Reducing Clutter Without Alienating our Relatives

You may have noticed that I’m thinking a lot about reducing the amount of stuff in my home. I’ve mentioned how the amount of stuff coming in during the holidays has really thrown me for a loop.

Apparently, I’m not alone. (Actually, if I’ve learned anything since I started blogging, I’ve learned that I rarely have an original thought. Here I thought I was all clever, then I start looking on the internet, and I find that it’s all been said before. Oh, well. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying again. And maybe I’ll say it in a different way at least.)

Recently, I discovered the blog, “becoming minimalist,” by Joshua Becker, which chronicles his family’s decluttering and “minimalizing” journey. I purchased his e-book, Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life and read it in one sitting (it’s a pretty quick read). I found a section regarding the holidays, children, and decluttering which really hit home. An excerpt:

•We chose not to remove the joy that our relatives receive from giving gifts. Our families love giving gifts, especially on holidays. It is one way they share their love for us. It would be unfair to rob them of their joy and rob our kids of their joy by asking for no more gifts. Therefore, we wisely chose not to go down that road.

We made a point to give them lists. Before every birthday/holiday, we give our relatives a wish-list for each of our kids and ourselves. We include just the things that we truly need. Again, we choose quality items over quantity.

After a time, we purge again. It can be difficult to know, right out of the package, how our kids will respond to a new toy. Some toys they play with for a day and never touch again. Some toys they play with for a week and never touch again. Other toys become some of their favorites and get used often. After the dust has settled, we evaluate their new toys and their old toys and determine which toys to keep and which to remove.

I always find someone’s arguments compelling when they agree with my own thoughts about a subject. If you’ve read the comments my sister and I exchanged on yesterday’s post, you’ll know that I had already recognized that our families use gift-giving as a way of showing their love, and I even used the phrase “quality over quality” as he does in point #2.

However, I’m not, so far, comfortable with giving our families lists. I have in the past made up wish lists for the kids, but those have largely been ignored. This could be because I’ve not really publicized them within our family because it feels gauche to tell people what gifts we want. In addition, I know that, at least for my mom, the creativity involved in selecting gifts is a big part of the enjoyment she derives from buying gifts for us. Wish lists and registries don’t allow for a lot of creativity.

Still, I kind of like the idea and wonder if it could work if I just applied it correctly. I did make up a wish list/registry for myself at my mother-in-law’s request last year, and that worked out swimmingly (my husband also purchased from it). I’m just not sure I could sell the wish list idea if I initiated it myself.

I find this part of decluttering and “minimalizing” to be rather anxiety-provoking. I worry about hurting the feelings of those I love by giving the impression that I’m scrutinizing everything that comes into the house and if it doesn’t pass muster, I’m going to send it right back out the door. Which is basically true, but not very warm and fuzzy.

Like I told my husband, it’s the relationship that’s important to me. I want to declutter but not at the expense of the relationships we have with our families.

So, I’m soliciting feedback from you all about this.

What’s your experience with giving your families wish lists for holidays and birthdays, either for yourselves or for your kids? How have they reacted to the lists? Do you have any tips about how to provide wish lists diplomatically? Which works better, a general “I need slippers” kind of list, or a very specific “I need Acorn moccasins in herringbone gray fleece from this website”?

8 Replies to “Reducing Clutter Without Alienating our Relatives”

  1. If there is a gift buyer that wants to keep up the surprises we just give them a general idea such as, practically anything from Nova Naturals or Magic Cabin, or long sleeve dresses, size 6 and that seems to work pretty well. On the other hand Ruby got dollar store lip glosses with safety warnings all over the packages that had to go right in the trash with a promise of a colored lip gloss from Whole Foods in trade. Ruby would have been happier with $1.


  2. I think that although the person making the list may feel some discomfort, it really is a HUGE help to those attempting to purchase. For some, it is a necessity to make lists or the giver has no idea and gets frustrated.

    I don’t really like asking for things either, but find that making a LONGER list actually makes me feel better. I like a list of 8-10 things of a variety of cost options (some as low as a few bucks, typically nothing over about 50) so the giver has different things to choose from both in price range and in type of item(and hopefully wont get stuck unable to locate something on the list). Plus the recipient can still be surprised because they don’t know EXACTLY what they will get.

    Broad categories are helpful too. (Hence the themed gifts me and mom have trended toward. My niece likes music? Cool, let’s run with it.) And as far as a diplomatic approach to distributing said lists, I personally would be so grateful for the direction that the list maker could send the list by smoke signal if they wanted!


  3. We all have wishlists. My brother and I pretty much shop exclusively from the lists for toys and books and then just ask about general needs for clothes. In the past I have most often gotten dresses for my nieces (since I don’t get to buy those) and my sister-in-law buys pajamas for my boys (because she likes boy pajamas and has only girls). We strayed slightly this year, but still stayed close to formula. Other family members don’t shop from the list so much but are close by so we could start to request gifts of time rather than items. Hm.


  4. I give my mom pages torn from catalogs with items circled and sizes indicated. That works, but I do kind of miss the surprise factor. Particularly for long-distance situations though, I think that it helps — how is my mom to know that I am really into wearing grey when she hasn’t seen me in months?


  5. I used to have that receiving anxiety too. Somewhere along the way I realized that I was anxious about being honest and straightforward. The actual result of my resistance was that people I loved were wasting their resources to get me stuff I didn’t want or need. This came to a head when we had Ruby. At that point I decided to be crystal clear with my family about what we wanted and, much more importantly, what we wouldn’t accept.

    Now every year there is a swapping of lists. Sometimes I buy gifts off the lists and sometimes I buy things that I /know/ my family will cherish.

    As for diplomacy, I’m not sure there’s any way to take the initial awkwardness out of it, but Amazon and Zenbe lists are both a good way to passively distribute your wish list.


    1. I suppose I could also publish a blog post about receiving gifts from family. (Funny I didn’t think about this before, but really, this is rather more awkward than I think just being up-front about the gift thing would have been.)


  6. come join our family, we THRIVE on lists 🙂 My MIL aims to please, I just see something I think the girl should have or want and she gives us money to get it (therefore saving on shipping), I get in TROUBLE if an appropriately timed list is not sent to my step mom (always been this way, but for many years i just want money or gift cards and she insists on sending some piece of junk WITH that, otherwise it’s not a gift to her), my mom also asks for a list for herself and my aunts, though this year i gave her one and the aunts just bought STUFF, my sister is given more free reign with the girls, since they are “love gifts” and no one else buys them stuff 🙂


  7. I’ve got an amazon wishlist that I use for myself, and my parents and husband find really relieving. My parents also ask specifically what my children need, which really helps because I can tell them and not feel guilty. My mother also has a policy of only giving one small toy to each grandchild at Christmas, and then she also gifts books and music to the kids, which is one thing I really don’t purge much. We do a sibling gift exchange and then a grandchild gift exchange on both sides of the family, so each person is only getting one gift from each side of the family. It helps to have less coming in. We also have our own rules about what we give in our family for Christmas. We give each other one thing we need and one thing we want. Then the children each get one toy and stocking from Santa. We have a really strict Christmas budget, and that helps us. My children also are very used to my need to purge. They still have quite a bit of crap, in my opinion. But, I have a rule that for every new toy that they get, they have to give away or put away an old toy. We’ve always done this, so they don’t remember any differently. It’s not a huge deal. We have two tupperware under the bed bins that we keep toys for rotating. These are ones that we can’t bear to part with, but that make too much clutter to have out all at once. A couple times of year, we rotate out the toys and then it’s like they have all new toys. Those are some of the ways we have handled it.


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