“No gifts, please!” We’ve all received those invites, but rarely do we feel empowered to act upon those instructions. Who wants to look like a thoughtless guest, and what kids will really understand?
Like many others, we’re trying to balance the excesses of childhood with a sense of value, while at the same time building environmental and fiscal responsibility. While we have tended to be traditionalists on the party gifts front, I've come up with these ideas to help avoid the glut of birthday gifts for future parties.
Build a library
Parents living in the city always appreciate getting books. Aside from being mutually approved by grown-ups and kids alike, they critically take up little space. We’ve been invited to parties where the hosts have suggested bringing a favorite book to build a library and it’s been fun for everyone.
Making the book concept even more guest-friendly is a book exchange. No need to buy a new one, just recycle one you already have. Kids love the concept of recycling and reusing, so this green option will appeal to their imaginations. A post-party trip to the bookstore can help mitigate a lack of parcels while keeping on theme.
To avoid getting an overload of gifts you don’t need, a secret Santa concept could be helpful. Invitees each bring one gift that will go to a random child at the party. To ensure the party princess/prince remains happy you can supplement their gift with a trip to the store for a wished-for item.
We’ve also been to parties where the parents have requested donations to a family cause. Involving your child in the steps along the way gives them a sense of responsibility. Offer them a reward for completing such a worthy project: choosing a museum to visit or selecting a new movie to see.
For those who are uncomfortable with a monetary ask, consider implementing a donations drive. Would collecting old sneakers appeal to your child’s interest in running, or would a school supplies drive be more meaningful? Creating a certificate or awarding a medal can instill a sense of pride – which can be fashioned into a gift, too.
Harness your kids' creativity by asking guests to bring a picture or a poem to the party rather than a present. Use these unique pieces, alongside party snaps, to create a custom book. Then watch their face when it arrives in the mail.
If you’re feeling really creative, ask for video clips instead. Give guests a prompt: advice for turning five years old, something you like about the birthday girl/boy or a crazy birthday dance. These can be used to make a special movie to share at the party. Your child is guaranteed to feel like a star, especially when they get to watch this over and over.
And if you don’t want to ask people to bring any kind of gift, however untraditional, asking for a food contribution can be made fun. If it’s an ice cream party, ask for toppings. If it’s a brunch party, ask for breakfast items. Purchasing a kitchen item (such as a popcorn machine or s’mores maker) for the family to use later can help kids overcome the no-gifts barrier.
Fiona Royer lives in Lincoln Park with her husband, Randall, and their three young children. Originally from the U.K. with a business and creative background, she now works in the Chicago philanthropic community. She believes that giving is the key to a fulfilling life.