Dear Miriam, I feel like my sister-in-law treats my house like a dumping ground for her kids’ old things. This might sound really trivial, but I would appreciate your input. I am a mother-of-two to a pre-schooler and a toddler. We live on my husband’s family farm. His older sister has also built on the farm and lives there with her own family. It’s great for my kids to have cousins nearby, even though her gang are that bit older. But both families get along well, which I know is not always the case.

Bags of clothes

When my first child arrived, my sister-in-law dropped off bags of clothes that her children had grown out of. Like most children of the 1980s and 90s, I was no stranger to hand-me-downs growing up. Most of the items were in very good condition, so I was grateful, and anything I did not need, I donated quietly to a charity shop.

The issue now, however, is that she is doing the same with old toys. I’m sure she means well, but the house is already fit to burst with plastic. Children today get so much stuff, year round. It’s not just at Christmas or birthdays anymore.

Unlike the clothes, the toys are a bit more rough and ready, some have parts missing etc. It’s not that my children would notice that particularly, but it does mean that I can’t really donate them to charity if I don’t want them. I was sort of prepared to grin and bear it for the sake of family relations, but just after Christmas, my sister-in-law did a big clear out, with several boxes subsequently arriving at my front door.

Of course, the children saw the boxes so there was no chance to stow them in the attic or in a shed. To be honest, I was really annoyed and I still am.

Pieces of plastic

My husband thinks I’m making a mountain out of a molehill and says that his sister only means well. But he is not the one who spends every waking hour picking up pieces of plastic from all over the house. I think what really irritates me is the fact that my sister-in-law did not even ask me if I wanted the toys, which I think would have been common courtesy, given the amount of stuff that landed here.

To be honest, it felt like she was on a mission to declutter and she wasn’t really thinking about how it might impact me or my home. I don’t want my house to be someone else’s dumping ground, Miriam; it’s messy enough at the best of times.

How do I stop this from happening again?

Cluttered Mother

Dear Cluttered Mother,

As somebody who has spent far too much time picking up stray pieces of Lego and the likes, you have my full sympathy. Children have so much these days, I feel that it is actually overwhelming. If I had seen those boxes arriving up the driveway, I probably would have hidden behind the couch.

While I assume that your sister-in-law meant well, I agree that it would have been much more considerate if she had asked first if you wanted the toys before putting you on the spot like that. What she actually gave you was a problem; not a present.

The ‘divil’ in me might be tempted to gather up some of the previous ‘donations’ that the kids have grown out of, and to thank her so much for the ‘loan’, but to say that you are returning them in case she would like to have them back for sentimental reasons or to pass them on to another family. That might stop the next lot of toys from landing.

If that seems too cheeky though, the next time you are chatting, you could just thank her for the toys, but say that your kids have so much now, that perhaps another family might benefit more in future. Keep it light and move on to the next topic.

After that, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to refuse a box of toys next time round. But hopefully, she gets the message.