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

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Gemma's extended family @ Knettishall Heath, Suffolk

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

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. 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”.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

    • 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.)

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. One thing you can do is set up a cash gift registry on 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

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