Monday, April 11, 2011

5 Children's Gifts that Become Clutter

The deadline for the spring consignment sale is looming. I spent the morning purging clothing, toys and other odds and ends from my youngest son's closet, dresser and bedroom. I've got a lot of stuff to put in the sale this time. Probably the most I've ever had. I also have two bags of clothing for the Salvation Army and two bags of garbage.

As I was going through things, I was doing a lot of thinking. Mostly about all of the waste we have in our society, especially when it comes to children's toys. While I appreciate that my boys have many relatives in their lives that love them, I cannot help but feel inundated with stuff at birthday and Christmas time. There really are too many presents. My oldest son is almost 12, so we've had 12 years and three kids worth of toys and other presents accumulating. I weed things out from time to time, but there are certain things that the boys have been given over the years that simply leave me scratching my head and asking why. 

Some things that I wish people would think twice about before giving them to my children:

1. Stuffed animals. If you're a parent, you know what I'm talking about here. Stuffed animals seem to multiply at night while we sleep! With the exception of my middle son who went through a phase of playing with stuffed puppies, my boys have not played with stuffed animals. Other than the puppies, the rest of our stuffed animals (and there are lots) are an odd assortment of penguins, monkeys, bears and several other creatures. They are, for the most part, ignored. I know it's tempting to buy a cute, soft stuffed toy for a little kid, but please, please think twice the next time you are shopping for a gift. Unless you know the child in question is someone who plays with stuffed animals, take a pass. The further complicating factor regarding stuffed animals is they are so hard to get rid of. They can't be sold at consignment sales and most get overlooked at garage sales.

2. Dollar Store Toys. I appreciate the sentiment behind the dollar store gifts my boys have received. They are often given throughout the year at non-birthday or holiday time "just because". The problem with these toys is they break easily. They end up in pieces at the bottom of the toy basket. These toys also tend to be the ones made in China that get recalled from time to time because of lead.   

3. Building Toys. This is a tough category because my boys love building toys. However, there are many different types of building toys. We've got a few types, including Legos, K'nex and Lincoln Logs. The most popular in our house, by far, are the Legos. Though we have too many of those even, I always cringe when the boys are given a building toy that is not Lego. I can almost guarantee that they won't play with anything but Legos. It's not that we are snobs about it, but they already have so many that it's easy for them to incorporate a new set into their existing toys. Building toys that don't work with anything else are one-trick ponies. They build the kit once and never touch it again. The only exception for us was a set of K'nex that my middle son received a year or so ago.  They've gotten a lot of play time.

4. Battery-operated Toys that Give Mom and Dad a Headache. I think there are some relatives in our family that think it's funny to give the boys loud toys with obnoxious flashing lights. However, not only do these toys drive my husband and I bananas, the boys really could not care less for them. Like the Dollar Store toys, they may get all the attention the minute they are out of the package, but they don't have any staying power. Smart kids get bored quickly with toys like that. Those toys typically don't leave much to the imagination. And, they are often over priced and gimmicky. I'm not even a fan of Leapster or other things of that nature that are supposed to be educational. They're not.

5. Any Toy That's not Age Appropriate.  By this I mean that 100-piece puzzles really aren't a good fit for a 3-year-old child, but neither are baby toys. The age guidelines on the package are a good guide for what is or is not appropriate. They aren't just there to keep young children from choking on small pieces. They also typically let the gifter know what age child is likely to have the skills for that particular toy. If a toy package says "Ages 8 and Up", then it's likely not a good gift for a five year old, simply because he's not likely to have the skills for it yet. Likewise, if a toy says it's for ages 4-8, then an 11 year old isn't likely to appreciate it.

I hope I don't sound ungrateful, because that's not what I'm going for at all here. And, I know I'm not innocent of bad gifting, either. I'm sure I've given my nieces and nephews some stinkers over the years! I hope the above list will give people pause before they shop for a child's gift.

Tomorrow I'll post a list with good gift ideas for children. After nearly 12 years of parenting, there have been some gifts that were a success again and again, no matter the age or gender of the child.


  1. totally with you. I think from now on we're sticking with books and gift cards (like for the bouncy place, or to be used for a zoo membership or a treat at the fancy yogurt place, or tickets to a show.) words and experiences.

  2. My mother spent one week with us, saw the volume of toys and then called to say that she had decided to get the kids savings bonds for gifts with just something small to open (and once they were old enough to figure it out, they would propose their favorite candy to G'ma - at least it was consumed). When they reached elementary school, their other grandparents started giving them a two dollars a year for each birthday (so at age 8, they got $16) -- they love both. The savings bonds were not really of interest but they had their candy. And now that they are heading into college the savings bonds are truly appreciated.

    BTW, almost all of our stuffed animals are packed away and come out at Christmas time as part of our decorations. We have the memories to appreciate and then they get packed away again.

    Good luck.

  3. I tend to agree with your post (except that my youngest has a passion for stuffies, she is 9 and still loves all her stuffies).

    I try to give different gifts, art kits that are fun and consumeable, we like to make our own art and science kits to give (with recycled/recycleable materials). When the kids are small if I know they are going to get a ton of toys and clothes, I give money to put toward whatever, but we are starting to look at giving experiences instead of gifts.

  4. Oh, my, GOODNESS! I second your post! I finally put my foot down last year and just flat out requested to the grandparents NO MORE STUFFED ANIMALS. It was so nice to not add to the pile. And as far as diminishing the clutter? I needed to make some new pillows for our couch, so a few of those animals hit the chopping block and I got a couch redesign! ;)
    ...and I echo:
    Don't kill my child with some $1 toy because you think she needs something to unwrap.
    Don't give me something that I want to take the batteries out of. If I have that frikken song from that annoying toy stuck in my head ONE MORE DAY...

  5. I'm glad I'm not alone here! Thanks for the comments!