A few years ago, I downsized my kids’ toys, ditching almost everything with flashing lights, moving parts or annoying songs on repeat.
What remained was a quality selection of toys that prioritized creativity and imagination: wooden blocks, train tracks, magnet tiles, pretend play clothes and model dinosaurs. Despite its smaller size, this group of toys kept our kids happy.
Then the holidays approached. We have a large family who loves to shower our kids with gifts at Christmas. We have always appreciated their generosity but were concerned about the influx of “stuff” that was about to overwhelm our house.
After a lot of deliberation, I sent an email to family members asking them to reconsider their usual approach to gift-giving. I was nervous and didn’t want to offend anyone, but thankfully, the email was well received. Our kids were given way less “stuff” for Christmas and no one seemed to hold any grudges against me for communicating our needs. The tradition has carried over every holiday since.
If you’re thinking about requesting less “stuff” from your own family this holiday season, here are five helpful tips.
1. Explain why
People are more likely to go along with a new idea if they understand the reason behind it. I explained that we had downsized our excessive number of toys and the kids seemed to play better now, together and individually.
My request wasn’t arbitrary or an attempt to micromanage other people’s gift-giving — it would just legitimately make our lives easier.
2. Offer suggestions
If you want your family to think outside the box, give them plenty of alternatives to regular stuff: Gift cards to kid-favorite restaurants, aquarium tickets, “coupons” for babysitting or quality time spent together.
And even if your kids need practical items like socks, sweatpants or winter coats, stick with things they would be truly excited to get. This way, the gift-giver still gets to experience the joy of seeing your kids open something they’ll love on Christmas.
3. Express lots of gratitude
You do not want to imply in any way that your family members’ generosity has been or will be an inconvenience to you. At the end of the day, a gift — no matter what it is — calls for only one response: “Thank you!” Make sure you say that and really mean it.
4. Remind them of the benefits
Explain the benefits to family members. Instead of spending their money on stuff that was destined to be broken, cast-aside or donated, they could purchase the kinds of gifts that would create happy memories and which last longer than your average toy.
5. Emphasize that this is optional
Because it is! And in the interest of preserving your loving family relationships (which is much more important than keeping your house clean), you must treat this like an optional request, not a demand.
Avoid saying “Please don’t give toys,” opting for “We would prefer experiences, gift cards or books, but we’re always grateful for any gift you choose to give our kids.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November 2018, and updated in December 2019.