Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Letter at Christmas, AND a Promotional Discount!

I've calculated that since giving birth to my first child six and a half years ago, we've celebrated Christmas with kids six times, and acknowledged twelve birthdays. I did the math: that's eighteen opportunities for our loved ones to give gifts to our kids. That's three sets of grandparents, five sets of aunts and uncles, plus the gifts we give.

So the question is: how do you politely request certain kinds of gifts for your children? We have been blessed by many grownups that love our children and don't ever want to seem ungrateful. It's just that after so many years, I have had to discard so many cheap plastic/battery-powered toys, or worse, toys that cost lots of money BECAUSE they were battery-powered. They still break. We're overwhelmed with boxes of stuff our kids don't really play with, or those toys that have so many parts it's impossible to keep them together.
About four or five years ago, Mothering Magazine featured a letter that could be sent to friends and relatives well before the holidays to polite state your intentions for your children. I've always felt a bit unsettled about sending it...like I was being difficult, or a toy snob, or taking the fun out of the mad consumerism of Christmas. But I think this is the year.

After visiting a friend's small and beautiful home, I was inspired to take things in hand. The limitations in space demand that her daughter's toys are well-chosen. A few baskets of Waldorf toys (play silks, wooden tree blocks, felt fruit and vegetables, a little wooden play kitchen, and so on). I breathed of sigh of peace at the sight of these beautiful toys. My children HAVE toys like this. But they're so bound up with all the other "stuff" that they're hard to find.

So, upon returning home from her house, I fired off this email:

Relatives and Friends,

I'm just thinking ahead to Christmas (and the many birthdays ahead of us) and the INSANE amount of toys we have in our house. I would like to gratefully acknowledge the wonderful gifts you've given over the years, and respectfully request a certain "kind" of gifts this year. We're working hard at simplifying the "stuff" in our house, and are ditching a lot of toys that have broken over the years, or requires constant battery changing, or was brought into the house from yard sales, thrift shops, etc.

We just have too much; the kids don't even know what to play with anymore, pieces have gone missing, and we're always struggling to keep the toys in order.

So, as we attempt at achieve a bit more order in our busy house, I'd like to ask you to consider checking out www.babynaturopathics.com or www.naturalpod.com which are both Canadian businesses that support handmade/natural toys. We'd LOVE to build a collection of Holztiger animals (available at the first site)...we love the farm animals, daughter, farmer, and princess/queen/king/etc. kind of figures. Natural pod carries "Baby Bolga baskets" which would be so handy for the kids as they wander on their adventures (eggs, berries, apples, beach treasures!) , as well as beautiful coloured play silks (which are marvellous for dress up and imaginative play).

Visit http://www.naturalpod.com/ to order!

Please, no plastic toys this year, or toys with tons of little parts that will get lost...there's no need to spend tons of money on wooden stuff; a lot of the items I've mentioned are around $10.
Find this beauty of a marble run on etsy!
If you enter the code KnittyGritty11, you'll get a 5% discount, and so will I!
Kirk's wife Erin grew up near my hometown; they're good people. Support real craftspeople!

Jude is really into experiments and building stuff; we hope to get him a wooden marble run on etsy (made by Erin Egan's husband, Kirk); he already has a microscope, but would probably love a magnifying glass, or a small aquarium/terrarium, or anything that allows him to keep things from nature to study! He also loves drawing and music as usual.

Other ideas include: an amaryllis bulb that they can watch bloom in the winter months, gift cards to a bookstore, a bug-viewing kit, art supplies, or camping gear (a flashlight, an enamelware cup and bowl), contributing towards lessons or classes, or just making a date to spend time together!

I hope no one thinks me rude...this is the desperate plea of a desperate mother; I really want to pare down the amount of stuff in our house and have found through experience that the toys my kids keep returning to are the open-ended, natural ones...they feel nicer, last longer, encourage imagination, and don't need batteries or make annoying noises. They are made by hand, with little or no impact on the earth. These are the values we hope to pass on to our children, and hope you can help us!

Thank you for reading through all these mama thoughts of mine, and for respecting our request!

With all that said, please know that our children do not expect gifts; they do not keep track (nor do we!), and always remember the joy of being with loved ones when they talk about Christmases past.

We so appreciate your role in our children's lives, and appreciate the love you show them by choosing gifts thoughtfully.

With gratitude,

When I mentioned in yesterday's blogpost that I'd written this letter, several people commented on my courage. It's less courage (because it's taken me six years!) and more that I really, really want to stop stepping on sharp plastic toys. I want to feel peaceful when I see my children's toys. That, I hope I can achieve with words.

If you're feeling similarly fed up, and possibly courageous, please feel free to copy or adapt my letter! You can replace the Canadian sites with others (I also love Nova Natural Toys in the US!), or tailor it to reflect your child's interests.

It is time to do more than THINK about making change. I'm the person who picks up messes and has to dispose of broken craptastic toys (with the eco-guilt that entails). So I'm taking charge of what comes into my house. I should have done it years ago, but I'm starting now instead!


  1. Well said Stephanie! I will be checking out these sites for Christmas!

  2. This is a lovely, lovely letter. I've wanted to do the same thing since having the girls. December is always a crazy time for us, especially since Alyce's birthday falls at the beginning of the month. We celebrate Hanukkah here, but since we converted to Judaism we have families that still celebrate Christmas. So December=overload of toys and little things no one actually needs. This is a great idea.

    Also, how was everyone's first day yesterday?

  3. Amen!!! With my 16-month old daughter, I have felt exactly the same way as you and I've had a hard time figuring out how to ask for certain kinds of gifts. Thanks for sharing your experience - I think I will try again this year before Christmas.

    Thanks for your recent visit and comment. Have a great day!

  4. Danielle: everyone was FINE...Violet LOVED school, Margot shed nary a tear at daycare, and Jude was exhausted from the camping trip!
    Jen...do it NOW! I wish I had!

  5. I don't think this letter is rude. I think it is a great idea, I have spent a lot of time going through the boxes of lost toys in the basement. Toys I took away in fits of this room is too full and messy, that were not even asked for again. I have taken box after box to goodwill, hoping that eventually they find their way to a child who will love them.

    I think it is too late for me to implement this but if I were starting over I totally would. I make my nieces toys and buy them a pearl for the add a pearl necklace, someday they will have one really nice piece of jewelery to wear and it is not really and more expensive than a barbie each year. My sister in law gets my kids something small and puts the money she would spent into a bond for their future. One thing my Mother in law gave the kids that I really thought was wonderful was a pig bank she made them and a roll of coins, she then helped the count the money and put it in the bank.

  6. I think your idea is fantastic! I am a grandmother who is trying to embrace a change of heart regarding gift giving. This year, each family unit will be getting a box containing home canning I did with the family in mind. In addition, there will be a handknit item for each member of the family, and a "family" gift (mug mats this year!). A dear from of mine from out west sent these "goody boxes" to all of us back east last year and everyone LOVED them. The idea of many little thoughtful surprises in a big box went over really well.

  7. ...although I am not yet a mother, I am an aunt and a friend of friends whose little ones seem to be bombarded with these craptastic toys you speak of. I love your suggestions, and I will be bookmarking the sites for when I do have children and plan to incorporate the waldorf / steiner type of play items into their lives.
    I am going to mention this to my sister-in-law, but unfortunately I have a feeling how it will be received as they allow their children to play with guns and the like, something I feel strongly against. I know they are not my children, but then again their play will somehow influence my children's play at some point, as they will be cousins, and this concerns me.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks for sharing your letter (today is my Birthday, and you've given me a gift without knowing it..ha ha...I plan on sending one of my own someday, and I like your tone in it - give yourself a hug for doing so, for your children's imaginations and your peace of mind :)
    Happy GratiTuesday!

  8. What a great letter. I don't think I have the nerve to send it, but with two birthdays and Christmas all falling in less than a one-month period, I am once again dreading the onslaught of toys that inevitable arrive in our home.

    PS...the marble run is fabulous! I'm going to pass that one on to my inlaws since they live out of town and like to buy online.

  9. Julia...great ideas!
    Karen...also great idea! When we were kids, friends of the family lived in Germany for a few years. They sent a box for the first of December, with 25 little boxes, each labelled with one of our names. Advent gifts...That is such a clear memory for me. Simple things, like little wooden ornaments, bells made with seeds/spices, etc. My mom still has a lot of those gifts. So thoughtful and beautiful.
    SunflowerChild: my mother once said, "You can choose to not buy toy guns, but you can't cut off your son's finger". It's true...if you don't buy little boys guns, they'll find a stick that looks like one. It's uncanny. So we just made the rule that he's not allowed to aim them at people. We STILL haven't bought him a gun (water or otherwise) and he's six and a half. But I figure...it's imaginative play. We as adults have our own positive or negative attachments to adult things...but kids just play. I don't sweat it too much anymore. We're careful about what he watches in movies and he's old enough for us to talk about how guns can be useful for hunters, and why police officers carry them, but that they're also used in a "bad way" by criminals...to hurt people. One of those things I've relaxed about now that I actually have kids!
    Tanya, please do send it on! The more people buy, the better for Kirk and his family And isn't it just so appealing?? I can see my husband and I playing with it when the kids are in bed!!

  10. Amazing!!! I love the letter and plan to adopt it. Glad that we have been a little source of inspiration - funny, because I think part of my inspiration has been the beautiful, yet simple, toys that YOU have made for Dayvah. It is amazing that she plays with these toys EVERY SINGLE DAY and has yet to tire of them. She is already feeding her new (and ONLY!!) doll the knit vegetables. Thank you so much, I know that these are toys she treasures and that I am more than happy to have in the house - they are nice to look at and definitely don't hurt when stepped on.

  11. What is the saying - Older but wiser...that is how I feel! Now that my children are grown - all these great ideas are unveiling themselves to me. I agree ....Less is more! Choose a few toys wisely and everyone including Mom is happier. Good for you! And, you are doing it while your children are young enough that you will still reap the benefits.

  12. Beautiful perfect letter... I just cleaned out a bunch of toys (esp. plastic ones) and it feels so much better around here. I'm ready to take a hard-line this year against plastic (the exception being special DVD's which we can enjoy as a family...) Am looking forward to giving your letter another read through (and also all the comments to this post) as soon as I have a bit more time...)


  13. Great idea....my mil refuses to listen to my desperate pleas and unfortunately seems to actually buy more stuff since I sent a similiar letter....at least the rest of the family listens. I just end up giving lots to the thrift store.


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