baby proof: gracious gifts.

January 19, 2016

gifts for babies | baby proof: reading my tea leavesWe’ve passed the halfway point of January. The last of the holiday decorations have likely been put away, any lingering pine needles have been swept up. If you’re like me, you’ve moved on to the deep-cleaning, forced-bulbs-and-branches, and candles-everywhere portion of the month.

But one thing that’s been very apparent over the past few weeks is that there remains for some of you a lingering sense of ill-ease about the overabundance of the holidays. For parents of young children, the concerns seems to be especially acute. There’s wondering about how to incorporate so much abundance into your space without feeling overwhelmed, questions about how to gently let friends and family know what kind of experiences (and things) you most wish for your children to have, nerves about hurting feelings.

gifts for babies | baby proof: reading my tea leavesI’ll begin by stating the obvious, which is that I am only a year-and-a-half into this parenting gig. I can’t anticipate precisely what will unfold in my house over the next ten or twelve years. When we came home from the holidays this year, we came with an array of new toys and goodies for Faye that required some rejiggering of our space to accommodate. This is always part of the process when something new comes into our place: The making room; the settling in, the reassessing.

Earlier in the fall, we’d done a bit of this rejiggering already. Rattles and teethers and infant toys that Faye’s largely outgrown, we weeded through. The ones that we most cherished were zipped into a small case in the linen closet. They live in the same small, hopeful space where I’ve also nestled the maternity clothes that I bought for myself while pregnant with Faye. Other things—duplicates and redundancies and less-cherished items—we passed along to the neighborhood thrift store. 

Gifts are, of course, things that are supposed to be enjoyed. It’d be a rare thing for someone to give a gift with the sole intent of causing a problem. And yet, it’s clear that many parents view gifts as a challenge; something to be dealt with. My approach is to be as gracious and thankful as we can be, without also feeling that our spaces and our belongings are out of our immediate control. Here are a few tactics that can help maintain a sense of control, keep a focus on graciousness and gratefulness, and, hopefully, offer a few ideas for alternatives to an ever-growing pile of toys.gifts for babies | baby proof: reading my tea leavesSend A Clear Message:

I think there are both gentle and clear ways to let loved ones know that you might be hoping to embrace less rather than more when it comes to gifts for your kids. For me, the opportunities for spreading this message began from almost the moment I announced my pregnancy. In the same way that I opted out of a traditional wedding shower, I opted out of a traditional baby shower. I didn’t want a party in my honor based around giving material goods and I explained that I wanted to keep things very simple for the baby-to-be. The supplies that I gathered before Faye came along were very few and carefully considered. As I write about in my book, I did, at my mom’s urging, put together a small registry of items from a variety of small shops that I thought I—and a baby—would love. It included just a few things but for friends and family who were very eager to give a gift, the list provided a jumping-off point and an indication of the kinds of things we were hoping to bring into our home. Co-workers pooled resources to purchase us our stroller. Aunts and cousins pooled resources to buy us a baby carrier. Many friends gave gifts not on the registry: books and music and rattles and precious onesies. I loved all of them. In expressing from the start an interest in doing things differently, I avoided feeling too overwhelmed by gifts in those early months.

As kids get older, I think a similar kind of messaging can be effective. Many people I know have requested no gifts at birthday parties and gatherings. (Many people, myself included, have ignored the bidding, but the point is to try.) If asking for no gifts seems so staunch as to be surely ignored, try, perhaps, an alternative suggestion:

+ If you’d like to bring a gift, please consider making a contribution to our art supply box.
+ If you’d like to bring a gift, please bring a non-perishable food item that we can donate to our local soup kitchen.
+ If you’d like to bring a gift, please consider bringing a children’s book to donate to our local homeless shelter.

Offer Guidance:

In my experience, friends and family who really want to give a gift will often ask for a bit of guidance. Anything Faye needs? Anything you’ve been thinking of getting? Here’s your chance! Take a few moments to respond thoughtfully. In my family, my mom is a champion gift giver. She really loves the hunt. She loves finding the perfect little thing and the other two things that go along with it. I don’t deny her of the thrill of gift giving, but I do offer some ideas for things that might be most useful. (And, admittedly, I outsource to her some of the hunting that I find personally less satisfying. We all have our strong suits; use someone else’s gift-giving enthusiasm to your advantage!)

Shuffle What You Display:

Once the gifting is finished, we’ve always had the best luck with leaving out only a selection of toys at a time. Personal anecdotes aside, research shows that children respond better to a simple collection of toys than a vast one. A child need not have a shelf stacked full-to-brimming with options. If you are given more than you feel can be used or enjoyed or displayed without feeling crowded, opt to save some of it for later instead. An occasional rotation out of old and in of new is exciting for little guys. Whether it’s brand-new, or borrowed, or just re-emerged from a little sojourn in the closet, novelty wins every time. So tuck an extra-beautiful set of blocks under the bed and only take them out to build a gigantic castle. If you notice that a certain toy isn’t getting played with, put it on the top shelf of a closet to present again at a different time. We don’t have room to stockpile a huge number of toys, but we’ve managed to find little places to tuck things away.

As children get older and more attached to their belongings (and more interested in creative control of their space) this same practice of curation might prove beneficial. Provide a space for them to display their cherished objects and encourage a periodic reassessment. I remember particular joy at having a tag sale as a child and getting to mark the prices on various stuffed animals and toys that my parents had gently encouraged my sisters and I to sell. 

Encourage Charity:

Faye’s too young to fully grasp the concept, but I think there’s something to be said for starting early to instill a sense of charity in children. Some of these ideas, I already listed above, but when, despite your best efforts, children receive more than they need or could use, why not encourage them to give the gift to someone else in need? Local religious institutions and community centers often accept gifts of this nature all year long, but you might also save a collection of things to give to a family in need at the holidays. Like the tag sale story from my childhood, it might be a useful moment to teach a child the value of a gift beyond their personal enjoyment of it.

Embrace Ephemera:

It’s the play dough kick going on in our house that’s speaking, but I think on the giving side of things, it’s lovely to think about giving gifts to children that don’t necessarily require a longterm place to store them. Or else, to give gifts that encourage an activity or experience beyond what needs to be kept on a shelf: tickets to a museum, membership to a public garden, swimming lessons, an art or music class, etc. Even the very loveliest handmade toys can become overwhelming in multiples and most will eventually be forgotten. But the gift of a special lunch out with an aunt, or a trip to a local aquarium with a grandparent, or a solo-drive with an uncle to spend the day at the beach? Those are all things that won’t go forgotten. In fact, they might just be the very things that get remembered.

Accept Graciously:

It goes without saying that graciousness is really the only route to take when it comes to gifts. It’s hard to change people’s minds about what is good or useful or fun to have. Indeed, it’s likely impossible. Pick your battles. Your family might not love your handmade sugar scrub either. But accept graciously, send a thank you note, use the gift if you can. If ultimately a gift is not right for your home or your family or your child, graciously give yourself the permission to let it go.

What about you guys? I’d love to hear what’s worked for each of you!

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60 Comments

  • Reply jenn January 19, 2016 at 9:45 am

    while I don’t have children yet, I did just get married, and because my husband and I had been living together in a 450 SF apartment for nearly 5 years when we got married, we had everything we needed, and didn’t want more. It’s easy to say we don’t want any gifts from anyone, but people certainly get offended by that comment, because they don’t understand the (first world) challenges of living in a small space and ACTUALLY like living in it… preferably uncluttered with unwanted gifts. we casually told our closest family and friends that we are saving for a new rooftop deck, and that is our number one priority (we have sheets and towels that work just fine, getting fancier ones won’t make our lives any happier). they spread the word to everyone on the guest list…. while we still received “interesting” “sentimental” gifts (i’ll spare you the details of a giant-sized cross stitch of a facebook photo), the gifts were enough to pay for the rooftop deck we intend to build this summer! win-win for everyone 🙂

  • Reply orchids January 19, 2016 at 10:57 am

    One in, one out is our approach. Our parents are great at asking about gifts, so we usually suggest new clothes or babysitting instead of toys. I also pass on a lot of new toys to charity shops. We have a small space and I feel it does the children good to know that we all need to use our limited space so they have to decide on what’s really important to them, just like mum and dad, otherwise we would all be overrun with stuff.

  • Reply Ellen January 19, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    As a grandmother, I appreciate my daughters’ guidance in gifting to their little ones, who are just over a year old. From the beginning, I’ve asked what the daughters would like us to purchase at gift times. If they have no suggestions, I buy one small age-appropriate gift and put money in a card. For first birthdays, that meant a set of professional cake pans to stack (2″, 3″, 4″, 5″ round). The boys love to stack them now, and I can see the pans being used in myriad ways for many years. I’ve vowed to stick with this plan–one gift, money–for the long run. Sometimes books (board books for now) are the gift. You are a wise young mother; I wish I had had your wisdom with my own children. Finally, I have purchased and read your book. It’s a keeper! Hope you will follow with more.

    • Reply Sid January 19, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      As a mom of two (3 and 6) in a small home, I’d like to fully endorse Ellen’s wise approach to gift-giving. Giving one age-appropriate gift allows both the gift-giver and gift-receiver to enjoy the exchange while ensuring that the parent doesn’t suffer the burden and guilt of having to deal with excessive displays of affection. Though not necessary, an additional monetary gift is lovely. I’ve been slowly and gently trying to steer my family in this direction by emphasizing how much my daughters will enjoy having a nice savings account to tap into in the future for travel, etc.

    • Reply Kayla August 19, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      Ellen- How about a nice handwritten letter collection for them to open when they’re 16?

  • Reply missem January 19, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    We did the same as you – communicated during pregnancy, remind gently, offer alternative ideas. Since moving into a small space, we requested only one gift per person per child this year at Christmas, and requested things like money for extracurricular classes and museum tickets. Mostly, family was great about this, and our kids got some lovely gifts and it wasn’t overwhelming. That said…now that we have two kids out of the baby stage, even if they get one gift each for Christmas and birthday, and even if they thoughtfully fit with our values, that’s still about 40 new things in our little apartment every year, along with the deluge of little drawings and crafts that are taking over – overwhelming (though I’m grateful for the little drawings I find :))! So now I’m realizing that it’s time to figure out ways to talk to our young, “thing-loving” children about giving away and keeping just what we love. We’re also going to have to encourage “group gifts” that lots of family can contribute to. Our kids definitely understand that kind of thing. In the meantime…as I look at a closet stuffed full of toys (eep! My inner minimalist is aghast at this new situation!), I think we need to reinstate the tucked away for a rainy day box!

  • Reply Juliette January 19, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Well, no matter how hard we try, there’s is always the one grand-mother that just LOVES anything princess and pink and plasticky. And of course my daughter loves it, so it’s basically impossible to take it away from her after she’s opened the gift (She too old now to forget!). She told her Grandma that she liked unicorns so for christmas she received a GIANT unicorn from the My Little Pony brand, which is the ugliest thing on earth, and she loves it and it sits on her bed like a giant eyesore… If anyone has advice on how to deal with this type of situation I would love to hear… I’m finding staying graceful very hard (as you can probably tell!). p.s. this grandma is not MY mother, so it’s even more tricky!

    • Reply Elisabet January 19, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      I can relate to that, and I would love to hear any ideas, the grandmother plays the guilt-card, saying that buying gifts is her only joy now that she has no small children of her own. And since she is very aware of our position she sneaks in little gifts for the kids everytime she sees them, and it is to late to say no thank you when your kid comes to show you what granny bought for her… All you can do is to smile politely.

    • Reply CALLIE January 19, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      So if you daughter loves these items, even if they’re ugly to you, so what? Check out some of the Scandinavian family websites. The rooms are often colorful, raucous and yes, plasticky–they also look fun, lively, childlike. Not an adult’s idea of what a kid’s room “should” look like. I started out with my son supplying him with earth-toned wooden toys etc., and now, looking back, wish I’d let him have more colorful plasticky fun. Plastic toys don’t need to be stored for future generations; love ’em and then donate them. Childhood is way too short, anyway. Recently my teenager said of my perfectly neutral colored, “woodland” themed tree “oh, that’s the tree you look at when you want to feel serious”.

      • Reply Erin Boyle January 19, 2016 at 8:08 pm

        You know, I think so much of this comes down to making your best effort to do what feels right for you. We can’t *all* love neutral colored woodland trees, afterall.

    • Reply Rita Tocta January 20, 2016 at 6:38 am

      If your daughter received a gift she loves why should you want to take it from her? I had very few toys growing up (wooden, vintage, British teddy beats, my mother’s own playing kitchen set from she was little) and I had this purple poney from that exact same brand. It made me dream. And happy. I can’t imagine my parents saying “sorry this doesn’t goes well with our style”.

      • Reply Erin Boyle January 20, 2016 at 7:52 am

        To an extent, I know what you mean. My own mother never bought us Barbies, for instance, but she didn’t either wrench them from our hands. Parents, of course, can’t control everything, nor, probably should they. I do think parents are the adults however, and I do think that it’s appropriate to draw some lines, especially regarding very young children. For me this isn’t an aesthetic question, it’s a question of using our limited space to keep a modest collection of toys that inspire the imagination, encourage creative play, and keep everyone sane . 😉

        • Reply Juliette January 20, 2016 at 3:14 pm

          I would also like to add that it is not just “that it doesn’t go with my style”. I do believe that children benefits from being surrounded by beautiful things. They are already surrounded by cheap, ugly, generic toys/images everywhere they go. It’s a fine line, I guess. The same goes for music, paintings, etc… We can choose beautiful things to show them so they start to see for themselves one day that just because this song is everywhere it doesn’t mean it’s a great song.

        • Reply Kayla August 19, 2016 at 7:41 pm

          That’s a great response.

          Also, maybe you’ve already tried it but you could say- oh! That’s a great gift to keep at grandma’s house to have it when you’re there. It can be a special toy between the two of them.

      • Reply MissEm January 20, 2016 at 10:51 am

        It’s tricky, though, bc usually the person who gifts the plastic, garish toy will continue gifting a deluge of the same when they discover that the child enjoys it and you are okay with it, and then you end up with 30 giant plastic unicorns, so to speak, which isn’t good for your kid, your home, or the environment. I think the issue is more the constant stuff-giving than the one off raucous toy that your kid loves.

        • Reply Erin Boyle January 20, 2016 at 10:54 am

          Agreed.

      • Reply Juliette January 20, 2016 at 2:56 pm

        And of course, I didn’t say anything to my daughter, which is why the giant unicorn sits happily on her bed. It’s me who cringes everytime I see it, worried that the grandma will supply more of that since we (the parents) didn’t say anything and the kid is happy. I hope this will pass – before we get engulfed in a sea of giant unicorns!

    • Reply Heather January 20, 2016 at 9:40 am

      Juliette,

      I have the same grandparent problem with likely the same unicorn. It belongs to my youngest who is decidedly younger than my first two. I learned with my first two that I will never win the grandparent battle. My mantra now is “This too shall pass” and the unicorn will eventually go the way all the other unicorns have.

      • Reply Teresa January 20, 2016 at 4:33 pm

        Ha, ha…it’s true! Time heals 🙂

  • Reply Kate S. January 19, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    My husband and I are expecting our first baby in April, and I find myself often struggling with the need to cede control over the gift giving. I created a small registry with things we “need” to prepare for baby, and we are in a financial position where we really need the help in purchasing these items. However, I know we have at least three handmade baby quilts coming our way in lieu of requested items. It’s difficult because handmade baby quilts are treasures and I know the love that goes into them is an incredible gift unto itself. When I’m feeling less kind, however, I wish we were getting a baby carrier or crib mattress instead. The ambivalence regarding appreciating the thoughtfulness and generosity while also worrying about having an overload of stuff and having to figure out how to pay for needed items generates a bit of shame for me, and I haven’t quite figured out my happy place in the whole experience. I supposed the tension might be part and parcel of deviating from the “more stuff is better” mentality!

  • Reply Heather January 19, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    With two kiddos and three sets of grandparents, I have really struggled with this. I love and have encouraged experience gifts, but grandparents also want to enjoy the excitement of opening a gift, and a toy gets that reaction much more than the children’s museum membership card (even if they enjoy the latter more in the long run).

    We have also gone the “no gifts please” or “bring a gift to donate” routes for birthday parties, but I know this also creates confusion or awkwardness–some people still bring gifts and then the others feel uncomfortable. I also recognize that gift-giving is an important part of teaching a child to be kind and enjoy giving, and it’s hard to deny them the excitement of giving a gift they have picked out themselves.

    So, I continue to rotate toys and purge, but it feels like an ongoing battle. However I’ve recently had a few moments that told me my struggle is worth it. My 3-1/2-year-old has started bringing me toys that he says he no longer plays with and wants me to give away. And after a recent big purge, he’s been enjoying his play area so much that he constantly refers to it as “my clean playroom” and has been taking pride in keeping it that way. I really never imagined that could happen.

    And, I had to laugh out loud at “your family might not like your handmade sugar scrub either”! Touche!

  • Reply Kristin January 19, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    We’ve been blessed with eager gifters in our family. For Christmas, birthdays, and all the other gift opportunities in between, I’ve created an ongoing online wishlist. This has helped in many ways. First, whenever I think of something we’re in need of, I add it to the list. No more scrambling for ideas when asked. And, it’s an easy resource for the gift giver – if not the exact item, they can find similar items. I usually try to source the item from the shop itself and include a variety of items (for example, Grimms rainbow stacking bowls for my one year old, new shoes for growing feet, coveted books, etc). This also creates an element of surprise since there are various options to choose from. This Christmas, for anyone that asked for ideas, I gave them the link to the list. Same for birthdays, and now they’re getting the hang of it and will usually check there before asking me.

    • Reply Jenny January 19, 2016 at 4:56 pm

      Kristin, do you mind sharing what service you use to compile your wish list? I’ve been using Amazon wish lists for my littles but I’d much prefer to use something with a broader reach, shop-wise!

      • Reply MissEm January 20, 2016 at 10:54 am

        Amazon has a universal wish list button you can add to your favorites bar and click any time you’re on a website that has an item you want on the list. You can also add “ideas” like experience gifts and so on.

        • Reply Jenny January 21, 2016 at 1:53 pm

          Ahhh, I need that! Thanks!

  • Reply Jessica January 19, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    This is only slightly related, but what do you do to clean your wooden toys? I had been pouring boiling water over mine, but I noticed that some of them seem to be warping as a result. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 19, 2016 at 8:06 pm

      Erm…nothing? Can’t say I’ve scrubbed any of these 😉

      • Reply Jessica January 20, 2016 at 10:11 am

        Wow, that’s impressive. My two spit up like fountains, and then the dog tries to lick the toys….

        • Reply Jess January 20, 2016 at 2:39 pm

          Jessica, perhaps a diluted vinegar solution and then air dry in the sun?

    • Reply Susan Magnolia January 20, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      I use a little Dr. Bronners or dish soap and give the toys a little bath in the sink.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 20, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      I, of course, agree with the comments here: warm water, mild dish soap, vinegar if you have it. I would avoid submerging the wooden toys for too long. (And if any of the unfinished wooden toys get dried out or chalky overtime, I would give them a rub down with the board butter that I write about in this post: http://www.readingmytealeaves.com/2015/02/make-your-own-board-butter.html

  • Reply Laura January 19, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    My parents have always given our sons experiences as gifts. And since we all live in the DC area, there’s no shortage of places to go. Last year my Dad took one son to a Nats baseball game and our younger son to a live Peter Pan performance. Unfortunately he brought the Peter Pan tickets to the Nats game, and this was discovered at the gate after battling the Metro and crowds in 95 degree heat for more than an hour! Ah well, maybe a wrapped gift wouldn’t have been so bad…

  • Reply Anna January 19, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    My comment, in all honesty, is completed unrelated to the subject matter in this post but I just had to share with you how much I am enjoying your book. I actually felt compelled to hop right on my computer to sing your praise after finishing the introduction! I hope you are so very proud of your hard work – it is truly a delight to read what you write 🙂 <3 Anna

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 19, 2016 at 8:05 pm

      Thank you a million times over! So incredibly glad to hear that!

  • Reply Tarynkay January 19, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    This whole minimizing the influx, culling the extra, and rotating toys thing worked very well for us…. Until age 3. That is when 1) if became extremely gratifying for grandparents to give out son gifts (seriously, he is just delighted with everything and so adorably grateful) and 2) our son developed a near photographic memory for every piece of junk that has ever passed through his little hands. He also remembers WHO gave him every single thing, so everything is special to him and he does not want to let go of any of it. It is sort of insane. So even though we never buy him toys, we have enough toys to outfit a daycare.

    • Reply MissEm January 20, 2016 at 10:55 am

      Haha, yes! Us too! Something about three…

    • Reply Jakki January 20, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      My son is the same way with the near photographic memory. As a result, his room is stuffed with things that are “so special and I just love them all, Mom!” I’ve been decluttering room by room — but avoiding his like the plague. One step at a time!

    • Reply Jess January 20, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      We have this problem with our 4 year old daughter too! I’ve taken to putting things I’ve noticed she doesn’t play with often or that I want to get rid of into a box and I store it for about 3 months. If she doesn’t ask for it, out it goes. I have had her ask for things 6 months or even a year later but I’ve just told her I haven’t seen it in awhile and she doesn’t ask again. So far I’ve been lucky she hasn’t pressed the issue!

    • Reply Emma B January 27, 2016 at 6:48 pm

      Same here. I gather a bunch of clearly too young (he’s still attached to his infant toys at 3.5), no longer required/appreciated toys and at first I tried the hiding to see if he’ll forget approach. Not a chance, things he saw for a fleeting 15 minutes before I could hide them for a year he still remembers. So now I’ll show him a large selection of things I want to give away, I’ll explain these toys are for little babies not big boys and they aren’t his favourite toys and it would be kind to share them with other children. Then I accept that almost half of them will be declared still favourites and he’ll claim them back. BUT – that leaves me with some I can donate guilt free and if he asks after them I can remind him he agreed for them to go. A much slower, less efficient technique but hopefully respectful and hoping he claims back less favourites as he gets older. And I do get to purge some toys each time.

  • Reply Archana January 19, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    Erin,

    Beautiful message.

    I have been thinking about my spending and craving habits. And been thinking about sort of role model would I be for the future generation.

  • Reply Farrah January 19, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    As someone who tries very hard to keep the toys and “stuff” to a minimum, I have found that this task has become increasingly harder as my children have gotten older. When they were young I could carefully curate a list of simple toys and clothes for them and could control what came in and out of the house. This is fairly easy to do when they are young and don’t understand or remember how or what comes in the house. Now they have a voice and can openly express at 5 and 8 that they want Santa to bring them that glitsy toy they’ve seen at someone else’s house or the sparkley shirt, not the classic navy stripe one I suggest, that “all the girls have”. And they know that since I am not going to buy these items, asking Santa for that one thing or asking the grandparents (who can now ask them directly, not me, what they want) is the way to go. They are also very well aware when that favorite giant my little pony that someone gifted them and you loathe mysteriously leaves the house. Simplistic living definitely becomes more challenging when the kids age out of the toddler/preschool realm and have a voice. That said, we try our best to control the “stuff” and try to teach our kids the difference between wants and needs. We also donate items often and adhere to the one in one out idea…..however what they choose to give away is not always what I would choose to give away. “What?! You want to give away the wooden doll set but keep the neon plastic my little pony?” ;o) Thanks for the great blog.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 19, 2016 at 8:04 pm

      Ha! That last point made me laugh. I agree that the challenges are surely more complex as kids get older. I think we do our very best and try to be as cool as possible, however it all unfolds.

  • Reply Anonymous January 19, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    I don’t have children but my friends and sister do. When I am giving gifts, I am very conscious of not cluttering their apartments with toys (because I hate clutter too). That is why, when the kids are babies, I just buy clothes because those can be worn and then given away, and the baby doesn’t know what he or she is getting anyway. However, it gets harder as they get older because they don’t want clothes or gift certificates or money. They want that ugly plastic toy. I don’t know what I am going to do when my nephew gets older….

  • Reply Lara January 19, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Such great thoughts, and a topic I have been mulling over as well. I have been thinking – and even praying – about how to broach this topic with my in-laws. With my own mom, it’s not hard, I simply say, “Please don’t get the kids very much, and here’s an idea.” With my mother-in-law? It feels like I will never be able to be totally honest. Your last sentence is so good. I want control over what people give us, because if they’re spending their hard-earned money on stuff that is filling our thought-out space, it better be what I want!!! That attitude is causing me unneeded tension, and there is a point where I can just accept, and then pass it on. And that can be done graciously. Thank you for that insight.

    Also, I’ve found that imaginative toys tend to have more staying power in the long run. My daughter LOVED the noisy toy microwave she received from a relative on Christmas morning, but now that a few weeks have passed, the microwave is forgotten, and the set of wooden toy blocks that initially hardly got a second glance are now getting daily use.

    Your book is on the Amazon wish list to be bought next month when the budget is new again! Can’t wait. 😉

  • Reply Esther January 20, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I was just thinking about this very topic as my baby’s first birthday is coming up. I used one of your suggested messages!

  • Reply Angela January 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

    Great post! I myself have been struggling with this lately, with a 2 and almost 4-yr old. My in-laws bought my youngest a motorized car for her birthday (hasn’t been given yet) after we explicitly told them NOT to. Any suggestions on what to do/how to react? I’m planning on not saying anything and giving it away. Is that rude? I’m very against my kids having this kind of toy and on top of that, we have a small house with no more room for it…

  • Reply Laurence January 20, 2016 at 4:28 am

    Hello Erin,
    As usual a great post! I do not have babies at home any more (my babies are 25 and 21!) but our space in Aix is tiny and I always relate to what you say so graciously about all sorts of subjects. Thank you!
    Laurence

  • Reply Cara January 20, 2016 at 6:18 am

    I’m new to your blog and really enjoying it. This is a great post! I was wondering if you would please provide some ideas on what toys in particular your daughter has enjoyed playing with? I have an 8 month old baby, and I also want to avoid an excess of toys. However, since I’m limited the amount of toys that he has, i want to make sure that the ones I do get (or are gifted to him) are ones that he’ll truly enjoy and will stand the test of time. Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thank you!

    • Reply Jess January 20, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      Cara, Nova Naturals, Bella Luna, and Magic Cabin all have wonderful, timeless toys. At that age, many of the toys my 2 children played with were either super simple or not technically ‘toys’: stainless little cups to stack, balls, pieces of silk (playsilks), pots and pans with spoons, cardboard boxes. It’s so true that simple is better! Waldorf and Montessori education are big on simple, natural toys and RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) also focuses on simple, child-directed play. A google search should yield plenty of help 🙂

      • Reply Erin Boyle January 20, 2016 at 4:27 pm

        Agreed, one hundred percent!

  • Reply Christina January 20, 2016 at 7:21 am

    I just want to thank you for your thoughtful advice. I’ve really been enjoying the depth of your posts lately and I can’t wait to get your book! I’m long from needing advice about receiving gifts for any potential children, but I think this advice holds true for anyone. Thanks!

    • Reply Susan Magnolia January 20, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      My child loved stacking toys but the best one were a set of stacking boxes. Build them up high, line them up, fill with other objects. We had the heavy cardboard material and they were easy to store away because they are nested. The Ikea train set was another favorite and long lasting toy.

      • Reply Erin Boyle January 20, 2016 at 4:28 pm

        We have stacking bowls, but boxes, but we’ve also loved them!

  • Reply Angela January 20, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    I have a 7yr old girl and 3 year old boy. While their grandparents don’t give them too many gifts, they are most often age inappropriate. My kids are the youngest in the family, the other grandkids are all college age, so I understand they are out of practice. We have gently offered suggestions but they are quickly forgotten. Another issue is, my son receives alot of those V-Tech car/plane sets. He has gotten them since his first birthday, not sure why b/c I have stressed “no batteries” from the beginning. He doesn’t play with them and we have gently told the givers that he prefers building toys and his trains. They continue to buy them and I continue to donate them (after we see if he plays with it, of course!) I truly don’t care about the gifts but it bothers me that they are wasting their money.Any advice for people who just don’t listen?

  • Reply Alexis January 20, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Great post. My mom asks me if there’s anything my son needs, I tell her, she buys the exact thing that I specify. It’s very easy.
    Partner’s mom’s present is still under my desk at work until I find where to store it. She’ll buy a main present, and then (in her words) a “bunch of stupid little things.” They’re big on stocking stuffers, and I think this is where all the “stupid little things” fit in. I like the idea though, which is why I told my partner that we would only get each other stocking stuffers for the holidays. So hopefully there will be more thought put into it, and we won’t end up with a bunch of kitsch.

    My son’s first birthday, I said “no presents, just your presence.” Most complied, those who did not brought some nice books which we still read to this day. Others gave cash or gift cards, which are also nice. I’ve created a wishlist for him on Amazon with educational toys and fun books/activities I want for him. So now when people ask, I’ll just send them that.

    As he gets older, we will research charities together that we can donate to.

    • Reply jaclyn January 27, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      My mother in law STILL does the “stupid little things” for my husband and it drives me nuts every Christmas to have to figure out what to do with all the junk. It’s a family thing and they think it’s just the best. She’ll boast that she went to the dollar store and bought every single (whatever) they had in stock.

  • Reply Sarah Z January 21, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Erin, thanks so much for this post! I’ve been reading your blog for about 2 years, and since having a baby, I absolutely adore your ‘baby proof” series. And I just read so many comments – what a thoughtful, smart online community you’ve cultivated.

    • Reply Maureen January 21, 2016 at 10:35 am

      Sarah Z, I wholeheartedly agree. Wonderful, thoughtful post.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 21, 2016 at 11:46 am

      So many thanks to you both! So very glad you’ve found the series to be helpful!

  • Reply Virginia January 24, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Erin, I love your blog that I have just recently stumbled upon. With a little one on the way, I’m already beginning to see how our minimalist, non-plastic preferences for the home are going to be hard to maintain. Thanks for all the great advice.
    As a side note, where oh where is that cot pictured above from? We’ve searched high and low for one and could only find one recently for over $700.

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