how to handle all the christmas presents

for families with young children

Whether you’re like me and you just love seeing Christmas take over the world as early as late October or you’re one of the folks that grit their teeth at the thought of all the Christmas presents, busy malls and intense Christmas gatherings, it doesn’t matter… you just can’t help but smile at the magic of the season.  There’s warmth and color and excitement. It’s a time that brings families together and softens the shivers of the icy weather. 

Then, of course, there’s the sparkle in our children’s eyes – a sparkle so intense and thrilling that it makes us truly understand the joy of Christmas.  There’s something so special about having toddler-age and school-age kids at Christmas time.  They’re still believers and it somehow makes us believe too, even for a little bit.  It’s magical. 

But there’s always a big question looming in all our minds… how much is too much?  I’ll use my family as an example.  We have lots of Christmas gatherings with cousins and grandparents and friends.  Our kids get a ton of presents you guys.  And we have four kids.  If each kid gets 3 or 4 toys, that can mean that we have 16 new toys coming into our home all at once.  All the Christmas presents can be very overwhelming.  Not only do we have to deal with all the clutter and garbage, but even the kids themselves don’t really get to enjoy all these gifts when they get them all at the same time. 

I read this fantastic post called 4 Gifts for Christmas, by Happy You Happy Family, very early into the holiday season and it got me thinking.  I did some research, asked friends and complied these cool ideas on how to handle the avalanche of toys and gifts you get as a family of little ones.

Garage storage

This is what we do for Christmas and birthdays, so my kids have come to expect and accept it.  Upon arrival home, put all the presents into your garage or storage area where only mom and dad have access to them.  Every few days, at your discretion, bring one gift inside the house and have all the kids open it together.  In our family, if we’re bringing in a toy that came to one particular child, that child opens it and gets a slight advantage in playing time, but everybody shares it.

I find that this approach has several advantages.  First of all, it keeps the excitement of opening up new toys going for several weeks.  Secondly, all the kids get to enjoy all the presents.  And perhaps most importantly, I have a great bribe that I can use to encourage the kids to do their chores or homework or whatever. 

pick one

We know a couple of families who have their kids pick one present to keep from among all the gifts they get.  The rest of the gifts either get returned, donated or stored to be gifted to someone else.  This approach ensures that the kids are picking something they really enjoy and will be thankful for, and also eliminates the feeling of overwhelm that they tend to get from receiving so many presents. 

Ask for books

Talk to your family and friends about choosing books instead of toys or clothes for your children’s Christmas gifts.  Maybe you can make a rule that a certain fraction of the gifts need to be books.  And don’t forget to get the kids excited about the books they receive.  


Ask for experiences

Experiences are far more memorable and educational for children.  Similarly to the above approach, just mention to your expected gift-givers that you’d rather have your children enjoy a membership to the local aquarium instead of another transformer. 


Don’t buy gifts yourself

This is the simplest and possibly the hardest idea: don’t buy gifts for your own kids if you know they’ll receive several from other people. 

Maybe I have to confess something here.  I’m a sucker for Christmas.  And gifts.  And my kids getting gifts.  (Check out this post I wrote on some fun Christmas Traditions for Families of Toddlers).  I have so many great memories of opening up a ton of Christmas presents and loving all of them.  Of course, the reality is that I probably didn’t play with all my toys for very long.  I, most likely, loved my gifts for a day or two then moved on – just like all kids do.  But I don’t want to belittle the fact that sometimes, the very act of receiving a new toy IS an experience for the child, and a memorable one at that. 

Now I know what you’re thinking.  It’s an experience if it’s one toy, even two, but not ten.  And you’re right.  Kids lose interest in the toys and start craving the thrill of receiving, which isn’t right – I get it.  But I just want us to be reminded that we don’t need to feel like we’re ruining them by letting them open all their gifts.  Whatever approach you choose – whether they open everything at once or nothing at all – the magic of Christmas is what you make of it.  It’s the feeling of love and belonging and joy and magic.  As long as your kids are feeling loved, you’re doing great Mama!

Comment below with what you do to handle the gifts your children receive at Christmas time.  What other ideas can you add to the ones listed above?