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Why We Say NO to Gifts

Why We Say NO to Gifts | Cleaning & Organizing | Decluttering | Kids & School | Parenting | Parenting and Discipline

Three years ago, in one fateful moment that would change our lives forever, I packed up all my kids’ toys and inadvertently kicked off a toy-free revolution.

The original blog post I wrote about the incident went viral online many times over, receiving millions of page views, hundreds of thousands of shares, and thousands of comments and letters, ranging from people who were inspired to do the same to those who feared I was causing lasting psychological damage to my poor deprived toyless children. Even today, the debate rages on.

For the most part, I have learned to tune it out.

Because, you see, while taking my kids’ toys away was certainly a turning point for our family, it was only one of many, many moments, both good and bad.

Why We Say NO to Gifts | Cleaning & Organizing | Decluttering | Kids & School | Parenting | Parenting and Discipline

And while, in the years since, we have tried to be a lot more vigilant about keeping the pile of books and clothes and toys and games and keepsakes and papers to a minimum, my kids still have a LOT of stuff—far more than they need, and far more than I would like.

Because as every parent knows, with kids, the stuff just keeps coming.

Every birthday party invitation means another goodie bag full of cheap plastic garbage. A good day at school ends with a prize from the treasure box. The next-door neighbor drops off a box of toys their own kids are no longer playing with, or a sweet auntie sends a care package full of goodies just because. Every holiday brings its own pile—Christmas presents and Easter baskets and Valentine’s treats and birthday gifts. New clothes because the old ones wear out and become play clothes but still stick around. And then there’s the artwork and crafts and projects. And the papers. Oh, the papers.

It’s endless.

Or maybe it’s just my kids that have seemingly become a bottomless source of STUFF. In any case, the reality is that our completely toy-free environment—the one I wrote about in that viral blog post—was only temporary.

Why We Say NO to Gifts | Cleaning & Organizing | Decluttering | Kids & School | Parenting | Parenting and DisciplineThe stuff keeps coming back.

And what I often see as clutter, my daughters see as treasure, which means that we have to find a way to strike a balance between letting our kids hold on to things they truly love and appreciate, and preventing our home from becoming a clutter free-for-all.

I’m not sure we will ever get it exactly right, but over the years, we have stumbled upon a few helpful strategies that let us all keep our sanity in the midst of this battle. I cover all of these strategies in detail in my new book Unstuffed, but there is still one question that gets brought up by every parent I have ever talked to:

What do I do about gifts?

Quite frankly, it is a dilemma I can relate to all too well, as we’ve faced the prospect of well-meaning friends and relatives wanting to bestow their love for our kids in the form of more and more things, from toys to books to clothes and everything in between.

And I’ll be honest—it is a delicate tightrope to walk, this line between not wanting to hurt the ones we love and actually making effective headway in this battle against stuff, one that I certainly haven’t always walked well.

Learning the Hard Way

In fact, when I think about this battle, one particularly painful lesson comes to mind. You see, one Christmas, several years ago, my sister-in-law Linda came bearing so many gifts that it literally took us all day to open them.

At first, it was sort of sweet. We knew Linda adored our girls and this was her way of showing them how much she cared. Plus, it was her money. What was it to us if she wanted to spend it on our kids?

But as the empty boxes and bags of garbage piled up in the garage, we became more and more anxious about the situation. What were they going to do with all this stuff? How could they possibly play with it all? And where would we put it all in our three-bedroom, no-basement house?

I wish I could say we handled the situation gracefully. I wish I could say that at some appropriate moment we quietly pulled Linda aside and gently explained that while we were incredibly grateful for her generosity, we just felt like this was all far too much stuff for two little girls, and that we wanted them to be able to truly appreciate a few things, rather than be overwhelmed by such a large pile.

I also wish I could say that we told her that we knew she wanted what was best for them, and that we knew she would want them to grow up to be sweet, grateful girls, not bratty entitled ones, and that we were afraid that over time, so many gifts all the time would start to lose their meaning to them.

And I wish I could say that after we talked, she totally saw our point and agreed to stop going overboard, and that everything was completely perfect from there on out.

But none of that happened.

Instead, after Christmas Linda flew back home, and we were left to deal with the mess left behind. Our New Year’s resolution that year was to try to get a handle on this avalanche of stuff that was threatening to bury us alive, and so we began to sift and sort and selectively pick things to donate or sell. We figured that if Linda ever asked, we could just tell her some of the items were in the attic. It was a perfect plan, we decided, and Linda would never have to know.

It may very well have been a perfect plan, except for the fact that I am a blogger, and also sometimes a complete idiot. In my eagerness to share my organizing and decluttering progress with the world, I triumphantly took a picture of the back of our Tahoe filled to the brim with donation items, many of which were gifts from Linda.

Ouch. Talk about ruthlessly purging!

Why We Say NO to Gifts | Cleaning & Organizing | Decluttering | Kids & School | Parenting | Parenting and Discipline

Even now, years later, I cringe thinking about how much that picture must have hurt her. Because yes, of course she saw it, and yes, of course she was incredibly upset and offended by it. As well she should have been. It was beyond harsh, and I know we could have avoided a lot of hurt feelings by just being honest from the get-go.

Even so, that photograph of our jam-packed Tahoe did serve one positive purpose. It finally opened up a very honest conversation about gifts, and about how we wanted to raise our kids. After apologizing profusely, we were able to explain that we wanted them to remember her for the time she spent with them, not for the pile of presents she brought with her when she visited. We set limits with Linda by clearly laying out our boundaries and expectations.

The change didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. Linda began to ask us about what the girls actually needed, rather than go crazy buying dozens of the hottest toys around. When we homeschooled she helped us supply our classroom with a beautiful globe and learning materials, and with our blessing she took great pride in procuring the most elaborate Christmas and Easter dresses she could find.

Why We Say NO to Gifts | Cleaning & Organizing | Decluttering | Kids & School | Parenting | Parenting and Discipline

She also took to heart our suggestion to spend more quality time with them, securing her spot in their hearts as the most fun auntie on the planet. When she died of cancer a year ago, we were all devastated, but I’m so thankful that the memories my girls have are attached to her and not just the stuff she gave them.

Saying No to the Gifts

As parents, it is far too easy to use holidays and special occasions as an excuse for more stuff. After all, our consumer-driven culture keeps driving home that message that Christmas is all about the gifts, and that Easter is all about the baskets, and that birthdays without presents are, well, just not birthdays at all.

But those are all lies, and they are lies that we, as parents, have the power to say no to. We can say yes to the special without saying yes to the stuff. They don’t have to go hand in hand.

In my family, this has meant taking the initiative to explain our limits both to our own kids and to the gift givers in their lives. It has also meant instituting a “no gift” policy at birthday parties and limiting Christmas gifts to a just a few.

I’ve heard of many families who limit their gifts to three to represent the number of gifts brought by the Wise Men, and of others who follow a “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read” policy.

For birthdays, we usually give our own girls a choice between a trip or outing with the family or having their friends over for a party.  Over the years, they’ve gone back and forth between these two choices, and our birthday celebrations have included a trip to Key West, a last-minute Peacock Party, an intimate Explorer Party with just two friends, and big, elaborate bashes with 50+ guests, like this Mermaid Party or this Sweet Shop Party.

Why We Say NO to Gifts | Cleaning & Organizing | Decluttering | Kids & School | Parenting | Parenting and Discipline

Whatever the choice may be, it is always a lot of fun!  But if they do choose the party option, our invitations always firmly state that gifts are not welcome, usually with a line at the bottom that says “your presence is your present—no gifts please!”  It’s simple, to-the-point, and effective.

It may feel awkward at first to be so clear with others about what you want for your family, but it pays off in less stress, fewer messes, and in kids that are far less entitled and far more content.

In the end, as parents it is our job to fight back against the culture of consumerism that surrounds us, and to protect our kids from being swept away by propaganda about what to buy. It is our job to have open and honest conversations about wants versus needs, and to say enough is enough, because our kids will certainly not do it themselves. They don’t yet have the wisdom to discern what is hype from what is reality. They need us to do it for them.

And as parents, it is our job to know that sometimes it is okay to say no.

Even to gifts.

DIG DEEPER


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Why We Say NO to Gifts | Cleaning & Organizing | Decluttering | Kids & School | Parenting | Parenting and Discipline

69 Comments

  1. Ann
    March 30 at 08:06AM

    Do your girls give gifts when they attend a birthday party?

    • Ruth Soukup
      March 30 at 08:50AM

      Yes, if they are invited to a birthday party where gifts are expected, they will always bring one. It’s not our goal to force our own philosophies on anyone else! We also explain that just because some kids get gifts at birthday parties doesn’t mean that we follow that same rule. Our kids seem to understand that every family works a little differently, and they get a lot of cool things that other kids don’t. 🙂

      • Kim
        March 30 at 08:54PM

        We have been doing this since the beginning with our kids without any problems. It’s actually quite common in our circle of friends, which has made it easier. We do have some friends who want the regular gifts for birthday parties and since I feel bad stuffing their home with birthday gifts we always bring some sort consumable gift such as a family day pass to the swimming pool, children’s museum, mini golf, botanical garden, etc…. Everyone seems to really like them as I hear about the outing when they go and it doesn’t fill their house with more stuff.

        • Anonymous
          April 2 at 12:54AM

          Brilliant!!

  2. Hannah
    March 30 at 08:30AM

    I SO wish we could do this! My parents and my husband’s parents are constantly showering our kids with gifts and toys. I know they mean well but it is completely out of control. I just don’t know how our families would respond!

    • Mandi
      March 30 at 09:08AM

      I talk to my family members well ahead of time, in March, that the Christmas presents need to be very limited. I also give a list for those who ask for it. I also make it clear that second hand gifts are terrific, as it keeps toys out of the waste stream and saves people’s wallets.

      It’s a hard road, because my mom is an insane shopaholic so I have to keep reinforcing it. However, it is worth it to me to protect my children from the rampant consumerism and materialism.

      • Kelly
        March 30 at 10:33AM

        That’s a great idea!

  3. Ellen
    March 30 at 08:35AM

    As a grandparent, I appreciate this perspective and you have given me a lot of food for though. I know I am guilty of showering my grandkids with presents. It’s just so much fun! But after reading this, I can see how my innocent spoiling and generosity might cause problems down the road. No one wants a spoiled child (or grandchild) and no one wants to be buried in stuff, but you’re right–it’s far too easy to keep adding more and more until it all gets to be too much.

    Thanks Ruth! I can’t wait to read Unstuffed!

    • Jenny
      March 31 at 04:01PM

      Ellen – how I wish my mom would read this and have the same reaction! We have been begging her to go easy on the gifts since my first son was born. We do provide suggestions and lists – she insists on going beyond them. This year for Easter (which we don’t celebrate, but she does) she sent them one chocolate bunny each, so I’m hoping MAYBE I am making progress. I would strongly encourage you to initiate a dialog with the parents of your grandchildren to ask what works best for them. I can’t tell you how much they would appreciate it.

  4. Lynn
    March 30 at 09:03AM

    A few of the kids in my area have started requesting donations to local charities (such as dog and cat food for the Humane Society or items for Operation Christmas Child boxes) in lieu of gifts.

    • Amy
      April 6 at 03:22PM

      Thus is what we do, since most people I talk to feel like they should bring something even if it says not too. We ask everyone to bring a book to donate to our local library, it’s been fun to check out books and see that they are from our friends!

  5. Kelly
    March 30 at 10:32AM

    I love this! Can’t wait to show my husband!!

  6. Monica
    March 30 at 10:34AM

    I feel sorry for your kids.

    • Anonymous
      March 30 at 06:21PM

      These kids are going to be ones that don’t feel entitled. I’m so proud of this mom for doing this and sharing with all of us this great idea! I don’t think these kids need any sympathy!

      • Anonymous
        June 19 at 11:59AM

        very well said. Too many kids think the world owes them anything they “think” they need and grow up to be adults sitting on the unemployment/welfare line saying “not fair”. No this does not cure the unemployment/welfare line and I completely understand that some people are legit in their need. but this sure could help curb some of the greed.

    • BeckyJane
      March 31 at 05:27AM

      Why do you feel sorry for them? I have a 16 year old who was diagnosed with ADHD. We found that it was just his brain unable to cope with the 100’s of books and toys in his room, he didn’t know which one to play with so was unable to be calm. That was when he was 3. He is a perfect reader/athlete now with no health problems. We had to talk to my mum about buying him a TV for his bedroom etc but we are so happy with what we chose to do. My daughter is 8 and although has less things than most of her age, we find she appreciates the time spent buying boardgames as a family. Other 8 year olds seem to be bored and angry, these are the ones who’s parents work hard to spend their cash on phones/games for their children. We have a large garden and my daughter climbs trees, runs around after the chickens and loves our family bike rides more than solitarily playing with her a phone (she doesn’t have one). With depression amongst children being so high, we should look in to why. They need less things and more time/love. Stop buying junk and give your kids memories instead.

    • Anonymous
      March 31 at 09:22AM

      I have watched my grandchildren be showered with gifts for every occasion. They get so many gifts for their birthday and Christmas that they get tired of opening them and have to be forced to do so so everyone sees them accept that gift. Do you know what their favorite toy is? A robot their Dad made out of a cardboard box. I rarely buy them gifts because there is nothing they don’t have. I did take them a book a while back. They didn’t even acknowledge it. They are such sweet and loving kids. I pray they stay that way.

    • Melanie
      April 8 at 09:42PM

      Why? It sounds to me like these girls have a full and happy life with lots of love, adventure and joy as well as ‘things’ when those things are wanted and special. They are also learning the value of the people and things that they do have, and that there are others who don’t have the privileges that they do. I applaud Ruth and her husband (and her kids!) for keeping the focus on what is important in life.

  7. Annie
    March 30 at 10:39AM

    How do you convince grandparents of this? We have tried having this conversation over and over again without a change. My child comes home frequently with a new toy when he is with them, and his grandmother watches him after school so at least 2-4 times a week he has something new.
    It is so hard to teach him how to be grateful for anything when he has so much.

    • sunshine
      April 4 at 04:37PM

      I’ve found it is best to have one loving conversation (or write a letter if you believe it will be better) and then graciously accept whatever comes, but do not feel you must keep it. Donate it where it will be useful. Make certain you explain to your children the reasons for this! Let them know if it is because you want room to enjoy each other. They will get it! You can let the children choose to keep a new gift and donate an old one to make room. When it comes up in conversation, without sounding smug, share your joy of how much better you feel having less cramped and cluttered surroundings and how much the children delight in a gift to go out to lunch, to choose one book, to visit the aquarium etc. You do not need to belabor this. I say this because My children span almost a decade of years apart, and with most family, nothing changes. You can tell them until you are blue in the face. If they can’t hear you, they will just resent it and may unconsciously or consciously rebel and decide it is their duty to buy MORE for your poor children. 😉 Just be loving, gracious, grateful that you have these people in your life that love your children so much. They won’t always be around. That’s sobering. We’re now seeing it happen, and all the fretting over stuff was a waste of time. In case you have a relative that asks where the gifts are…and they really shouldn’t if they have manners…simply let them know it’s been passed on due to lack of room or whatever reason. Be gentle. And THANK them again for the love they showed in buying it. If they are mad you passed it on, that is their problem. Be gentle. And feel okay about your choices. Let them feel okay about theirs too. 😉 My 2 cents.

  8. March 30 at 11:35AM

    I just went back to my childhood home to pack up the last remnants of my things, because my parents were moving to a new place. Oh, the stuff. It lingers. I wish I didn’t have so much of it as a child.

    To be honest, I think we hold onto things because we want to hold onto those memories. The puppet my dad would animate when I was sad. The green accessories my mom bought me when that was my favorite color. What I’ve learned is that while I can’t make those sweet years come back, I can love my parents *now*. In this season. And then when I say goodbye to those things, it doesn’t hurt as much.

    • sunshine
      April 4 at 04:43PM

      🙂

  9. Deborah
    March 30 at 12:34PM

    I guess that’s what happens when money is not an object, my boys are now in their 20s when we bought a gift it was something they wished for or was saving up for and it was only one gift, they grew up knowing the value of money and when you have to wait for that special thing it is respected and cared for. So yes I can see your point . Children who are given everything tend to grow up feeling entitled and self centered.

    • sunshine
      April 4 at 04:53PM

      We had few things growing up and spent quality time together and also enjoyed playing alone, using our imaginations and thinking up creative ideas. My children have way more toys, and we’re trying to find a healthy balance. On the bright side, they do not expect to get things other than for birthdays and Christmas, and they are grateful for each gift.

      • Melanie
        April 8 at 09:52PM

        Exactly! It wasn’t until I was well into my teens that I realised my family was what some would call ‘poor’; we didn’t have a fancy house or a new car and we couldn’t afford regular holidays (or at times even simple school excursions or new uniforms). But we were we fed, clothed and had a roof over our heads at all times; we had family who loved us and friends we had fun with. At times I envied those who had the newest sneakers or the store bought clothes – now those same friends happily pay a small fortune for the hand made garments and home made knits that I always got for ‘free’ because my Nan knitted and sewed most of our clothes 😉

  10. March 30 at 12:40PM

    I’m so glad you said that the complete toy purge was for a season instead of trying to maintain that level of “minimalism”. It’s so true that with kids the stuff just keeps coming! We’re also trying to introduce more experiences versus gifts that lose their luster after a week!

    • Anonymous
      April 8 at 02:10PM

      Our family is trying to be careful about this with grandkids or nieces and nephews. Our son and his wife have given ticket coupons to an upcoming movie to 3 nieces. The special part is they take the girls. Double gift. Mom and Dad have some time together and the girls go out with their aunt and uncle. As Grandparents we have given tickets to a special event or payed for a session of gymnastics or summer camp or season passes to local water park. Often these are things that might not fit the family budget. Everyone seems to enjoy these gifts.

  11. March 30 at 04:36PM

    My daughter is only 11 weeks old, and already I find myself begging people to stop sending us gifts. We’re planning to move in 2 months, but until we do, we live in a tiny 1 bedroom flat and there really isn’t room for the 18(!) stuffed animals that have been bestowed upon a baby far too small to even play with them. And clothes! I feel like she will outgrow half of them before I even have the chance to take the tags off. I really wish I knew how to ask people not to get us things, but it seemed impossible as
    A) it’s our first child
    B) it’s the first grandchild

    We made an Amazon registry for the true necessities, and have asked people to get us Amazon gift cards in lieu of presents, since we can order diapers and other grocery items for baby, but it seems like unsolicited gifts keep appearing on a weekly, if not daily, basis!

    Any advice?

    Dani
    Munchie Mummy

    • Anonymous
      March 30 at 04:47PM

      Send a thank you card to acknowledge the thoughtfulness of the gift, and donate the excess items if you can’t return them at the stores. Just a thought. I hope you find this helpful 😉

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 2 at 04:54AM

      Your only responsibility is to thank the giver–what you do with the gift after that is your choice. I think finding a great charity for low income moms, like another commenter mentioned below, is a wonderful option!

  12. Anonymous
    March 30 at 05:44PM

    I know a number of people in my circle, including myself, have tried the “presence” vs “presents” thing on invites and it just doesn’t work. It only seems to up the awkwardness, because there are people who just don’t feel right not bringing a gift, so then you have kids who feel bad that they didn’t. And if you try to whisk them away to be opened later, the kid who brought it is sad that you didn’t open it in front of everyone. 🙁 I would love to do this, but I think the cultural expectation can be really hard to break.

    As far as grandparents, we talked with them numerous times and one insists that it’s how she shows love and is just going to keep doing it. We just make trips right to the thrift store or charity, and let her know that’s what we’re doing. The kids know that they don’t get to keep most of what she brings. We had a day like the all-day present opening fest you describe where our toddlers were crying because they didn’t want to open any more, and we tried to have the same discussion you did – using almost the same words. She did not take it well, and accused us of trying to prevent her from having a relationship with the kids.

    She actually brought so much stuff for our third baby days before I was due that I started crying because I was so overwhelmed and my husband just took the still wrapped stuff away (my mom works for a charity for low-income mothers and they really appreciated the new-in-package items).

    • sunshine
      April 4 at 05:01PM

      As a young mom, I went to a “no gifts” party for a toddler, and we brought a small gift anyway. It was something I knew the mom would like, but I still remember the awful feeling when the host took the gift and sighed loudly then said, “I see you are ANOTHER person that didn’t listen to our NO GIFTS!” Now of course, I get it! I am glad I can see it from both sides. We don’t want more stuff, but I will not be rude to anyone that gives things. I actually prefer the idea to request that a gift, such as a book, is given to be donated. Then everyone knows where their gift is going if they choose to bring one. I also like the idea to have each child bring their favorite book, wrapped, and each guest takes one home.

    • Michele
      April 10 at 02:10PM

      That was the problem we were having so we started the donation thing. I always word it as something like, “Grace doesn’t need anything else, but if you feel you MUST bring a gift, we are collecting X for This Organization that happens to coincide with the theme of the party. One year we had a mystery party and collected things the local sheriff’s office told me their detectives could use. Fun!

  13. March 30 at 05:49PM

    My husband and I have recently begun the conversation of getting rid of toys as most are not even played with. I want my kids to have experiences and not stuff. My husband and I realized late in life that stuff doesn’t make us happy- spending time with loved ones does. Making memories will always matter more than a gift given for a birthday… in my opinion at least.

  14. Leslie
    March 30 at 08:40PM

    Are those party favors I see on the table at the Peacock party?

    • Nicole
      April 2 at 01:02AM

      If you are referring to the flip flops with cute ribbon, perhaps they are! It looks like maybe that was a craft project combined with a favor/ gift that is practical, memorable, and fun, rather than a bag of candy and junk plastic. If the kids at the party didn’t need another pair of shoes, maybe they could donate them to the local homeless shelter. 🙂

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 2 at 04:56AM

      Sort-of. The main activity at the peacock party was making “peacock” flip-flops that the girls decorated with colorful ribbons (in peacock colors of course!) Since we live in Florida, where flip flops are a daily staple, it was the most practical thing I could think of. 🙂

      • Melanie
        April 8 at 10:00PM

        That’s a super cute idea! It’s an activity I’m sure they enjoyed, they get to be creative and take home something beautiful and practical that they created themselves 🙂

  15. March 30 at 09:47PM

    Honestly, I don’t even have kids, and I’m not a fan of gifts. I get them from someone, and I’m usually at a loss for what to do with a random candle or trinket. My impulse is to just get rid of it, but I have such guilt about chucking a gift!

    • Melanie
      April 8 at 10:03PM

      My husband is actually gift-phobic and it stems from the forced gratitude that is often placed on kids. He’d rather not take a gift than upset the giver by it showing that it’s something he doesn’t want, like or need. We’ve struggled with some people over the years but they now get it. And for my part, if someone asks me what I’d like for my birthday (we don’t celebrate Christmas so that’s easy) I say cash LOL. And sometimes it works! If there’s something I really want, I either save and buy it for myself or I’ll let my husband know and he organises it with those who want to get me something.

  16. Amanda
    March 30 at 11:09PM

    Is there a polite way to ask for specific things needed on a party invitation? We are beginning to homeschool next year in a really needing arts and crafts supplies and science supplies. I have family and friends who will probably buy what they want to, but is there a way to ask for supplies without seeming greedy?

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 2 at 05:01AM

      I don’t think asking for homeschool supplies sounds greedy–I would just maybe just re-work the wording I suggested above to something like “Your presence is your present–gifts are not necessary! However, if you would like to bring something, we could really use some help stocking our homeschool with art & science supplies. Thanks so much!”
      That way you can state your preference in a way that is clear but not demanding.

  17. Stephanie
    March 30 at 11:32PM

    Our solution to the birthday gift issue, is we let our son choose what charity he would like to donate to and find out about their specific need. He has donated to local children’s hospitals, homeless shelter, foreign missions, etc. we just specify on the birthday invitation what is needed and where it is going. That way he sees the benefit of donation and giving for the greater good.

  18. March 31 at 08:13AM

    Hey Ruth, Thank you so much for your thoughts on this. This is a battle we have fought for a long time. We remind our kids’ grandparents every year that we would prefer for them to give most of their gifts on birthdays and not at Christmas. We feel very strongly about this. It seems to go in one ear and out the other. We are always loaded down with gifts and I’m at a loss about what to do. I don’t want to hurt their feelings but I want my kids to understand that Christmas is not about them.

  19. March 31 at 11:16AM

    As an auntie myself, this has really given me some food for thought. My sister’s kids have a TON of stuff in a very small space, and I’m now seriously reconsidering how I am going to deal with their birthdays and Christmas this year based on this. I’ve already purchased an outfit for the smallest niece, but I think I am going to focus on trying to find useful or consumable gifts and experiences for them rather than meaningless stuff that will just pile up this year.

    • Anonymous
      April 2 at 02:13AM

      Consumable gifts are the BEST! For Christmas last year, my mom gave my two-year-old a box of applesauce squeeze pouches and various other snacks. She was way more excited about that than any other gift she got!

  20. April 1 at 12:39PM

    All I can say is Wow, a Mom that “gets” me. My son brought home an invitation to a Birthday Party from one of the kids in his class yesterday and when I saw it I cringed thinking what on earth am I going to get a 9 year old kid I don’t even know that would be something he would even like and would fit in my budget. (We are on a get out of debt plan) So, when I opened it imagine my surprise when I read “No gifts, please.” Cool… I may yet find a friend in this school district!
    Peace, Kirsten

  21. Keri
    April 1 at 09:27PM

    I love this idea! I’m so overwhelmed by my kids’ stuff. They don’t even play with most of it. I take a bunch of stuff and hide it in the basement and sometimes I rotate it back out so they appreciate it more, but we just have so much! But I feel bad donating things they just got a couple months ago. I feel like our family is just wasting their money. And holidays and birthdays are so crazy with gifts!! I keep trying to encourage the grandparents to give swimming lessons or trips to the zoo, but it hasn’t worked yet. I don’t see how we could do Christmas at the grandparents’ houses when our kids’ cousins get gifts and we tell our family not to get gifts for our kids. I can’t see that going over well…for my kids or their grandparents…But something needs to change because our house is not big and the toys are taking over.

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 2 at 05:02AM

      Keri, I so feel your pain!! You are going to feel like Chapter 6 of Unstuffed was written just for you!! 🙂

  22. Great Auntie Mel
    April 2 at 01:41PM

    MANY years ago, I was at a loss for what to get my nieces and nephews for Christmas (they all had more than they could ever want). I decided to have them over for a cookie bake/overnighter. They still talk about it! The tradition has continued and now includes the great-nieces and nephews (although we’ve nixed the overnight as Auntie has gotten a bit older). We include crafts, games, special outings (movies, live nativities, etc.), and often practice for a skit which they perform when the whole family gathers for the holiday. The hardest part if coordinating dates with all of their schedules. Love spending time with them!

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 2 at 02:38PM

      I love this so much!!! What a perfect example of an alternative to STUFF that means SO much more!! Your nieces & nephews are so lucky!! 🙂

  23. Heidi
    April 3 at 02:52AM

    But what do you do when someone DOES bring a gift? Gratefully send it home with the giver? Return it for the cash? Donate it?

    • Ruth Soukup
      April 3 at 09:17AM

      Simply say thank you. 🙂 Your main responsibility is to graciously thank the giver. What you decide to do with the gift afterwards is up to you–you could keep it, donate it, or regift it.

  24. Candyce
    April 3 at 10:02AM

    I truly appreciat this post. Perhaps in a different way–not so much about cluttering–although now I realize that I had a great advantage that I did not even realize. My children are all grown. When my older three were little, I didn’t work. We had no money for extra things. Any clothes or toys were given to my kids by others and were mostly hand me downs. I felt bad sometimes that we could not get them more but would quickly remember why. Being home with them was more important.
    Fast forward to when they were 18, 16 and 14 and I gave birth to our 4th child. By now I was working and so were the older two. We would often buy him treats. It got where when I went into any store he would have a tantram to have something…anything. And as he was playing with his newest toy he would be talking about what he wanted next. So we stopped. And he went through withdrawal of a sort…and then he liked it. Even when he needed something it was hard to get him to take it.
    And then I realized…my older ones did not suffer at all. They did have the best!

  25. Serenity
    April 5 at 06:41AM

    When our daughter, Sarah, turned one we had a huge birthday party to celebrate. Instead of gifts we had everyone bring pantry items for the Ronald McDonald House. When I sent out invitations I included a list from the Ronald McDonald House that were needed. It went over so well and it celebrated my Sarah’s life and blessed others at the same time. It was probably my favorite birthday party ❤️

    • Rose
      April 6 at 12:10PM

      That is brilliant! I will remember this!

  26. I’m doing a little catch up and sorry for the late response on this post. Ruth, when I read the post and got to the part where Linda had died of cancer I literally gasped and started to cry thinking about the wonderful gift you gave Linda and your girls. Isn’t it funny how that lesson came at the right time for everyone, especially Linda who couldn’t have known at the time her life would be cut short. Creating those boundaries allowed your girls and Linda to share meaningful, purposeful and beautiful times together. Those memories will last your children a lifetime. Maybe years from now the girls will remember some of the things Aunt Linda bought for them, but I’m certain they will remember all the wonderful times they spent together laughing, hugging and sharing with their beautiful aunt.

    • Anonymous
      April 7 at 11:07PM

      And then there are the parents that are trying to teach their kids about picking out toys and giving a gift to a friend. It’s torture when they don’t get to keep the gift but then they learn about giving and get the joy of watching the kid open what they bought them. The blogger is kind of missing the point. Gift giving is rewarding for a lot of people. Aunts and Grandparents love to shop and think of the kiddo and pick out presents and you’re robbing them of that because you can’t handle to process of letting your child open a gift, play with it and then donate it a couple of weeks later. Stop being lazy and putting it on everyone else and just donate what you don’t want. I’m sure you spoil and over compensate your kids in other areas to make up for your “no gift” rule.

      • Anonymous
        April 9 at 02:18AM

        I agree with this to a point. My favorite part of birthdays is finding that one perfect gift that I know the receiver is going to love! I think about what to get people weeks ahead of time and always ask if there is a need or big want that’s been talked about for months. It’s one of the ways I show my love. Also, I don’t like contributing $$ to a shared family experience (or homeschooling supplies) as a birthday gift for a child. That’s the one day that is just for that kiddo and I want my gift to go to their enjoyment(or the piggy bank that I bought for them on their first birthday). If they decide, with no influencing from parents or siblings to spend it on something for the whole family, that’s fine, but they should have the choice. Christmas is different, I’m happy to buy or contribute to a family gift.
        I do agree with teaching them to be grateful and not having a materialistic, unappreciative, me, me, me attitude! There has got to be a middle ground somewhere!

  27. Josie
    April 9 at 04:25PM

    Hello…..I think the word we are looking for is BALANCE. The picture of the bedroom at the top of this post is….well….unbalanced and boring. In my opinion, it does not stimulate the senses of being a creative place for a child or an adult. AND it is just as bad as a room that is over the top. It shows no personality of who lives in that room. Why does it have to be so stark? My fear, in having a room like this would be that when these children grow up they may do just the opposite…go extremely over the top. Not knowing balance from years of going to friends homes and seeing their “I want ya’s”. Not knowing how to deal with the freedom of doing it their way. There is nothing wrong in having a little personality show in their bedrooms. It is also important to raise children to be independent….NOT mini me’s. I think you have to ask yourself to come into balance. Is this starkness for you? Is it feeding their soul? Are your rules the only way? What is it that would make the whole family come to agreement?
    I am in agreement with the child having a choice on how to spend a birthday. Twenty years ago I gave my children just that option. Do you want a party with many children with a bunch of useless gifts? OR would rather take one special friend and have a fun outing and a sleep over. They most always took the outing. The one year,(and the last time) my son took the party and after he saw the array of useless gifts he commented, “Oh!, I wish I took the outing…I feel as I got nothing memoriable for my birthday.”
    Yes, I like the fact that making “people” a priority and not the gifts they give that special place in the heart. Also, Christmas is so out of control. I am guilty as charged…in the past. I like the three small gift idea. Two years ago I said enough is enough and I majorly scaled back. To my children I give a baked good and to the grandchildren I give a ten dollar check. The stress level is GONE and we are able to enjoy the REAL meaning of the holiday. I only wish I had done this YEARS ago. I also, might add that I feel very foolish for my former behavior of a giving piles of gifts.
    All this is just food for thought… and my thoughts. Balance. Balance.

  28. April 9 at 04:28PM

    …..OH….one more comment….your girls are darling!!!!

  29. Beth
    April 13 at 05:13PM

    Love limiting or cutting out presents. In the lives of my sons, my grandmother would purchase a small something so the child would have a gift of some type to open from her and to be kept at her house, where we often visited. But the primary gift from my grandparents was always a savings bond. The boys received the certificate with the knowledge that it was savings for college. Nana only finished the 8th grade, so this was a very meaningful gift.

  30. cheryl
    April 27 at 04:40PM

    Even when we try to limit ‘stuff’ it grows. So, we have been trying to give experiences. This past year our oldest daughter and her husband gifted myself and my 15 yr old daughter with a family trip to Niagara Falls for Christmas and her birthday present from her sister this year will be a season ticket to an amusement park in Quebec. Last years birthday gift from her sis and brother in law was scuba lessons and certification.

  31. Anonymous
    August 25 at 05:22AM

    Last Christmas, my kids received a ton of gifts. Among all that pile, there is only one they remember, their favorite: a box of Fruit Loops for each of them. They were dancing with it in the living room, showing it proudly to every aunt and oncle who was there, and then carefully chose when they would eat Fruit Loops, to avoid waste and make it last as long as they could… because they knew it would be their only box of the year. They said it was their best gift ever… There was no need for anything else ! I think I’ll make this a classic and forget the rest… They never play with their toys anyway.

  32. July 24 at 07:16PM

    I really love this idea! Our little one is only two and already has more toys than she can possibly play with (although she tries her hardest!). Another idea that I really like for those that want to buy gifts (grandparents especially) is to ask them to buy an experience instead – a ticket to the zoo or aquarium, a month of swim classes, etc. That way, they’re still able to give, your kids are still receiving, but it’s not piling more things up in your closet. If they buy them an experience that they can have together, they’re creating great memories too!

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