AH - MIL :) We Love Them, Right?

Updated on December 07, 2010
J.S. asks from Saint Paul, MN
11 answers

I always see MIL questions on here. I have one of my own.

My in-laws are great. They are very generous, and generally great people. They've given us tons of great furniture for our home, taken our kids a few times, and really try to be helpful.

Here is the problem. My MIL loves a deal - not because they can't afford to buy stuff (they are pretty well off actually), but because she loves the hunt, the bargin, and the whole process of finding things at garage sales, on clearance, and used. She buys stuff for my kids that is so odd, and off sized, and kind of out there, that I don't know what to do with it. Once and a while she'll get something that is appropriate for the season/size of the child... but not usually.

Example - my son turned 4 on Sat. She got him a really nice inside/outside boche (sp?) ball set, a Lands End winter hat that won't fit him for 3 years, and a train Advent calendar that is missing 4 wheels (she got it on clearance at Target). I tried to get his brother (who is almost 6) to wear the hat but he says it is too scratchy, should I keep it for two years and see if Joey will wear it when he is 6, or assume it IS too scratchy and just get rid of it now (lots of places are having winter clothing drives - I would donate it). And, I try not to be snobby, but I really don't feel to great about displaying a train in my home at the holidays that is broken... it's on the mantle right now, but it seems silly to me to have to keep it past this year. I doubt my son would remember next year that he got it, but my MIL will - what would you do?

Another example. Before we moved, we lived in a 1,000 square foot home, my boys shared a tiny room and our daughter slept with us. She gave my daughter a lamp for Christmas (she was 5 weeks old) that had a summer theme (the lampshade was covered in flipflop sandals - it was hideous). We were getting ready to put our house on the market in the spring and did not have a single place to even put another lamp, let alone such a unique one. SO, rather than put it in storage for 9 months, I got rid of it. Then I mentioned recently (two years later - we've moved and have a bigger house) that I was looking for a lamp for my daughters room.. and of course she said "what happened to the one I gave you?". AH! I felt terrible. Should I have stored it for 2 years until I needed it and then used it even though it is not anything I would have ever picked myself?

Generally - my question is, how do I not hurt her feelings... keep my kids happy (by not getting rid of stuff they get that is not something we can use) and be gracious because they are so generous and such good people?

Thanks for your help!

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So What Happened?

Thanks for your advice ladies. I wish I had remembered that she had given us a lamp before I mentioned I was looking for one... I never would have brought that up otherwise.

I'm going to go with continuing to keep only those things we can use. A few times I have given her stuff back (a really nice shelf for my boys room that I had absolutely no space for in their tiny room, some curtain rods that didn't match anything, chair cushions that don't match my kitchen). So I'll continue to do that as well.

I also talked to my husband about it, and he agreed that looking for a new train or just getting rid of the one we got were fine solutions. I don't really like to do an advent calendar with treats everyday, it seems excessive to me, so it's not a tradition I feel compelled to continue. So we might just donate it after the holiday this year.

Keeping stuff and getting it out when she comes over isn't really an option, since she only lives 20 minutes from us, she is over regularly, and I don't want to drag stuff out all the time just to make her feel good... plus, that only encourages her to bring over more, which is not my goal.

Thanks again for your great advice.

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answers from Nashville on

Wow - tough one. I had a SIL who did the same thing. Her Christmas gifts were always the most random bargains and never appropriate. Once she gave me the lotion from a perfume set, scrunchy aerobic socks and ho ho ho underwear two sizes too big - all wrapped together. However, she didn't really remember giving the items and she is no longer around.
I would pick and choose a little bit - maybe keep a few things around that aren't quite as bad, or keep them on hand to put on display if she is ever here for a visit. If you have plenty of storage room now could you put items in a box in the attic? If it's clothes - I would give them away.

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answers from Dallas on

Definetely get rid of the items you don't like or won't use and just don't mention them to your MIL. While I don't normally lie, I think telling your MIL the lamp was misplaced would be ok(not in front of the kids, of course). Ditch the train after this year. Donate the hat. Keep the boche ball set. It might be fun when it's warmer, if not, then give it away.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Maybe offer her some suggestions of things your kids could use so she can have those ideas when she goes bargin shopping- I did that when looking for a rocking cradle for my niece who is almost 2 years old- I found one at the thrift store(homemade oak with heart pattern on the ends with built in rocking chair for the toddler) Total price $ 10.00- I made the bedding for the cradle with supllies I had at home. what a deal better then a store bought one. My Sil normally doesn't care for 2nd hand stuff but when told her about this she was actually thrilled and can't wait to see it when they come in town after Christmas.
By giving you Mil ideas on what your kids like, she will know what they like and still can bargin hunt while shopping, This could be a win win situation. Good Luck!

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answers from Dallas on

I adore my MIL. She is a wonderful, caring women and she treats me like one of her own kids. But my MIL falls into the bargain trap too. And a garage sale...forget it. I know she will be stopping by with some random item. I just had to have a talk with her about it and I started being a little more honest (Wow. That's is neat, but it doesn't really go with his decor). I mentioned to her that the kids loved her unique gifts and I appreciated the thought. I just told her as honestly and as kindly as I could that we didn't want any more clothes that were stained (she's big on clothes for a quarter...which I have NO problem with. The problem is that they are too stained to use most of the time), that the toys couldn't be broken (broken toys are either dangerous or not played with) and I didn't have the room to store all the clothes for future seasons. She took it well. But I did this when we were alone...out to lunch I think. And I tried to stay positive. We still have moments when her gifts make me cringe, but for the most part things are much much better. I would definitely wait until after the holidays to make sure she doesn't stress over the treasures she has stored away for your kids.

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answers from Houston on

My MIL does this too. It's an interesting position to be in. Luckily for me, my MIL has a horrible memory and doesn't remember much of what she buys, so my hubby will donate it the second she leaves. I leave these things up to him because I expect that he will be the one to explain where it went when/if she were to ask. She has bought "baby's first Christmas" ornaments with the wrong year on them, puzzles with missing pieces (VERY annoying for a 4 year old), and just general junk and trinkets that we don't need or have room for. I actually haven't had the "where is the ____ I bought you?" question come up yet, thankfully, so I'm not really sure what to tell you. I would let your husband handle those conversations since it's his Mom, personally. Although, my MIL manages to corner me when hubby isn't around on purpose to put me on the hotseat about things. Love that! I don't have any great advice for you, but just wanted you to know that you aren't alone.

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answers from Minneapolis on

We have relatives that do kind of the same thing. My hubbie's take is that they are buying presents more for them than for the receiver. (like your MIL is after the steal of a bargain more than the perfect gift).

We say a wholehearted thanks, have the item worn or used once in their site, take a picture & send a thank-you when appropriate --- then donate them. WE find they don't really remember them anyway.

I'm like you. I'm practical and really try to put myself in someone else's shoes and get what they will want. It's frustrating to me, but I've learned to do my best to let it go and move on. Even though it doesn't make any SENSE to me. LOL

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answers from Tucson on

Just be nice and say we dont have a lot of storage room for things we are not using right now. ANd people cant always expect you to like the same things they do. Let her know it wasn't your taste.

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answers from Washington DC on

For the train - for this year display it with stuff in front or propped up so you don't see the missing wheels. After the holiday's go to Target and see if they have a left over on clearance, with all of the wheels. Next year don't put it up. If she asks tell her that you didn't have room.

For the hat - have him try it on. Take his picture then donate it.

For the lamp - tell her that the shade was busted in the move and didn't know how to mention it without hurting her feelings.

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answers from Honolulu on

Have your Hubby.... talk to her.
She is HIS Mom.
I am sure, he grew up with her doing that too, and having stuff like that around... and having to... wear the icky things she bought them????

Tell Hubby, to talk to her....

all the best,

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answers from Boston on

I am on the "Be gracious" side. I mean what does it really hurt that she gets you goofy stuff. I would probably have a space that I put all the things she buys and take it out of hiding when she visits. Why not make her feel good. I would not say anything to hurt her feelings. Not all MILs are as nice as yours.



answers from McAllen on

Well, my grandma was like that... sort of.... she had so MUCH stuff she always had something to give away. We got a lot of broken toys from her, like dolls, and trains, and things like that, well my dad started fixing them, or teaching us how to fix them, like the train, since he doesnt know how to work with wood, he took it somewhere to have the parts missing remade and then had us sand and paint the wood, they were all good projects. My point is, at least with a few things you could turn them into a project, maybe?
Most things have a cycle, if it's past, because you don't have space or don't like it, well it's your gift and once its yours, you have the right to do whatever you need to with it.
Let them know that you really appreciate what they give you, and try to find the way to make that stuff usable, if it isnt, well, it just isnt and you'll have to let go of it.
Good Luck!

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