How to (Nicely) Ask People to Stop Giving Your kids Junk

Let’s clear something up first – when I am talking about junk, I’m referring to disposable toys. You know the ones; they’re the toys that the kids play with for about a week – and then they get discarded, tossed and eventually they end up in the donate pile in your home, after you’ve spent two months relocating it back to where they belong.

Three years ago, we got rid of half the stuff in our house. We took a good look at the ‘stuff’ was accumulating in our house and realized that the ‘stuff’ didn’t bring us any real value. 

When you get rid of the stuff in your home, when you lighten your load by more than half, it comes with the side of effect of starting to really evaluate the things you’re purchasing going forward. We started to ask questions like: Is this something that I am going to own in six months? eighteen months? Do we have something similar already in our house? Do we need this? Could we borrow this from a friend or another family who has also chosen to own less?

Something else happens when you get rid of half the stuff in your house, too. You spend less time tidying, you spend less time putting things back where they belong, you spend less time browsing to buy more stuff.

But, after a while, the clutter was starting to come back. Where was all the junk coming from?

Grandparents. In our family, grandparents have loved on the kids by gifting them toys. Small toys, trendy toys, and things they squeal with delight over and play with for five minutes. I don’t know about you, but I throw these things in the donate pile as quick as I can before the kids notice. Kinder Eggs, small toys, fad-like stuff – they buy it and I get rid of it.

Birthday Parties. Toys, toys and more toys. Birthday parties are one of the biggest culprit of the ‘stuff’. The once a year smorgasbord of toys from the entire class. Trendy toys that are suggested by toy store staff that get ripped open, quickly glanced at, played with and then tossed aside for me to pick up thirty-seven times before they finally make it into the donate bin.

But, how do you tactfully ask someone to stop giving your kid junk?

Be patient, changes take time – it won’t happen overnight. Rather than a box of a dozen items each for the holidays, our parents now sends gift cards and they go to the store and come home, to show her what they chose, over Facetime. Books, craft supplies – things they need, like new seasonal things, or excisions and experiences.

  • Start by sharing your values to anyone who will listen, namely grandparents. Explain the value of experiences over stuff and explain how much more added value comes from the gift of experiences. Share resources, explaining the reasoning behind consuming less.
  • Give other children the gifts of experience. Rather than giving a toy or other item at the next birthday party you’re invited to, think about something that the child will enjoy, or something the child will use. One of my favourite gifts to give is pair of children’s movie tickets, or a family pass, inside something functional, like a water bottle for kids. This gift was actually given to one of my kids, and inspired me to start giving a similar option, myself.
  • Host a 50/50 birthday party. At this party, each guest gives the birthday girl or boy $5 –  I know, there’s some weird stigma about giving cash at the party, I get it – but half of the money is donated to a charity of the kids choice, and half is kept by the kid to purchase something, that they want.
  • Just ask. If you’re blunt, like I am, explain that you are trying to minimize the things within your home. Explain that you’re trying to aim to collect experiences and ask family members and friends to help with that. Suggest ideas for things that they can do with the child, or experiences they can gift or contribute to, rather than the usual ‘stuff’.
  • Give options for things that you need, or things that the kids collect: for us, it’s lego and magformers, craft supplies and books. Giving options for things that you’re constantly running out of – like craft supplies, is a lot easier than giving a list of things that you don’t want. 

Have you been trying to reduce the junk in your house, and haven’t been able to make progress? Where do you find it’s coming from? If you have been successful, what are some of the ways that you’ve been able to buy less, own less and be given less?