My son's toy box overflows with play things (as evidenced by the fact I tread on Lego pieces on a daily basis - ouch). Every birthday and Christmas, generous family and friends proffer yet more new things to add to his collection which already rivals the stock of an average toy shop.
Of course we're grateful for others' generosity but each fresh batch of gifts leaves me feeling more uncomfortable. I'm a firm believer that children really only need a small number of toys – more and they cease to use their imaginations, and often are so overwhelmed by choice, that they resort back to a few favourite items anyway, leaving a huge pile of other toys neglected.
Our ever increasing toy mountain also grates with me on an environmental and moral level – it seems incredibly wasteful for one child to have so much, with so little of it actually used.
We do a major clear out a couple of times a year and send unwanted items to the charity shop, or the toy stall at the school fete but in my ideal world the solution would be more drastic – it would be to stop this twice yearly epic toy influx happening in the first place.
Now before you shout 'bah humbug' at your computer screen, of course I'm not suggesting my son should get no presents at all – that's part of the fun of childhood celebrations – it's more that he truly doesn't need 20 new ones to arrive every birthday and almost the same again each 25th of December. (We have a large family and it's still the done thing in his class to do a larger birthday bash).
Yet I've agonised and agonised and for the life of me, I can't think of any socially acceptable way to prevent the toy pile being added to without it seeming ungrateful. I know that each and every one of those gift givers has gone out and spent their time and their money selecting something for my son and I appreciate that, and I hope in his six-year-old way he does too.
In my quest for a solution, I've, ahem, toyed with the idea of asking for a small voucher towards one larger present such as a scooter, or perhaps a donation to a charity.
I've listened enviously to Julia, my Florida-based friend's explanation of what she does for her daughters' birthdays; it seems that over in the US it's more the done thing to dodge the tens of presents problem. Julia uses a website which lets guests give a small sum of which half goes to a charity chosen by her and her girls and half is given to them to buy a present with.
It seems like a wise, if slightly worthy, concept to me – the children become aware of some good causes, yet the birthday kid also still receives a present that's hopefully extra appreciated. And as a bonus the parents of the party guests don't have to remember to buy a present, wrap it and bring it (is it only me who ends up scrabbling around looking for wrapping paper, scissors and tape all of three minutes before we're due to leave?)
According to Julia, "The other parents love it, and I think it's as much about them not having to go out and buy another birthday gift, as it is about the charity angle. Last year, I made a point of announcing how much we'd raised at the party and a few parents added extra."
Yet as a Brit, even if I like the sound of this in theory, I can't imagine specifying anything at all to do with presents on the invitations to my son's party, especially after canvassing the opinions of a few other friends and colleagues, none of whom were exactly enamoured by such ideas.
Heidi, a mum and fellow parenting writer, explained why she wouldn't like anything other than a proper present: "What my son seems to most appreciate about gifts from his classmates / friends is that they seem to have put thought and effort into what they give him. There always seems to be a lot of chat before parties and it's reciprocated - they have a clear sense of what their mates are into, and what they want to buy as a gift. I think that's brilliant and I have no intention of ever cramping their style by insisting on something more practical."
She even sees positives in the plasticky tat I bemoan.
"It serves a purpose - they learn from it that some toys are rubbish and not what they're cracked up to be, and I'm grateful they learn that at someone else's expense and not mine!"
Mother of three, Claire, shares my discomfort about too many toys but also finds the process of her daughters going out and selecting presents for the birthday boy or girl enjoyable. "I appreciate that many children have more than enough toys but my daughters enjoy choosing something and handing it over. Vouchers take that away, which is a shame."
Another friend has a child in a class where it's become the norm for one mum to do a collection before the party - everyone chips in a few pounds and that mum goes and buys one larger present, after consulting with birthday kid's mum or dad for ideas.
"It seemed a little odd at first as I wasn't used to it from the nursery he went to but it is a good idea and makes life easier for all of us as we don't have to go out and buy something, yet the birthday child gets something they will particularly like."
Lucy, meanwhile, has taken the initiative herself, now giving only gift cards for presents when her son, six, is invited to parties:
"I always give gift cards. Always a fiver. He has had six parties in the last six weeks so quite frankly it's easier all round. I ask the parents first (not subtly at all) and every parent without exception has thanked me heartily for not adding to the tat pile. They also report that the kids love being able to go and choose their own gift."
OK so a voucher is a tad unimaginative but especially with so many families struggling financially, compared to children receiving armfuls of unnecessary gifts, is it really so bad?
Do you love or loathe your child receiving piles of presents?
Have you found an alternative?
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