No Gifts, Please

When I was growing up, most birthday parties we had in our family were the “no gifts please” type of party.  This seemed fairly uncommon at the time – I can’t remember going to any parties for my friends where this was case.

Now, however, it seems to be gaining popularity. Ralphie’s little girl had a birthday last week and it was a no gifts party. Emily Kate posted recently about her daughter’s first birthday party, and I noticed that the invitations specified no gifts as well. Kayla, who is my guide in all things party throwing, has made the line “”your presence is the only gift we need!” standard on all invitations for birthdays.

I tend to be a little uncomfortable with gifts anyway, and I always worry people will think they were invited to something solely because I want them to show up with some excellent loot (hello, social anxieties). If I ever do throw myself a birthday party, you can bet the invitations will say, in large large letters, “No Gifts, Please!” (More likely, I’ll steal Kayla’s excellent line, but we’ll skip over that for now).

I think kid birthday parties can become so expensive, especially when you have multiple children who are all being invited to a bunch of parties a year, and it is so difficult to pick out a gift for another child – what will they like, what do they already have? Will you give the loser gift that they cast aside the moment the wrapping paper is off? Will your gift be the one the child loves but the parent hates you for giving (did I mention that this kind of thing gives me intense anxiety?)? I want to spare other people the burden of this. Show up and let me feed your children prodigious amounts of sugar. No plastic toy from Wal-mart required.

Plus, I tend to be quite the minimalist, so the idea of my child getting a pile of random cheap gifts and then having to find a place for them does not thrill me in the least (not that I think YOU would give my child a random cheap gift – it’s everyone else I worry about . . . ). And multiple children? Multiple piles of random stuff every single year? Not interested.

Perhaps I’m setting my children up for a lifetime of disappointing birthdays, but I really hope that they will see their birthday parties as a chance to have fun and spend time with friends and family, not a reason to open a huge mountain of gifts.

This makes it sound like I hate gifts. Of course I do not – I am only human. But I hate required gifts. I would never expect you to give me or my children a gift, for any occasion.

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  1. One of the columnists at Slate wrote two articles about how she asked parents to bring a book for a book swap at her children's parties to bypass the gift/favor conundrum. And then she got some backlash. I think this is a pretty good compromise for parents who feel the need to bring something (anything!), and it's more of a cooperative activity. I could see how it might be strange for some people, but Present Face is awkward for everyone.

  2. Oh Janssen, I know EXACTLY what you mean! I thank my inlaws every time they mention something they decided against buying for Michael and I… Think 6'x3' table-top air hockey. I don't want to sound ungrateful at all because I think gift giving is a beautiful art of appreciation but this is one of my greatest fears in having children. Silly? Probably. Logical? Definitely.

  3. I totally agree. I was also thinking recently about loot bags (I honestly don't know why). I will definitely not be giving out loot bags at any party I throw. Why spend a bunch of money on cheap do-dads IN ADDITION to entertaining a bunch of children for an hour or two?

    On her blog Heather recently mentioned that her kids alternate between family and friend birthday parties. I like that idea.

  4. I am so in agreement about this. Unfortunately around our area no one has the "no gift idea" figured out yet. Maybe I need to start a trend.

  5. I don't have as much of an opinion on gifts for kids, but I have always thought it was the WEIRDEST thing that adults not only throw themselves birthday parties, but they expect gifts! One of the most bizarre things that is so completely socially accepted (at least among most people I know). I mean, if you find something that you know your friend will like, fine, but to me, birthday parties and their associated gifts have always been for children.

  6. I also feel inclined to add that I went to birthday party for a friend's boyfriend that I know only a little, and on the invitation it specifically requested that we bring gifts. No joke. I barely knew this guy. I couldn't believe it.

  7. One of the best ideas I've heard in this regard is to ask atendees to bring a canned good to donate to a food pantry. Then your child learns about giving more than getting…great for preschool age and up!

  8. Obviously, I agree with you! But my friend mentioned something to me the other day that's been on my mind. She said that as her daughter gets older (she is 3 now) she wants her to have the experience of picking out presents that are NOT for her and have the experience of watching her friend open the gift and learn about that selfless gift giving. I hadn't even considered that. So while I don't want Addie getting a bunch of toys (frankly, probably ones I don't really want her playing with) on her birthdays at the same time, learning to give gifts is a very important lesson. Maybe we'll have to practice it with family members or maybe someday we'll live some place where people expect gifts at parties and she can learn it there.

  9. While I agree with you overall this would never work in our house. My sweet Miss M, who has autism and thereby categorizes everything in her mind, sees presents as a big part of birthdays. Not so much for herself but for others. For example, she was reminded on Sunday that her friend Lucy's b-day party is this weekend. She immediately said we needed to go to Target and buy decorations and a cake. Once I told her that Lucy's mommy was probably going to take care of those she moved on to the present. Having received a Tangled invitation she began running down the list of Tangled items. "We can get Lucy a tangled book, or a tangled doll, or a tangled pillow, or a tangled shirt" etc.

    On another note, I have been working on my sewing skills lately and have found that I have a lot less guilt and anxiety about gift giving when it's homemade. I made a simple baby blanket and burp cloth for a baby shower recently and even though it wasn't the fanciest or cutest present the gal received I knew that she appreciated it because I had taken the time to make it and really put my self into the project.

    Anyway, that's all a really long way of saying I love the no gifts idea, but it may take a while for the idea to take hold around here. 🙂

  10. Last year Groovy Girl had a book swap for her birthday party. Her friends loved looking through all the titles (we had added it a few of our own, just to make the pile bigger). We have, in fact, used the line…and your presence is a all the gift we need.

    We came up with these ideas after she was given several Bratz dolls and I banished them to the Goodwill pile before they could even be opened. LOL. I don't like cheap plastic toys or toys that offend me…it's not the givers fault-just my own higher standards.

  11. I must be the complete opposite of you. *smile* I looove giving gifts to kids especially if I can make something. I do agree that kids don't need all that crap but it's just too fun to open that mound of presents once they get a little older! It might be an every other year party tradition for us.
    And I can't imagine you giving a bad present! We will forever be lovers of Skippyjon Jones thanks to your gift giving!

  12. I agree but mostly disagree. Birthday parties for children should be fun with goofy and cluttering gifts included.
    That is why there are parties. Sometimes a gift comes that is fun for your child – something that you would never have thought to purchase. One could say, "Gifts are optional."

    Also, remember that you may be a minimalist, but your child might not be. Speaking from experience, it is extremely unsettling to come home from school (or where ever) to find that someone has gone through literally everything you own and taken whatever that person wanted to take. Just because a child isn't playing with or using something at that moment doesn't mean that the child doesn't cherish it.

    It also makes me angry to have to spend money for a gift for a person that I know will not value anything that is given to her or him.

    The reverse is also true. I feel terrible when people spend money on a gift for my family and/or me that we will never use.

  13. For real.

    Having come from a big (BIG) gift centered family, I came out on the opposite end. As in, gift giving gives me serious anxiety. And I think a lot of it stems from the fact that it's required. Expected. I nigh unto hate it.

    So I don't know why it's never occurred to me to have no-gift parties. (Maybe because we haven't started doing parties for our kids yet). Anyhow for friend-parties, I think this is a most fabulous idea.

  14. Amen! And I may still Kayla's line as well!

    Or I've been thinking that while gift giving can be a great lesson for a child to learn, to be selfless and learn that skill, maybe there's a way to put on an invitation something like "only give gifts of a book" but said in a much nicer way….?

  15. I love RA's comment. There are a lot of parents out there that feel like they need to bring some thing! We have always done non gift parties and have found that there are always those sweet soles who feel the need to show their love through a present.

    We discovered a wonderful comprise! We ask those coming to the party to bring something, but just not a present. This past birthday (for my 5 year old) it was new books that she donated to a children's home. It worked so well! The huge blessing in doing this is that she will remember what was given to her, and then more importantly what she gave back.

  16. Love this post. I'm an anti-clutter person, and 75% of the things that my children receive as gifts falls into this category. Where we used to live there was a few people (including us) who would note "no gifts" on the invitation, but people would bring gifts anyway! And the people who were considerate of our request felt a little sheepish at being outnumbered. Awkward, for sure.

    My husband and I decided to let the kids decide between a party with friends and a larger gift from mom & dad + going out to dinner. Of course my soon-to-be 4-year-old chose a party. I intend to attempt a no gifts party, but we'll see. As far as "goodie bags", I've done those, but instead of filling it with candy and useless trinkets, I try to find inexpensive books and some semi-healthy snacks.

  17. We try to go easy on the gifts, and this year we hit on a great solution for my parents, who want to give something, but know our kids don't need tons more toys: they're giving lessons. We choose something we think whichever child would enjoy (swimming, gymnastics, etc) and my parents pay for it as their gift. Of course, if it turns out Kalena hates gymnastics I may be rethinking this as a great idea…

  18. I gave my oldest a birthday party with friends out of guilt–we planned on moving, and I wanted to give him a chance to say good-bye to friends. I specified "no gifts required" on every invitation, for the reasons everyone has given–no desire for him to become greedy, no desire for a bunch of stuff. I wanted the focus to be on being together as friends. Well, since I'd never thrown such a party before, how was I to know that all parents except one set would see "no gifts required" and still bring one? The sole person who took it at face value, the way I intended it? The Arabic speaking mother of my son's best friend, who then felt very awkward at not having her children bring a present because everyone else had. Aargh. Next time, if I ever do such a party again, I will have to say "please no presents" in all capitals. Maybe then people will understand.

  19. Amen! I agree totally, in fact we did this for our daughter's 3 year party last summer. I do have to say, though, if you can handle it, some new (even cheap, plastic) toys that last a few weeks then can be recycled to a local clothing exchange or something can be nice for boredom management.

  20. 2 thoughts… #1-One boy at our school has for the past several years had his friends bring books that would then be donated to our school library. In turn, his parents would give him a huge Lego set. It was win/win.. he got a really big gift and not tons of little gifts he really didn't want/need and our library got about 20 new books! #2-A parent of 5 yr old twins was debating on whether to put them in the same class for Kinder… solely because if they were in separate classes (which is what she preferred) they would be invited to approx 40 bday parties throughout the year!!!!

  21. i hate required gifts too. my only bride breakdown was over who to invite to my bridal shower because i just hate the though of people thinking they have to get me stuff. ha.

  22. oh, and i had so much heartburn over it with emery's 3rd that i skipped it altogether (the party with friends, that is). bad mom award.

  23. we alternated– party every other year. I don't remember any year but 5th grade that everyone brought presents. and I like it that way. with my kids its hard bc my inlaws REFUSE to not buy presents. Finally they send money (because I give them specific book titles, i'm SO over stuffed animals!)… and we put it in college savings…. and then tell them we got W such and such. I know it is a lie, but I've had ENOUGH of the crap. My kids are happy without commercialism! (Parenting, Inc. and The Case for Make Believe are two favorite books on this topic)

    I LLLOOOOOVE having parties as an adult, though. I love the anticipation of getting everything ready. But I do things like, host a talent show and just ask people to do something– bring a piece of art, writing, a cool carved thing, sing a song. Make an event out of it. But no presents. So much better.

  24. I have a suggestion for Emily Kate! We plan to have our children go through their toys and give some away to needy children before each birthday/Christmas. That way they learn to edit down the number of toys they have, and hopefully we will somehow be able to provide them with experiences where they give things away in person. I know there is an organization out there (I can't think of the name) where they help you throw a birthday party for your child that benefits another child! (I.e. all the presents are donated at the end of the day). This link has some tips on doing something similar:

    I most definitely agree with you on the no gifts thing. When my babe turned 1 we didn't have any guests or a big bash (why invite 10 kids over when they have no idea what is going on?) and we gave him one thing, a toy train. Each time it's a gift giving holiday I beg my own parents to give him practical things because he just doesn't appreciate the toys yet! As always, I like the way you think.

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