Thanks For the Train Table, But My Kid Lives in an Apartment

Our family of four lives in a three-bedroom apartment in New York City. The kids share a bedroom and the “third bedroom” is a dining room that has been transformed into a playroom (a rare luxury in these parts). I am engaged in a perpetual war against Addy and Zack’s toys, trying to contain them in these two rooms in a configuration that doesn’t resemble a garbage dump.  See exhibit A for evidence of my failure:


Two weeks ago, both my mother and my sister-in-law called me while holiday shopping. “Do you think Zack wants Legos?”, “How about a real workbench with a full set of tools and screws?” I had to veto it all. “Nothing big.” I said, “Nothing that comes with a million pieces, nothing that resembles anything they already have.” I needed to defend the small amount of grown up space we still have in our home. More importantly, the more puzzles, pegs, beads, squinkies, legos and 50-piece wooden food sets that accumulate, the closer I get to seeking professional help for the undiagnosed OCD that keeps me up until 1:00 AM organizing it all. The bottom line is that until we live in a house in the suburbs with a hoarders-inspired, kids-only basement, I will be the Grinch who stole Hanukkah. Accordingly, I have developed a list of a few of the top holiday gifts for preschoolers who live in apartments. Grandmas and Grandpas, take note.

Real Deal Gift Ideas…

Tickets to the Fresh Beat Band Concert

They’re small. We throw them in the garbage when we’re done with them. Most important, I can never figure out when they go on sale until I’m a month too late and only the crappy seats are left, so I need someone else to take over this job anyway.

Disney DVDs

They’re easy to store and they double as a free two-hour babysitter when I want to take a nap.

Gifts for Those on a Budget…

A Box of Cookies

There’s nothing that gets little kids more excited than giving them a box of cookies. What’s great is that they are perfectly satisfied when you give them just one. What’s even better is that they believe you when you tell them there are no cookies left in the box the next day because they finished them all.

Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap is like the supporting actress who steals the show from the leading lady, the bread that you fill up on at a restaurant and then have no room left for dinner. No matter what amazing toy is protected by its cushy little buttons, kids always just want to play with the bubble wrap. It provides hours of entertainment and can be dumped with a clean conscience once it’s deflated. What more could a little apartment dweller’s mom ask for?

Gifts I Can Only Dream About…

Live-in Housekeeper

A perfect gift for a toddler, a live-in housekeeper will provide one more adult in the apartment who will bend to their every whiny command. As an added bonus, when grandma inevitably ignores your request to nix the fifty-piece puzzle books that constantly spill out all over the floor, a live-in housekeeper will help keep your sanity better than lithium. Where’s she going to sleep? Hell, if she really cleans up every day, she can take my side of the bed and I’ll sleep standing up in the closet.

A Storage Unit

For a mere $100/month, you can bring joy to the heart of a little one by bringing the coveted basement full of toys to the NYC apartment. So what if it’s just a 3’ x 3’ x 3’ metal cage? Who cares if I stuff it so full of exersaucers, baby swings and singing puppy dogs that if a kid actually took anything out of it, it would trigger a deadly avalanche? Big deal if the sub cellar where it’s located is also a rat tenement? I could get rid of TWENTY SEVEN CUBIC FEET of toys! Definitely worth the risks.

Ambien-Laced Brownies

Total non-sequitur. It’s 10:41 PM right now. Why the hell is Zack still up in his bed whispering to his team of stuffed animals? Either this kid needs some Ambien-laced brownies for Hanukkah or I do so I can go to sleep and stop staring at his beady, glowing eyes in the damn monitor.

Be Warned…

Ignore the aforementioned banned gift characteristics and your present will land on the re-gift shelf. The re-gift shelf is a thing of beauty. It emits rays of sunshine every time I crack open the closet door as if it was a direct invention of God him(her?it?)self. Entry to the re-gift shelf means there is one less toy messing up my living room and there is one less gift I have to buy for someone else. So actually, I beg you, please forget everything I said in this post and just give my kids something I can guiltlessly pass on to someone else.

Share your ideas!  What are some serious or funny ideal gifts for the space challenged?

134 thoughts on “Thanks For the Train Table, But My Kid Lives in an Apartment

  1. Beccas mom

    Love Stephanie’s suggestion, too! What mom couldnt use that?!

    Seriously, This post couldn’t have more appropriate timing! In our apartment-dwelling world, we love books! They’re small, portable and require NO batteries! Even Coloring, sticker or picture books…they all rock!

    Oh and jewelry is great too ( luckily we have a girl) that means I can wear it until she’s old enough 😉

  2. Lynn Daue

    I always ask for someone to pay for or donate to my kids’ various lessons and after-school activities. The giver prints out a fun gift certificate for the kids, which they love. It’s win-win-win: the giver gives a thoughtful, appreciated gift, the kids get 10 more weeks of whatever sport they’re in, and I get less mess in my basement!

    And trust me, even if you live in the suburbs with a kids-only basement playroom, it doesn’t get any easier to contain the mess. The kids just bring the Legos into the dining room because “I made you a cake, Mom!”

    1. Jill Post author

      That is a GREAT idea! I am definitely going to remember that when birthday time comes around. Haha! Such a bummer that even a move to the suburbs won’t end the struggle!! 🙂

      1. Lynn Daue

        Sorry to be a kill-joy … on the upside, there’s always someone willing to take your old toys as a donation!

    1. Jill Post author

      Thank you so much! That just put a smile on my face too! Hope you and your family have a great holiday season too and a happy and healthy new year!

  3. Kyle Simpson

    I relate! I have a 4 bedroom house, one is the kids room that they share, one is an office, and the other is a giant piled mess of toys that can only stay organized for about 6 hours after we clean it! Goodwill here we come!

  4. midnitechef

    Tickets to something are a great idea, like the zoo or children’s museum! You don’t have to go on a specific date, like a concert, and you can even save them for spring or summer break from school when the kids are bored stiff.

    There are also gifts that are re-gifts in themselves, have grandparents buy a flock of geese for a family in a needy country, see Heifer international, Soles4Souls, Unicef, United Way…. Doing to in the child’s name and telling them that they should help others since they own all the toys in the world in their tiny home.

  5. The Guat

    A very awesome and hilarious post! I feel on the large gifts as we also live in a small apartment and every day is a battle between myself and the Hasbro, Lego and Fischer Price people. A live-in housekeeper? How awesome would that be? Well even a housekeeper in general that stops by once a week would rock my boat. But alas … the struggling writer can’t afford luxuries of this nature. And bubble wrap? Ha! Yes! Yes! Yes. You crack me up with all the gift ideas… great post and thanks for laughs. I so needed them this morning as I prepare to venture off into the dreaded Christmas shopping world.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    1. Jill Post author

      Great ideas! And so true that they end up just playing with the sames ones over and over! My husband is always saying, “why are you bothering to clean up?? They’re just going to mess everything up again tomorrow!” You guys are totally right!!

  6. stormdan

    Our family of four lives in a converted one bedroom so I’m so with you on the gift vetoes! And yet EVERY year someone has to buy one of them something that just won’t fit and causes crying, screaming fits when we can’t bring it home. Currently, my ideal gift for my apartment-living children would be boxes, smaller ones please. They both love playing with them and then I can put their other toys in them at the end of the day and put them all away. Win-win.
    Glad you were Freshly Pressed so I could find your blog!

  7. Funnerator

    LOVE the hilarity you bring to every parent’s dilemma of wanting their kids to have toys and wanting their home to look like adults actually live there, too! Happiest Holidays to you & yours!

  8. Hannah @Supermommy!...Or Not.

    Loving this post! I’ve had to be the grinch lately too because my husband, my 3 kids, my home-based boutique with lots of inventory, and I live in a 2 bedroom (5 room total, including the bathroom) apartment. I jokingly warned the relatives that anyone who bought my kids big gifts last year had to buy us a house to put them in. They laughed and bought lots of big toys anyways. This year, I got mean and flat out told them they better not dare buy any big toys. Period. Or I will hurt somebody because I’m already claustrophobic and OCDing over our lack of space here.

  9. menadando

    We have a house and the train table doesn’t fit well … anywhere! Tix to a concert is an awesome idea (and yay for the FBB we saw them last year — though the in laws poo poohed the idea of taking a child to a concert, it was awesome!)

    1. Jill Post author

      Those things are SO big, aren’t they?? I’m totally for kids concerts! Not so entertaining for the parents but the kids seem to love them!

  10. lisagono

    I am right there with you! It is really difficult to explain to grandparents in big suburban homes that our two bedroom apt cannot contain another play kitchen, train set or ride on tractor…. I’d love to hear how people tactfully say no. My son is too old this Christmas for me to just take things away for regifting kater.

  11. Nicky

    Congrats on being freshly pressed. I love the ticket and zoo membership ideas. My kids can’t get enough of both. I feel your pain on the kids clutter overtaking teh house and we live in a house. My mother is notorious for overgifting the kids. I asked her to scale back this year and she did. She only filled 3/4 of my trunk with gifts this year to put away for the kids. I’m sure she’ll send something else before next week too. They are her only grandchildren. But, they have enough already. The one serious thing I would add to the list is a digital camera. She gave them each one a few years ago and they love it. They go around taking pictures of everything and it takes up no space.

  12. arlene1027

    Lovely! i am a new grandma and reading your post made me smile. Will I ever get to the point where space would be a problem because of all these things that a child need in in his growing up years? I am investing in books, yes, books for my only grandson and I am so excited to take care of him and see him grow up!

  13. fishingblues

    Yes! We have tons of toys but my kids just dump them out of their boxes onto the floor, and then play with the boxes instead of the toys. We had to tell family and friends this year, “no more toys!” Books, clothes, or lessons. I will have to add tickets to the list. Thanks!

  14. Allyson Mellone

    I have to past this on to my sister-in-law who lives in a big house in Brooklyn. She has sleepless nights trying to organize the bigger problem of the bigger, which is the overflow of the bigger. The more giving has become bigger, and bigger for the kids as they become bigger 🙂

  15. catalinadelbosque

    Haha! I’m not a Mom but I run a kids group and have to store everything in our two bedroom flat, but fed up of lugging it all from the fourth floor to the basement, most of it actually lives in the back of my car! I keep getting given things, or think “oh that’s a load of free cardboard, I’ll have those for the kids,” and just end up everywhere – and then end up in the bin when I get fed up! I’ve also got a whole heap of clothes to put on eBay but never really got round to it.
    What about doing what I’m contemplating, but I don’t know if this is common in US apartments to have a balcony? Is one of those big waterproof storage boxes that you could put bigger or seasonal toys in. That way when they come out it could be like a treat…
    Aaaand, in the UK here there was a morning’s session with a house cleaner for about £15 on one of those voucher deal websites, I would so do that just as a one off to take the pressure off for a couple of weeks!

    1. Jill Post author

      Great ideas! Unfortunately we don’t have a balcony, but if I did it would definitely become a storage unit! Good luck with all of the kids stuff!!

  16. Esther Haydock

    We live a twelve hour flight away from our family and every year when we come home for Christmas we say the same – it has to be portable! Some listen, some not so much. This year we are planning to buy a new suitcase to take stuff back with us and I still not sure we will fit everything in.

    1. Jill Post author

      Oh my gosh, having to transport it all home adds a whole other dimension to the dilemma. An extra suitcase will definitely be helpful!

  17. Farah Ng @ Broken Penguins

    BUBBLE WRAP! That would have been the most amazing gift as a kid. In fact, I’d still be very happy with a gift of bubble wrap. I remember when I was 6, my parents bought a fridge. I wrapped myself in the bubble wrap and rolled everywhere. Amazing idea.

  18. alexisdeluca

    Tickets to a show…..brilliant! I bet any child friendly event would work. Recently while viewing old videos, I couldnt believe the plethora of toys. Oh, the stuff I gave away/threw away….It’s not even “oh, the money I spent…foolishly?” Now, I wish we “did” more stuff….gone to more shows when they were little. I hope others follow….apartment or not 🙂

  19. ollie204

    This is interesting… however, instead of vetoing everyone’s gifts… how about getting rid of some of your children’s old toys? As kids get older they out grow them. Before each holiday a purge of old unused or unwanted toys would save your grown up space as well as serve as a reminder to your children that they are fortunate to have so much. Having them help you sort the toys for a charity (instead of trashing them) would be a perfect teaching opportunity. They would learn the value of stuff and learn the value of caring for those less fortunate.

    1. Jill Post author

      Such a great idea. We did this a little bit this year but definitely not enough and getting the kids more involved in the process of donating is a terrific suggestion. Thank you!

  20. transplantednorth

    the gift of a grandparent or relative’s time is the best gift of all. I’m all for the experience gift. And when my kids were little and my in-laws would buy my kids battery-operated NOISY toys? Well, I said to them: those you can visit when you come visit Nana and Poppop! Great post.


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