Back in the day, kids who didn’t know what to get their Dad for Christmas got him some Avon cologne in a bottle shaped like a car. Avon came out with a different car every year and they gathered dust on toilet tanks and bathroom window sills all over America. Grandparents are also notoriously hard to buy for, compelling children to add to collections of little ceramic animals, most commonly elephants, hummingbirds and frogs: birthday? a frog, Mother’s Day? a frog, Christmas? a frog.
In my family we youngsters thought it would be a great and allowance-friendly idea to get the grandparents a framed photograph of ourselves to add to the table covered in framed photographs collecting dust, the sounds of daytime TV and the ticking of an old clock ominous in the background.
Like loud clocks, reruns of Bonanza and crocheted afghans, “collectible” clutter is aging. Becoming a grandparent, doesn’t have to mean resigning yourself to having every surface covered with dust-collecting stuff. Dust is like the powder that settles into the wrinkles of an aging face and clutter is like too much jewelry. For a fresh and youthful look, less is more whether body or décor.
Educate your progeny: If you do collect something, be clear on your parameters for the collection. Most cluttery stuff is not an investment. Check out the entertaining movie about Beanie Babies starring Zach Gaifinakis on Apple TV. Encourage children to give handmade items, edibles, seeds, plants, flowers or manicure gift certificates.
Rotate: if you can’t prevent the clutter and don’t want to hurt feelings, let the gifters know that you will rotate pieces in and out so that you can enjoy them and keep your décor fresh. Some items might quietly rotate into a donation bin after a while.
Teaching kids about design and taste should be a positive, not a negative. You don’t have to shame anyone or be impolite, but lead by example and take control of your own environment. Kids tend to grow up and repeat what they learn at home—if they grow up with clutter, the tendency is to believe that it’s inevitable. Have children help you decorate or go to the paint store to choose colors and furniture for their rooms. You can gently guide them to tasteful choices and teach them about creating a pleasing living environment. When I was six I told my mother that since there were four girls in our family and only one boy (Daddy) we should be able to have a pink dining room. I’m grateful that my mother was not inclined to indulge me in that decorating advice.
If you’re a totally sentimental type and this column is raising your blood pressure, don’t get your granny panties in a twist! But ask yourself—does that plastic turquoise unicorn that your grandson absent mindedly grabbed last minute at Target really spark la joy? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the weirdest tchotchkes can warm the cockles of our hearts. I still hang on to a Groundhog Beanie Baby that my old cowboy father-in-law gave me because my birthday is near Groundhog’s Day and he thought of me. But a lot of stuff isn’t given thoughtfully but as a frantic holiday obligation that once given oddly carries the crazy expectation that we treasure it.
People sabotage themselves the same way with food, which also isn’t love but people like to guilt you into thinking that yes, it is love. Gifts shouldn’t be wrapped in guilt, even edible gifts. Did anyone really eat all those mid-century fruitcakes after all? Every fruitcake I’ve ever seen was relegated to a dark cupboard where it transformed into a brick and eventually, when unearthed sometimes years later, thrown away.