Is a Clutter Free Christmas Possible?
My child has too much stuff.
And before you say to yourself, this woman should consider herself lucky that that is her biggest problem, I want to state that I realize this is very much one of those First World Problems. Maybe it’s even indulgent to write about it here. But hear me out because I’m guessing I’m not the only mom in North Alabama with this dilemma.
I fully understand we are blessed to be in a situation where this is a problem. I also recognize this is largely a predicament of our own creation. Yet, here we are with Christmas looming and instead of getting excited and filled with holiday cheer, all I keep thinking is WHAT ON EARTH AM I GOING TO DO WITH ALL THE TOYS!
How do I keep our home from becoming Toyland without turning into the Grinch?
My daughter is now at that age when she understands how Christmas works. She sees something she wants, puts it on an ever changing list in her head, continually repeats to me what that list has on it, and then on Christmas day those things will magically appear under a tree, delivered by a strange old man in a red suit.
I’ve already told her that her list can only have three things on it and she knows she has to be good or she won’t get them. So far she’s been pretty consistent with two of those and the third changes daily. While she will almost certainly get more than that in total, I am determined that is all she will get from us. I can’t control Grandparents or other relatives but I can certainly limit the consumerism within our little contingent. Yet that attitude seems anti-everything-thats-great-about-Christmas. I love giving my daughter toys she wants and seeing how excited she gets. I just don’t want her to take them for granted and the reality is, the more gifts she receives the less special the gifts become.
Even with my personal crusade against too many gifts, I need to prepare the house for the new influx of clutter and I’m not sure what to do. Should I donate, sell, or put away many of her current toys? And if so, do I involve her in the process? At three and half, is she old enough to understand what we are doing or will that just result in tears?
I love the idea of asking relatives to give experiences (trips, classes) rather than toys but the logistics of that can be difficult and awkward. What if your local dance studio or gymnastics class doesn’t offer gift certificates? In essence you are now asking your relatives to give cash which isn’t so much fun to unwrap. I get why they may be hesitant to follow through on that suggestion.
Suggesting to other parents in the playgroup that maybe the kids could just exchange homemade presents makes me look cheap and less than generous. Plus, not everyone has time to make tons of cookies and those craft projects are cute but lose some of their charm when it wasn’t your child that made it.
I am determined to make this season more about the reason and less about the “gimme, gimme, gimme” but how is the question.
Any ideas? What has worked for you and your family this year? If you have successful prevented an avalanche of toys from invading your home, share your secret in our comments. I’m all ears.
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This article was originally published in 2011 and has been updated.
Rocket City Mom is a website about raising children in and around Huntsville, Alabama. Started in late 2010 by a local mom and newcomer to Huntsville, Rocket City Mom has grown into a thriving community of local parents and now boasts a staff of four, thirteen regular contributors, and tens of thousands of Tennessee Valley readers making it the #1 Parenting Resource in North Alabama.
I am still being battered over selling a Mickey Mouse clubhouse that my kids NEVER played with at a yard sale in May….because I try to purge when I can….and they still bring it up almost weekly. We just made sure Santa knows not to do anything big this year. We are doing lots of handmade ornaments and treats for friends, and the children are getting a few small things and all the family each get one small thing. Fortunately, I was elected to buy all the goodies for a charity (with someone else’s money which makes the whole thing even cooler b/c I could have never spent as much as he did), and the children have seen these big, nice toys and want them. They understand that those toys are going to charity. I give them each a coin for the Salvation Army bucket EVERY time we pass one (I slip in green when I can), and I am emphasizing for them the truth that some children will go without this season. Even when we ate our Thanksgiving meals we discussed this. When they are older we’ll donate time to the soup kitchen and other charities so they can see what we discuss in action. I’ve been very humbled since leaving my career with not being able to be lavish (not that I ever was, but speaking relatively). This year, even Christmas cards seem difficult, and, yet, a great problem to have – we just have so many people we love. I think all you can do is start early and set the precendent with a low bar 😉
Christa – don’t even get me started on Christmas cards! I love having a kid because it means I can send a picture of her instead of us but that can get so expensive! I like your attitude about it though. I guess we just have too many people we <3 in our lives and that is hardly a problem!
I also always give her money for the bucket but I think she's too young to really understand what we are doing. Just in case, we talk about people who don't have anything and how lucky we are and we should be appreciative. We'll see if it sinks in down the road.
I think you’re on the right track with two things you mentioned, limiting the list to a small number, and thinking about experiences for your child instead of cheap plastic over advertised made in china junk that most kids only “think” they want due to the exciting advertisement they saw 🙂
I have a 7, 5 & 3 year old. They all were given 3 slots to fill on their wishlist as well, and the other gifts they will get are small “accessories” to their main gift. My oldest wanted an art easel, so I got her art supplies to go with it. Our son wanted a racetrack, so he got extra cars, etc. I’m also planning to cut down on confusion & clutter by unpackaging several of the gifts before wrapping. We plan to set her easel up with a bow on it by the tree, and put my youngest little dress up vanity together as well. So many past years they have had toys IN THE PACKAGE that they didn’t even touch for weeks! Too much stiff indeed lessens the special factor of two or three gifts. I plan to go donate several of their toys to “The Way” organization, which helps recovering addicts, formerly incarcerated and the needy.
My goal for the future, probably once our youngest gets about 6 or 7, is to plan for a special family vacation during the holiday. An experience they’ll love, and of course, they’ll get a gift, but nothing like the crazed mounds of toys like I grew up with. An experience, and something they crave much more than anything else could ever be worth, living time spent together.
God bless & have a very Merry Christmas!
Our playgroup is having a toy swap. We’re taking toys our kids don’t play with anymore to swap around. So, hopefully I’ll get some new things for my son (yes, they will be Christmas presents) and someone else will get to enjoy some of the toys he doesn’t play with anymore. And, if I don’t find anything for him…then we just cleared out some toys from the playroom.
I LOVE that idea!
We were just talking about this last night! We want our children to realize and appreciate how lucky and blessed they are, but at 7 and almost-4, do they really get it? I am trying to impress on them that they need to help those less fortunate, but I wonder if they are too young yet to comprehend that there are kids who do not have what they have.
January is our de-clutter month, I donate most of the old toys and clothes to Asbury Thrift Store. Last year, I sold my son’s pyramid (that he had not played with in a a year) on Craigslist and about a month later, he asked me where it was. I was honest and told him, and he cried and cried. Oy.
I’ve been struggling with this. We moved here this summer from a 4 bedroom home to a 3 bedroom apartment so were very limited on space, or busting at the seams depending on how you look at it 🙂 I think what I’m going to do is get them one gift each that they can play with immediately then look around at getting family passes to somewhere like earlyworks or an art class or craft class somewhere local. It helps my problem and supports the community!
That is a lovely idea. We’ve always had a year pass to the Botanical Gardens but I’ve often considered Earlyworks or Sci-Quest and just couldn’t justify the extra money. Maybe this year that will be a family gift!
What a great post! To tell you the truth, we have not even thought about this yet. Our 22 month old son is our first and long awaited for kid, and my husband and I spare no expense when it come to him. Ofcourse, at this point he is equally happy with a $1 or $100 present… The problem lies in my hubby and I who like to buy stuff for him. Just yesterday we got one of his Xmas-inteded gifts – a drum set (we might have bought it a few years too early :)), and both of us could not wait and had to open it waaay before Xmas. So I guess he is getting more stuff… :). Most of our kids are not yet spoiled, its us who are under constant pressure of consumerism, so I guess I need to start with myself and correct the problem here… As for presents to other kids – we have family members who are in need, so we send them cash every year long before Xmas, so that parents can buy kids the truly needed presents “from uncle and aunt”. Its hard to know what others want anyway, and sometimes it feels like a huge waste for someone to receive an unwanted gift. We still get the moral satisfaction. Merry Christmas!
Ours is a first and so far only child and we definitely went overboard with her at first which is why we are in this predicament. She was also a “long-awaited” child and I think that added to our exuberance when it came to all the cute “stuff”.
Also, good luck with that drum set! 🙂
Excellent post! I was just thinking about this a few weeks ago. Every year around October/November I clean-up the toys. I toss whats broken, I give some to Grandma for when they visit her, I donate some, and then I keep a few unused toys in the garage (I read this somewhere – so in the middle of the year you can whip them out and it feels like Xmas all over again without the expense). However, I too struggle with buying way more than I should around Xmas. I never thought to limit their lists to 3 items, that’s an excellent idea. One of my four kids gave me a list two pages long!!! Then I have 8 nieces and nephews and I always go overboard there too. I decided that I was going to be more frugal this year (although I have already purchased all their gifts) but will limit presents next year for sure – and include more “meaning of Xmas” and more “experience-based” rather than consumer-based stuff. Nice to know its not just me out here. Happy Holidays!!!
Thanks Rosa! I actually did that garage trick with some of her birthday presents this year which is what got me started thinking about Christmas. She gets bored about half-way through the opening of the presents and that’s a true sign that you’ve bought too much! I too limited after getting a Santa’s List that included almost every toy she’d ever heard of! Happy Holidays!
A little late joining the discussion, but I think about this all year. I live in a small 3 bedroom house with 3 kids. My husband doesn’t like me getting rid of toys as often as I do, but I don’t know what else to do. I have so many toys stored away, so I can rotate them, but they keep getting new stuff so I don’t get a chance to rotate them! They have a Grandma that brings something for them every single time she comes over(at least once a week). We like to spoil our kids a little bit on Christmas, but she goes to the extreme, even though I try to tell her not to. But by the time Christmas comes, I don’t want to ruin the day by complaining and hurting someone’s feelings, so we just go with it. Several toys go unplayed with. We try to encourage some nice gifts that are a little more expensive so she uses up her Christmas budget, but it doesn’t seem to help much. Then I am stuck trying to find somewhere to put everything when we barely have room for what we already have!