The Best Gifts for Kids with Too Many Toys

The Best Gifts for Kids with Too Many Toys

Does it feel like your kids have too many toys? What have you done about it, if anything? Do you rotate toys so that everything’s not out at once? Yes, it’s a First World Problem, to be sure (too many toys! oh, the humanity!), but if you’ve got kids with too many toys, you know the drill: Stuff often ends up all over the house, many toys sit unused in storage bins for months (or years), and, maddeningly, new toys that are begged for are often played with for a couple weeks and then abandoned.

Ruth Soukup of Living Well Spending Less wrote an essay in 2012 called “Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (& Why They Won’t Get Them Back)” that went viral, and it’s worth a read. She explains why she took away her kids’ toys after getting tired of them not cleaning up their room and noticing that they kept wanting more and more “stuff” without being satisfied with what they had. She donated more than half, kept some, and put a few toys on high shelves in her daughters’ bedroom — and she started taking out one at the time for her girls to play with. A year later, Soukup wrote an update and answered some common questions from readers, like “What are your guidelines for the toys that you keep?” and “What do you do about birthdays & holidays?”

This season is a great time to talk about this issue! Here are some ideas of gifts to give kids who have too many toys, focusing on experiences rather than physical things:

  1. Family membership to a museum, zoo, aquarium, etc. Here’s a bonus: Many museums offer reciprocal membership at other museums; for example, my family’s membership at a local science museum gives us free or discounted admission to more than 300 other science museums worldwide. 
  2. Tickets to a special event: a concert, a play or musical, sports event, etc.
  3. A family day trip: to a local town/city, a water park, a theme park, etc.
  4. A day with Mom and/or a day with Dad: Take a day off from work and enjoy breakfast and lunch with your child, plus some fun activities. (Hey, maybe you can actually sleep in! No, you’re right — probably not.)
  5. Books, of course: If you need suggestions, check out these lists: Notable Children’s Books for 2016, American Library Association; Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2016 and Notable Children’s Books of 2016, the New York Times. Or share a classic children’s book that your kid doesn’t already have, like Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables, the Harry Potter books, Corduroy, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Snowy Day, etc.
  6. The gift of giving: When I worked at an animal shelter, I was amazed by the kids who would forgo birthday presents and ask for things our organization needed instead. Why not do it at the holidays? Help your child choose a local charity and figure out which items to collect, and then he or she can ask relatives to buy items from its wish list. After the holidays, go together to give the donations to the organization in person. Alternately, buy a charity gift — make a donation to plant a tree, for example. Here are some ideas. (Just be aware that some of these gifts may be purely symbolic.) One more possibility: Kids with too many toys can choose some of them to give to charities that help children in need.

Your turn: What have you found to be good gifts for kids with too many toys? What books or experiences are you giving your kids this year? Do you ask your kids’ grandparents and other relatives to get them specific things that aren’t “things”?  

gifts for kids with too many toys


  1. Anon in NYC says:

    With a young kid who doesn’t really understand presents yet, I’ve created wish lists that are heavy on books, as well as memberships to various places (zoos, children’s museum). We live in an apartment and are constantly trying to rotate out toys and clothing and gear (and part of me suspects that my MIL keeps getting us “stuff” so we’ll be forced to move to a house in the burbs).

    As for us, we’re giving our daughter a play kitchen, a baby doll, and puzzles. Stuff that will hopefully spark some imaginative play, and the puzzles just because they’re fun and will be challenging.

  2. CPA Lady says:

    I loved those articles. I read them years before I even thought I was going to ever have a kid and they just really resonated with me. I have the original one bookmarked in my favorite places. And the picture of her kids’ room? Gorgeous.

    Not really sure how this concept will play out in real life as my kid gets older. One of the benefits of living in a relatively small house is that we’re by nature limited in the number of toys we have room for.

  3. Primal Screamer says:

    Okay to threadjack?

    We have a toddler in daycare (a franchise of a regional chain). When I got pregnant with #2, I told daycare pretty much immediately, and they told me we were on the waitlist, and didn’t need to fill out any forms or put down a deposit so early. A month after #2 was born, the director sent us an email saying, basically, oops, no room when you need, but something should open up 6-8 weeks later. I spoke with her and expressed our disappointment, since the timing would mean that either my husband or I would have to take unpaid leave, or we would need to find a very short-term nanny. She said we should revisit in December, as many families end up delaying their start date, meaning something might open up for us earlier than when she had said.

    It now being late December, I told my husband to follow up with the director at dropoff today. She told him that she had sent me an email reaffirming the 6-8 week delay in start date, but I hadn’t responded in writing and had never put down a deposit, so she assumed we had come up with an alternative childcare arrangement and had taken us off the waiting list entirely. WTF!!!! What arrangement would be preferable (and more cost-effective) than having both kids at the same daycare? Why would she not follow up with me to confirm that we wanted to be off the waitlist? Also, at least according to my memory, which I trust far more than hers, I spoke with her *after* receiving her follow-up email and confirmed orally that we would revisit in December — meaning we were facing at worst a 6-8 week delay, and we were definitely on the waiting list. Also, as I recall, she said we didn’t need to put down a deposit until we had a start date fixed.

    So now we definitely need an interim nanny. Or to switch both kids to a daycare with a slot for both, which wouldn’t break my heart since I feel sort of meh about this place, especially now…but a new center would probably be more expensive, and my toddler is pretty happy where she is.


    • Have you talked to the director yourself? I would ask for an explanation and point out that, without you asking her to take you off the waitlist, her making that assumption was really inappropriate. If they aren’t willing to jump through hoops to fix it (the only real solution I can see is putting you at the top of the wait list), I would look for a new center for both kids. This would tick me off , and I would be concerned that the lack of communication and unwillingness to fix it would be an issue again in the future.

      • Primal screamer says:

        Yes, I called her after my husband told me about his conversation with her. She was frustratingly unapologetic and seem to think this was all my fault. I ended up sending her a follow-up email, since it seems that everything must be documented in writing. She is going to get back to us today to confirm the earliest start date they can foresee, and in the meantime, I am going to start contacting other daycares in the area to get a sense of price and availability. I mentioned in my email that we would be looking at competitors as well as a nanny, and I stressed that our strong preference would be to stay at her school. So hopefully that carries some weight with her. I’m having a hard time figuring out whether to be more aggressive or more kindly-brontosaurus. I can’t quite tell what would work best with her. And unfortunately I think the market has moved in her favor, meaning that if she loses us, she will quickly find replacements.

        • Betty says:

          Wow. That’s awful on their part. Even if the market has moved in her favor, word of mouth and being messed around with like this can carry strong weight with other parents.

          Have they been accommodating in the past or is this a manifestation of behavior/policies that you have seen before? If it is even slightly the latter, then I would not hesitate to move.

          • Primal Screamer says:

            We’ve never had an issue along these lines before, so it’s hard to say. It isn’t the most clinical daycare, which is nice in some ways, but on issues like this, ugh. On the bright side, we have three months until we need some sort of childcare in place, so it is not an emergency, just a huge PITA.

  4. Ugh. The present-onslaught at birthdays and holidays really stresses me out. The grandparents are all divorced/ remarried so it seems like gifts are a competition thing for them, and us saying please limit the gifts doesn’t really help.

    We tried the 4 gifts rule (which was CRUEL to them at the time! 4 gifts x 4 sets of grandparents x 2 kids!!!) and they just found ways to make each present huge – like getting a basketball hoop and new bicycle and giant teepee and 10 books wrapped in one box. For one event.

    So we gave up and I hate that we did. The kids have fun unwrapping the mountains of presents. We keep as many as we can at each grandparents’ house, and then we go through after birthday/ holiday and donate a ton, and don’t hide any of that from the grandparents. It’s so gross and wasteful and I worry that it’s teaching my kids that stuff is basically disposable. We’ve set up 529s and savings accounts, and it pains me to see what adds up to $1000s of dollars each year that could go in those, just donated away.

    Maybe I need to write a viral blog post too, just so the grandparents all get the hint. Ugh.

    • Running Numbers says:

      Commiseration. My son is the only grandchild for 3 sets of grandparents, all of whom laugh when they ask what he wants for Christmas and I say “a contribution to his 529 account.”

  5. mascot says:

    “Skills” gifts are a hit for a slightly older child- a watch for learning to tell time, smaller, but real, kitchen implements, fishing poles, sport equipment, outdoor gear, etc.
    We also do experience gifts and trips as gifts.

  6. EB0220 says:

    I have been trying to be more minimalist because I really hate cleaning. My 2 year old’s room is really great. Just a bed, rocking chair, ottoman & two small bins (books and stuffed animals). My 4 year old’s room is a work in progress, but I try to minimize toys in there because it’s so distracting at bedtime. I am slowly working to minimize their toys, but it’s a constant battle. My sister (also a mom) and I are now exchanging family museum memberships for Christmas, which is awesome.

  7. AuntE says:

    We got a family membership to the local art museum from my in-laws for Christmas last year, and I hope it’s our gift again this year! I’ve talked with both parents about our preference for experience gifts and creative or skill gifts and books (since it is really fun to watch them open something), but I have a feeling both sets will keep loading our family up with stuff. In response, my husband and I give one bigger present from Santa, one smaller one from us, and arts and craft supplies as stocking stuffers. Also, every year in the week between Christmas and New Years, I sort though new presents and our closets and make big piles for Goodwill or consignment sales. This year, I really want to pare down and (new years’ resolution) keep it pared down.

  8. Anonymous says:

    My MIL asked for a wish list for my son, then reminded, nagged, and asked my husband about it, in the 4 days it took me to pull it together at the beginning of November. She has sent him a ton of presents (bday and Christmas are a week apart), and not one thing from the wish list. Why? “Well, most of those things don’t make noise!” A few ‘make noise’, but I wanted things where he could be creative and use his imagination, and honestly, we live in a small house. Less noise is not a bad thing. She has a lot of good qualities, but every little thing is a power struggle with this woman. I choose not to engage on this one, knowing a lot of these toys will end up quietly shuffled away.

    • mascot says:

      Grandparents are frustrating sometimes. My mom does this thing where she gets something in the spirit of the gift, but not the actual thing that my kid wants. But, she tells me she’s got it covered and then I don’t know about the change until the last minute. Example: he wanted a marble run toy, she said she would get it. Instead he got some marble tower logic puzzle that is too old for him and too difficult for him to do. I’m not trying to micromanage the gift giving or be ungrateful, but for certain things, the details matter.

    • POSITA says:

      The grandparents just sent a water table for my 7 month old for Christmas. What on earth is a baby supposed to do with a water table this time of year?

  9. On my side of the family, we have 6 kids between my sisters and me. We each get assigned kids (since I have 2, kids, I get assigned 2 kids), and we buy $100 worth of gifts for that kid. I don’t buy my own kids anything because somebody else is assigned to buy their gifts. Each kid gets $100 of toys. That’s it.

    People are usually shocked by this system, but it works great.

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