How do you say “let’s not exchange this year?”

A little while ago, Lynn & I discussed not exchanging gifts for Christmas amongst the adults.  She and I are capable of buying anything we need and want, and we just can’t swallow buying gifts for a compulsive hoarder anymore.  There are budgets to consider, and we thought this might be best for everyone.  But then Mom learned of this, and thus began the guilt.

The Gifts

I know I’ve written a lot about gifts on notjustclutter.com already, but this is an ongoing issue in my family.  Mom firmly believes that Christmas and other family traditions are deeply routed in gift giving and receiving.  I would rather our traditions be experiential, and memory-forming.  For instance, I love that we sit as a family and decorate gingerbread men and houses on Boxing Day.  We chat, we share, we praise each others creativity despite clumsy icing bags, and it’s good fun for the kids.  I remember that more than what I unwrapped, or even what I gave to others.  I don’t want to see the art of gift giving turn into obligation.  I don’t want to see anyone feel left out around the tree on Christmas morning, either, while the kids tear into their brightly wrapped boxes.

The truth is that if Mom wasn’t a compulsive hoarder, I would want to guy her gifts.  I like to put thought into presents and she has so many interests, I usually had a good time looking for something to suit her.  But she is a hoarder, and has so much stuff that anything I give gets lost in the mountain.  Like a large canvas family portrait I gave her a few years ago…did that actually make it up on the wall?  Don’t think so.  How about the new computer desk chair she asked for and Lynn gave her?  It’s still at Lynn’s, in the box, 3 years later.  And that Kobo we bought her for Mother’s Day 2 years ago?  She tells us she’s still working her way through the books we loaded on it for her, and sometimes she still just loves a paperback.  But she’d admitted to another friend that she lost it, and now I know my own Mother lies to me.

The Guilt

After Lynn told her what she and I had decided about exchanging, Mom called ME to vent.  She’s unhappy we want to just give up that tradition, and she’s mad she wasn’t included in the decision making.  She wasn’t included mainly because when we DO try to discuss it with her, she shuts down and gets defensive…like she is now.  I’m a peace maker, and always end up trying to please everyone.  I empathize with both Lynn and Mom, but I’m the one who tries the hardest to compromise.  I hate seeing Mom upset, even when I can logically tell this is a guilt trip.  I try suggesting we draw names so we’re just buying for one adult and still respecting budgets, etc.  She didn’t like that idea either.  Essentially, she claimed:

“You and Lynn have already decided on this, so fine, have it your way.  But just know that it won’t feel like Christmas to me.”

Well, that’s great, Mom.  Thanks for announcing so far in advance that you plan on being a lead balloon during our family togetherness time.  You stomp your foot and cross your arms with a pout, and the rest of us will decorate gingerbread men.

Is there a solution?

If there is a way to better deal with gifts and guilt with hoarders, I’d love to hear it.  I’m at my wits end.  I want to be glad I have my loved ones around me, and we’re all healthy and happy.  That’s what I really want for Christmas.  Forget the stuff.  Forget the wrapping, ribbons, and bows.  Forget the generic greeting cards, and the over-packaged plastic toys, batteries not included.  I’m asking Santa for family unity.


Gift giving and receiving with a compulsive hoarder is complicated.

My Mother loves gifts.  I don’t blame her; who doesn’t love gifts?  I’ll tell you who.

Me.

Actually, let me clarify that.  I appreciate a well-thought out gift.  My husband Will is especially good at picking out something perfectly suited to me, and I love everything he’s given me.  He doesn’t go overboard with quantity and that’s just fine with me.

When I was a kid, any holiday involved a mountain of gifts.  When you’re little you think this is fabulous!  Windfall!!!!  Then I got older and (just a touch) wiser.  I realized though the gifts were plentiful, they were either:

  • poor quality
  • unsuited to me
  • had strings attached

Poor Quality

It was quantity over quality.  I started to fall into this trap too until one Christmas I exchanged gifts with my college boyfriend.  I wandered department stores and dollar stores, and picked out all sorts of whimsical things that made me think of him.  I gave him about a dozen little presents, and he gave me a gold promise ring.  It finally dawned on me that while the pile of presents seemed impressive, it wasn’t about the stuff and more about the emotions.  I might have spent as much as he did but while I received a symbol of our relationship, he got a pile of cheap trinkets.

Unsuited to Me

Mom & I haven’t been as tight as we used to be, so we don’t know each other as well as we should.  Her mental illness has changed her, and I’ve matured since her hoarding took over.  I know when she walks through her favourite thrift store she buys things because they make her think of me, but they’re bizarre.  Like, the country-style apple quilt wall hanging she found.  It was originally from Cracker Barrel and she told me:

“I know something like this would be worth at least $60 brand new.  I just couldn’t pass it up when I saw it for $12!”

The quilt was perfectly nice, in mint condition, and would probably look great hanging in someone’s home.  Just not mine.  I don’t have a country theme in my home decor, and I’d never expressed the desire for a quilted wall hanging.  So this was money spent on a gift for the wrong person.

Strings Attached

SO many “treasures” have been shared with me over the years.  On the surface, Mom is very generous.  But if Mom considered these items especially interesting, she’d declare the caveat “Don’t ever get rid of this.  If you don’t want it anymore give it to me.”  That tells me she really picked this out for herself, and only felt comfortable giving it away if she thought she’d get it back some day.

The Butterfly in a Jar my Mom really bought for herself but gave to me.

The Butterfly in a Jar my Mom really bought for herself but gave to me.

My birthday was recently…we won’t worry about which one it was. ;)
Mom asked me a few weeks ago what I would like for my birthday.  I told her nothing but her happy birthday wishes.  I know she’s on a tight budget, shipping is expensive, and I really don’t need anything.  Lynn & I had already discussed stopping gifts between each other and I mentioned all that to Mom.

I could tell she was hurt.  She thinks we don’t want to uphold any traditions.  That’s not true…it’s just the traditions I’m interested in don’t involve consumerism.  And I get the sense she’s upset if she doesn’t give a gift to me, I won’t give a gift to her on her birthday.

She’s right about that.  I don’t want to buy gifts for her any more.  Anything I’ve given her in the last several years hasn’t been used.  It ends up in the back of her van or in some pile at her house, never to be seen again.  I’m tired of wasting money and effort when it’s not appreciated.  And if I did want to buy her something, what would it be?  She has triplicate of everything because she’s lost the originals.  We’ve thought of buying her services, but she won’t let anyone into her house for housekeeping, repairs, etc.  We mentioned the idea of donating to charity in her name once and she was offended.

So, I’d rather not bother with the whole gift exchange thing.  I know it sounds cold, but I just can’t do it any more.  I don’t want her to buy me trinkets I’ll have to donate away or throw out, and I don’t want her to spend the few dollars she has left on a gift for me when she keeps her thermostat set to 60 in the winter to avoid a high heating bill.

What I really wish for

What I’d like from her is a memory we can share.  Perhaps go to lunch, or see a movie.  Sit down and do a craft together.  Take a drive and look at the scenery.  Too bad she lives 3 hours away.

She called me last night to sing me Happy Birthday.  And so we chatted and hearing her voice was gift enough for me.

How do you handle gifts with a Compulsive hoarder?

I’m curious as to how other children or relatives of hoarders handle gifts.  Do you still exchange?  Do you keep those things “loaned” to you…those gifts given but wanted back?  If you’ve found a solution to gift giving and receiving when a compulsive hoarder is involved, I’d love to hear about it!


My eldest daughter, Maddie, turns 7.  We’re having a cooking party at a grocery store.  The store facilitates everything from set up to clean up, and I think that’s AWESOME!

Last year, we did a cereal themed party at home, and it was also awesome, but much more exhausting for me!  LOL

No matter how we do the party, I always struggle with lootbags.  I guess I feel like they’re a waste.  An obligation.  And I don’t like them.  There, I said it.  Yup, I’m a bit of a grinch like that.

I don’t think they’re necessary and I wish they weren’t the social norm.  I don’t want to buy more plastic bags, and fill them with little plastic trinkets, tiny erasers and pencils, and the ever present Ring Pop only to have them tossed in the trash or add to the clutter at someone elses home.  I know people who give out loot bags mean well.  I get that some kids are totally thrilled to get that extra treat as they leave a party.  But I come from a home where over-consumerism is an issue and I don’t want to continue the trend for my daughters.

Are you’re looking for better options for “lootbags” for your children’s parties?  I have some suggestions, and I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments.

Better Loot

Individual potted plants: small clay pots, a cup of soil, and a flat of little flowers from any garden centre makes a pretty parting gift.  The clay pots could be personalized ahead of time, or be part of the activites during the party.  Alternatively, include the soil in a little bag and give a pack of seeds so the guest can experience planting themselves and watch a flower grow from scratch.

Bubbles: one container of bubbles per child is enough, and is consumable without taking up much space.  Personalize with curly ribbon if you’d like.

Sidewalk Chalk: tie 3 pieces with ribbon

Candy Kebabs: make a skewer per child, with mixed gummy candy from the bulk food section…maybe better for kids older than 5.

Chocolate Suckers: a mold from the candy making section at the bulk food store or craft store, Merken’s chocolate wafers melted in a double boiler, and sucker sticks make a fun treat, and are pretty easy to make and customize.  An alternative would be to dip long pretzel sticks or licorice sticks in chocolate, then amp up with colourful candy sprinkles or nonpareils.

Custom Spoons: for Maddie’s cereal themed birthday, I glued letter beads to spoons so each child had one with their name on it.  And they got to take home Chinese take out boxes (from a party store) filled with their choice of fun cereal mix.

Gift Cards: one of Maddie’s friends gave out $5 gift cards to Dairy Queen.  I thought that was brilliant.  A fun treat to enjoy later, and I personally love any excuse to visit Dairy Queen.  Gift cards for other places would be great…maybe you have a local treat shop you could help support?

Comic books: These shouldn’t cost more than $5, but give the kids something fun and colourful to read on the ride home.

Colouring Book and Crayons: These are much more useful than a tiny notebook with matching unsharpened pencil.  We go through a lot of crayons in our house.

Donations to Charity: Give a donation to a meaningful cause in lieu of lootbags and give a card to the child instead.

Photos: Set up a silly backdrop and some goofy props for kids to dress up.  Take their photo and use a printer to make prints on the spot so kids can take a memory home with them.  Another good idea is to take a photo of your birthday child with the gift they received from each guest, and send that photo with the thank you card to the guest.  What little kid wouldn’t love fun mail addressed to them?

Beaded Bracelets: Make this part of the party activities and kill two birds with one stone.

Playdough: The brand name stuff isn’t that expensive, but you can also make this really cheaply yourself in all sorts of colours with ingredients you probably already have at home.

Baked Goods: This might be harder if there are allergy concerns with your party guests, but there are recipes out there to accommodate this.  But what little kid wouldn’t love to have a little stack of homemade cookies to call their own?  You could do these with a theme using sugar cookies and cookie cutters.

Labels: Mabel’s Labels do $5 loot bags, and they offer free shipping in Canada.

Mini-Figures: Lego and Playmobil have these little sealed mystery packs you can get with different little figures inside.  You assemble them and they fit with your existing Lego or Playmobil sets.  They’re cute even if you don’t have more…my girls love to play with “mini” things and stuff like this seems to stay in regular play rotation.

Advent Calendar: This is seasonal, of course, but if you’ve got a party in November, Advent calendars are often available for .99 cents and up.  The chocolate in them is usually pretty terrible (I’m a bit of a chocolate snob), but kids love the daily anticipation of opening the doors.

Crazy Carpet: Also seasonal, these in expensive sleds make for a fun outdoor activity.  If snow play isn’t your thing, spread these out on table or floor surfaces when doing a messy craft for easy clean up.

Treasure Chest: Decorate a box, suitcase, bin or whatever suit your decor/theme.  Fill it with any of the above OR with little toys your child is ready to let go (I’m thinking MacDonalds toys, etc) and let the guest choose something on the way out.  Obviously, don’t put anything worn out or broken in there, but this is a way of cycling out things your child is done with to a new home.

Books: Chapters, or other discount department stores often have childrens books on sale for a couple of dollars.  Let the guest choose, or wrap it up for a mystery reveal once they get home.

Upcycled Crayons: Have lots of broken bits of crayons at home?  Melt them down into fun shapes.  One of my favourite blogs has a great tutorial.

New crayons made from melted broken bits

Source: Make it and Love it

Pumpkins: These would be fun from late September to the start of November.  They come in mini-sizes and you could decorate them at the party, pre-personalize them with the child’s name, or give them a little packet of something to decorate them at home, like stickers, rhinestones, permanent markers, or a small squeeze bottle of glitter glue.

Sand Toys: A bucket and shovel works in summer or winter.  They come in fun shapes, too, like little castles.  I see these on sale all the time.

Beach Towels: These come in all sorts of fun colours or themes.  Licensed characters like Dora or Spiderman (or even Justin Bieber) are available and would be a fun but useful thing to give a child.  Even if you don’t go to the beach, this is the kind of thing you pull out for backyard picnics, living room tents, and after a playdate at the splash pad.  Look for these at the end of the season to get deals.

No Plastic Bags: If you need to contain your gift in a bag, skip the plastic and try these options instead.  Brown paper lunch bags, mini canvas or nylon bags from the dollar store, or home sewn cloth bags in awesome fabric (easy peasy) are easily customized with stickers, stamps, markers, bingo daubers, glitter glue, or paint.  Dollar stores also often carry little boxes or baskets that might work well and are reusable.

Water Bottle: Keep kids hydrated with a bottle in a fun design.  Sometimes you can find them with names on them, but there’s a wide range of styles out there.  My favourite bottles are Contigo.

Reuseable Sandwich Wraps/Bags: These come in fun fabrics and last long after the party is over.  Your guest will be able to enjoy them every time they have sandwiches for lunch, and their parents will appreciate not having to buy and toss plastic zip bags.  We have a wrap from this vendor and it’s wonderful.  GoSewEco

Guitar Eco Friendly Snack Bag

Source: GoSewEco Etsy Store

Hula Hoops and Soccer Balls: I’ve seen these go on sale at Old Navy for just a few dollars.  They are fun, and encourage physical activity.

Pack of Playing Cards: I’ve seen multi packs of decks of cards for games like Go Fish, Old Maid, and Snap.  I like getting new sets of these because we’re always losing cards from old sets, which makes them useless.

T-Shirts: Using fabric paint pens or tye-dye, make decorating t-shirts part of the activities.  It keeps guests focused for a while and gives them a great take-away.  Custom t-shirts could also be useful if you’ve got a big crowd and you’re at a public venue…having all the guests in one colour of t-shirt helps you keep visual track of them better.  Or do different colours for teams during treasure hunts, or outdoor games.

Sunglasses: Maybe a little more expensive than $5 per child, but they’re appreciated by parents since this item is often lost and repeatedly replaced.  Be sure to only get 100% UVB/UVA protective glasses…anything less actually can put sensitive eyes at risk to sun damage.

There’s so many more options.  I bet you have great ideas, too.  What were your favourite loot bags you ever received as a child?  What do you appreciate as an adult?

 


Today is my Mother’s birthday.  I just got off the phone with her.  Yes, that’s right.  The Phone!  She finally got her cell phone and we’ve actually had a couple of conversations on it already.  Tonight was the first time to call her on her cell…and she was out shopping!  At 8:30!  Where?  The second hand store, her favourite place on the planet, of course.

She told me about a couple things she had put in her cart, thinking I might like them.  She described them to me, and they weren’t anything I thought I truly needed or wanted, so I politely declined.  I thanked her for thinking of me.  She thanked ME for thinking of HER on her birthday.

I admit I lost track of time and am late getting a birthday card out to her.  I made one myself, and will send it with a drawing Maddie did for her, too.  I’m always stumped for gift ideas for Mom.  She has everything…possibly triplicate of many things.  I don’t want to contribute to the pile.  I know many gifts I’ve given in the past are still in the original packaging.

Gift cards are not a good alternative.  Lynn & I have tried that in the past.  Mom can’t ever decide on something “special enough” to use them on, so they expire or get lost unspent.

If we lived closer to each other I would take her out of lunch, or on an excursion of some sort.  I like the idea of spending time with her and experiencing a memory together instead of exchanging material things.  She’s too tired to travel to me for a visit, and I know all the stairs in our split level home are tough for her to manage while she’s here.  But at least we have a bed for her here.  She can’t offer the same if I tried to visit her.

What I’d really like to do is pay for a month or two of a bill…perhaps her new cell phone bill, or a portion of her gigantic oil bill.  She has a fixed income.  I’m not at all sure how she manages to pay for anything really!  How far can one stretch an old age pension and a disability benefit?  But I’d need her account information, and she’s not about to hand that over.

So, I’ll send my belated card and try to be on time for Mother’s Day instead.  I really miss her.  I miss the way I remember her, before the walls of stuff grew so high.  I send the warmest of birthday wishes to a woman who drove me to all my dance lessons, music lessons, competitions and performances.  Who sewed 50 air freshener skunks to raise money to go to my competitions.  Who bragged about me to anyone who’d listen.  Who could just give me that “look” and I’d behave.  Who bought a book of Jello recipes and spent the summer with me trying out 50 ways to create desserts with the worlds favourite gelatine treat.  Who instilled in me a love of reading, art, creating by hand.  Who showed me there’s no limit to the power of creativity.  Who respected me, listened to me, cried when I cried, and laughed when I laughed.  Who embodied warmth & patience (and stubborness, too).  Who tried so hard to keep everything equal between her two daughters.  Who stowed away money for years so I could graduate college debt-free.  Who stayed with me and helped when my daughters were born.  Who shaped the person I am today.

For any faults I might find with her, there are many, many more qualities.  I’ll remember them not just today but everyday.  Happy birthday.