My Mother-in-Law is a Closet Shopaholic | Seventh Generation
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My Mother-in-Law is a Closet Shopaholic

Author: accidentallyonpurpose

Shopper CrossingShe finally emerged from the closet -- all five feet of her -- looking like she'd just pulled a heist on a baby superstore. All that was missing was the stocking mask. Instead, there were baby bottles in all colors and sizes, at least two mobiles, three stuffed animals, a baby blanket and a baby quilt, things with Velcro and things with suction cups and what looked like a baby carrier big enough for twins. What came next was a very, um, pregnant pause. I was torn. Here was my mother-in-law standing before me so pleased -- so excited about her new grandchild. And equally excited about all the STUFF that would entail. But as much as I adore my mother-in-law, I just couldn't go along with it. Almost apologetically, I muttered, "Um, did I mention that I've gotten a lot of hand-me downs?" She just stared at me blankly. So I gathered up all the paraphernalia -- including formula dispensers, formula mixers, and far too many nipple varieties to count -- and headed back to the closet. She sprang out of the lounge chair where she'd taken refuge...but it was too late. In the avalanche that came next, I was almost knocked on the head by a thigh exerciser still in its original packaging. George Foreman headed toward me, smiling like a Cheshire cat from both a big rotisserie-type get up as well as from a food sealing gizmo. Mr. T was up in there too -- grimacing on the front of what looked like a slow cooker. I can't explain which was more jarring: witnessing the sudden collapse of the famous tic-tac-toe wall of Hollywood Squares (I'd always wondered how they stacked those stars so neatly) or the full, frontal accumulation, proliferation -- no, make that -- propagation of stuff that is my mother-in-law's closet. None of this made a lot of sense. My in-laws are very simple people. They have lived in the same modest home in South Jersey for more than 50 years. They have rain catchers in their backyard; they grow their own herbs and vegetables, hang clothes on a line, and compost regularly. This closet -- the space that receipts forgot -- put them in a whole new light. Where was this need to accumulate coming from? I had to ask. "Oh, my goodness," she laughed. "Honestly, I don't know." But I think I do. In her own way, this nod to consumerism is my mother-in-law's interpretation of how to live in America. From her native Japan, she brought all kinds of natural remedies and practices -- gobo root for this, kelp for that. Her spoiled American kids, my husband included, always gave her Old Country Solutions the big blow off. Buying things, even things she doesn't open, became a way she could fit in. I tried to explain -- gently -- that we didn't really have a want or need for the gifts she was buying and hoarding. Less is more. The simpler the better. I thought it was a touching moment. Then she jumped up and went to the kitchen pantry. "You can feed this to the baby," she said, holding out an industrial sized box of rice cereal. All I could do was take it and nod my thanks. photo: turtlemom4bacon


joemerint picture
I'm surprised to see negative comments on a Seventh Generation blog.. A company the promotes consumer responsibility. In addition the feelings of the MIL, what about the decisions and values of the parent and the household she created? I think its important to respect the parents lifestyle. Is it rude for a vegan to refuse meat? I think its sad that some people only show their love with material things. My family was/is the same way. I've been asking them to buy savings bonds, or organic food instead of random material goods. It's a slow transition, but its moving along. They finally realized I was serious about returning and donating everything they gave me that I didn't actually need. At first some of them were insulted, but as mentioned above, we talked about my values and how reducing my waste is very important to me. Sharing, donating and recycling goods are important in order to reduce our impact on the planet. But this writer is attacking the issue head on, at the point of consumption. Once an item is initially purchased, we create the demand for the good, and thats where the impact begins. To those of you that are insulted by this blog. Perhaps the writer has made you feel guilty about your own consumption. If it bothers you, research the issue before you start insulting her values. We can't change our lives overnight, but we can start to think about our consumption, one thing at a time.
ChantelBuck picture
Looking at everyone's posts, I'm baffled. What in the world is wrong with not wanting STUFF? My mother-in-law keeps buying and buying because that's how she shows love. I haven't the faintest idea how to express how disrespectful and, really, UN-loving the consumerism is to me. It's a disregard for my values and the values I want to teach my not-yet-born child. While I understand that she means well, I should have some say in what I bring into my home and expose my family to. I do like the idea of passing along the new, unused stuff to community programs, but that'll just end up with her keeping all the mounds of nonnecessity for when she babysits. We don't need to have a crib at our house and one at hers, or a carseat for every car the baby will ever ride in, or everything shown on Oprah or in pregnancy magazines. The whole point is that anything that is purchased for the baby extends my global footprint and my whole life is devoted to lessening it. Thank you amberdawn for you post. Our choices are so much bigger than just us.
jennmit picture
My MIL didn't buy a single gift for my child until he was 3 years old. His 3rd Christmas he got a hand-me-down toy that someone gave her for him. At least she doesn't hate you so much that she ignores your child. On the other hand, MY Mom is the one buying bags of junk for my kid. I HATE dollar stores. That's where companies sell junk too horrid even for Wal-Mart. Many conversations about age appropriate and safe toys later, she now asks what is on his wish list. Code for "What can I buy?" and I'm good with that. I give her a list of things to pick from that's okay (and second-hand is fine) so I can control the plastic and lead-laced clutter in the house, AND frequently "let" her keep things at her house for playtime there so she can "make things easier for me". It hasn't stopped the buying of stuff I consider unnecessary junk, but its has slowed it down alot. It is hard to be gracious when people buy you stuff you don't want or like, but it really is the thought that counts, at least they care enough to try.
susan14 picture
You can still live your authentic self, use hand-me-downs, etc, without hurting your MIL. Accept all gifts given to you as what they are - gifts. You can donate any extra items you have, whether they are the hand- me -downs, or new items your mil picked out for her grandchild to a deserving charity. IT's nothing to be ashamed of - you can be honest with her. Most new mothers get duplicate items and have more than they need. Either make the exchange at the store, return the item or donate it. No need to step on Grandma's feelings! She means no harm. And by the way, it would be nice to keep an outfit or two so that baby can wear it when she visits grandma.
Clarity33 picture
This issue was one of the most difficult I had during the pregnancy and birth of my son. The problem is that the "confrontation" is difficult...meaning hurt feelings, pushing her way of caring to the side, my fear of not being liked. Accepting the gifts has it's own consequences...ultimately she'll realize that the gift's are not being used and here is all this stuff...and not just once because it repeats itself...and truly, not being true to myself. Her feeling would still be hurt, I'd be pushing her way of caring to the side and every time she'd come over, I'd have fear of not being liked or her finding out that we've gotten rid of everything she bought. It's difficult but I commend you on taking the risk of having a courageous conversation. Now you both can move on in a sincere relationship.
VeggieDiva picture
I had to laugh about this, because I am almost 61 and have had several mothers-in-law. Also a grandmother who had survived an incredibly impoverished childhood, and a mother who was a kid during the Depression. (No, not this one. The other one.) They all had one thing in common...they had a deep and burning desire to make my life better. This manifested itself in some interesting ways: the 5-pound envelope of coupons that arrived monthly (this was when you didn't actually have to buy the product; if the store carried the product, they took the coupon), the button-down vintage skirts from Joe's mother's employer, surprise bags of groceries from Ben's mother, the Castro convertible from my grandmother who wouldn't let me leave her apartment without giving me something, and finally in exasperation I said, "Ok, grandma, I really like your couch, and I'd be happy to trade you my leather loveseat for it..." and quick as you could say "my boyfriend's old van," the thing was in my second-floor aparatment in New Jersey. What's done is done. Your mother-in-law has been gleefully collecting these things for YEARS, waiting for the magical day when you announced your pregnancy. Use whatever you can use. Think about repurposing some of it. Think about passing some of it to friends who really can use it, and would love to have a mother-in-law like yours. Make friends with the Community Services director at a local church. People in dire need come in all the time, and anything that is given to them is received with great joy. My current husband's mother passed away about a year and a half before we got married, and so I missed the opportunity to be a very good daughter-in-law to her. I know we're all green now, and that's great. But you know what? I swam in many a chlorinated pool before we knew any better. I look about 30 years younger than my peers, I don't have cancer, I have a really nice other words, don't worry about it so much. Be as green as YOU can be, but when your mother-in-law gifts you, hug her and say, "Thanks, Mom."
chloesmommy picture
Gather up all that baby stuff and drive down to your local family homeless shelter and donate it. Ask your ML what else she's got. Clean out that closet. Now you can feel good about yourself.
amberdawn070706 picture
It seems to me that these women "complaining" about their mother-in-law's shopping habits are more concerned about their childrens' health than the superficial inclination to sympathize with them and to leave well enough alone. Our childrens' health and the values instilled at a young age are paramount to the habits consumerism has imposed on our psyche. To care about our children is to care about the future of our environment and how all of these little things tally up to affect us later. We all know how susceptible our little ones are, especially the older ones, to how we choose to do things, things they will eventually be doing for themselves. The people whom they share love with have the greatest impression on them and should honor our green living model because it's health implications; for their grandchildren and our beautiful planet. I'm not saying everyone should go green and convert to voluntary simplicity (although I wish they would at times), but more care and thought should be put into what we're giving our children/grandchildren, because those will likely also be the modes they choose. Instead of a tenth doll for my daughter's birthday, we could do much more simply with some fabric, feel good about a hand-me-down or upcycled belongings past their prime. Contemporary society has fallen far beneath their ideals and needs to relearn how to value those "little things" because they're so much bigger than we are.
hgenton picture
My MIL bought closets worth of stuff for my baby and won't give any of it to my husband or I. She hordes it at her house and is mad now because "we moved and she won't get to use any of it". I'm so frustrated. Her excuse is that I don't save everything for when the child has a baby of his or her own. Mind you I still have a month left of pregnancy and shes thinking 20 years in the future. My husband just shakes his head and says, "well, other people we know will need the items more before then." She's a pack rat and thinks were being insensitive. All you women who have a MIL who spend money on you, please just be grateful your MIL likes you enough to give you gifts.
bridgeTorque picture
I completely agree with genie70's comments -- and that I have the same issue. My future MIL is the same way, including living a relatively simple life (they're not eco-friendly but in more budget-friendly ways, such as hanging clothes...part of the problem is that anything she buys is on sale, which she thinks makes it okay). It's frustrating, but we love each other. Good luck, both of you! And, annandkids, I understand why you'd disagree, but I find your comments a little rude. In my case, it's frustrating when you're trying to live a simpler life with less stuff in it (partly because we live in such a small house) and get the inevitable crap from a woman still trying to provide, in whatever way, for her son. I know she cares, but the fact that she doesn't listen to kind-hearted "really, no thank you"s shows that she may care more about her shopping habit -- no, bargain habit. If someone's going to write a blog to vent a little bit, they should be able to do so freely, without fear of snarky retorts.
crouss05 picture
I don't know if you're trying too hard to be "green" or if you are just trying to sound modest or whatever, but I sort of agree with annandkids above. Why could you just not take your MIL's kind gesture of getting the gifts? You could always keep the items for ALL of your children, or donate them to someone in need once you are finished with them. It's fine and dandy to get handmedowns, I have gotten lots myself, but I also accepted every gift for my baby. I didn't use all of it and donated some things to the church clothing/item pantry for those in our community with needs. Other things i'm going to reuse for the baby i'm currently carrying. With a new baby you never know what you'll need, you'll always be having to exchange things or return items you've gotten ten of, but to be so rude to your MIL was uncalled for in my opinion. If she's like any of the other older Japanese ladies i've known in my life, she might have been cordial to your face, but inside she was really hurt and probably deeply insulted. Although she'd never let you know it. I'd say you owe her an apology for not accepting her gracious gifts. You'll spend a lifetime of her trying to spoil your child, try leading her in the right direction for the future in what types of things you would like for you child. Buying things isn't bad, it's the quality of what you buy and what you do with it after you're done with it that counts.
annandkids picture
you need something REAL to complain about - appreciate the fact that your mother in law cares about you and enjoys buying things for you and your baby - and just let her shop - if that's what makes her happy! if you don't want the stuff, donate it! it's none of your business what she does with her money! so smile! and i hope you never have a REAL problem!
genie70 picture
Seriously, thank you for echoing what I've been feeling for YEARS! My MIL does not share the same background as yours, but has EXACTLY the same problem! There are multiples of every item you can imagine in her garage, and yet she buys more! If it's "advertised", it MUST be good for you, right? "They" said it does XYZ, and you don't HAVE a thing that does XYZ (mind you, I have a thing that does X, one that does Y, and another for Z, but that's not the point!), so let me buy that for you! I've tried to gently stop the purchases (whenever I can), but I'm not with her when she shops, so the best I can do is say "thank you" and resell items on ebay or give them to various charities or other people I know. I HATE that she's wasting her money this way! And I feel bad that I'm having trouble with her extreme generosity (truly, she would give you the clothes off her back). It makes me feel guilty. I don't even bother trying to explain the "less is more" or "all this packaging is wasteful/consumerism isn't a virtue/there are too many chemicals and toxins in the stuff you buy" philosophies. Those concepts don't make sense to a generation who believed the 1950's "Better Living Through Chemicals" sales pitch. Best I can do is stress, whenever possible, that I try to buy organic food and, when BPA was first talked about, used that as an opportunity to mention "no hard, clear plastics." It's taken years, but I do see a SLIGHT reduction in the massive volume of things she brings us. At least that is something. Best of luck with your challenge!