With Christmas looming and many people already thinking about gifts and New Year's resolutions regarding organization, my thoughts are on limiting toys. In response to my post Tools Not Toys , a mom asked me this excellent question:
"This is fantastic advice. I'd like to move more in this direction with my kids, but I wonder if you have any advice for how to handle/decrease the junk toys that the extended family tends to lavish upon us?"
1. Discuss it with Your Immediate Family
I think the first thing to do is to talk to your spouse about the idea of tools vs. toys to be sure you are on the same page you both agree about moving in that direction. Also, if you kids are old enough, talk to them about reducing toys and blessing those less fortunate.
2. Make a Plan to Declutter Existing Toys
Now have your children help you pick their favorite toys. Maybe you can give them each a box and everything they love has to fit inside the box. Or maybe you can ask them to choose six things that would bless a less fortunate child and put those in a box.
Keep the most precious toys. And discard or donate the rest.
Either way, you can start to reduce the amount of things they have. If your child has a ton of stuffed animals, you could tell them to gather all their stuffed friends together because you want to take a picture of them with the toys. After the picture, tell them they need to put half of the toys (or some other number) in a big garbage bag for storage. Then in six months if they miss them, they can switch them out for the ones they didn't store. If your child doesn't miss the toys, it's definitely time to donate them to a thrift store or charity shop.
3. Discreetly Discard Unwanted Gifts
If you can't get extended family on board with the ideas below, have your child play with the unwanted gift, take a picture, then quietly donate it.
If you have enough nerve, you could ask for the receipt to return the item, putting the refunded money towards camping equipment or something else from your family wish list.
4. Limit the Influx of Toys
Now comes the hard part—limiting what comes in. There is no easy answer, and you can't fully control this. But there are some things you can do to prevent a hoard of unwanted toys at the holidays.
Be Open About Your Shift in Mindset
Discuss the ideas from Tools Not Toys with each person who typically gives you gifts. Share how it resonated with you and your family and how you would love to move in this direction. Ask them to help you.
Provide Alternative Gift Ideas
Keep a running list of tools and clothes your kids could use and give copies to grandparents and others in your life who give gifts to your children. If you have a varied list and keep it current, they will have a better idea of appropriate gifts.
- Costs related to being on a team: buy the uniform or pay the registration.
- Tickets or a family pass to a museum, zoo, or aquarium.
- A big ticket item for the backyard or family room: a play house, a picnic table, a swing set, or a pool table.
- Curriculum or school equipment: an art program, a microscope, or Piano Prodigy with MIDI keyboard.
Consider couching your request in terms of getting your children outside more often—off of screens, in the fresh air, and being more physically active. What grandparent can say no to that kind of healthy, old-fashioned request? Some great active, outdoor tools to suggest are
- a pogo stick
- a long jumping rope
- gardening tools
- a basketball hoop and ball
- sports equipment
- a sandbox
- a backyard swing set
- orange cones for making obstacle courses, etc..
More Meaningful Giving Ideas for Grandparents
My mom used to take my daughters Kari shopping once a year for her birthday, starting when she was about 7 or 8. They would go to the mall, have lunch, and then shop for an outfit and something at the Disney Store.
When Kari and I were shopping on her 23rd birthday, we happened upon the Disney Store. She started to reminisce about the great times she and Grandma had and about the Beauty and the Beast tea set Grandma bought for her. What precious memories she has not only about the gifts but the experience of being with her grandmother.
Here is another idea for grandparents, aunts, or uncles. My dad used to send my son Scotty $5 every year to buy a present for our dog. Scotty would ride his bike to the store and take his time picking out the best dog treats for Lucky. It was like a present for Scotty to be able to buy his pet a gift. It taught him to shop carefully and forged a strong bond between him and his grandpa.
When you think about gift giving, tools are better than toys, and memories excel beyond them both.
I suspect most grandparents, aunts, and uncles would love to get on board with this idea of fewer toys. They want what is best for your kids just as you do, and they want to be part of it. If you can lead them in this direction, I think they will feel more fulfilled in their gift-giving and everyone will benefit.