Q&A: Is there any way to prevent an influx of gifts you don't want?

The lovely people at Amazon.com have informed me via email that they are going to be having a huge sale starting this Friday morning at 6 am PST (US West Coast time, 9 am for those of us on the East Coast, 8 am for those of you eating leftover bars that day, and 7 am for those of you in Mountain). If you click through from this link, I'll get a little tip out on anything you buy, so think of me if you're going to do any online shopping this Friday I'll put the link up at the top of Friday's post, just to help remind you to line my pockets.

And on that note, Kristen writes:

"Can you address how to talk to relatives about not giving your child crappy, made-in-china, plastic toys?  We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or seem greedy, but we would much rather receive quality wooden toys, non-character items, and books.  With the recalls recently, this has become even more important.  Is there a tactful way to de-tack relatives?"

At first glance, the obvious answer to this question is, "Yeah, right." But I know that Kristen has a one-year-old, so she's still in the phase of parenting in which she does have a reasonable amount of control over what her daughter plays with, eats, etc. And my feeling is that all of that stuff gets harder and harder to control as the kids get older, so you might as well do what you can while you can. Two years from now you'll be buying princess-shaped gummy snacks made out of HFCS, hydrogenated fats, and red dye #5, so this is the year to try to hold back the tide of American consumer culture.

I think the amount of success you'll have in requesting certain toys depends on the personalities of the gift-givers. My grandmother, for example, was always delighted to receive specific requests for things my kids wanted. If left to her own devices she would have chosen the brightest, biggest, least apartment-friendly toys possible, just because she loves the kids so much. But she was thrilled to know exactly what the kids wanted (one year it was an awesome wooden parking garage that is still standing after years of abuse) and this year her Christmas gift was the adoption fee for the cats. (Oh, the cats--is there another animal species as crazy and hilarious?)

So if you have relatives who like to take requests, you're in luck, because you can request specific books and toys (like the wooden cutting food set, for instance) and everyone will be happy. But if you have relatives who want to give what they want to give no matter what you'd like, you're not going to win the battle.

Which means you need to decide how you're going to react to the gifts you don't like. Are you going to thank them politely and then donate the toys the next day to the thrift store? Are you going to thank them politely but decline the toys? Are you going to try to educate them about toy safety, recalls, plastics, and the whole ball of wax? Again, it depends on the personality of the giver and your relationship with them. You'll probably react differently when it's your 90-year-old great-aunt than you will when it's your sister.

Has anyone been able to politely stem the influx of toys from relatives without hurting any feelings? Please tell us what you did.