Children and gifts: avoiding affluenza and accumulation

I once heard a tale about something sinister that happens after you have children.  While you sleep, an elusive villain surreptitiously opens your front door, inserts a large diameter plastic tube, and fills your house with plastic items made in China.  I didn’t believe the stories before I had children, but now suspect them to be true.  Contrary to the rumor, it seems that the tube is pretty indiscriminate about the materials it deposits – in my house the influx has been probably ⅓ plastic, ⅓ paper and the remaining ⅓ “other.”Despite years of data supporting this stuff-shooting villain, there is an alternate theory think holds some merit.  This “stuff” infusion seems to occur three times of the year in my house.  Once is in August, once is in November, and once is in December.  Is it coincidence that these months coincide with my daughters’ birthdays and Christmas?

Problems with too much “stuff”

My daughters each have their own bedrooms (about 11 x 11) and their own closets where they keep all their belongings.  Last month my older daughter Maya broke down in tears, overwhelmed by the mess in her room.  The mess was, in large part, due to procrastination about putting things away, but the number of items did, in fact, greatly exceed the number of “away” places in her room.  She pleaded for my help, for she knows that she has a hard time parting with things.  So, while she slept in another room, Scott and I removed about ⅓ of the bulk of items from her room, promising  her before not to throw anything away.  It’s all in the attic, and she has not missed it.

My younger daughter has not become as distraught by the overwhelming fullness of her room, but when I removed a large portion of it the other day to the attic, she walked in and said, “Thanks!” without worrying where any of it had gone.  Azaria has also been struggling lately with the requirement that her clothes be put away instead of piled on her floor.  We solved much of this problem by letting her choose her 10 favorite outfits for this season, and we removed rest from her room.  Now she does not have to dig through as many clothes to decide what she wants to wear, and her closet is easier to hang things in since it’s not packed.

Though not even a decade old, and my children are already feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the accumulation of stuff in their lives.

And, our attic is now stuffed to the brim.  Soon they will have to part with some things permanently.

What to do about gifts

As you can tell from my account of their rooms, my children are not lacking for any items.  They have vast quantities of books and plenty of clothes.  They have craft supplies.  They have dolls, toys, puzzles, and games.  They have their imaginations.

Do they want stuff?  Of course they do.  But the very stuff they said they wanted and that they were excited to open on holidays had them in tears recently as they tried to manage it all.  We don’t always want what’s best for us, and everyone, even mature adults, and tempted by something new, something different, something…wrapped.

Am I responsible for some of the stuff they have?  Of course.  I can’t blame it all on the stuff-shooting villain, or on well-meaning, loving relatives and friends.  But since they have recently both suffered from mild cases of affluenza, I have been wondering a lot about gifts this year.  Azaria turned seven in August, and we requested her grandparents and aunts contribute to her gymnastics lessons.  Opening a check for gymnastics might not be as exciting to a seven-year-old as a new doll, but she is loving the lessons.  Scott and I did not include her gymnastics as part of our gift to her, so we were still able to give her some other tangible gifts, but ones that I chose carefully so as not to increase her accumulation too much.

Our next challenge is Maya’s tenth birthday in November.  Some background:  we are paying for piano lessons for Maya this year, and are happy to do so.  They cost $390 per trimester.  However, Maya saw her sister in gymnastics, and begged to do that too.  I had to choose between paying $58/month for gymnastics for her, too, or buying her birthday presents in a couple of months.

I chose gymnastics.

I know that the coordination and physical confidence she’ll learn in gymnastics is much more lasting than any item I could put in a box, and she won’t have to find a place to put it.  But I still worry about how it will feel for all of us when her birthday arrives and we have one or two small gifts for her instead of a pile (of whatever size we feel it is “supposed” to be).  I’m fighting the impending (irrational) guilt about that, and the fear that she’ll be disappointed.  I have a lot of growing to do, but I think this is the right choice.

I’d love to know how you have managed the accumulation of things that come with children and the gifts they are given, and how to keep it all in perspective and live sustainably while a stuff-shooting villain lurks (or a loving, gift-bearing friend or family member arrives) outside your door.

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3 responses to “Children and gifts: avoiding affluenza and accumulation

  1. I don’t really have much in the way of suggestions. Seems like you’re doing it right – easing things out of their day-to-day lives into the attic. After they’ve gone a while w/o something, they may decide they really don’t need/want it and will be able to part with it permanently.
    As Christmas approaches, it is a good time to get rid of some things – as the girls choose good things to give to whatever organization collects gently-used toys and clothing for other children for Christmas. And they’ll understand that if they give things to a thrift shop, other parents can buy them for their children at reduced prices. Not only will they no longer be stressed by the overabundance, but they’ll increase their awareness that not all children have things and not all parents can buy things at new retail prices.

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  2. Jill! We are doing our best to confine Gavin’s things, but i can definitely see where this is going. A good approach from one of my co-workers: have the kids line up their things, starting in the room with items most dear/often used and then winding out of the room, down halls and stairs if necessary, until you have a giant conga line of things, then begin putting them away from in the room to out. When all of the places have been occupied, the rest go to the attic, and then to Goodwill after 3 months (allowing some time for remorse and item retrieval). He’s done this 2x (so far) with his 13 yr old daughter and once with his 5yo son. Good luck!

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    • Oh – that’s a cool idea! We are getting ready for a mega yard sale next weekend and are pulling down things from the attic that have been there for months. We are also going a bit more extreme in terms of what we are selling at the yard sale – I am tired of having to do this so often. We gave away two C-RV’s full just last May! Argh!

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