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Present Timing for Kids (2018) (jefftk.com)
76 points by luu on March 18, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments

I've been trying to push back on the number of presents my kids get, both from us and from our parents/family, but it's really an uphill struggle.

At Christmas my son hit a point where each successive wave of toys stopped having an impact on him, there was just too many for him to handle and half of them have been barely touched since. It's really frustrating seeing so much money and resources effectively go to waste when he would have been just as happy with half as many. I particularly take issue with some of the plastic tat that people were buying as "little extra" presents, cheap trash that got played with once and then ignored and ultimately ended up recycled.

I totally get that everyone wants to be generous, and I don't want to be a scrooge, but the cumulative effect is overwhelming for a 4yo, and ceased to have any meaning for him. Just so much waste.

My impression has been that my kids wouldn't just be "just as happy with half as many", they're actually happier with fewer presents.

If I watch the body language of my kids during these present-opening extravaganzas, I can see so many cues: The annoyance at being pushed to keep opening presents before they're done engaging with the one they just opened. The saturation point where they're nearing some stage of psychological numbness after umpteen presents. The stress of being pressed to show some semblance of gratitude toward all the people who are giving them presents even after they've reached that point. The increasing piles of toys giving increasing opportunities for squabbling with the other kids in the room over toys, or feelings of envy and jealousy around all these material possessions, etc.

And then, after that's over and everyone's gone home, they end up enjoying the stuff they have less over the long term as well, because having such a large collection of toys creates such a high distraction environment. It's hard to realize it when you're in the thick of it, probably doubly so when you're a kid, but owning lots of stuff is mentally exhausting.

So this year, a few weeks after Christmas, we talked through all that with our kids, and we agreed to start curating the toy collection. They helped us pick a selection of stuff to put in the closet, and, whenever they want to, we'll rotate some stuff. It turns out that, a couple months later, they're still declining to do any rotation: They want to stick with the stuff they already have. They're busy finding increasingly creative ways to play with what they've got, and I honestly think they're getting a greater feeling of satisfaction that comes with the accomplishment of designing new games with the things they already have, and of finding cool new things to build with the one construction toy they chose to keep out.

It really seems to me like, by taking their toys away, we gave them back their fun.

That's extremely well put, and pretty much matches how I felt this christmas. My son was visibly tired of all the presents, he practically had to be made to open some of the later ones. For a kid who doesn't really like any kind of "performance" it seemed pretty draining.

I think I'm going to start broaching the idea of pruning his collection a bit over the next few months, or at least boxing some of them up like you've done. I like that idea, it's a nice half-way house, and doesn't force them into a situation of having to actually get rid of things.

Yeah, I think that was pretty key to getting them to buy into the idea: we weren't really getting rid of stuff, we were just decluttering.

We even showed them how it was the same closet where we keep stuff of ours that we weren't currently using, and joined them in the process by moving some jigsaw puzzles and board games from the game shelf and putting them away as well.

We're trying to limit gift giving from any one source to both a dollar and item limit. It's been a struggle and some family members complain about staying within the limits we've requested (ironically, gift giving seems to be more about them than the recipient.) One thing we're trying now is suggesting that gifts to kids be replaced with donations to a 529, and so far this seems to be working OK. There's still some concern that kids won't care about this kind of gift at this age, but we do make an effort to explain who gave what and what it means, and I think that's worth more than yet another toy they might touch once in a few months.

I quite enjoy giving gifts, but I'd say it's about both the giver and receiver equally. If the receiver doesn't enjoy it, then I don't get the satisfaction from giving the gift.

As such, I can see why they'd be upset about having to stay within limits. It's harder to hit that "wow" with a $10 gift than a $100 gift, after all.

Every Christmas or birthday that I've made someone say, "This is the best gift ever!" is the greatest feeling.

The worst for me is when someone asks for something specific. There's no way to get that "best ever" title from that. You're merely meeting expectations. Gift cards are also in this category since pure cash would actually be a better gift, and still just as soul-less and expected.

And if my aim isn't to wow them, I'd just be giving them a gift because it's expected socially, which doesn't interest me at all.

> Gift cards are also in this category since pure cash would actually be a better gift, and still just as soul-less and expected.

Chinese children get cash for New Year's. It doesn't hurt the mood of the holiday at all. I think what makes it work is the asymmetry -- children receive money from adults. In a symmetric exchange, exchanging cash is similar to doing nothing. In an asymmetric exchange, it's fine. (You see the same thing with Chinese weddings -- the couple receive money from the guests. I'm told that it can be hard to actually profit off the wedding, though.)

I'll also note that, as a white American, I usually received cash in the mail from aunts and uncles. This did not impair their relationship with me. I liked getting it.

You are creating an emotional burden on your recipients, that they need to satisfy your need for satisfaction. That's not a gift, that's an investment in your own ego.

Sure, you should learn what someone wants and try to target that. But denying someone what they know they want because you want credit for thinking of the gift idea, that's self-centered.

I'm so glad you wrote that, because you put down what I was thinking much more succinctly than I could.

I never said I don't get them what they want when they ask for it. I said it doesn't interest me.

The present flood is unstoppable, especially for young kids. Relatives feel bad if they don't buy presents for kids and there's no changing that. Birthdays for young kids are also terrible. They invite the entire class and get 20 gifts: 10 lego sets, 5 nerf guns, 2 knock off nerf guns, and 3 "educational toys".

I think the only solution to to stash 99% of them out of sight after a day our two, wait another week or two, and then drop them at the goodwill. I wish I could build an underground pneumatic tube system straight from my basement to the goodwill toy bin.

We initially felt obligated for each of our kids to have their special day with a party and friends/family over. It became a stressful challenge we didn't look forward to with each kid's birthday. There's still plenty of gift giving, but we have shifted to planning a family day doing something fun. Whether it's just a dinner and movie, fun activity or overnight stay somewhere, it's much funner for everyone and just as special.

Have a toonie (for us Canadians) party (or fiver if you have an affluent social circle):

Every kid bring 2x $2 or 2x $5 - one goes to the birthday kid and the other to a stated cause, like a charity that is close to the child's likes or interests.

In our experience it's a very socially acceptable way to ask for money, which I think most of the parents of attendees would appreciate more anyway.

Family tends to already give money for birthdays, or if not you still significantly cut down on the # of presents no one really wants.

You also have more time at the party for games and cake - we usually don't get a chance to unwrap presents at the party as it is.

We had a party recently where they explicitly asked everyone not to bring a present, and it was just fine. None of the kids minded and the birthday girl certainly didn't seem to care.

I've also noticed a push-back against party bags filled with plastic knick-knacks, with people putting a bit more thought into what goes in, which is great.

Interesting, it is not very common to give kids piles of presents in Central Europe. I remember having to ask my parents to merge my birthday with Christmas when I wanted an average PC, and my parents are certainly not poor.

It is very uncommon for friends or wider family circles to give anything big to a kid. Maybe clothes, a book, a little toy, sweets, ... usually it is more for the parents, especially with kids younger than 4

I knew one or two exceptional kids that got A LOT, and they were from a background where the parents certainly couldn’t afford it, which somehow makes sense.

I really wish we had more of that culture. Unfortunately we've sort of bought (excuse the pun) into the idea that you have to give loads of presents as some sign of affection.

In our case it isn't like the presents are all really expensive, it's literally the number of them that is the problem. I'd actually be happier if our families spent the same money but on fewer things. Like one decent present would be better than three pieces of plastic crap from the same person.

My wife's extended family also really struggle with the idea that I would rather have consumable things (nice beers, a speciality cheese, a treat etc) than some random thing that they think I'll like. I'm no minimalist, but I really don't need or want more stuff in my life and would be far, far happier with something simpler and less permanant.

I've been asked before what I would like for christmas, only to be asked to come up with something "better". So frustrating.

My immediate family and my dad's side of the family have both taken to doing a "secret santa" style exchange, which I appreciate. It's mostly about saving money because the family has grown quite large with in-laws, but I've come to enjoy the experience: everybody takes turns and gets to really appreciate a smaller amount of overall gifts. It helps that my side of the family is done with kids!

My own in-laws still have younger kids, and they also do fall into the mindset of giving lots of lower-quality gifts instead of less higher-quality gifts. I feel like if the kids get less gifts, even if better, they might complain, but I think they could grown accustomed to it.

We suffer from the same problem. If only I had an app that linked to a trust fund that I could redirect people to. There is a weird social pressure to always show up to a kid party with a gift. I'd rather all those $20-$50 gifts go right into an account that they get access to at 18.

Set up a GoFundMe around Halloween, and start directing everyone to donate to "kid's future college fund" instead of presents?

As a child that received many presents, I also felt bad. My parents got me an oil paint set and easel once... that was the iconic example for me. Although I enjoy art, I, at most, make some shitty watercolors or drawings from time to time, or make photographs. I ended up regifting the paints to a more artistic member of the family.

It's been a constant battle to receive fewer presents just for myself.

I don't think I received an usually large amount of presents as a kid but probably around age 10 I stopped enjoying it mostly. I didn't want more stuff and I didn't want to get stuff I didn't want, but I had to pretend to show gratitude and act like I enjoyed it when I had zero interest in it.

As a child I didn't know how to tell the adults to stop giving me presents I didn't want.

As an adult with a child now, it's still hard to stop people from giving you (and the child) stuff. For some people gift giving is for them, not the receiver.

I didn't get much in the way of gifts as a kid. We did a lot to make the experience richer, and I didn't feel that I was missing out. After I moved out of the house, my dad had finally landed in a career, started making more than my mom, and things went a little off the rails -- as an adult, I was receiving hundreds of dollars in gifts for christmas... but I had a job and I could afford the toys I wanted. It was awkward. He felt bad about my childhood... but my mom was frugal and we never felt "poor" so that was never a big issue for me.

I totally agree. Prior to Christmas, my front door looks like an Amazon warehouse (we live far from all relatives, so all presents are purchased online). Next year we are just telling grandparents 1 present each. Instead each set of grandparents get each of my kids a few presents, and before you know it they each have 2 dozen presents.

As for timing, Christmas is an all day affair. They open presents as they want, we take breaks for breakfast and lunch. Seems to work well.

Yup, sounds familiar :)

I often think that many of life's problems come down to an issue of asymmetry. From the giver's perspective it's just a couple of presents, but from the receiver's (or their parents) its an avalanch.

I can totally relate. We are incredibly blessed to have a large network of supportive friends and family all living very close by. The benefits would be hard to even quantify. But ... the kids get spoiled in every sense of the word. It is hard to manage allowing everyone to be as generous as they want to be, but trying to ensure the kids show as much enthusiasm as you hope they do and remain grounded and have realistic expectations about materialism and possessions.

We frequently do house sweeps and donate neglected items to keep clutter to a minimum. And it helps them to use and appreciate the items they keep.

More so, and now that our kids are getting older, we have been focusing more on putting money, time and energy into experiences, such as family vacations and activities. I find that the buyer's remorse I get with buying stuff for me or my kids doesn't really exist with experiences. It can be hard to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars planning a weekend getaway to the ocean or a day in the mountains, but I never regret it later.

And when asked for gift recommendations for the kids, we try to push them toward things that will help us do these things or experiences of their own to have with our kids.

This is one reason why I've only given to charities over the last 4-5 years during the holidays. I don't have any children, but as a person in their late 30's, most of the friends and family in my age bracket do.

The amount of gifts some of these kids get is absolutely insane. They're not getting a gift from everyone, they're getting an entire load of Christmas gifts from everyone. One from the parents, one from grand-parents, and occasionally aunts/uncles. Couple that with the fact that lots of people are on their 2nd marriage, that only multiplies the gifts.

I remember going to a friend's one Easter to look at his PC. Both of their kids had three mega-sized Easter baskets. One from them, one from his parents, and one from his wife's. Do two 8-10 year old's really need 20 lbs of candy each? Absolute overkill.

Just say "no"? It is your house, your child, you are the person with all the decision making power here.

I simply do not accept you cannot stop it if you want to. So i guess my question is "why is trying to manage the fallout easier than proactively preventing it"?

You can use it as an opportunity: gently push and help them give away some of the toys of their choice. There are plenty of kids who will appreciate them, and it might teach yours that they don't need much to be happy.

Definitely. Mine are 2 and 4 at the moment, but I think I can probably start working on the older one, getting him to donate some of his to charity. I'll probably use the excuse that it's his birthday in August and we need to start making room :)

We've definitely noticed with our kids that they get grumpy and overwhelmed by too many presents. It's really difficult though, as you say, to push back on this. We've tried gently asking our family not to buy so much stuff. The result is A) they think we're oddballs B) they take offense and C) they ignore our request and continue to buy way too much junk.

The one advantage of living a reasonable distance from our families is that we get to use "we have to get it in the car" as an excuse for people buying us less. It at least tends to keep the size to a reasonable level.

What has become fairly large in our school community is a group gift / group donation coordinated through the invitation services like Echoage. The kids could care less about all the gifts, they just want to spend time running around with their friends.

One thing my in-laws do. A gift a day starting on Christmas and extending to New Years Eve. Grandkids don't get the present fatigue of all in one day and you can extend Christmas shopping into the next week when items get marked down for clearance. Makes Christmas time longer. There are downsides and I think my kids are getting too much stuff, but that's what we do.

Naive idea, but what about giving money to charity to undevelop countries? This kids get too many toys and the problem is that they don't have enough time to enjoy/learn with them. Here is a more important problem: kids that don't have enough resources for a proper development.

Maybe every year every adult could take turns to buy an actual gift and the rest gives each 20 to charity.

We do a combination sort of like this in our family. Immediate family members still do regular gifts at Christmas. But with all of our extended family members we do a sort of "secret Santa" for donates. Each family member gets matched up with someone else, then you make a donation in that person's name to a charity that is important to you. Then on Christmas day everyone opens a letter from their "secret donate Santa" that says what they donated to and why.

It is a tradition that my wife's family had done and now we have started doing it in my family as well. I really like it for all the donations that happen, and (more selfishly) that we don't have to worry about giving/receiving unnecessary or strange presents from relatives we are not super close to.

That is OP's way of life - donating half his income to charity. Perhaps his family feels it would be a gift to him instead of a gift to his kids?


That's really impressive. Thanks for sharing.

I've asked gift givers to instead give contributions towards my kids' college funds. They have too many toys as it is. But from their point of view I can understand not wanting to show up at a kids party empty handed. Compare that to the experience of watching a kid open up a present excitedly and play with it during the party. So I can see why givers prefer that option.

Is there somewhere you can set up one of those tax-advantaged college funds such that others can easily add money to it? I can imagine grandparents and such adding money from time to time, maybe even not around holidays/birthdays, if it were a quick & painless process (no more painful than buying something on Amazon).

[EDIT] and I think it'd be an easier sell to discourage toy-giving. The world is drowning in toys for 0-5yo. If you're not too picky and don't mind used stuff you can stock a playroom for a kid in that range from Goodwill and garage sales (and maybe Ikea's toy section for a couple thing) for almost nothing.

I'm a fan of not doing presents during the party at things like birthday parties.

It's boring for pretty much everyone involved. It intensifies the pressure everyone feels to not only bring the present, but try and bring the best present. Which then increases the volume of presents, which then makes it even more boring. I suspect it also reduces the quality of individual presents, too, since the public-ness of the might psych people out a bit. Depending on the kid's personality and whether or not they like being on display like that, it might also be exhausting or intimidating for them.

Long story short, parties are more fun when you spend your time at them partying.

If you do it from an early age kids wont expect that every party attendant should bring a gif. Of course culture is hard to change. Maybe asking for a drink something to drink/share to give the sharing feeling. I tried a no gifts party and it's hard and you don't want to make people feel uncomfortable.

I have a 3yo and it definitely does feel like a shame on Christmas and birthdays to make her put down something exciting she's just received to open another present.

Part of the problem is that my extended family are all overseas, and they want to see picture messages of her with the gifts they sent! They are understandably sad to missing out on these events themselves, so use gifts as a way to show their love.

My wife and I end up figuring out who would be least offended and putting those gifts aside for the next day. We have to make sure we don't forget though! We recently found some books on top of the fridge that were hastily hidden on Christmas day!

Just spread them out, that what I do anyway, if we're seeing someone reasonably close to Xmas, presents get opened there and then, else start Xmas eve, through to boxing day.

Have to hide chocolate away though. Should last them through to Easter this year!

We try to open presents in waves for the winter holidays. One on Christmas eve, one on Christmas morning, one on New Year's Eve, and one on New Year's Day.

I wonder if this would have a negative effect on the earlier presents.

For instance if you give your child presents over 5 days. Will the first day's gift be old hat by the fifth day?

What a first-world problem!

Don't think so, certainly not at 3. They have prefered toys completely unrelated to value, when they got it etc.

For our kid's third birthday, we quietly smuggled the presents from the party venue back to the house, and would open maybe one a night. This probably won't scale when she's older, but she'll hopefully also be getting fewer presents per birthday.

Interesting choice of word - "scale". Jokingly wondering if you mean adding more kids to the mix, increasing age and decreasing agility, or something else...

Adding that my partner and I do something like this too and I like it. We also just randomly buy our kid gifts during the year _when_he_has_been_good_ just cause, and we try to make religious holidays less about presents.

This past Christmas, the volume of presents was out of control. Next year we plan to do a “Secret Santa”, where you pick someone’s name out of a hat, and get them a present (i.e. everyone gets 1 present).

This is a problem I've been running with my in-laws and it infuriates me. It feels like every year we agree to have fewer gifts, then many of us don't follow the rule; the ones who do follow it get pissed that they only bought 1 gift for each person and got like 3 times as much.

It's so much waste, and it's overwhelming for all recipients.

We've gone through the same (first world) problem and are currently experimenting with the following method -

Our child is allowed to open all gift wrapping. All underage/overage gifts are kept separately. Out of the ones for his level, he's only allowed to open one per day. This also only happens in exchange for removing one toy from this current set to give away for donation.

There are two outcomes we expect:(1) Toy stash volume is kept constant and (2) Child decides which one to keep.

It worked well at Christmas; let's see how the birthday goes...

Congratulations you’ve invented Hanukkah

I just want to point out (slightly off topic) that I love this web site design. Simple, clean, and light. Bravo.

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