When my oldest daughter turned one many years ago she was inundated with so many gifts they filled a small kiddie pool. She was the first grand kid on my side and her dad has a large family plus being the first child of our friends she was quite the center of attention. It was quite a shock for me just how many presents one child could receive and how insistent people would be that they buy her something every time she sneezed. Things got worse once we started having a “family” party separate from the “kid” party and we suddenly had twice the presents, many of which were small plastic pieces that soon got lost. Once we had a second, and then third child the gifting got completely out of control. Suddenly everyone needed a present at everyone else’s birthday even though my kids are not upset by others getting presents and everyone started getting gifts randomly even though there was no actual reason. It was a waterfall of gifts people. Many more than my kids ever needed and these same people that were giving all of these gifts, sometimes one a month, were very critical of how many things we had for the kids. My constant pointing out of the excess that others had bought them fell on deaf ears and I began to get really frustrated. A solution had to be found!
I have spent many years trying to reign people in and insisting that we did not need more clothes, toys or whatever random things were suggested and I was largely ignored. Family members “needed” to buy the kids many things and parents of friends would tell me their kid really wanted to buy something. We tried small wish lists on Amazon. That resulted in gifts cards of various degrees of usefulness. We tried explaining about how we were cutting back and didn’t need any more stuff. This sort of worked but mostly resulted in a smaller number of gifts at holidays and then random giving all year round. We also tried doing a white elephant party at one of our daughter’s birthdays but the kids had such a diverse set of interests it didn’t really work.
This year I decided we have had enough. We are trying to cut back on our “stuff” and reduce our waste and all of this random gift giving was not helping. We started the seeds of change early, at our youngest’s first birthday with a very firm we prefer no gifts but if you insist on buying something stick to the wishlist (which mostly contained diapers and a couple of toys both kids could share). It worked out pretty well. He still got a lot of gifts, but nowhere near the amount the first two kids did and we had more people at the party since we invited a bunch of friends too. I also took every opportunity I could to point out cute clothing items the kids were wearing that we had received from our Buy Nothing group and to firmly state that the children did not need clothes. Thankfully people started asking me if the kids needed anything and actually listening and the number of random gifts started to slowly decline.
The true test of our reduced gift receiving strategy was the middle child’s 4th birthday. She has a lot of friends and started at a new school this year so I wanted to invite everybody in her class. We ended up doing separate family and kid parties since there would be so many kids invited. For the family party I set up a small wish list on Amazon with things she actually wanted (mostly Legos) and a couple of clothing items to satisfy those that always buy clothes for her. I made sure to tell everybody that we really wanted to see everyone but to keep the gift giving to a minimum since our kids have way too much stuff and you know what? It actually worked this time! Our daughter got presents, but this was the first year that she didn’t seem to get way too many. People only bought her one or two items instead of four or five and about half of the items were Lego sets which took us a whole month to put together so she didn’t experience present burnout after a few days. I am really glad we stuck to our guns!
The kid party was a little trickier since we didn’t know a lot of the families as well. We invited about 25 kids plus their siblings and had it at a local gymnastics place where the kids got to run around for an hour then have cake. Since I haven’t had luck telling friends not to buy gifts I decided to see if people were willing to donate a gift to a local charity called Holly House for Kids instead. We asked our daughter’s friends to make her a card or draw her a picture since she loves receiving art from her friends and to donate a gift to a charity in our area that buys Christmas gifts for kids instead of buying her a present. It worked out really well! A few parents didn’t read the part on the invitation about gifts but almost everyone else brought her a piece of artwork and many people donated gifts to our charity. Holly House for Kids has an Amazon wishlist where all gifts can be sent directly to the charity so I didn’t even have to drop donations off afterwards! It was an amazing experience to have most of the families donate to kids that may go without. We also took the opportunity to talk with our 4yo about how some kids don’t get presents at Christmas time and that she had gotten lots of gifts at her family party and didn’t need anything else. Honestly though, she was so busy having fun with her friends that she didn’t really notice that she didn’t have a bunch of presents until we got home. She really enjoyed reading her cards and looking over her art work over the next few days. It was really cool to see what the other kids had made and our daughter loves art. She was very excited that the kids had made something for her which was really sweet to see.
We will definitely do the donation instead of a present idea at the next birthday party. I am really glad our kids are young enough that they won’t remember getting tons of presents at every birthday party and hopefully they will grow up with the expectation that spending time with friends is more important than receiving a large number of presents.
What have you done to reduce the amount of presents given to your household?