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The post-Christmas challenge

How to teach children that less is more when well-meaning relatives overwhelm them with gifts.

By Karen Datko Jan 13, 2011 10:37AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


This year for Christmas, most of the items my wife and I received were small and/or served some specific utility in our lives. I received some grape juice with which to make homemade wine (pinot noir), a replacement for our small saucepan, and some books, among other things. My wife received similar small items.


Our kids? Here's the challenge with our children: My parents have traditionally gone way overboard on their grandchildren for birthdays and Christmas. On the other side of the family tree, our children are the first grandchildren of my mother- and father-in-law, and the first niece and nephews of my sisters-in-law.


They all want to give our children memorable Christmas presents -- and I understand that. Our challenge comes when we return home. Their toys, mostly gifts from events like birthdays and Christmas, already fill up multiple toy boxes.


There's a double challenge here.


The first is finding places to store these things. Our children are of three distinctly different ages and levels of cognitive development. Our oldest loves building LEGO sets and has a penchant for action figures. Our middle child loves building towers out of Magna-Tiles. Our youngest? He's pretty content with a few stuffed animals and baby toys.


As they grow, though, their interests change. Soon, our youngest will want to have his hand in the Magna-Tiles. And what if we have another child?


The second challenge is teaching our children that less is more from an early age, that there's great value in having a smaller number of toys that you play with extensively, that you don't really need a mountain of toys. A mountain of toys stands in direct contrast to this lesson.


For us, the second challenge is more important than the first. The idea of having more stuff than you can possibly ever play with seems heavily tied to rampant consumerism in adults, where they buy more stuff than they possibly have time for. When you're buying like that, you're begging for financial difficulties.


Here are some of the solutions we've come up with for dealing with these concerns:


We've started a "toy rotation." When the children are out of the house, we take a bunch of the toys at the bottom of the toy boxes and store them in a tub in the garage. Occasionally, we'll rotate some of them back into the mix, often pointing them out. "Remember that toy? You haven't played with that in a while."


If they miss a toy we've stored, we'll retrieve it for them. However, that hasn't happened yet.


We're going to have a yard sale in the spring. Not only will we sell almost everything in the garage tubs, we'll involve the children in selecting toys that they're willing to sell. Our goal is to save a small number of toys for each child -- the ones they enjoy the most -- and sell the rest. 

The money from the yard sale will go into a "family fun" pool that will pay for all of us to do something fun together (likely largely of the children's choosing). Our best idea so far is to go to a water park that's about two hours away.


In essence, we're trying to turn excess stuff around our home into a fun family experience. The idea, of course, is that experiences trump stuff.


We're going to donate the yard sale leftovers to Goodwill. That way, once it's decided that toys are going to go, they're out of the house for good.


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