Avoiding the gift glut

February 10, 2011|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

A month and a half later, I'm still making my way through Christmas stuff.

Some of it is my own doing. When I take down the Christmas decorations, I like to leave up snowy, wintry-themed items, like my snowman collection. I love snow, and I'm always up for a reminder of it.

But some of the gifts that made their way into my home over the holidays still don't have a satisfying, convenient place to belong.

Just this morning, I tackled my youngest son's shelves, clearing away chunky, brightly colored toddler toys and replacing them with smaller, darker-hued varieties designed to appeal to the sensibilities of a pre-schooler.

I tried to leave a little surplus space, as over the course of this week, my two youngest children will both celebrate birthdays. And despite my determination to keep frivolous gifts to a minimum, with well-meaning relatives and friends, inevitably, there will be some.

This whole kids-getting-gifts thing can be a dicey business. While there are a couple things they actually could use, my husband and I usually buy those as presents. I'm not one to go out buying a cart full of toys or even one big-ticket item if I don't deem it necessary and reasonable.

When family or friends ask what they can buy for my little ones, I am sometimes at a loss. Yet if I tell them no gifts are necessary, they seem to feel ill at ease.

This past weekend, I went to a birthday party with my daughter for one of her friends. The girl's parents had invited all the girls in her class. As is tradition, each of the guests brought a gift. I eyed the table piled high with presents, feeling sorry for the mother who needed to take the heap home and make a place for it all.

I often wonder in those instances how many of those toys will ever even be played with more than a time or two. I am bothered when I open my children's closets and consider the bins full of dolls, Legos and ponies stacked there that haven't been played with since I can't remember when. And this accumulates without large-scale parties.

I remember the way a former co-worker of mine, Tina, once handled the gift glut. I thought it was smart and graceful. She was planning a birthday party for her young son, and she'd invited family and friends from his school and their neighborhood. She wanted to avoid an overload of gifts he didn't need or really even want. At the same time, she didn't want guests to feel awkward.

Tina talked with her son about using resources well, and avoiding wastefulness and overindulgence. He was a dog lover, so they planned a party accordingly. Invitations went out with a note asking guests to bring an item to donate to the animal shelter. Specific suggestions were included. Guests didn't need to feel uncomfortable arriving to the party empty-handed. And they knew their gifts were valued and wouldn't be tossed aside.

Odds are most any child could find a nonprofit organization to get behind, be it a place for recreation, horse riding, dance or visual arts, or even a food bank or homeless shelter.

Web sites for groups like the United Way of Washington County provide lists of nonprofit agencies, many of which have copies of wish lists at the ready.

I'm thinking that instead of stuffing the toy shelves to the gills post party, we ought to party on down to an upright agency with a special delivery of truly valuable gifts.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is

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