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Too Much is Enough! (An Open Letter to a Future Grandmother)

11 October 2011 10 Comments

Dear Me in 35 Years (Give or Take),

I am writing to you at 3:09 in the morning in my chilly home office in Rome, Italy the day after my son’s second birthday on October 11, 2011. Can you remember now why you’d be up so early when you have three classes to teach tomorrow and the daily grind to attend to? Remember you are also 29 weeks pregnant and in dire need of some proper rest.

You can’t sleep because you feel overwhelmed. Not by student loan debt which used to keep you awake at night several years ago. (Thank goodness you finally paid those off!) You are fortunate not to worry about the stack of bills in the tray by the door that need to be paid, clothing your family, or where the next meal will come from. You have a decent job and your husband an even better one.  You have saved some money to hopefully buy a house in the next few years and even started a savings account for your son Lukas to someday go to college and you plan to do the same when “Baby Biscuit” makes his debut in December. No, you don’t have the same worries that the vast majority of people on the planet do who don’t have enough.

Lukas before his second birthday. Rome, Italy 2011.

You are awake because you can’t get the flood of material things out of your mind. You don’t worry about yourself or your husband (who eat off of chipped plates and own just one ancient television set), but rather what an excess of too much stuff might do to your sons. At the moment your son is fortunate enough to have all four grandparents. I’m sure when you finally read this letter 35 or so years from now you will miss them all desperately and wish that you could spend just a few minutes more with each.

At the moment though your son’s four grandparents all live thousands of miles away and are constantly longing for their grandson, buy clothing and toys out of love on an almost weekly basis so that it piles up. They wait to eventually dispose of the hoard at those rare times of the year when it is finally possible to meet in person or via boxes in the mail before starting the ritual all over again.

Petty as it seems now, back then you were concerned that your son had too much. You saw his room exploding with toys, which have now spilled over into the living room and threaten to take over the rest of the limited living space of the family apartment as well. His closet bursts with clothes, and all the outgrown clothes are stored under tables, in closets, under beds, and now are taking over space in the bedroom.

You feel grateful yet queasy when he received seven toys in the span of ten minutes yesterday from his German grandparents. Just as he was about to enjoy one of them, another was quickly put in his hand with the former being temporarily discarded on the floor. When your son visits his grandparents in the US, they set up a virtual toy store in their home with every room holding twenty toys or more for your visits. Can you blame these well-meaning relatives who resist your protests that they are giving too much? Surely not! They themselves grew up in poverty and lived through the worst war the world has ever known. Your son’s grandparents knew hunger, poverty, lack of opportunities, limited access to education, and deprivation in their younger years. So how can you deprive them of sharing their good fortune in their later years?

Masai sisters in Tanzania. 2005.

So what am I trying to say, Me 35 years from now? Who knows what the world is like then. You hopefully now have grandchildren of your own. I can only imagine you are showering them with material objects as well to make sure they have everything they need in life. I can tell you now (hypocrite that I am) that I hope your grandchildren don’t live thousands of miles away from you as I already know you’d like to see them on a daily or weekly basis and give them your love in person.

I am just asking you to remember to first see what they need and respect (or at least politely listen to) their parents’ wishes if they ask you for anything in particular or to limit your giving all together. You can also give your grandchildren experiences instead of toys like a nice lunch out or a special trip to a museum or theme park. College funds are great. No one will ever complain that your money was wasted on education. As for giving material things… just think that if you buy them a few special toys or clothing items on only special occasions, they are more likely to be treasured and less likely to get stuffed in an attic or box in a frantic attempt to make room for more stuff. I know you have always had a thing for meaningful gifts rather than trying to overwhelm with sheer quantity. Are you still like that?

Shower the ones you love with love as they say. But remember the ones who don’t have love or resources in their lives as well. There’s enough for your own grandchildren, but you can also help other little ones not so lucky to have so many resources. Remember the little boy you saw in rural Tanzania back in 2005 who was about the same age as your son was the day I write this? You never took a photo of him, but you will always remember that he had one yellow boot and a “toy” made out of wood scraps and junk that crudely resembled a car. Of all the poverty you saw during your travels in the world, will this one image ever get out of your mind? Will it continue to help fuel your fire to help other people’s children and grandchildren as well as your own?

Phew. Well thanks for reading, future self. I think I can finally go back to sleep now. I hope your life is safe and happy and free from deprivation and suffering and that you still are able to help others.

With my deepest love and warm wishes,


  • Inga said:

    What a wonderful article and a very good food for thought, Kristen. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Inga said:

    P.S. Happy belated Birthday to Lukas! He is precious. 🙂

  • Kristen (author) said:

    Thanks Inga!

    Ironically, Lukas’s visiting grandparents told us yesterday that he has too many toys. We explained that we have only bought him 4 toys (with the exception of little cheap things for long flights across the Atlantic) in his entire two years on Earth. 98% of his toys came from grandparents, friends, and relatives. I am ready to donate most to charity or at least hide them away so we can take out new ones on a rainy day.

  • Heather said:

    I know what you mean! Thankfully my husband’s parents and his sisters ask us what he needs. We told them we don’t want him overloaded with toys because we want him to appreciate them. He has less toys than pretty much any child I have been in contact with recently but he is happy and he makes toys of his own out of water bottles and empty boxes. My mom doesn’t see him enough but just flying here or flying us out there ever basically busts her budget so she doesn’t go overboard thank goodness.

    Through my years of babysitting for kids who were well off I saw them with way too many toys and they didn’t care about them. They saw no value in them.I would tell them of kids who had no toys or only one toy and they were shocked. They at first thought I was lying to them.

    When I was little I basically got toys at x-mas and birthday. I never got a ton of toys and I really appreciated everything I got. And there were always a ton of toys I really wanted that I never got and that was good for me! I mean, if you get everything you want how does that prepare you for the real world?

    One good idea for kids with too many toys is to revolve them. Put some away and then bring them out different times. Also, once every so often have your child pick toys to donate to children at a shelter. Boost them by telling them how excited this child will be who has little or no toys.

  • Heather said:

    I think it is best for kids if they can still want things and not be overloaded with too much
    I knew a girl with literally like 35 barbies.
    I was in awe of her because I wanted them so badly.
    I would love every time I could go to her house and play with them
    but she didn’t care about them,
    not one bit,
    because she got every single one she ever wanted.
    It was really sad.

  • Heather said:

    We told our parents before Niko was ever born,
    while he was still in my tummy,
    that we wanted him to appreciate things.
    We did want him to read though so we told them they could buy as many books as they wanted and I was fine with extra clothes (in my mind-after kid number 2 was done with them we could donate them)
    but I did not want him getting tons of toys.
    What works best is letting them get bigger ticket items sometimes.
    For example my husband’s sisters always pitch in for a big item and then the grandparents get something big
    so it’s not a million little things. (basically them give him something we can’t afford)
    For example, last x-mas, my husband’s sisters got him his little ‘command center’ he can sit in and play around. He has had it since he was 5 months old and still uses it! It was too expensive for us to buy. His parents bought him this walker car that x-mas too and he still plays with it as it grew with him. These toys that have several stages so they last longer are great!

    We have many books for Niko and my feeling is that you can never have too many books. I want to encourage reading with my child. If you get a ton of books and have nowhere to put them then eventually you can have your child pick some books to donate to one of many various charities and really get your child to understand they are sharing the gift of reading.

  • Kristen (author) said:

    I like that idea a lot Heather: books, clothes, money for college, and special big-ticket items that are needed are all great choices for gifts!

  • Kristen (author) said:

    -And I should mention that we are extremely grateful especially for the clothes and shoes our grandparents to Lukas have given. It is a luxury not to even worry about these things and the bonus is that now we know our new child is a boy, we can use them again.

  • Liza said:

    Thank you, Kristen, and Heather, too, for your reflections. Education is truly a wonderful gift, and special experiences shared with loved ones are a gift that keeps on giving through memories. I think another valuable gift one can give their children is teaching them the joy of giving to others who are in need. Possibly the experience of having “too much” can be helpful in learning the value of giving to others who are in need. Enjoy your children. Lukas is adorable, and New Baby is sure to be precious.

  • Too Much is Enough - Kristen Palana's Online Portfolio said:

    […] charitable website that helps needy children in developing countries) about two years ago called Too Much is Enough (An Open Letter to a Future Grandmother): […]

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