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Home » The Vine

The Vine: November 23, 2011

Submitted by on November 23, 2011 – 12:18 PM65 Comments

I searched the Vine archives but didn’t find an answer to this gift etiquette question, so here goes: my in-laws’ best friends sent us a large gift for my kiddos (an art easel) that I don’t want. They always send something similarly big and cool for Christmas and seem to kind of consider my kids as extra grandkids. These folks are good people and I care for them but am not close to them.

So normally if I get a gift I don’t want, I write a thank-you note and put up an eBay auction. In this case, my husband strenuously objects to my normal procedure, because these friends will ask him (even months later) how the kids are enjoying the gift, and he (unlike me) doesn’t like to mislead people by saying something like “oh, that was so thoughtful of you, the munchkins just love painting!” and changing the subject. His suggestion is that if I really want to get rid of it, I call up the gift giver and tell her thank you, but we just don’t have room for it, and could we possibly return it and give them their money back. To me that seems even more rude, but if I could think of an awesomely classy way to say the same thing, I’d go for it. So that’s my question: is there any remotely polite way to reject a gift from nice people? Or do I just suck it up and be thankful that this first-world problem is as stressful as my day got today?

Dreaming of Less Clutter

Dear Dreaming,

Your use of the word “reject” should answer your question for you. Just in case: no, not really. I get what your husband is saying, in theory…but in practice, not every gift is perfectly appropriate or useful. In those cases, cases where it’s the wrong thing but not in a harmful or offensive way, the best solution all around is a noncommittal but enthusiastic answer like, “It was so generous of you to think of the younguns!” and a subject change.

With that said, there’s something I don’t get: “sent us a large gift for my kiddos (an art easel) that I don’t want.” You’re the parent, so you’re the boss, but at the risk of seeming dense here…do the kiddos want it? Did you…even show it to them? Or did you just decide, “We don’t have room for this,” and put it on the (figurative) curb? Not for nothing, but I had an art easel/chalkboard rig as a kid, and it actually cut down on playroom clutter and kept chalk and crayons out from underfoot. (In fact, I think Ma is still using it for semi-storage in her boiler room.) It’s neither here nor there re: the question you actually put to me, but it seems like, since it’s a gift for the kids and not for you, maybe the…kids should decide what to do with it? And if they love it for a week and then ignore it, then you’re like, “That’s that then,” and Goodwill it?

That’s another thing, actually. You’ve made up your mind that you don’t want it, I’m sure you’ll elaborate on your reasons in the comments; fine. I think you should donate it to an after-school program or daycare or something. Selling it on eBay is a little sketch, in my opinion, and if you really don’t have room for it, the best way to solve the space problem today is to drive it down to the Salvation Army or the local children’s art program or something, no?

But as far as outright rejecting it, or suggesting they take it back: no. The closest you can come to that is maybe communicating to the couple, via your in-laws, that you live in a small place and gifts bigger than a breadbox can be problematic — but that solution is a little bossy for my taste, and if it’s not demonstrably true, that’s another lie you have to keep track of.

Thank them, donate the easel, done.




  • Arlene says:

    Seconding Sars here. It’s pretty much never okay to give back a gift unless said gift is somehow offensive or otherwise given in poor taste. I’ve had this experience twice with my mom’s boyfriend where he tried to give back some hot sauce and beer (beer!) because he didn’t like them and wanted them “to go to someone who would actually enjoy them.” Yeah, no. Even though the guy can be a bit dense and I didn’t think he was trying to overtly insult me, it was still pretty hurtful. It just makes you come off as ungrateful both for the gift itself and the thought that went into picking it out. Needless to say, the guy can expect giftcards from me going forward.

    As Sars suggested, I would ask the kids what they think, and if they decide they don’t want it then donate it. Then lie through your teeth when it gets brought up by the giver down the line.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    Hmmm, well, once a gift is given, it’s the receivers to do with as they please. I’m sure Miss Manners says something like this. I agree with Sars and Arlene, ask the kiddos if they want it. If they don’t, find a preschool or recreation center or homeless shelter who could use it. Send a lovely thank you note (or if the kiddos are old enough to write, they can do it). If asked directly don’t lie, just say the kiddos appreciated the gift but not being the artistic types, donated it to whatever organization.

  • Claire says:

    Defintely seconding Sars’ question about whether or not you’re consulting your kids on if they want the gift. My mom noticed what Remote Controlled Ballroom Dancing Barbie was doing to the hardwood floors when I was a kid and got rid of it without asking me or offering to replace it with a new, less scratchy Barbie. It’s 16 years later and I’m still a little bitter. Please make sure you’re getting rid of the toys for the kids, not for you (if only for your own sake. You don’t want one of them to be all “REMEMBER WHEN YOU GOT RID OF THAT EASEL?!?!” twenty years down the line).

  • Cate says:

    Do you also train your kids what to say when people ask them personally how they liked their gift? If they never knew it existed before you junked it, they’re going to be upset that you’ve been hiding cool stuff from them, but if they did know about it, what’s to stop them from saying, “Mom thought the money we could make off of it would be better.”

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Yup, thirding this. Graciousness is never the wrong road.

  • Lulu says:

    How could you not want an art easel? I kind of want an art easel. It’s a safe, creativity-fostering toy for any gender and almost any age (limited only by height, really) that is not *necessarily* messy (if you replace paints with crayons and colored pencils) and that, by definition, folds up for easy storage. It is the most unobjectionable toy I can think of.

    Not to harp on the one detail. But I think you would have gotten more sympathy if you had told us they gave your toddlers a set of plastic guns that shoot hard pellets full of sticky jam. And when you pull the trigger, the guns scream, “Girls are stupid!”

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I had that toy too! “Grapeshot,” it was called. Stored real neatly on the chalk ledge of the easel, though.

  • MP says:

    Well, I’m going to wade in against the tide here… We have always lived in a small house (less that 1000 sq. ft.) and there have been many times that I vetoed a toy based on size. My kids had a nice little art caddy that held all their art supplies and could be stored away in a very small spot. If I had received the easel I wouldn’t have been super stoked. Only so much stuff will fit in a small space… Anyway, my kids are in their late teens now and they managed to survive without every big, cool toy that came down the pike (although, we could REALLY use a second bathroom).

    However, the idea of selling it really rubs me the wrong way. There are about a gazillion places that WOULD be stoked about the donation of a nice big art easel.

  • MizShrew says:

    I’d have to agree with others here. If the kids don’t want it or if it’s simply too bulky for the space, donate it.

    The “I don’t want” thing rubbed me the wrong way too. I understand that parents have veto power over the toys their kids get… but this seemed more like “nope, I don’t want to look at it” rather than, “last time they painted the dog blue, never again.”

    But I also wonder if there’s some other reason she’s finding the gifts objectionable. There’s an undercurrent of… something… in the letter. Maybe she’s less than thrilled with the “extra grandparents” thing. I don’t know. But then the LW and her husband need to be on the same page with that.

  • phineyj says:

    I recently bought my husband’s aunt one of those squishy wrist supports and a matching mousemat, because she’d mentioned how keen she was on emailing but that it was getting harder for her because of arthritis. It wasn’t a birthday or anything – I just sent them from Amazon.

    However, to my surprise she returned them a month or so later, saying that her computer desk was too small to fit them on. I’m sure that was the truth but I was really surprised someone would do that — in her place I would have just given them away. I felt bad too that I had put her to the trouble of posting them back, and kind of stupid that I had bothered in the first place. Between us we probably spent way more on postage than the items were worth.

    So I guess I’m trying to say most gifts are sent with the best intentions, even if they turn out to be something the recipient doesn’t want, so I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to send them back unless you actively want to offend and possibly upset them.

  • 'stina says:

    Huh. The easel at IKEA is one of my go-to gifts for kids. It’s inexpensive (I think $15 usually). It’s something I always wanted as a kid. It’s easy to fold up and slide under a bed or into a closet. It has paper on one side, a chalkboard on the other. Doesn’t make any noise, and the parts are easy to put away. Every kid I’ve ever given it to has LOVED it and wanted to play with it immediately. I had no idea that it’d be a pain in the butt for parents.

    Learn something new every day.

  • Cyntada says:

    @lulu: “…a set of plastic guns that shoot hard pellets full of sticky jam. And when you pull the trigger, the guns scream, “Girls are stupid!”

    I *am* a girl, and I totally want those. Will happily reprogram it to announce that boys are stupid, but still!!

  • Jacq says:

    My understanding is that many American houses have huge, virtually-unfillable basements, so if the kids don’t want it or are too young to make good use of it (and I’m so with everybody else on the weirdness of the ‘I don’t want it’ thing), then I’d bung it down there.

    If the kids want to keep it, but there’s a space issue, I’d suggest to them that they donate some of their current toys or belongings to a nice charity, to make room for this present.

    If the kids don’t want it and there’s no room for bunging it away for a while, donate it and if you’re asked about it later, graciously explain that the kids really appreciated it, but you guys had a massive clearout to help a worthy cause a few months later and the kids really wanted to let somebody else share their good fortune.

    In my opinion selling a gift is pretty tacky, regardless of the circumstances. If I found out that anybody had sold a present I’d given them, I’d save them the hassle and me the money, and never give them anything ever again. I don’t think you should profit off your friends’ generosity towards you (unless you use the money you make from selling the thing to make a donation to a charity).

  • PollyQ says:

    @Jacq, just as an FYI, the US basement thing varies by geography. I live in CA, and most houses here don’t have a basement, although more houses are now being built with them to be finished as media rooms, or whatnot.

  • LDA says:

    The selling on ebay just rubs me the wrong way- I sent a gift the kids never saw and the parents sold it for cash. Personally, I would stop sending gifts if I found out that is what was happening to them, but I get the sense maybe that you would prefer that?

    At this time of year, you can go to many, many places, get the name of a child, wrap that easel up and donate it so that kid has a nice Hanukah or Christmas or other.

    Also, I loved, loved my easel as a kid and my nieces love theirs now.

  • Elisa says:

    Yeah, I don’t have a basement or an attic. I think that’s more of a midwest/east coast thing.

    I have to agree with everyone here. Especially with Claire, I’m one of those who are still bitter about Mom giving away something without even asking me. Twelve years later I’m all “HOW COULD YOU GIVE AWAY THAT AWESOME, HUGE KITE THAT I CAN’T EVEN FIND IN STORES ANYMORE!”

    Heh. Some of us kids hold serious grudges.

  • RobinP says:

    Obviously I can’t speak for every parent on the planet, but the easel is the exact opposite of a pain in the butt. My daughter (age 5) can use it, by herself, creatively, for hours, and it keeps the art supplies in one designated area. She loves it, I love it. There’s something else going on with the letter writer. Easels don’t generally make the list of awful gifts parents hate.

    If it matters, our house is mid-sized and undergoing renovations such that not all of it is currently livable space. The easel, however, is still accessible.

  • Emily says:

    Tangentially, this is also why I never ask about how people enjoy the stuff I give them. I don’t want to potentially put the person on the spot thinking “Oh crap, I junked that hideous thing the moment she left” and scrambling for an answer that won’t hurt my feelings.

  • Randee says:

    If space is the main issue here — which I agree, may not be the case — when these gifts regularly arrive (LW does say they regularly send things that are “big and cool”) you could try and gently say to them “you know, we love that you give these amazing gifts, but we don’t always have the space to love them all back” and emphasize that maybe the size of the gifts is keeping them from being fully enjoyed. At least what you get next might be more space manageable.

    Just a thought.

  • NZErin says:

    My in-laws just gave my daughter an easel and I do understand the size and space issue here. It’s too big for her bedroom and we only have one living area. So yeah, it’s permanently up in the living room, and my husband and I have sighed a little and commented to each other that perhaps they should have considered the whole size-of-house/size-of-gift situation.

    However, it’s an easel! She’s had it all of four weeks and she’s always using it. We’re even being more teacherly than normal, because we have a blackboard just there to illustrate points and spell words.

    I’d reconsider your decision against the easel and instead make space for it by passing on some of the more ephemeral and cluttering toys your kids (like mine) have no doubt acquired over the years.

  • cmcl says:

    Yeah, I’m in Florida and most houses in my neck of the woods don’t have a basement either (though I grew up in the Northeast, where everybody I knew did have one [we called ours a cellar]).

    Count me in as boggled at not wanting an art easel, much less not wanting one for one’s kids. My mom picked up a beat-up old one at the Goodwill for me and suddenly I was a Real Official Artist With Easel and Everything.

  • JennyB says:

    The “I don’t want it” also struck me as strange. I’m a parent, and my kids have received some gifts that I would not have chosen, but they’re not for me. If the kids don’t play with them, then I feel totally justified in sticking them in storage after a bit, but I would never dream of selling them.
    I think Sarah is right. If you insist on getting rid of the gifts, donate them to a worthy cause. I’m sure a daycare, school or other kid-friendly organization would love an easel. Selling it might not be wrong; it is technically yours to do with what you will. But it does strike me as tacky. And not that it’s my business, but I hope the proceeds of the eBay auction goes back to the kids in some form.

  • Abigail says:

    It is beyond bad manners to return a gift, particularly such an inoffensive one and especially in these circumstances – to do so would not only upset the people who gave the present, but, potentially, the in-laws as well. However, I would say it is also bad manners to ask how a present was received. Once a present has been handed over, it’s no longer the giver’s business what happens to it, provided a thank-you letter has been sent (I think it’s okay to ask if a gift arrived if it was sent by post, but nothing beyond that). That said, I think it would be pretty poor form to sell a present within a few weeks of receiving it – an easel folds up flat or can be taken apart, so just put it in the garage or under a bed and move on.

  • Julie says:

    Depends on the age of the house too–our basement isn’t that big, and more than half of it is occupied by the furnace, water heater, washing machine, etc.

    The other half is filled with all the other too-large, not-needed gifts that the many divorced sets of grandparents have given in an effort to out-compete each other. So I totally get the mom not wanting any more oversized crap in their house–if I had the grandparents’ friends contributing too, we’d need to put on an addition.

    I think this is all being overthought. Just give the easel to a day care or other organization that can use it, and if the friends ask about it later, just say, “It was so nice of you to think of them.”

  • Liza says:

    I gave back a gift once. My friend, a really nice guy, gave me what I thought was a really exorbitant gift. Oddly, it was the same gift my then-boyfriend had given me for Chanukah! I gave it back because I a) was worried it was an “I like you in an inappropriate way,” gift, and b) I didn’t want to hurt the boyfriend’s feelings. Years later, I’m not with Boyfriend anymore, I don’t have EITHER present, and my guy friend and I are still friends in spite of my asanine gift return. I’ll never do that again.

  • Hebby says:

    @Abigail I don’t think it’s intrinsically rude to ask how a present was received, especially if it’s something for kids. How else are you going to know if it was a good present for that kid? It could be too big, too loud, not loud enough, too childish, too grown-up.

    If I gice someone some chutney, I want to know if they thought it was too spicey or could do with more chili, because I’m likely to give them some again and I want to give people something they’ll like.

    Assuming there are solid reasons for not wanting to keep the easel -the kids don’t play with it, it’s too childish for them, they have one already– then I’m with the donate it, especially if you can donate it locally, like to the kids’ kindergarten or school. That way, if asked, you can say that it wasn’t getting a lot of use at home, so you wanted it to go where it would. I think people know that kids don’t necessarily like everything, so they’d understand.

  • Kate K. says:

    You know, I’m wondering if there is more to this art easel thing than meets the eye. What’s wrong with an art easel, I ask you? What’s wrong with gift-giving, 2nd grandparents? Nothing, on the face of it. But since Dreaming doesn’t want this art easel, and in fact wants to get rid of it very quickly, I’d like to ask if Dreaming had some kind of gut reaction to it. A really strong, inexplicably negative gut reaction. If that is the case, I’d go with my gut. Put it out on the curb. If that isn’t the case, well, Sars has given some good advise.

  • Anonymous, just in case says:

    As someone who receives a lot of items that I wish I hadn’t, I’m sympathetic to the receiver.

    Clutter stresses me out, so I prefer to be able to put stuff away. I have a big house (with basement!), but that doesn’t mean I have unlimited space! I’d rather not become an episode of hoarders… I realize this is unusual but we don’t keep things we don’t use or value. I have convictions about the things I surround myself with too. Many materials give me rashes or are just plain uncomfortable, so while those gloves are lovely, I can’t wear them. According to most posters above I should stash them somewhere indefinitely? That hot air balloon made of paper is cool but illegal here to send unattended flaming objects into the sky. That bucket of fake flowers makes me sneeze and my daughter cut her hand on the loose wires holding it together. There’s the endless bottles of wine people bring as “hostess” gifts even though no one here drinks (what AM I going to do with several cases of scotch???) I could go on and on.

    We have an easel too, it’s hanging out on the back porch (aka the room where objects go to
    die) I hate that I feel obligated to keep a whole ROOM full of stuff I didn’t ask for or want. My kid loves painting and drawing but strangely she hasn’t felt the lack of an easel. Actually she prefers to draw horizontally.

    I think the original question is valid. It doesn’t matter whether YOU think that’s an awesome gift, the receiver should be able to decline your awesome gift without you feeling personally attacked. The problem is that our consumerist society strongly values giving objects to each other as a way of measuring how much we respect, love and value each other.

    How to graciously get around that? That’s the real trick. Keep in mind that most people (in my experience) are offended if you tell them they shouldn’t get you anything at all. And when they show up with items anyway, they are offended if you decline it or simply get rid of it later. It’s lose-lose-lose all around.

  • The Other Katherine says:

    @Liza, I love your story. I have a close friend who once had a gift returned to him by the woman who was his kinda/sorta girlfriend because she felt it was “too much.” (It was a collected DVD set that cost, like, $100.) They’re both lovely, super-conscientious people, and I’m sure it wasn’t that she felt somehow pressured by the gift – it was just more than she felt good about accepting. (Keep in mind, we’re talking about two single, childless, well-paid professionals who were both about 40 years old at the time.) They’re still close, and he helped her move to San Diego last year, so I don’t think there were any hard feelings.

    Anyway, it’s totally OT, but it was a cute story and I thank you for reminding me of it. ;-)

  • NZErin says:

    @Anonymous, just in case: you’re right about the “lose-lose” situation of children’s gifts.

    No-gifts is just not an acceptable option for a lot of people, even if the child (and let’s be honest here, their parents) is overwhelmed with toys.

    We as parents need to start the dialogue before we lose the plot, but it’s really hard to teach your children how to receive a gift graciously when that special teddy bear given by their special aunty and uncle is rendered meaningless by the 19 other soft toys they were given that birthday.

    We need a new etiquette established where people ask parents first or stop and consider their relationship to the child. If something is going to take up the better part of a child’s bedroom, you probably should be the child’s parents or grandparents or similar. And you should probably check first!

    Whatever happen to giving a book or some stickers? Kids love stickers. I mean LOVE stickers.

  • RobinP says:

    @ Anon, I don’t think anyone is suggesting you keep every single thing you ever received as a gift, nor do I think you’re desire not to be overwhelmed by clutter makes you particularly unique. Lots of posters suggested charitable donation as an acceptable outcome for the unwanted gift, I think the Nation mainly objected to 1) outright rejecting the gift in a way that would be hurtful to the gift givers and 2) selling the gift. In your particular situation, I think it would be completely appropriate for you to load up your car and take your unwanted items to the nonprofit of your choice. There are plenty of people who could find a good use for them. You just don’t need to specifically call out to the gift giver that that was the fate of their gift. If a little discretion is used, there’s no need for hurt feelings.

    As for unwanted booze, either pass it on to someone who would enjoy it and is unconnected to the original gift giver, or dump it and recycle the bottles.

  • Emily says:

    @Anonymous, just in case
    If you get a gift you can’t use or don’t want you can absolutely get rid of it. Just don’t give it back to the gift-giver, because this not only negates the gift but rejects the sentiment behind the gift too. You can get rid of unwanted stuff without throwing the gift in someone’s face.

    In this case, the gift was for the children and due to some slightly awkward wording in the letter, people thought the parent wasn’t giving her kids a chance to make a decision on the gift. However, she can still get rid of it if it doesn’t work (whether she just decides it’s not a fit for their house or the kids don’t want it or whatever).

    What she can’t do is give it back to the giver. Unless you actually want to reject the gift, never do that.

  • autiger23 says:

    For about five years, I stayed over at my brother’s house at Christmas. Boxing Day became UNboxing day. The two of us would sit there pulling toys out of boxes and then getting rid of said boxes for around three hours straight. Then he sat there trying to figure out where in the heck he was going to put it all. Multiple kids with multiple grandparents and five or six sets of aunts/uncles = ridiculous amounts of junk.

    After the first year of watching him deal with it, I started thinking a lot more about the gifts I was giving. I *do* only give gifts smaller than a breadbox now to all my nieces and nephews even though he has a big house. I also check with him after the fact to see if it was a well-received present. I don’t know about others, but I’m asking because I’m trying to figure out what to get them next time. I don’t want to keep buying Legos if they aren’t into it. I don’t want him to have to deal with a bunch of junk that never gets played with. They’re kids- even their parents aren’t going to always know what the heck they really want or will play with.

    My brother has now about given up on presents. It’s like pulling teeth to get a list out of him at Christmas because the kids change their minds once a week about what they want. Gift giving isn’t easy on either side of the kid equation especially. I wouldn’t be offended if he told me that the kids just weren’t especially into art and that he donated the easel to someone who would better appreciate it and took them along to teach them to think about/help others. I also wouldn’t be offended if he mentioned maybe getting them a gift from Heifer International next year to teach them a bit more. I get that you aren’t supposed to be pushy about gifts because they’re *gifts* but some people want to give good ones and aren’t fishing for appreciation but rather for a clue when they ask about it later.

  • Jo says:

    Do the kids make frequent visits to play at these people’s house? Could you tell them the house is too small for the easel but ask if the kids could keep it at their house and play with it when they visit?

  • Gina G. says:

    Ordinarily, I would agree that the “I don’t want it” seems odd coming from the non-recipiant of the gift. But now I’m the mother of a toddler and people have given my son stuff that I. Do. Not. Want. Near. My. Kid. My husband and I have been called insane (and worse) by our families, but we don’t buy plastic unless it’s specifically labeled BPA-free. We don’t buy wooden painted items that don’t specify non-toxic and lead-free. We don’t buy items that have lithium batteries. Does this make us sound paranoid and over-protective? Sure. Does this policy (or repeated requests to adhere to said policy) stop my mom from buying my son random crap he sees at the dollar store that was made in China and already has the paint flaking off? Hell no. Then Mommy and Daddy get to be the bad guys who make these items “disappear” during nap time.

    So I’m just saying that maybe there was more to this easel than meets the eye. Some one gives my kid an Ikea easel? I’m right there painting at it with him. Someone gives him something of dubious origin or make up? Yeah, it “disappears.”

  • Marv in DC says:

    @Anonymous, just in case,

    The thing is, no one on is suggesting that you have to keep unwanted gifts. It seems that most of the people on here object to the tone of “someone gave my kids a gift and I don’t want it, and therefore I’m not gonna tell them about it and sell it on ebay.” That’s what most people find objectionable. If you don’t want a gift that is given, that’s fine. Just donate it somewhere, but don’t sell it. If people ask about it just explain that you donated it since you didn’t have room and it wasn’t being used by the kids and you thought other kids might want it.

  • MizShrew says:

    @ Anonymous, just in case: I don’t think anyone here is really suggesting that you have to keep gifts forever. It’s just poor form to a) sell the gift immediately, b) tell people whether or not to give a gift, and c) not give the kids — the recipients of the gift — any voice in whether or not they get to keep it. Sure, if the grandparents-by-proxy had sent the kids a pellet gun or a set of throwing stars, parents get to say “no way.” Or if they brought over peanut-butter cookies and one of the kids has an allergy. But for an art easel? Seems like an overreaction.

    I hear you on resenting having to keep crap you don’t want. I’ve got a couple of boxes in the attic that fall squarely in that category. But that’s not really the question here — the question relates to the immediate response, which is true for an art easel or for gloves.

    My dad used to do this thing all the time where he’d open a gift, say thank you, and then immediately tell you why he doesn’t want it. “Oh, thanks, but I already have this book.” It was really disheartening after you’d spent time trying to pick out something you thought he’d like only to have it dissed immediately. He wasn’t trying to be rude, either — he just had no filter for those social niceties, if that makes sense — but that was the result.

    But I am also getting that undercurrent in the letter that something else is going on with these “extra grandparents” and I’m totally sympathetic to that. It’s just that dealing with it via the art easel won’t address the problem (whatever that may be), it will only make the letter writer seem peevish.

  • Anonymous, just in case says:

    I’m so totally with Gina G. I know all you compulsive gift givers out there don’t want to be told not to give gifts or what kind of gifts you can give someone else’s kids, but you are not the parent and some of us are completely overwhelmed. In theory, my child should have received three gifts last Christmas; one from our family gift exchange and one from each of her grandparent sets. In practice we received so much stuff it took two carloads to bring it home. We have five boxes of kids clothes in the closet, approximately 3T (the next size up). I’ve already given away half of what we received, plus everything that doesn’t fit. That was enough to adequately clothe three other kids. When she turned two, my daughter had five swimsuits and eleven pairs of toddler size 8 shoes. I’ve never purchased a toy or stuffed animal for my daughter, but she is not lacking in toys.

    If someone has given you guidelines for acceptable gifts for their kids, it’s passive aggressive to ignore them. It also shows the kid that you don’t have respect for the parents’ house rules, and undermines the parental authority.

    Frankly, I’d rather you DIDN’T give my kid anything at all – there are so many other kids with nothing at all.

    Now, the original letter doesn’t have any indication that the pseudo-grandparents have any idea that the kinds of gifts they are giving aren’t appreciated. So that’s a conversation they should have. But I know from personal experience that some people (and apparently half the folks responding to this thread) feel entitled to give whatever they want to give and expect that if the recipient isn’t grateful they should at least fake it. I (clearly) don’t know how to deal with that.

    I also don’t agree that the kids should have a say, unless they are older than it sounds like they are. My actual position is probably a bit greyer than I have time to articulate, but in general I think that the parents are the ones who get to set the rules about what “stuff” comes into their house (and yes, what the kids get to play with). If someone brings something that doesn’t fit those rules, the kids don’t get to decide to bend the rules just because they want whatever it is. Many small children simply don’t have the capacity to decide whether something is good for them yet or not.

    Also, let me say that I DON’T keep stuff I don’t want indefinitely – my roomful of stuff falls into a category of things that take time and effort to dispose of. Unfortunately a lot of it can’t be given to charity either. The booze has a deadline to leave – it’s just amazing to me that it arrived in the first place.

    Finally, I think that if you are giving a gift and you’d be offended if the recipient sold it, you should seriously question whether you should be giving that person anything at all. Question your motivations! Is it to have something lying around that person’s house so they can think of you when they see it? If so PLEASE STOP!!! Or is it to give them something? If you want to give them something and the something you give is not something they can use, saying that you’d rather they ended up with nothing than some money makes no sense.

    You know how they say that you can have a good time without drugs? You can show appreciation without giving people things.

  • Anonymous today says:

    I agree with the other posters here that you can’t just call up the in-law-besties and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I sort of wonder, though, if we’re all reading a bit much into the “I don’t want it” part of the letter. The LW may have been trying to keep it short, and just put it this way instead of going into a whole explanation about how the kids tried to climb the easel instead of paint on it, or that paint is forbidden because they eat it, or whatever. I have an easel for my kids, ages 2 and 4, and they LOVE it. It’s a guaranteed way to keep them occupied, but it’s also a guaranteed mess-maker. They like to color on tables but paint on the easel, and it always, always ends up with paint everywhere. I love arts and crafts, though, and the paint is washable, so I just stick them out back in an old pair of shorts, no shirt, and let them go to town.

    I do feel the pain of the unwanted gift, though. We don’t like noisy toys, and we have a relative who *always* sends something noisy (noisy books–I *hate* noisy books because the kids stop listening to the story and just mash on the buttons, and they are loud enough to hear all across the house.), and also always asks how they liked it. One time, we received a toy “educational” computer, and when I turned it on, it said, “Let’s learn arphabet!” This, for a kid who was still learning to talk. When the kid–who was a few years too young for it–pushed the wrong button during one of the games, a big open hand shook across the screen, and it blared, “No! No! Try again!” Unfortunately, the kid loved pushing all the buttons and played with it constantly We smiled and said thank you and everything when we got it, and the second the batteries died in it, it went away for repairs and never came back.

    Noisy toys, man. There’s nothing worse than bumping into a noisy toy at night and then freezing, one leg up, in the dark, praying that the kid doesn’t hear it and wake up.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    But I know from personal experience that some people (and apparently half the folks responding to this thread) feel entitled to give whatever they want to give and expect that if the recipient isn’t grateful they should at least fake it.

    Not that large, ugly, bulky, against-the-rules, or otherwise inappropriate children’s gifts aren’t a problem, but: gifts. They’re gifts. Maybe some consideration of the motivation there? It’s not actually PRIMARILY super-selfish and a hassle for other people to buy stuff for your kids. It’s sometimes misguided, but it’s basically generous and well-meaning — although, if this is actually your attitude towards the bounty you receive, I’d be surprised if that hasn’t come through (and if you have this problem much in the future).

    I understand what you’re saying; I do. People don’t listen or use common sense, it’s a drag to be put in the position of having to nix stuff you explicitly told the grownups you didn’t want that the kid totally craves — I get all that. On the other hand, complaining about how these gifts force you to 1) use social niceties to avoid making the giver feel bad, and 2) force you to maintain boundaries with your kids about rules YOU created, that they can’t always be expected to know? If you don’t want to have to enforce so many rules, there’s…a solution to that. And it’s actually not “taking A Tone with people who just wanted to do something nice.”

    All the rules/standards I’ve seen on the thread so far re: toys parents don’t want or won’t allow seem eminently reasonable to me, by the way. I absolutely don’t understand why anyone buys a child noisy talking bears or super-loud Dora games or whatever, if they LIKE the parent; I don’t see why you can’t ask first, or get a gift card so the parent can have some agency with the toys coming in. But there’s a way to put that.

    I think that if you are giving a gift and you’d be offended if the recipient sold it, you should seriously question whether you should be giving that person anything at all

    You really don’t see how this is hurtful and dicky? Okay then.

  • Susan says:

    Ninety-none percent of the time I agree with Sars and the Nation’s Vine comments but in this case, I need to speak up. It’s true that there’s no graceful way to tell someone that their gift is unwanted or inappropriate and donating the easel is a good solution. In this case, the LW will probably just have to grit her teeth and continue to accept gifts whether they’re appropriate or not.

    But I absolutely defend her right to make the decisions about the gifts that her kids get. If my sons (ages 2 and 5) receive something that is too noisy, too dangerous (i.e., choking hazard) or too advanced (not ready for Star Wars, for example), then it is going to quickly disappear. Letting kids make the decisions about the toys they play with without any filters is just not realistic. and I think some of our childhood memories of the gifts that vanished are, with some hindsight, actually examples of our parents showing some common sense.

  • Alison says:

    We often donate the toys my daughter gets at her birthday, mainly from friends. She gets a say in what stays or goes. We explain that if toys are coming in for Christmas or a birthday, then we need to make room and that there are other kids who would really appreciate her sharing.
    I wouldn’t sell it or return it. It was a gift for the kids, it’s not about me making a profit.

  • Emily says:

    Re: Selling a gift.

    I actually think this is totally fine. It is a problem if the gift-giver finds out you sold it. That could be awkward. But why would they found out? You sure as heck aren’t going to tell them right?

    I think this is a case of what they don’t know can’t hurt them.

  • Jay says:

    It sounds like mom wants the money the gift will generate for herself more than she wants her kids to have an appropriate gift.

  • Another Abigail says:

    Oh FFS. Being a parent (and I’m one too) doesn’t give you pass from graciousness or gratitude. If you don’t like/don’t approve of/ are allergic to/ don’t have room for the gift that someone thoughtfully gave your child, donate it to one of the many worthy organizations that are looking for toys, especially this time of year. I have relatives that give “helpful guidelines” about buying their child gifts made by Tuscan craftspersons and it always tempts me to buy the loudest, biggest, gaudiest thing I can find at Target. I swear, if we start seeing 6 year old birthday gift registries, I’m on strike from life.

  • JeniMull says:

    Great comments, as usual.

    We have 3 kids and a metric ton of crap for each. I have even told my husband to quit buying BOOKS for a while.

    Because we do have so much, and we live far from family, we have been requesting more Experiences as gifts. Perhaps this solution could work with these folks as well? Maybe instead of bulky items that create a sense of obligation and a large footprint – the gift-givers could take the youngun’s on an excursion sometime – or even buy an annual family pass to a favorite attraction?

  • Jacq says:

    Guys, I am so dismayed that my 36 years of American TV and film watching has given me a false impression of your basements! Gutted. They always sounded like such useful rooms.

  • Bria says:

    Jacq – my husband and I are both non-native Californians who hail from US states where basements *are* the norm, and the overwhelming lack of basements here cause great consternation whenever we think about it. Seriously, I think I’ve lost track of the number of times my husband has thrown up his hands and lamented “WHERE ARE WE SUPPOSED TO PUT ALL OUR SHIT?!” Heh.

    Re: kid gifts (or gifts in general), I will admit that I’m having a hard time picking out the comments that are gaslighting Anonymous, just in case to this extent. I’m…not seeing anyone here who is advocating that their “compulsive” gift giving should trump all gift guidelines/preferences parents may establish. To be honest, AJIC, if I read between the lines of your comments a bit, I feel like this issue is hitting close to home with you on a bigger issue of boundaries with someone specific. Which…yo, I get (really, really and truly), but I’m not sure this conversation benefits from the heavy You People! tone, you know? I hate to break down into platitudes, but there’s something to be said for remembering that it’s the thought that counts. With rare exception, most gifts aren’t an aggressive plot to annoy. They aren’t being done to you. They’re just…gifts. I get that people are clueless and get the wrong thing, or go overboard, or whatever, but in the end, most of them are trying to do something nice. Maybe cut them a little slack in return?

  • NZErin says:

    @Another Abigail.

    Most of us are not providing gift registries. Well certainly not here in New Zealand – you’d get completely mocked to your face. It’s more a case of having a lowkey birthday and saying no gifts, but you still receive a tonne of well-meaning, but completely unnecessary offerings.

    And most of us are polite and gracious and just deal with it all.

    But the truth of the matter is that our children bear the brunt of easy consumerism. You can just go to Target and buy something annoying for very little money. And yes, we all receive too much stuff these days, but people do get a little over-excited when buying things for children.

    Anyway, if we are to be gracious gift-getters, then the giver have a part to play too; if a parent suggests something, don’t be a dick about it, just cut them some slack and follow the suggestion. Take it as a polite indication that they’re overwhelmed with crap. And if you can’t afford it, get them a voucher or send the child a proper birthday card in the mail. Or offer to take the kid away for an hour. Then they will all love you forever.

  • Cora says:

    I don’t understand why people are asking “What’s wrong with an art easel?” as if Dreaming is morally opposed to such a thing. Why assume that the kids have no similar object already, or some kind of creative outlet (or several) already, when Dreaming is talking about less clutter? They might not have an art easel, but they might have a whole wall of chalkboard or whiteboard or stacks of paper and coloring books and every crayon on the market. I don’t know. Sars’ response and some of the comments seemed overly attacking to me. Part of being a parent is knowing when NOT to show something to your child that they might want, because they have several duplicates already, but they’ll want it, because kids want shiny new things, and as a parent you’re just trying to avoid a meltdown when they’re told “no” for perfectly good reasons, but which the kids don’t understand, because HELLO: THEY’RE KIDS. Kids are not short adults. Kids cannot always process “no, because you have that already”. Even the most well-disciplined, loved and well-adjusted kids have meltdowns sometimes when they see a shiny new thing they think they want but are told they can’t have, no matter how reasonably it’s told or shown to them. Give Dreaming a break, please. She’s not an ogre because she hasn’t asked her kids if they want it, if that’s the case. I think she sounds like a responsible parent who’s just trying to avoid unnecessary aggro.

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