etc. etc. we find/receive. When they notice our excitement, some seem to make a mental note and (surprise!) get our daughter the types of toys/clothes we'd like her to have.

      1 agrees
      • Given how well this can work when done unintentionally (I once volunteered on whale and dolphin watching boats for 2 weeks, 2 YEARS later my grandparents were still going out of their way to make sure everything they got me was dolphin themed) I can imagine it would be very effective when done intentionally.

        It probably won't help cut down on the amount of stuff, but at least it'd narrow it down to stuff you may want/need.

  3. I accept everything graciously. And then, whatever we don't want, I either sell, re-gift or donate. Craigslist is my constant companion.

    3 agree
  4. Our tactic (we have a very similar situation) was to remind our very thoughtful, generous, awesome family/friends that we have a "one in, one out" rule in our house. Every time Cady gets a new toy, we'll plan to choose one for donation. When Cady is old enough, we'll have her choose the to-be-donated toy.

    We've also found that letting folks know about her piggy bank has been a help. When a Hallmark holiday comes around (like V-day, recently) the grandparents just give a few bucks in a card to feed her piggy.

    1 agrees
  5. I'm having a similar issue. I'm four months pregnant, and this is the first Grandchild for my parents, but number two for my fiance's parents. My parents want to help out as much as possible, but they haven't crossed any boundaries yet. His family on the other hand, she's already got us a car seat, pack and play, breast pump, and now she wants to buy the crib… I don't even know what I'm having yet! If you find out anything, LET ME KNOW TOO!! Good luck.

    2 agree
  6. We've outright said we don't need stuff. We set up an amazon wish list for her with her needs (diapers, clothes, etc) and uPromise gift cards that go right into her 529. I know everyone just wants to give an awesome gift to the little ones, but for us, the holidays were overwhelming, I had to get rid of our coffee table so we could put in a shelving unit to store toys!
    For her first birthday we asked for donations to be made in her name to the "make a wish" foundation. We'll see how that goes next month!
    Good luck with the family & explaining – it wont be 100% effective, unfortunately, but it should cut down on theclutter (some family members have just outright ignored it all and have said "I'll buy my whatever I want! Who are you to tell me no!"… So I just ask for a r recieipt and if I don't get one, we donate it.).

    1 agrees
  7. We have the same problem with my in-laws, who are lovely, generous people but express their love by giving our kids lots of branded plastic crap. Since they live close by and visit often, it would be pretty obvious if we re-gifted or donated much of what they gave us. After four years, we still haven't come up with a good solution. We've even tried talking to them about it, to no avail.

    2 agree
  8. My kid has overly generous grandparents as well. When we found out we were pregnant we respectfully asked that they run any toy that they want to buy by us first. That helped cut down on the clutter.
    It was awkward having that conversation, but in the end I am really happy we did it.

    1 agrees
  9. This one was easy for us. We politely but firmly stated our stance on "stuff" for our children making special requests for books, wooden/organic toys and experience gifts like train rides or zoo memberships. 80% of the family is on board. The rest of the family who doesn't understand/grasp/care are always thanked and then the toys are donated to a charity or passed on to a family in need.

    When birthday and holidays come around we make sure to bring it up again and again. Even announcing via. facebook that we are so thankful for the gifts but ended up donating a whole bag of toys. We hope that our consistency and openly talking about our anti consumerism values will help our family understand.

    1 agrees
    • I am very much an experience gifter myself (For our first wedding anniversary my husband and I each planned a "perfect date" for the other person.) so I'm definitely trying to push for experience gifts for our new kiddo in the future – zoo membership, museum memberships, a day hanging out with grandma and grandpa (bonus we get a break so it's a gift for us to!)

  10. I did what Kimberly did!

    But my IL's were over all.the.time. So, at one point, after my four year old was given booties for Christmas, I requested to please give only 2 gifts from each of them, for my two children, max. When she spazzed, I reminded her that was EIGHT gifts, plus what my children got from us. It worked! I think MIL didn't realize the number of things she was actually buying.

    However, now I'm going through this with my new babe, again. We don't need clothes…but she's a girl. So we get clothes. Ay yi yi yi. Picture, thank you card, donate…

  11. oh man, i cannot tell you how much we loathe the overage of gifts our little man receives for his birthday and christmas.

    we live in an apartment. a tiny one. i'm talking 845 square feet split between 2 levels. yeah, EIGHT HUNDRED and FORTY FIVE.

    we already have a lot of crap. we're constantly trying to go through and downsize, re-evaluate what we can part with and give to goodwill. needless to say, we're always telling family members to keep it on the modest side as far as presents and stuff go.

    but no. he gets huge presents. tons of them. a 2' tall RC jeep? the remote is larger than his head. a 3' navy boat bath toy. yeah, 'cause he'll use that. tons of tiny toys that come in large packages – like every hot wheel made, in a special carrying case…that will never be used for it's purpose.

    don't get me wrong…i really do (and i mean REALLY) appreciate that we have so many family members that love our little man SO much. really. but holy shit, i'm so tired of stepping on/tripping over/shoving in a closet every annoying toy he never hardly even plays with.

    so i'll definitely be watching the comments on this one to see what other mamas tell family members…and if any could be successful for us. thanks for posting such a great topic!

    p.s. – death by toy is possible, i swear. did you know there's a hot wheel car/fighter jet called the "poison arrow"? i stepped on it yesterday. my foot will never be the same.

    2 agree
    • I feel you! I live in 700 sq ft with my husband & our two girls, but only about 450 sq ft of actual living space, so im very selective about what comes in. I play the space card all the time and frequently mention that my kids dont have a lot of stuff because we dont have room for it. I think that if youve expressed your preferences, then you are well within your rights to get rid of whatever doesnt meet your rule. They may get upset but at some point, your sanity has to come first. You have to live there, they dont!
      I happen to think this is a battle worth fighting and if you can get them to come around, suggest gifts that allow for open-ended play, and that can be easily stored. We have a tiny play kitchen, blocks, art supplies, puppets, some little people stuff, dolls and some other random toys that have been handed down from cousins.
      Good luck!

      1 agrees
  12. a) registry so people can buy stuff you actually need

    b) push them towards clothes. Clothes are expensive and they grow through the REALLY. FAST. Also, in our house, books. Additions to his library are always welcome, even if they're "too old" for him. It's not like books go bad. 🙂

    c) start a college fund

    d) donate, especially to a crisis nursery or women's shelter, where children's toys/diapers/clothes/etc. are always needed

    e) they live close? Store stuff at grandma's. They'll probably get twice as much fun setting up a space in their own home for grandkid to play/sleep/etc.

    f) tell them, nicely and just in general conversation about the baby (not when they've just given you a gift!), "We're so overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff for the baby, we just don't even have space for it! I'm trying to be really intentional about it because we have so little storage space, but it's so hard!" Your in-laws likely remember that phase in their own life and it serves as a polite hint. Then, enlist the in-laws to help you make decisions, in exactly the same way you do with toddlers: Pick two or three choices all equally acceptable to you, and ask, "Do you think he'd prefer the frog or the monkey bouncy chair?" or "I sort-of like this highchair because of the way the seat is like this, but maybe this one with the special tray is better?" Find ways for them to participate. And it will probably turn out they have some useful knowledge to offer anyway.

    g) If you have space, a toy closet/toy storage area, where you keep a tub of "extra" toys and rotate in and out the toys. We do this to keep the number of toys available in our living space down to a manageable quantity, and then when we bring stuff out from the toy storage box, it's like it's new! And interesting! But I still don't feel bad about donating the "branded plastic crap."

    2 agree
    • Lol @ suggestion 'e.'

      We have also told Grams and Pop-pop that they're welcome to get her big plastic toys… as long as they stay at their place. Lol.

      … which actually works out well, since Grams is our primary day care provider! 🙂

      1 agrees
      • I LOVED having toys at grandma and grandpa's as a kid. Since I didn't get to play with them as frequently, it was like having "new" stuff each time we visited.

        And smart g-ma and g-pa realized could buy one toy for all the grandkids, saying it had to live there!

        1 agrees
    • We totally employ solution G, and it is useful, especially because then I can quietly get rid of junk when it's out of rotation. This is in addition to the regular culls that my son actually helps us out with. Though the has a brain like a steel trap: "Mommy, what happened to that blow-up Spiderman I got last year?"

    • Ha! This! For my son's birthday, he got so much loud, loud crap that we had a whole box packed up for my in-laws to take to their house the next day (of all the most obnoxious, plastic toys possible). We still have too much stuff, but I've forced myself to clean out small clothes and non-age appropriate toys every so many months to sell at a yard sale later this spring.

  13. We offbeat mamas often talk about the need to put people ahead of things. This is an opportunity to practice what we preach. We put the feelings of the people who give the gifts ahead of the stuff we don't necessarily want. That means we accept all the gifts–even the ones we don't necessarily want or need–with a smile and a sincere thank you. We can always donate extra stuff to charity.

    2 agree
    • I agree whole-heartedly with this. I have a good friend with two children, but attending birthday parties for her children are so nerve-wracking because it's a total struggle to find an appropriate gift!
      Last year, after the first present was opened (a branded plastic gift) those of us who knew her well all sucked in our breath as she responded "I can't understand why someone would buy children cheap plastic crap". The next present, from a friend who knows better, was hand made fizzy bath stuff from our local farmers' market, of which was said "They use so much colouring in this stuff! I really prefer Lush." My gift was handmade marshmallows, organic and preservative free. I got a scathing "Oh great. Sugar. Thanks."
      The atmosphere in the room after the gifts were opened was tragic. We all felt like bad friends. No scratch that – we felt that we had a bad friend with children that we adore.

      2 agree
    • I think it depends on the person and the situation.

      With some people that's a perfect solution. With others (thinking of some of my own friends and family) they WILL notice that the gift was donated, quickly enough that it obviously wasn't used, and then will feel that I was lying when I graciously thanked them for giving it, and will be more upset about that than an honest conversation about what we can and cannot use.

      In many cases people aren't buying a gift because they want to give that specific thing to you/your child, it's because they want to give something that's wanted or needed and genuinely thought that was it. Making sure everyone is on the same page before they purchase a gift makes it more likely everyone will be happy with the end result.

  14. For some reason this whole idea really irks me. I was actually taking a walk the other week and it popped into my mind and kinda pissed me off. While I usually love everything on OBM, this comes off kinda… um obnoxious and snotty.

    I'm incredibly grateful for any gifts I get for my daughter. I can seldom afford to buy her anything but what she absolutely needs. Even if it's pink and makes me want to gag, I'm just happy that she has another outfit to wear!

    I guess what I'm just trying to say, is that we're not all in the position to refuse gifts, so please be grateful that you have an abundance!

    I hope this doesn't offend anyone, but I know that if I didn't say anything, I would be annoyed for weeks!

    1 agrees
    • but for people who try to limit our consumption and environmental footprint, this is hard to swallow.

      1 agrees
    • I do agree with your sentiment, but I also don't think there's anything wrong with trying to subtly plant the idea in potential gift-givers' heads suggestions for things that will actually be used by us and/or our little ones. When I give a gift, I am much happier to know that it will be something that the family/child will use/wear rather than something that will just get boxed up and shipped off.

      I definitely think that it's totally rude to make those who are just trying to be generous feel "bad" about what their so graciously giving, but also don't see a problem with trying to gently direct their generosity.

      2 agree
    • I know how you feel! I struggle a lot with donating items that were gifted to my daughter, even if she doesn't need them. I am so so blessed to have friends and family that want to give her these lovely things, and I know it! But it gets to the point where she grows out of a size and has things in that size that she literally never wore – there are mamas out there with naked babies because they don't have clothes. I just can't keep all this stuff to myself, we don't need it.

      And if I'm going to donate some of our surplus, I'm going to donate the stuff I wouldn't have bought for her. All the pinky-pink clothes with the licensed characters, all of the toys that take batteries (those should be outlawed), etc.

      1 agrees
  15. Oh my God I could have written this post myself word for word. I don't know how many times I have casually mentioned that Isaac doesn't need any more stuff but yet it still keeps coming. I feel awful as i don't want to seem ungrateful but we live in such a tiny house and storage is a real issue.
    All the tips so far have been great- I'm definately going to have to depoly some as his first birthday is coming up and i know the inlaws will be wanting to get him loads of stuff. He's too young at the minute to understand but i really would like Isaac to appreciate experiences more so than possessions so i think I'm going to suggest things like a trip to the zoo as a birthday present. wish me luck though as i think it's going to be a hard sell.

    • Yeah, saying you don't want stuff, but not offering an alternative will probably not work. I can just hear the conversation in Target now "You know Emma was saying that they had too much stuff …" "Yes dear, but it's his birthday! We have to get him *something*" I think if you mention him really wanting to go to the zoo (or whatever) it will be far more successful than just not wanting presents. Of course, I don't know your target audience. This is just a general observation. Soooo … Good luck!

      1 agrees
    • Although many folks feel the need to buy "things" for gifts, I really like the idea of giving experiences and gifts of time. A grandparent or relative who lives nearby can easily pop by to make cookies with your child or have a picnic in the park. these ideas dopn't take a huge amount of planning and can be less expensive than stuff. unwrapping a gift is lots of fun anyway, so why not throw a "gift certificate" for the experience into a huge box of repurposed paking materials and let the child find it…or send them on a scavenger hunt for it, or tie a string to it and give them a spool with the end bit of the string and have them wind their way to the surprise at the end? YES. this does take some thought but this is what makes the memories. There are tons of experiences that relative can gift: seeing a play, swim lessons, a children's museum membership, weekend trips, making ice cream together on a summer day, planting a few bean seeds together! Try to look at the positive and let others know that your child really loves spending time with them and that the best gift they can give is time together or a memorable experience that relates to your childs interests. of course, we a ll know the secret reason that kids get garbage…it's fun to shop in the toy aisle soooo colorful…

      • I LOVE those suggestions (scavenger hunt, string to lead them) and the gift of experiences like zoo, baking cookies etc. I will definitely be suggesting those to family/friends when bub is older.

        Does anyone have similar suggestions for infants? I'm specifically thinking of presents that come at the birth and 1 years old. they dont really get much out of zoo etc at that age, but we have such a small house we have no where to put "stuff". Would love some ideas for this really young age.

        • You know…when Jasper was around 9 or so months (basically, whenever he was sitting up really well), something he used to LOVE doing (he actually still does) is moving dry beans from one bowl to another. You have to obviously watch the baby to make sure he or she doesn't eat the beans, but my mother-in-law comes by once or twice a week, and she and Jasper would sit on the floor and play this way for two hours.

          So, that's my idea! I'm sure that it can inspire others, maybe, hopefully? 🙂 I love the original comment as well, and plan to ask for people to give their time & make memories with Jasper for his upcoming birthday instead of more toys and stuff.

  16. We talk about our simple lifestyle a lot. We have had those awkward conversations where we ask for just three gifts, don't go overboard, etc. Everyone counts differently, I guess. We urge books and clothing or other "necessities" like a convertible car seat for his 1st bday. We get rid of things- then when people ask about them we are honest (we sold it when we moved, we donated it, etc.) We did move across the country so now it's just not an issue, really. We ask for money so we can buy him gifts instead of them shipping us boxes of stuff. We reiterate that they arent they only gift givers- he has lots of friends and family that love him and buy him things. We talk more about our simple lifestyle and how much we don't like "stuff". We give specific ideas. This year we felt bad and decided if they want to show love to our son in a certain way, they can do that, we would not try to hinder them…. (though we'd laid the groundwork in the past) and we would just donate/get rid of anything we didn't have space for or want. Again, we donate donate donate. Eventually they will get the hint when they notice that none of their gifts are at your house anymore. I wouldn't store at grandma's- to me that just gives them license to buy more, and also goes against the real spirit of a simple lifestyle to begin with. Give to those in need! We also (sorry this is long) will encourage Owen to donate gifts, choose one unopened one to give, etc. We have thought about taking unopened gifts and hiding them away (you could even tell grandma what you are doing, like Oh wow this is a lot, we don't want him to this this occasion is about gifts, we're going to take these to be opened at a later time….)

    That's all I've got for now.

    But I hear you- wow is it ever frustrating to deal with in-laws or family members who don't share the same values system as you. Gifts are especially frustrating because it crosses into your world. Difft beliefs are one thing, but once they cross into your house and home it really starts to irritate, right?!

    2 agree
  17. I could have written this one! I would love to donate what we don't have space for (ahem: or what I don't like), but since all of this STUFF is coming from my husband's side of the family (my family is the same way – they ask first), he would be offended if I tried to get rid of any of it. The worst of it comes from his brother, who lives thousands of miles away and is absolutely in love with his nephew. He means well, but please can I get rid of his noisy, electronic book that only teaches A,B & C and 1, 2 & 3!?!?!?

  18. I'm loving this article and these comments but i'm wondering if i can solicit some mama advice here! One question i see emerging here is definitely "what do i say to them?" but another way of approaching it i can see is "what else can i tell them to give my child (since i don't want more stuff)?"

    I was drawn to this post as i have a ridiculously lovable and amazing 6 month old niece that is currently, um, the center of my life. However, i live an 8 hour drive away so we can only see each other every few months. In the meantime i send her a card every month that her mama is saving for when she can read them herself and a little gift to go along. We do this because we are committed to being a part of her life from the very beginning and because, if i'm selfish, we want her to know us and love us (we try to mostly give handmade items but there's a limit to my creativity/time). However, we do this EVERY month and my sister has got a lot of STUFF from everyone.

    I'm not giving up on sending my little snug something every month but what can i give that's non-stuff? We have planned some savings bond and monetary contributions for sure, but these aren't really an "oh my awesome aunt sent me a gift" gifts and we want to balance care for her future with building a relationship with her in the present. When she gets bigger we can do less material more fun/experiential stuff but for NOW – she's a baby.

    If you have someone who really wants to give gifts, and FREQUENTLY, but respects and agrees with your want for not stuff, what would you suggest she give instead?

    1 agrees
    • Seeds for perrenial flowers to plant w/ mama/daddy… the flowers will come up every year and she'll remember you when she sees them as she gets older. A different flower every month?

      Do you sew? You could include a scrap of different fabric with each monthly card, and at the end of the year, gift her with a patchwork quilt.

      What about giving her a collage photo frame and/or bulletin board for posting photographs? Each time you send a card you could send a picture of you or something in your life that reminded you of her, along with a little note explaining why for she/her mom/dad to read to her later on. This way, she also remembers your face.

      I dunno… I'm just brainstorming here. Teehee.

      I think it's marvelous that you're making such an effort to stay involved. I've got long-distance nieces and nephews, and it's SO HARD only seeing them a few times (if that) a year.

      1 agrees
      • Excellent idea on the seeds and really all of these! The quilt idea i have considered but this little girl got SIX quilts just for her birth and i've never made one so i got the feeling my shoddy sewmanship might be easily outnumbered and outshined 🙂

      • Pictures (especially coupled with Lindsay's suggestions for a little explanation to her) sound like a fabulous idea!

    • I would say that if she's a baby, the card you are writing her is gift enough. What a wonderful record of your part in her life she's going to have when she's old enough to read them all. Maybe get a nice scrapbook and have her parents paste each card in monthly? That would be something she would treasure forever and you wouldn't be adding to the "stuff."

      • Oh really great idea, thanks! You mamas are so brilliant and creative – more please (if it strikes you)!!

      • This is so true! My mom made a baby book for me with messages from her and my dad as well as grandparents, and family friends. I can't express how much this means to me as an adult. Especially because now many of those people have passed away, such a beautiful thing to have.

    • I've done classic children's novels in really nice bindings, starting when they're very small. By the time they're old enough to read them, they have a whole bookshelf of great books to explore. With nice bindings and glorious illustrations. Makes it more mysterious and fun!

      I'd write for the dedication something about how I read X when I was Y years old and how I loved it because it was about Z and I still read it now or something like that. To give it a more personal connection.

      2 agree
    • My take for those of us looking for a gift to give: edibles. A little bit of happiness that doesn't require storage. Homemade ones, if you're inclined. For the auntie sending cards to her niece once a month, maybe send a tasty treat, with a recipe card. WHen you go to visit her, you can recreate some of the treats you sent using the recipe cards. Seems like a good way to bond?

      • Of course! She's just starting to eat (well, non-milk) so this one may wait a few months but great suggestion, Melanie, thanks!

  19. I have a whole philosophy on getting people to support your family's values.

    Part one is to act like they're in line. Rather than laying out the whole gameplan for gifts, I just said to my mother, "Mom, I'm so glad you're not buying a ton of stuff. I feel like people are just buying to make themselves feel good, but there's stuff we really NEED that no one seems to care about." She listens, infers, and asks questions, without being defensive.

    Part two is assigning gifts. Around Christmastime, anytime someone asked what they could get my son, I said, "He's not showing a lot of interest in toys, but something he really NEEDS is ____." (Cloth diapers, for example.) "If you want to help out by getting him some for Christmas I can send you a link to this store that sells some really cute stuff."

    If you really don't want stuff but they "need" to give something, it's an excuse as to why toys or clothes would be a wasted effort, and, "But I'm putting together a photo album for him to have when he's an adult. I was going to ask you, if you would make a page for it to represent your part in his life, as a gift to him?"

    I could never force my mother to agree with my philosophies but she felt so good when I assumed that she was on board with us that she now goes out of her way to be supportive, even if it requires abnormal behaviors for her.

    7 agree
  20. I have the same problem! Something I suggested doing (and it's working well) was for all the money they want to spend on non-sense they give it to my daughter to put into her piggy. She loves to collect money, even if it's pennies! Then once a month we take it all out and count it and roll it. I then pick a date and time and let the grandparents know we're going to the bank and let my daughter take her money into the bank to deposit for her savings. Then we all go have lunch. She's learning about money, she's thrilled to the bank and I don't get bombared with stupid things she doesn't need!

  21. First, tell them what you're looking for / prefer / need. Only want wooden toys, active toys, that sort of thing? let them know.

    Second – since they live close by, encourage the idea that the kids can have toys that stay at grandma and grandpa's place. my mother-in-law has already acquired a couple items (and we're still months from birth) so we "don't have to cart things back and forth all the time"… I think letting them know that they're only buying things that will stay in their own house might (a) limit what they try to give you for your own home and (b) curb their purchasing in general, when they start to realize how much space things can take up.

    • I love this idea…I have a feeling my daughter will be getting lots of goodie bags for Easter and Valentine's Day and other holidays like that. I will tell the grandparents that little games, puzzles and dolls that are gifts can be kept at THEIR house for her to play with when she visits!!!

  22. Our baby hasn't come yet, and we already have almost everything we need because my sister-in-law has been very generous and given us her hand-me-downs. But I have been a little concerned about this very issue when it comes to the baby shower & holidays & stuff. Some of my intended solutions (we have yet to see how well they work out!):

    1) We're asking for more service-oriented gifts. As in, a couple weeks of cloth diaper service. Or a few weeks of donated maid service, so that we're not juggling vacuuming and a newborn. (This latter 'gift' was a recommendation from a friend, who said it was a life-saver for her in the very beginning, and something she would never have thought of to ask if her mother-in-law hadn't offered).)

    2) Cash is king. We don't have a lot of money and are struggling to put the downpayments together for the cost of the actual birth. We're letting family members know that money is going directly to the birth itself. What better gift is there than knowing you are truly helping bring the baby into this world?

    3)For friends who don't have a lot of money to donate options 1) or 2) but still want to get us something, I've put together a small registry with some Etsy options, and more suggestions of practical gifts, like: diaper covers, cloth wipes, sling or wrap carrier, etc.

  23. This has been on mind a lot lately, and I am really enjoying reading all the different suggestions, my first little on is due in August. I have spent a considerable amount of time in my adult life explaining my minimalist junk free philosophy to family and friends. When my husband and I were getting married, I took the chance again to reiterate how I like to keep it simple and don't want/need every kitchen gadget there is (for example), even though I love to cook. I've just made sure that this is a part of my character that my family and in-laws are well aquainted with, and I leave it at that. Of course there are the people who don't understand, or care, like my grandma who without fail will buy me some crazy, one use kitchen gadget, so I just smile, say thank you, and then re-gift it or donate it. I plan to do the same exact thing if we recieve something that we'd rather not have for the baby. Also, growing up, my mom would have a de-clutter day multiple times a year where we would go through all our toys and clothes and fill trashbags full of the stuff we didn't use and take it to the goodwill to donate together. She made it fun by stressing how nice it is to have more space to play in your room, we really enjoyed it. I think as our kids get older this will be a great way to teach them how to simplify their own lives, and to feel joy in donating toys that were fun for them to other children.

  24. Always a good topic. We live in a 620 square foot 1 bedroom house with our 2 year old. We have tried to prune prune prune in regards to stuff, especially because my husband is practically allergic to clutter. Things that have worked (some of this is reiteration from other great comments)

    1) Dropping hints all year round — about the need to keep stuff to a minimun, etc

    2) Asking for activity stuff — a month of soccer, zoo pass, etc. My parents have been super generous with that, and it is so easy for me to show gratitude (my son goes to the zoo almost once a week, and loves it. My parents glow when I tell them that)

    3) This is more a square footage issue rather than a values issue, but we ask for small stuff. My son loves these three 2 inch wooden pickup trucks as much as he loves his one foot long green plastic garbage truck. One is clearly smaller than the other. We go for the small stuff (not okay for kids who swallow stuff, but you get it).

    We are lucky, because our family can curb their desires, unlike some people. I've also had to be honest with my in laws (like I wanted my husband and I to get him a bike rather than them for his 2 year old birthday). If you talk to your loved ones in loving manner about your wishes and needs, and they choose not to follow them, then I think you can meet your own needs without feeling guilty.

    One thing my husband has had to get used to is that our son needs a certain amount of "stuff" to play with, and that the spare modern asthetic we lived with up until his birth is not totally met. We are very much looking forward to a day when we have more room to store the toys, but we also just have to embrace the stuff as well.

    • Activity gifts really have worked for us. I want experiences and memories, not stuff. Family and friends have given us zoo passes, swimming lessons, parent and child cooking classes and yoga classes, movie tickets, concerts, ski passes, gift certificates to eat out (bonus! no cooking, food for meal and a new type of cuisine we might never have tried), a dog sledding adventure, hotel stays, entry to museums and other local attractions and my favorite that we will use this summer, a hot air balloon ride!

      I encouraged them with throwing out ideas when asked, buying this type of gift myself for people's weddings and babies, and always emailing tons of photos of the activities with details of how great it was and a thank you.

      Otherwise we ask for books for bedtime or clothes, sell some items that just don't work for us at consignment or online and put the money in his education fund, and donate the big plastic toys to his daycare for him and others to use there.

      Another idea I haven't used, but my sister employs effectively is what we call "Kindergarten Teacher rotation" as it is where the idea came from. She has a lot of storage so takes out new stuff every couple weeks and puts away others with the exception of one favorite. Her kids always enjoy their new toys, her house isn't over run with kid stuff and because my parents know toys are boxed for much of the year… they almost always give clothes or ask to keep items they give at their house for frequent visits.

      2 agree
  25. I've told my mom that we donate unused stuff and she will still buy me something even when I tell her that I don't think I'll use it. Now, she just says, "I'll send it to you and if you don't use it, then donate it." At least she isn't always wondering where the stuff that she buys is.

    Of course, she and my sister just sent us a box of old Christmas candy (I'm hoping it was from 2010) and a stack of dollar store things for the baby. I think it cost them more in shipping than the items cost. So, I had my older boys go through the box, keep what they wanted and leave me with what they didn't want. That stuff went into our goodwill box.

    I've tried letting them know things that I need or want, but then I'll get those things on top of the other stuff. My sister can't seem to understand that I'd rather have one quality $10 item than 10 $1 items. My boys are finally to the age where they are starting to understand quality vs quantity and they've started to actually ask for them not to be bought things.

  26. I think the 'we don't have the space' is a good stance where relevant – no one can really argue or feel offended by it

  27. I come from a long line of over-doer's and am some how a minimalist! this article is just exactly what I needed to read!

  28. I rgistered for my baby shower I thought through very carefully what we want/needed. I put some info online about how many clothes we were borrowing and other things we already had borrowed or been given. If I did not register for it or want /need it. I took it back to the freaking store. To traget to meijer and used it on stuff I needed like a bra and some food. I also took back stuff my mom bought at penny's and had them creidit HER account. I put a lot of time and effort into registering so I did not feel gulity

  29. Looking back over all people were good about using the myregistry . I think the more you can communicate the better this will go. I might continue using it as our son grows up. I have it a little easier b/c many people we know "get us".

  30. I have a similar problem, how do I tell overly generous grandparents to stop buying 'treats' aka JUNK food, for every teeny tiny occasion?! And what is a good alternative, as I know that doing nothing is not an option for them, and I really don't want more toys for them either.

  31. My husband's parents are gift-givers. Ever since I've known him, any time we saw his parents they had stuff for us. "We thought you could put this in the yard." "We thought you could use this in the basement." "Soda & candy was on sale so we picked you up some" This of course was amplified when we had our daughter. His sister also got into the mix by bringing stuff over for the baby every time we saw her…and she babysits for us every friday!
    We've done everything most of the commenters have suggested. Politely asked them to stop with as many non-offending reasons. We've hinted & suggested. I definitely make use of the get-excited-over-the-really-good-stuff tactic to reiterate what is useful/wanted. All of these have been somewhat helpful in making in roads, but in the end they keep buying stuff. Stuff they like. That's who they are. I realized their gift-giving was more about them and who they perceive themselves to be then it was about us and who my husband, my daughter and I are/or trying to be. Therefore, like many commenters before me, I donate, return, hide, and re-gift most of what comes through our doors. They've never called me to the carpet wondering where a certain gift is, because quite frankly I don't think they even remember everything they give her or us. So I don't feel guilty. I can't change them but I'm not going to let them change me.

  32. While my family understood the space limitations we have in our little house and gave us gift cards and items from our registry.

    We received a lot of random crap from my husband's family. Including lots of items that we really didn't want or have space for. A few items (specifically toys) remained at my grandma's house. But many of the bigger items (walker, swing, bouncy seat, etc) we returned with no guilt. We send heartfelt thank you notes and that was it.

  33. I can't help but wonder if the posters here are as respectful of others gift-giving rituals as they expect their friends/family to be of theirs. Because that's what most of gift-giving is- a ritual.

    For example- when our posters give gifts do they restrict themselves to what they want to give (minimalist, organic, handmade etc) or do they step outside their own comfort zone to give the kind of gifts that the recipients family would want (what may be described as plastic, branded crap)?

    If they don't, well they can't really complain…because you can't really ask others to do what you aren't willing to do yourself.

    3 agree
    • For me, it comes down to the thought behind the gift. When i give a gift, i really try to think about the person im giving it to, instead of just buying whatever i can find at target. Most of the time, it ends up being a small, tasteful gift even if that person would never have bought it for themselves. Someone else can get them that but thats not my style and thats not what i want my money to support. I dont think theres anything wrong with that.

      2 agree
    • I definitely see where you're coming from with that comment, and I agree some people will do that.

      Personally for every gift giving occasion I ASK people specifically what they (or their child) would like/use. My preference has always been to buy people practical things, but if they say they'd like something totally impractical/use once/something I see no value in, no problem! Its their occasion, I just want to get them something they want.

      I wont put my values on them, however if they gave me a list of 3 or 4 options of course I would always pick the one that most aligns with my way of thinking (eg books over toys)

    • O by the way- I quoted someone on here with the "plastic branded crap"- really because that's exactly how I'd describe it myself!

      1 agrees
    • I always try to get things I'm confident the recipient will want or need. There's been plenty of Christmases my siblings and I have exchanged gifts and then said "Oh good, it is what you wanted…so, what IS it?"

      Of course if they give me options I'll get the thing I most like/approve of, but if they want "crap" I'd never, ever buy then it's their life. (I imagine there are limits, things I would refuse to purchase because of where the money is going, like a year's membership to an extremist political party at the opposite end of the spectrum from my own views, but I can't think of anything my friends or family would actually ask for.)

  34. My daughter is only six weeks and the weird well meaning gifts are starting to sneak in. I've been quick to consign and donate anything that isn't in line with our values. And I've told my mother in law that anything with batteries that makes noise makes me completely nuts and will be given away before my daughter ever sees it. Happily, most people take cues from gran. Granted when these noisy handme downs arrive I am quick to say thank you.. and plan a trip to goodwill. If that makes me a bad person.. I can't worry about it. My house needs to be peaceful.

    1 agrees
  35. Thank you everyone for your suggestions and ideas…but more importantly – if feels so good to know that I'm not the only one that struggles with this! I DO feel terribly guilty sometimes about not wanting their generosity (the terms "gift horse" and "mouth" come to mind) but I also know what is going to keep a peaceful atmosphere in my home. I have already reminded my mother-in-law that they get to buy my daughter clothes and gifts for the rest of her life and they don't need to buy everything now – leave that to the other guests at the showers or parties. Luckily, my husband completely understands where I am coming from and totally supports my feelings on this matter.

  36. One thing you can do is set up a cash gift registry on http://www.DepositaGift.com. We were having a similar type issue and just decided to list things that, if someone wanted to contribute we would love to have the money for like housecleaning, travel to visit family and adventures like going to the zoo. While it didn't curtail all random gifts, we definitely had many people contribute through the site. We're actually getting ready to use the site again for our child's first birthday.

  37. We started a 529 college savings plan for Harper. The company sends out letters around holidays and birthdays asking family members/friends to contribute to the plan. We also have a designated book-buying grandma. We encouraged everyone from the start to gift used toys and clothes since he wouldn't need/use/wear them for long, anyway. My baby shower was a fantastic celebration with lots of hand-me-downs!

    • What company did you use? I've been looking at 529's but I can't make heads or tails of whether it is company-based or state-based or what!

  38. Omg, I feel the same way! My parents are very respectful to the choices I make and ideas that I believe in for raising our son, however my husbands parents, well mother and sister are believers in a child needs toys, toys and more toys! Our sons first birthday is just around the corner and I'm wondering how I can get what I want without stirring the pot with family members. I believe children should play and have fun, but how many toys does 1 child need? Also, we have an old house with zero closet and storage space…no place for uberous amounts of toys!

  39. My children have/had two grandmothers who love(d) to overgift, so I've been through all of this. Totally agree with online wish lists, book lists, requesting consumables, and making financial giving simple. In the end, if the grannies wanted to give stuff, they were going to give stuff. My mother and mother in law were/are big on the stuff. I've had the gentle conversations about space and materialism, but to no avail. Eh. Not my hill to die on.

    -Tip: If you keep the baby's sizes/allergies/favorite colors updated on an online wish list, you can consistently refer grands to the list where they will HAVE to see that Petralia prefers finger paints to bath toys.

    -Begin to ask how the giver would like you to repurpose their gift, once it has been outgrown. My mother hated when I donated things she'd purchased to charities, but was completely ok with it if I passed it down to my younger nieces. I was able to communicate that we'd enjoyed the item, its time had passed, but we wanted to honor her good wishes by sending it along in a positive way. This approach is, of course, dependent on your in-laws' personalities and availability of hand-me-down candidates.

    -If you simply can't fit a diaper genie into the nursery, or there's too much synthetic content in those onesies, don't be afraid to let them know you need to return it and are going to buy diapers or other consumables.

    -My mother in law is terrible to bring bags and bags of age-inappropriate cheap crap for my kids. I say thank you, set the bags in another room, and tell the kids we'll go through it when Granny leaves because we should spend time with her while she's here. I feel like I'm sending my message (whether it's recieved or not), and then I let the kids go through the bag. They take turns picking what they want, and when we get to the "uuummmm" stage, wes top. The rest is going to Goodwill. They keep a few little things they actually like, Granny gets specific thank you notes, and I get to cull the rest. It's a fair compromise.

    Ultimately, though, look at the bigger picture. Usually, gifting is about the giver, not the recipient. If it brings joy to those grandparents, accept gifts graciously. It's your in-laws' first grandbaby, so naturally they're excited. They don't get to pick out names or decorate a nursery or feel his first kick, so shopping is how they're preparing. They haven't had a baby in the family in a long time, so all the new (to them) stuff might seem brilliant and amazing and labor-saving compared to how they had to do things. You're assuming that stuff is going to replace relationships, but the baby hasn't even been born yet. Give it time. It made me crazy, the amount of things my mother brought into my house, but my kids got an adoring, involved, amazing grandparent with it all. Discreetly weeding the excess was a small price to pay.

  40. I don't have kids but my aunt has 2 daughters that have many adoring family members just itching to gift them anything. My aunt sets up an Amazon wish list for upcoming gift giving events and she sends out the link.

    It's a clever way to control the number, size, and quality of items coming into the house. She will include a few things the girls have said they want, but a lot of it is educational books and project kits that go along with things they are interested in or are doing in school.

  41. I've been upfront and clear with my family and friends that gifts should be small, be educational if possible and be able to grow with the child. When asked what should be purchased for Christmas or birthdays I have suggested books, imagination toys or practical clothes in a future size.

    My rule of thumb for gift buying for others is 1 thing for their mind or 1 thing they need or 1 thing they want. If it's a big occasion like Christmas I'll pick from each category.

    My second child is about to turn one and I've suggested instead of buying lots of gifts for his birthday perhaps guests can make a donation to a local mother and baby charity in his honor. And in lieu of birthday cards bring a favorite story book from their childhood.

    I think being blunt and upfront about people buying stuff for your kids is the best policy. You are showing your children what your family values are. My daughter treasures her belongings because she's not swimming in stuff. And she is actually thrilled to recieve clothing as gifts.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.