I married into a family that cares for and appreciates stuff. Coming from a family that not only isn't so into stuff, but, in fact, fears and is deeply unsettled by stuff, it has been a major adjustment, especially around the holidays.

My husband's family cherishes and saves things in a way my own family does not. For example, my mother-in-law has one box from every school year of my husband's life. My own mother has one box from all the school years of my life. One box. And I'm not even sure how big that box is—it might not fit more than a loaf of bread. It might even be more of a bag.

Obviously, my mother's saved items have nothing to do with how much she loves me. I've always known that. But this is where I'm coming from.

So, now that I have a wonderful mother-in-law who, like many people, loves to buy A LOT of stuff during the holidays for her grandson, I'm working on opening my own nervous and organized heart to all the things she so lovingly and generously offers.

As the holidays approach, here's how an obsessive minimalist like me copes with the onset of an avalanche.

1. Suggest donations instead of gifts

It's worth a shot. Your idea will likely be met with a ripple of laughter followed by, "Nice try, babe, but we've already made our donations. Lots of them! And we made them while simultaneously purchasing 750 gifts for your son. AND WE'RE JUST GETTING STARTED."

You've married into a good family. They want EVERYONE to have stuff.

At least you tried. Good job for trying.

2. Buy storage bins

Since your minimalist fate was sealed the day your parents casually recycled your first inconsequential school art project, the only way to handle the inevitable onslaught of holiday gifts is to go to the mattresses. And by mattresses, I mean bins.

For me, seeing new toys spread out all over the living room floor is akin to being trapped behind a pile of live rats. So after everyone's gone to bed, I tiptoe into the living room and neatly place 75% of those rats inside plastic bins and shove those bins deep in a closet somewhere. I then return to bed and dream, peacefully, of empty rat-free rooms.

Until your kid learns to use the stepladder and finds a way to not let you hide toys in bins ever again, this works PERFECTLY.

3. Preemptively give away some toys

I've got a one-for-one philosophy: For every new thing, an old thing must be retired. The thing can either be taken down to the basement for future children or mold experiments, or the thing can be given to a child in need NOW.

Head to your local homeless shelter or Salvation Army with used toys. Then ride that high on over to CommuniGift, where you can buy something off the wish list of a kiddo who isn't getting as many as yours.

4. Say thank you—and mean it

The hour is nigh, the gift mountain is high, and you're going to have to get it together and behave like a kind person. Otherwise it will seem like you are an ungrateful stuff-hating ogre-scrooge, who cannot find the fun in unwrapping countless items purchased lovingly for you and your tiny human.

Even if that IS what you are (and proud of it), you've got to model some gratitude. And anyway, smile therapy is no joke! I find the more conviction with which I say thank you, the more thankful I actually am.

5. Remember you all have the same goal

You've now got a rug made of wrapping paper bits and Scotch tape and the toddler crash is imminent, but for the next four to seven minutes, you may simply recess into the folds of your couch and let relief wash over you. It's done.

Your over-stimulated child is currently filled to the gills with joy as he paddles his way through The Sea of Four Thousand Toys. And your in-laws? They're even more thrilled, seeing him like that.

Yeah, you might not have given your son the same things, or the same amount of things, but you all want the same thing, right? You want this tiny crazed creature to know he's loved.

And he is. And he does.

And you're probably going to need at least seven more bins.

Raising a mentally strong kid doesn't mean he won't cry when he's sad or that he won't fail sometimes. Mental strength won't make your child immune to hardship—but it also won't cause him to suppress his emotions.

In fact, it's quite the opposite. Mental strength is what helps kids bounce back from setbacks. It gives them the strength to keep going, even when they're plagued with self-doubt. A strong mental muscle is the key to helping kids reach their greatest potential in life.

But raising a mentally strong kid requires parents to avoid the common yet unhealthy parenting practices that rob kids of mental strength. In my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do, I identify 13 things to avoid if you want to raise a mentally strong kid equipped to tackle life's toughest challenges:

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play