Both my boys are about to have a birthday. Next week my big boy will turn six and my baby will turn three. We are in count down mode and I’m scrambling to get a party organised and gift’s purchased.
But I’m stumbling on the gifts thing. I’m torn between wanting to lavish my boys with awesome gifts, and not wanting even more ‘stuff’ in our house.
I’m torn between wanting them to know the joy of abundance on their birthdays, and not wanting them to equate ‘stuff’ with happiness.
I love my kids, and we are privileged to be able to buy them lots of gifts if we choose to. While our kids don’t have everything they have ever wanted, they certainly have a lot of toys, they definitely have enough.
I don’t want more toys in our house, or at least not more toys that will all too soon sit unloved and unused, taking up space and taunting me because I find it so hard to let that stuff go. And while we try to pick gifts that we think our kids will get lots of use out of, that are open ended and allow for lots of creativity, we are as bad as anyone else. I have already gotten carried away on ebay and bought both boys more Lego than is reasonable for a birthday gift… because it was a good deal, because we love Lego, because I could.
It seems mean to even think about not buying my kids gifts for their birthdays, but it also seems ridiculous, almost rude, to be buying them toys just because we can, because we feel like we ‘should’.
And so I am torn…
Am I so stuck in the mindset that stuff equals happiness that I am unconsciously sending the message to my kids that more is better?
Am I encouraging them to buy into the marketing and to lust after the newest ‘in thing’ just because?
Am I buying myself time by getting stuff instead of finding the time to make them something or take them somewhere?
I hope simply being aware of these issues will help me make better choices, choices that I feel fit our family.
Last year we celebrated the boys’ birthdays with a weekend away, and this year the girls have been given the option to choose a fancy weekend away (just the two of them and me) or a party. As our kids get older we are encouraging them more and more to make gifts for their siblings, and encouraging ourselves and family and friends to contribute to ‘experiences’ as gifts rather than ‘things’.
I hope we can share our privilege and joy with our children to celebrate their birthdays, but still be aware of how much is too much.
I hope we can show them that things are just things, and it is ok to let them go and pass them on.
I hope we can teach them that it is the celebration that is important, not what you get.
I hope we can teach them to be thankful for all they have.
It won’t always be the case that we choose less, or different (Lego is as much my weakness as it is my children’s joy.), but I hope we can find some balance in all this.
How do you deal with the influx of gifts at birthdays and other celebrations?
Do you worry about what it is teaching your kids?
Do you think your kids could ever have too many toys?
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
We struggle with this, too. I know my children have too many toys and, like you, I don’t want them to equate things with happiness. We’ve been trying to go the experiential route with gifts. To celebrate and remember, we make a photo book together. The kids help choose the pictures and caption them. I don’t mind my house being full of memory books. It’s getting our relatives to see that the kids need no more “stuff” that is the biggest challenge.
A photo book is a great idea!
And it can be hard to find a way to make others understand without feeling rude or ungrateful can’t it. :)
I am a teacher so every school holidays we have a toy clean out and reorganise. I ask my children what they would like to keep, and the rest we donate to charity. I think my kids are willing to get rid of toys when they know they are going to someone else. And let’s face it, out of the 100 or so toys my kids may have, they really only play with their favourite few!!
My kids are better at this than I am!
I am good with trying not to let too much stuff come into our house, but terrible with letting it go!
Bek @ Just For Daisy says
Definitely a tricky one at birthday/Christmas time. Have you heard of the 5 Love Languages?? It’s very interesting. Neither my husband or I are gifts, so we don’t make the best giver’s either!! haha! It’s just not how we’re wired. Our kids get one present at birthday’s or Christmas that usually costs less than $20 or is homemade. If as they grow up we see that they do enjoy receiving gifts we might increase but for now it’s just not necessary. Harder with older kids I suppose as they’re in tune with birthdays meaning gifts! haha!
We also will be doing a special ‘date’ for our girls birthdays as they grow older… Miss Daisy loves to go on special dates with her daddy and we’ll continue this as a special birthday tradition too! :)
We’ve tried hard to keep a lid on our family gift giving, but it’s harder with extended family, and this year we are having a party with friends so that is even more gifts! arrgh!
I love the idea of a special date and am campaigning hard for my girls to choose a weekend away for their tenth birthday, but the social lure of a party is strong…
I have been feeling the same way. When asked whether i was considering the toy sales for Christmas presents, I realised that I really didn’t want to buy a whole heap of branded plastic stuff that would not get played with. Anything that is played with,I am happy with, but it is a bit of a gamble and one I don’t always get right. I am settling for different gifts, home made voucher books for experiences (trip to the cinema, the fun swimming pool, etc) and some home made stuff that isn’t my quick ten minutes knock outs, but properly crafted.
I am so with you!
The toy sales lure me in but apart from snapping up any Lego bargains (I know… I have a problem!) I try to stay away from anything else. I’ve even decided that all nieces and nephews will get money from us this Christmas – at least that way they can choose what to spend it on!
Kirsten McCulloch says
After reading your post and thinking about this some more, I am questioning whether we should even be worrying about gifts for the nephews – or more to the point whether their parents should for our kids. I only actually have two nephews, one from each sibling. I have some so-called nieces, my cousin’s kids, who I see more often than either of the nephews (they live near us in Canberra, and are either side of my middle child in age), but we agreed early on to forgo exchanging gifts.
I have another close friends who I do exchange kids-Christmas-gifts with, but last year we agreed on a handmade or garden them (home grown being almost like handmade), and the year before we had a pre-loved theme. And we always have a low $ limit. I think I will suggest the same thing to my siblings. See if they will at least go with a pre-loved theme :)
Linda @ M&As World says
I hear ya! We are going along the ‘experience’ route for our soon-to-be-5yr-old next week.
Her special day isn’t until the Saturday after her birthday so that Dad can be involved, but I felt terrible not giving her something on her actual birthday, so I caved and we are getting her something small.
It actually feels good doing it this way, coz she got to choose the experiences, and I don’t have to stress about thinking of that perfect/awesome gift!
We did something similar for our boys last year… we also got them a small gift to open, because there is joy in opening something special hand picked for you – but it doesn’t have to be huge or many!
I too struggle with this… I find that (for myself) buying pre-loved gifts that are in great condition makes it more affordable for me to treat my daughter and easier for me to then pass them on once they have past their novelty date.
But I do keep what I buy to a minimum where possible.
It is family and friends that can be difficult to convince. I have tried the ‘wishing well’ route with them as we would love to be able to afford the big purchases for our daughters future (first car, overseas school excursions etc.) but that only works for so long before people get tired of giving her money. So instead we ended up with a life-size Old English Sheepdog for her 1st birthday (I nearly fell over!) and all sorts of little biddy plastic things – when she’s happy playing with her $2 tea set from the op shop.
Its a challenge. But I think teaching your children (and in some cases your family and friends too!) the value of things – the environmental benefits of buying pre-used goods – the joy you can bring those less fortunate when you pass on the things you no longer need. And the younger they are when you teach them the more likely it will be that they will then share this with their children in the future.
I love the pre-loved idea! In fact the Lego I bought my boys was second hand from Ebay and they will adore it!
It’s a good point about teaching our kids now… I hope that means that one day they will Aunties, Uncles and Grandparents who will happily contribute to an experience gift!
Kirsten McCulloch says
Yes, we go the pre-loved route a lot too – that is, for the items we buy. As you say, it is the rest of the family who can be a challenge.
Chelsea @ Moments A Day says
Great post and a topic I have thought about many times. We have parties where friends bring a donation (one year we fundraised for Clown Doctors and my husband dressed up and did an act…) or a particular thing (last year we collected toothbrushes for a preschool in another country). But even with no presents at parties, the presents build up from parents, siblings, grandparents, aunties and uncles – and sometimes I really do want to give them something specific for a gift (ie a few books I know they will learn a lot from; a kit set for a particular subject) so I dont want to never give them anything haha. I used to be a total sucker for anything “educational” but after going on a Simplicity Parenting kick (awesome book) I downsized a lot and now try to buy with more moderation ;-) It’s hard when you see stuff on sale though… I guess it’s all just a journey and sometimes there can be no hard and fast rules. I love to read how others go about it though so thanks for posting :-)
I love the idea that it is a ‘journey’…. that makes me realise that I don’t have to get things right all the time, and that things change over time!
When our twins turned one we asked for no gifts and for people to donate to the NICU they spent so many weeks in… and sadly hardly anyone honored our request.
But a few years late we had a great tree planting first birthday for my big boy and pretty much everyone followed our request and bought a tree to plant on our property and no other gifts.
Looking back I can see that for the first grandchildren on both sides asking for no gifts for our twins first birthday was a bit ambitious. By the time our boy turned one we had so many toys already and family were more used to our ‘weird’ ways so it worked better…
Yep… definitely a journey!
Kirsten McCulloch says
Do I worry about what it is teaching my kids? Oh, so much.
I wish I’d been more thoughtful about this when my kids – or when my eldest kid – was a baby. Instead, I’ve watched things happen over time, and started to feel antsy gradually.
We’ve never bought the kids a lot of gifts, but they have a lot of toys all the same. Between my FIL who is constantly over the top (which would be fine if we saw him twice a year instead of at least every fortnight), birthday parties, handmedowns (we have more handmedown duplo than anyone could ever need – happily I’ve just found a good home for some of it), they have just so much.
And do I get caught between my own weakness for stuff and my desire to reduce, simplify, and teach them that stuff does not equal happiness? Oh yeah. Especially if I see one of them enjoying some toy someone has given them (lego is a prime example) I do fall into the trap of wanting to get them more. Luckily, we really can’t afford it most of the time ;)
On thing that has helped a little is we have mostly cut out birthday parties over the age of six. They have the option of a birthday party every other year, but the alternate choice is a sleepover movie night with a friend (and they don’t get to see a lot of movies) or a dinner out with the family and a friend.
My 11 year old has chosen the sleepover every single year since he turned six.
My almost seven year old has chosen the dinner out this year. Though sadly that’s now off (at least with the friend she’d chosen), because she’s got chicken pox, and her friend is moving (back) to the States next week!
Anyway, no birthday parties = a lot less presents!
We have very few parties in our family too… my big boy just had his very first ‘friends’ party yesterday and he got so many (lovely) gifts!
I definitely try to steer my kids towards something else special other than a party and after yesterday I can see how that would definitely help keep the gifts under control!
McCall Bennett-Lawrence says
I guess we are all in similar boats, eh? Our kids, Harper Jo & Marley, just turned 7 and 5, respectively. And we spent many a conversation discussing material vs experiential in preparation for the end of May, when (although two years apart) in a matter of 8 days, both of my kids gain a year. I reasoned with them that if they wanted, they could opt for separate parties, separate places, separate people, separate themes, gifts, cakes, etc. OR… They could, once again, have a Combined, Mega B-Day Bash! At least twice the guests, twice the budget, twice the fun!! And, while it is true, the whole “that means… twice the presents?!” aspect didn’t sneak past their radar, I was able to successfully steer the ship towards a impromptu sense-memory exercise: “I want both of you, without making any noises until you are called upon (yea righhhhht.), to think about your birthday party last year. Remember? Maybe even. Close your eyes… Ok, try and remember every single detail about the party. Who came? Who didn’t? What did we do? What colors, foods, sounds, smells, and yes,.. what presents do you recall? Ready? Lets name all the PEOPLE, go.”
Names came flying at me like birds in that one Hitchcock flick. When the barrage showed a sign of slowing, I suggested another round, “foods… Go.” I was a bit shocked. They nailed every single thing we served! Including drinks. Going as far as detailing how eachorher’s cupcakes were decorated.
It was in the next round that i would open the walls of the little Trojan Horse Game: “Keep going. You two are on fire! How about… gifts? Name all the GIFTS you got”, I managed to encouage with all the boyant energy of Barney.
Huh? Encouraged by just how well this was working, “Come on. Gifts. Birthday presents. What did you GET from… x, y & z?” I punted their Birds right back to them, guest by guest, the very names with which they had deafened the room only moments ago. Bewildered looks passed between them, and then I smiled and made my point. “Wouldn’t you rather have a party that you can remember, in such vivid detail, after a year has past… Than a pile of gifts you forgot with a few months?”
And that, my friends, is what I call: one more big Win for Mom.
Besides, even the grownups agreed, our ‘Blacklight Bounce-house Birthday Bash was AWESOME – a party we’ll all remember for many years to come.
Wow! I bet you were fist pumping for the rest of the day! LOL
Mind you a blacklight bounce house birthday party beats just about any gift I can think of! SO COOL!
Well, my son definitely could never have enough Lego. And when I pointed out to my husband (who also exclusively played with Lego when he was a kid) that he already had enough, he answered: “Lego is not a toy, it’s a passion.” ;-)
We came to find a solution that works well for the whole Family. For their birthday and for Christmas, they get three presents: one from us, one from my mother, and one from my husband’s family. Or if it’s something really special, all three parties give that one gift together. Special doesn’t necessarily have to be pricey, just something that we wouldn’t buy throughout the year — or something we are very strict about. Like while for most of their friends nintendos or mobile phones or mp3 players are just regular items, for us they are special (mostly for educational reasons).
This has really worked out well for us, because the kids give a lot of thought to what they wish for for their birthdays and Christmas.
We started it when my son was four, so my youngest one grew up with it, and it works well for her, too.
What I do enjoy, too, is that the kids put a lot of thought into the presents they give their siblings — it doesn’t have to cost anything, it’s the thought that counts, and they treasure the gifts they give to each other.
So, enjoy the preparations for your sons’ birthdays, I am sure your kids will have a great day!
Lego is definitely a passion in our house!
And while I never thought you could ever have too much Lego I am starting to wonder if that is true given how much we now own!
I agree with you that there is a lot of pressure to buy kids presents because ‘that’s what you SHOULD do’. I always think it’s amusing when I hear parents say things like, ‘my baby will be 8 weeks old at Christmas, what should I buy them?’ Ummm, you don’t have to buy them anything!!! OK, maybe be a little keepsake that it’s baby’s first Christmas if you like but that’s all they need. What I would suggest for presents is to consider handmade items from small WAHM businesses.