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Avoiding Birthday Gift Excess

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Inviting 6yo's whole class - don't want 25 presents

Jan 2011

The birthday season for my almost-six-year-old is upon us, and just like last year, I'm not sure how to handle the gifts. We feel like it is very important at this age to invite his whole class at school; but when we did so last year, he ended up with 25 gifts. We appreciated the generosity, but to me it seems so wasteful for a child who already has a million toys to get 25 more in one fell swoop. On the other hand, he sees receiving gifts from his friends as an important component of the event. He always helps to pick out gifts for his friends, and he wants his friends to do the same for him (or at least, he wants to think that they do). We don't want to do a gift exchange, in part because I am not close to some of the other parents and in part because I feel like it takes away from the birthday child's sense of being special that day. This holiday season, we convinced him to donate a part of his allowance (how much was his choice) to a charity of his own choosing, and we periodically cull his clothes and toys and he helps us to take them to Goodwill or to give them directly to needy families. But the concept of the joy of giving is a tough one for a kindergartner, and it's going to take him a while to really get it. Should I give him one more year of gifts and next year have a ''party'' with just a couple of close friends? Or do I just say ''no gifts'' on the invite this year and try to explain it to him? At what age do you expect a kid to understand this concept? Mom the Party Pooper


For my 6-year-old son's mostly-whole-class (was basically just boys) birthday last year we worded the invitation with something like ''no gifts please but cards welcome.'' My son was fine with it all. I brought up the idea a month or so before the party and we talked about it before invitations went out. I didn't frame it in terms of greed/guilt/etc. but pointed out he'd still get plenty of gifts from family and that he already has a load of gifts from years past that we don't always play with much. It really was not big deal and it was a relief in terms of planning the day. The connection to his friends via gifts was not lost as many made cards. We gave away goodie bags with few stickers/tattoos/prizes in each, but in retrospect that was unnecessary. anon
Why not invite people to combine in groups of 2-3 and give a gift together? Or, why not do a ''bring a book take a book'' swap -- fun in that the kids each bring a wrapped book and then they reach in the basket to take one home. Tough one.
We always have put ''No gifts, your presence is your present'' on the invitations. Our boys (9 & 11) get so many presents from their relatives that they don't miss getting them from friends and they have never complained . My husband and I have never given them presents, either. We just have way too much stuff as it is. Anti-Stuff
If you don't want the gifts, you have to say ''no gifts''. One thing that might make it better is that if you're inviting 25 guests, someone will probably not notice the ''no gifts'' line and bring one anyway. So your kid would get one or two, most likely. We had the same dilemma and after one year of too many gifts, many of which did not get used or even opened (my son has unusual tastes and the many Legos he received held no appeal) I told him that if he wanted to invite the whole class, it had to be a no gifts party. He wanted the big guest list more than the gifts. If the guest list is ten or fewer, we allow gifts. Even ten gifts is an awful lot, in my opinion, but we settled on that number.

You could do a book exchange, where each child brings a new or used book and each child goes home with one. It doesn't address the issue of your child's friends shopping for special gifts for him, but it's a step up from no gifts at all. Too much stuff, take a stand against it (and while you're at it skip the goody bags )


One parent we know had a book exchange for their son's fifth birthday party. Everyone brought one wrapped book, and they left with one wrapped book. Worked out great! Andi
Why don't you give your son a choice: you can invite the entire class, but no gifts OR have six special friends who bring gifts. I did the book exchange one year when we invited everyone, and my 5 year old still got many special presents from family. (If you do the book exchange, make sure you have some extras in case guests forget OR if someone brings an unexpected sibling.) I explained to my daughter that the point of the party was to have fun with friends, and that she'd still have lots of presents from family, and she was okay with that. I also never had my child open gifts at her parties, so that cut down on the focus on gifts as well. I also think you can introduce the concept of ''this is what we do in our family'' which comes in handy on so many occasions! Another mom against too much!
My boys from when they were 5 were given the choice of a big party that they can invite their friends with a book exchange or a small party (maximum 3 friends) with presents. I explained honestly why - difficulty in writing 20 thank you letters, too many toys, environmental waste, Mommy going crazy. They handled it well. Last year they chose big parties. This year they chose small parties. Also a party pooper
I'm not sure why you feel that a gift exchange takes away the specialness of the day but are open to saying ''no gifts''. We did a gift exchange for my daughter's kindergarten birthday and it was a huge hit. I simply told her that we were inviting too many people for her to get a present from everyone. On the invite we specified to please bring a gender-neutral toy of about $10 so that things would be somewhat consistent. Apart from a few parents who didn't pay attention to the invite and brought large girly presents, everyone loved it -- the other kids liked getting a present, the other parents liked not having little junky goody bags, I liked not having to take home a million presents, and my daughter was just happy to have a huge birthday party with her whole class. Our family celebration was separate so she got her presents from us then. happy gift-exchanger
Seems to me you have 3 options:

1) don't invite the whole class (this has become common, but I think past kindergarten it is pretty silly)

2) ask people to donate to a favorite charity of the birthday child (animal charities are good)

3) both 1 and 2

Be brave! All of these options will relieve your stress about the excess living minimally


My kid's birthday party invitations requested ''no gifts please'' when they were 3,4,5 and so on. The point of the party is to celebrate with their friends, have fun and enjoy food, not to get a bunch of gifts. He is NOT to young to say ''no gifts please''. By the way, I let the family members bring gifts. They are generally better in-tune with my kid's needs and likes plus understand our space constraints. If that makes me a party-pooper, so be it!
I am appalled by the influx of gifts at Xmas and birthdays. I am also not crazy about buying gifts for friends' kids, because I think there's a good chance I'll get it wrong and it will result in yet more clutter in our overcrowded homes.

I usually stipulate on my kids' party invitations: ''No gifts please. Really. Cards appreciated.''

If there is a nonprofit you feel strongly about, consider starting a Firstgiving page (www.firstgiving.com). You can ''invite'' parents to make an online donation in honor of your child's birthday to a nonprofit that is especially meaningful to her. My daughter has always got a kick out of this, and frankly I think most parents of guests would rather make a $10 online donation to a good cause, then make a trip to the mall. Overloaded


I didn't think I'd enact the ''no gift'' rule, but I decided to do it this year. We have only had small parties for my son, so we did not do the ''no gift'' rule in other years. This year, he turns 7 and wants to invite the whole class to Pump it Up. I told him if we have a party that big, we have to request no gifts. He was a bit jarred by this, but I told him that he'd still get presents from his family. I, personally, spend so much time weeding out toys, I'm willing to forgo the etiquette where you aren't supposed to dictate the guest's option to gift or not. I think most parents are relieved NOT to have to buy a gift. At age 6, the birthday parties are CONSTANT. no bday gifts this year
The answer is simple- specify no gifts on the invitation, clearly and emphatically! Our daughter is the same age and this has always been our policy. She knows that other children receive gifts and we give (very modest) gifts to her friends, unless it is specified. As parents, we need to show leadership to our children on these issues. If we don't want to raise yet another generation of materialists, we have to actually show our children that material items have no meaning- friendship does. In addition, I have heard from many of the parents of my child's friends that they appreciate this policy. It provides those families with am opportunity to discuss the value of friendship over a toy. Friends before toys
I completely agree that most kids just don't need more toys. In kindergarten, we did a wrapped book exchange instead of resents and a goodie bag. Your child can pick out the book he wants to contribute. Each guest brings a wrapped book and at the end of party, each guest picks a book to take with them as their goodie. Everybody, kids and parents loved the idea and it worked out perfectly. Good luck! Fan of present-less parties
I'm interested in seeing other responses, because we're in a very similar boat. I keep thinking that next year's party will be smaller... and then it's not. Our partial solution last year (when our son turned 5) was to let him open all of the birthday presents after the party (the better to write thank you notes!), but only let him play with a few immediately, and let him pick another one each week after that for what seemed like forever. That helped with the overwhelming onslaught of toys, but didn't change the final outcome. We also try to do a modest toy purge every few months. I'm really tempted to request only books one year - but haven't been able to sell that idea yet. Good luck!
One solution to excess gifts is to invite fewer children. Some follow the rule of age - 6 year birthday party means 6 guests, 7 year is 7 guests, etc. anon
Do the gift exchange. Bday kid gets first pick. That way you also don't have to do goody bags. I'm so SICK of buying presents for kids I barely know, like some sort of admission into a party. He'll understand, and his very close friends will probably buy him something anyway and drop it off another day (that's what happens with us when we do it, anyway). For the exchange, a ''theme'' works well--art supplies, dress up clothes, superheroes, etc. Sarah
We also don't need a plethora of gifts, but it is sometimes unavoidable. So either do a book swap ( whether you know the parents or not, I'm sure most of them if not all would agree to a book swap) where everyone after the party ends up with a book. Or, just donate the items you don't need and explain to your son later or before the party that he can help you choose which to keep and which to donate. My kids also know we can recyle new gifts by gifting them to someone else at a future date.

Also there's no reason not to just invite a few close friends this year instead of the entire school.

The ''no gifts''request at this age seems hard especially when you get gifts for his friends. You can't really control the amount so best to donate some instead. Also don't need the clutter and excess


There is absolutely no reason you need to invite the entire class to a birthday party. I have three boys, and have never done that...neither have any of their friends. Just have him invite a few close friends, and be done with it. As an alternative to a party, ask him if there is an extra-special activity that he would like to do in-lieu of a birthday party. This past year my 10-year-old, who is a huge Green Day fan, asked to be taken to a Green Day concert with his best friend instead of a party. Worked for me! Mom who has been there
I've posted about this before, but I will state again that the only success I have had was to convince my daughter that she would enjoy a present from me, from my husband and from grandparents, and she could choose where to donate other presents. I have never had success asking other parents not to give presents-in fact one time only ONE family did that and I would have been humiliated if it had been me. I specifically stated one time that we did not need presents, but would be happy to take their donations of NEW toys or new/used books. The new toys we brought to Childrens Hospital (they don't take used toys), and the books we brought to a local school where kids don't have books at home. It was a good experience, and really reduced the amount of Stuff that we received, and that other families had to put money into. (In fact, it appeared that some of the families donated presents that their kids didn't need/want.) I think you need to figure out a good direction for the kind impulses of families who are invited. Let your kid choose a good charity and let him know what a great thing he's doing.
I think it is important to invite the whole class, especially if the school is community oriented. However, how about having your child learn about ''giving'' and charity on his birthday. Is he too young to choose a charity that his friends can contribute to? Animal shelter, local zoo, parks, trail improvement, libraries, sports, schools - He would choose something in line w/ his interests. Just a thought. social worker always

1st Birthday - OK to say ''No gifts, please''?

June 2007

Hi, My son's 1st birthday is coming up next month. Against our better judgment, we're planning on having a large party, mainly because I have a lot of extended family in the area who have only met our son once or twice (some, not at all).

Anyway, for my baby shower last year (also a huge event), I ended up getting so much stuff that I really didn't need (way more beyond what I registered for). I ended up returning many things, donating quite a bit to charities, and trying to cram the rest into drawers and closets in our small-ish home, hoping I'd one day use them. Christmas was also like this.

I really do appreciate my family's largesse; however, I don't want the same thing to happen for my son's birthday. We have so many things already, and as I mentioned before, our house is on the smaller side. I can't even imagine where we'd put all the gifts my son would get for his birthday. Also, some of my family are not that well-off, and I'd hate for them to spend their hard-earned money on things for our son that he may not use.

My question is, is it rude to say on an invitation that we'd rather not get any gifts? Also, what is the best way to word this to avoid hurt feelings, etc? I realize we'll probably get some things anyway, but if we can write something on the invite, maybe we can avoid the avalanche o' stuff we don't need.

Thanks in advance for any and all advice. Too Much Stuff!


I think it is perfectly acceptable to write ''no gifts, please'' or ''your presence is the only present we want!'' on the birthday invitation. We did that for our son's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd birthday parties. Leila
At least in the circles I travel in, it is fine and not uncommon to include a line on the invitation that says ''No gifts please--your presence is your present.'' And yes, you get gifts anyway, but at least you have floated the option in a gracious way. Another way to re-emphasize the point would be to include something like ''we'll be making a First Birthday memory book for baby, so cards, photos, poems or blessings are welcome.'' That gives people who want to contribute something a non-bulky way to celebrate the day with you. Enjoyed Our Baby's Big 1st Bday Party
YES! You can absolutely say no gifts please. Some suggestions: ''The gift of your presence is present enough! No gifts, please.'' or ''No gifts necessary.'' or ''gifts optional'' Now here is an interesting question--can you ask for a donation to a college fund? 'In lieu of a gift, please feel free to make a contribution to Johnny's college fund at_____'' If most of these people are related to you--it may be possible! What do other people think about the college fund idea? Too many gifts no good
My son's first birthday is this weekend and I wrote on the invitation: Please celebrate with us... (No gifts, please.) I think this is perfectly acceptable. I like that people don't feel like the party is an opportunity for us to rake in the presents, and I've been to a lot of parties where I've felt guilty for not bringing a big enough or clever enough gift. It's just not about presents for us and our one-year-old certainly doesn't care one way or the other. anon
I hope it's okay to ask for no gifts because we did the same thing! We wrote a simple ''no gifts please'' on the invitation. We did still get some stuff, but not nearly the volume or requiring the same fanfare as we would have. We felt like we wanted the birthday to be a celebration, our baby didn't know what to do with gifts so it wouldn't be fun to watch them be opened, and she was sort of in between toys developmentally and more worried about walking/running/exploring... which is free! too much stuff too.
This is it. There are too many presents for the wedding, presents for the baby shower, presents for the first birthday. Then they peter out, even from people who love you and love your child deeply. Seriously, birthday 2 on up it is a whole different ball game. I don't entirely understand it, but that is the way it is in my experience and my friends' experience. I vote for smiling, writing thank yous one last time, then sigh with relief. Children's Hospital is a great place to donate extras. This too shall pass.
We did exactly that. On the bottom of the invitation, in small italics, we wrote ''no gifts, please''. Don't know if others thought it rude, but nobody said anything. If memory serves (17 years later), we did that for both 1 and 2-year birthdays, but relented by 3. R.K.
One of our friends found the perfect solution to the first birthday gift dilemma: They asked everyone to bring a wish, poem, kind thought, blessing, favorite memory, etc. for the kid, to be put into a scrapbook for him. It made people feel like they were still bringing something, which I think is one of the reasons people bring gifts even when you say not to (which is fine to say, btw -- I don't think anyone will be offended. We did it for our son's first bday, and most people respected it, or brought something simple, like fresh strawberries or a homemade gift.) For older kids, we've had friends ask that we bring a book to donate to a charity, or a plant for their garden, things like that. Wish I Was as Clever as My Friends
Saying ''no gifts please'' is against official rules of etiquette, so I guess it depends on whether or not you care about that. We did this for our daughter's first birthday party because we had two older kids and lots of cousins that handed down everything (clothes, toys, books) and we did not need or want lots MORE stuff. Of course our daughter has absolutely no memory of that day so she does not feel cheated and we asked people who really wanted to spend money for the occasion to please donate to their favorite charity. It was win- win as far as I am concerned! --Enough Already
We are in the same position and have found that ''No gifts, thank you'' works best. At first I was considering ''No gifts, please,'' but the ''thank you'' is more polite, I think. You will, of course, still receive some gifts, but it is nice for your invitees to feel as though you want them there to celebrate and not just for the gift they might bring. Happy 1st Birthday! gift-free and happy :)
People want to give something - Here's what you ask for: Ask everyone to bring two letters to your child's 1st birthday. This is there gift. The first letter should be an experience they have had with the child during this great first year. It could be about the birth, or the first time they pulled to stand up using the table or the messy cereal, whatever. The second letter is some piece of wisdom to pass on to the child as they grow older. The piece of wisdom could be about how to ride a bicycle, choose a life partner or learn to swim. Let the participants know that you will put them in a book that your child can use for years to come. The Best Gift My Child Ever Received was Wisdom
I think it's all right. It's about having them there to honor your son, not to have them give him gifts. One way to say it is, on the bottom of the invitation ''Please, your presence, but no presents.'' Anna
How about saying, ''Please no gifts. Instead bring a favorite dish to share.'' Or ''...Instead bring your camera to help us take pictures of this memorable event.'' Or ''...Instead please bring a letter to (baby) so we can make a treasured book for (baby).'' Or ''...Instead please bring a blanket for a blanket drive for homeless families.'' Or ''...Your presence is presents enough!'' Or ''...Instead consider making a donation to (fave charity) in (baby's) name.'' I, for one, LOVE when invitations say NO GIFTS! It beats the hassle of trying to figure out what ''the parents'' will like! lisa
At my child's first birthday, she was given much too much. I actually didn't have your forethought to realize that 50 plus guests = that number of presents! I felt sheepish and overwhelmed as my child lost interest after two presents and I spent a great deal of time opening the rest of them.

For my daughter's second birthday party, I had a much smaller affair. I wrote on the invitation, ''Your presence is present enough.'' Still, practically everyone gave us a gift. I'm of the mind now that people really enjoy giving things. After I've politely requested that they refrain, I feel I would be spending precious energy to micromanage people if I went beyond that request.

The key difference between the two birthday events is the small number of people that I invited this time around. Five presents is much more reasonable than fifty. Another choice I made was not to open any of the gifts at the party. And I had a good excuse: The party was only two hours long and we just didn't have time. The first birthday is unique...the rest of the birthdays will probably be much more manageable. Politely request no gifts. Then prepare yourself (WITHOUT GUILT) to take the excess to a charity where it will certainly be appreciated. Kari


Hello, I don't know how helpful this can be but I just think it's a fantastic idea and can perhaps alleviate some of your concerns. I was watching a morning show a few months back where one of the co-host had the same situation as you. By asking for no gifts she just put information for donation to a charitable organization (children's organization or something). I don't know exactly what one would put in such an invitation but it can be along the lines of ''We are indubitably greatful to have such caring and wonderful friends and family. For our sonís birthday, we would like to share our good fortune with those in need. In place of a birthday gift for junior (?), please make a donation (of your preference) to... such and such organization. Thank you in advance for your thoughtfulness as kindness is your greatest gift to us (pretty sappy but maybe something along those lines).'' You can maybe even add a quote at the end. The donation could be a toy or money of any amount - this can accomplish many things: your son can avoid getting gifts he doesn't need, the donation can go to a good cause, family members who are not well off can donate within their means and you would save alot of space in your home. Despite what etiquette is used in your invitation, I think (if you consider doing this)the thoughtfulness associated with giving others in need are enough for your guests to not be offended by the ''no gift'' rule. Best of luck to you. Anon
It's certainly not rude to say no presents! In my mind, it's polite. And, I think a good, simple, light-hearted way to convey this is to say ''No presents, just your presence!'' or to write a short line saying: ''Please no gifts. You have blessed us all overwhelmingly in this past year so we really want this to be OUR thank-you gift to you!''

Warning: some people will bring gifts anyways and say ''I know you said no presents, but...'' which is great. But try to keep these out of view (don't make a big stack or table of them!) and don't open in front of everyone. There's nothing worse than not bringing something because it said ''no presents'' then watching as the mom and kid open a pile of presents! Ben There


We did that for my younger child's first birthday and it seemed that most people were very happy to oblige! If people really feel the need/desire to bring a gift, they'll do so and you should graciously accept it. Another option would be to make it potluck so that if people really want to bring something, they can bring food. Also have too much stuff!
How 'bout ''in lieu of your generous gifts, we'd love you to send a gift in Johnny's name to Blank Charity.'' -the givers may like doing this?
I think it is absolutely OK to request no gifts. We did so for our son's first birthday. I think we used the line, ''No gifts, please, just the pleasure of your company.'' It really was all that we (and he!) wanted. Happy without gifts
Yes, it's fine. I completely agree with you about all the stuff. We've been trying to get family to be ''less generous'' as I end up donating perfectly good toys for lack of space. It's crazy! However, I think you really need to be politely firm in your message to friends/family. The first time I had a ''no presents'' party, everybody except 1-2 people still brought something. Next time I do this, I think I need to add more details like we don't need anything and we don't have room for more things! Good luck. Can't we just skip the presents?

We have a "no-gift" policy - what to do for others kids' parties?

Nov 2005

I am the mom of a happy 2 1/2 year old who I've been trying to raise in a non stuff-crazy way, i.e. for her birthday parties we ask the other kids to not bring presents and i don't get her a lot of toys or other things she doesn't need. However I'm in a quandry about what to do about gifts in two different circumstances:

1. Other kid's birthdays. I don't want her to show up to other kid's parties without a gift (my mama did raise me right) but it seems to be sending an odd message-that we give gifts but don't receive them. I'm wondering if others have found a middle ground on this. Making something (she's only 2 after all and I am not very crafty), bringing a toy of hers she'd like to give to the birthday kid?

2. My mom and Christmas. My mom loves, loves, loves getting everyone too many gifts and all the unwrapping ooing and ahhing that goes with it. I (as you may guess) totally hate this but i do love my mom. I've tried to set some limits with the volume of gifts she can give my daughter but i can't really tell her what she can give everyone else. Nor do i want to put my kid in a situation where she gets a book and a pair of pjs while others seem to have cleaned out entire department stores. Suggestions? Help?

Thanks so much,
non-materialistic mama


I'm right there with you! Our small house plays an extra factor in needing to limit the amount of ''stuff'' that comes in.

My compromises so far - I take a book as a gift to other birthday parties. I figure it's small, generally not expensive, and promotes reading. As for the grandmother's, I've tasked them with buying clothes for the kids. I literally buy no clothes for either of my kids. Their grandmothers keep them well-clothed with birthday, Christmas, and other random gifts of clothing. Then I give my mom a very carefully selected short list of 1-3 toys per kid at Christmas that she shares with other family members. Books and art supplies are more likely to gain my approval!

It's working ok so far, but my son will be 4 soon. We've asked for no gifts at past birthday parties, but it will take a little more work this time around. Another non-materialistic mama


I had to respond to this one. We have the same problem. Not so much with the gift issue, but with trying to raise our 3-year-old son to not be an ''overconsumer'' in an overconsuming culture, with grandparents who LOOOOOVE to shop for kids things.

For other people's gifts, we have him give something of his own, or we make something.

For his 3rd birthday, we asked people not to bring gifts, or to make something rather than buy something. It didn't work - people LOVE to buy nice gifts for an appreciative 3 year old, and he ended up completely overwhelmed with gifts, and really into all the gifts as well (to our horror - but I think we were too idealistic).

The bigger issue for us is my mom, who cannot not shop. I say bluntly to her: we don't need anything - don't get tons of stuff. I complain to her about when other people (like my grandmother) give us mountains of things, and my mother commiserates with me, but goes ahead and buys tons of things. Nothing dissuades the woman. Our solution so far has been to actively, with our son, donate a big chunk of what we get, and talk about how lots of people don't have what they need, lots of kids don't get many toys, and the fact that we have all these toys and clothes means we should give what we don't need away.

I think the bigger issue, which we'll be dealing with more as our son gets older, is that we have a difference of culture. My partner and I are trying to cultivate a culture of non-consumption as an ethical, moral decision. My parents don't have any understanding of the issue as an ethical one - for them it's about how much they love to get things for him, and there can never be too much. Unfortunately conversations with them about this as an ethical choice are difficult, because they are sensitive to criticism, and this implies a criticism of them.

Anyway, if you can, I would encourage you to talk to your mom about the reasons behind wanting her to get less stuff. Even if you can't, I think the real solution is to always talk to your daughter about your own ethics in this issue, regardless of how much stuff she gets for the holidays. I agree that it would be hard on her to get only a few gifts when everyone else gets a lot - I've seen that backfire, and turn kids into BIG materialists. Like anything else (sugar, alcohol), being too restrictive can cause kids to rebel. But if their ethical upbringing is consistent, they will be alright. Jen


The other day I was on Babycenter's bulletin board for kids born the same month as my son, and someone posted asking what everyone was getting their kids for Xmas... you would not believe the sheer amount of stuff they were getting an 18 month old!! I felt almost guilty for being a small gifting mom... out of necessity as well as out of prinicple. I wouldn't worry about the mixed messages over bringing gifts to a party, children should learn to give without the expectation of reciprocation. however, I have never gone so far as to limit the gifts that other people get my son. If, twice a year, my family or friends want to ooh and aah over ''things'', I wouldn't worry too much about the potential side effects for my child.

Remember that it makes people feel good to shop for others and give gifts... as your child gets older you could always, as I plan on doing, take a certain amount of gifts and donate them to needy children. that way your child learns how to recieve things with graditude and how to graciously decide that someone else needs this or that thing more... just my thoughts. Good Luck... Sarah


I think if you want your daughter to non-materialistic you should allow her lots of gifts and don't make an issue of it. Then she won't have to rebel against you, and have lots of stuff when she's an adult. muriel
While I admire you for not bringing up your child in a material world, I don't think that necessarily means ''no gifts.'' Etiquette rules say that you shouldn't dictate to guests to a party or wedding what or if they should or should not give gifts. I think it might be more important to teach your daughter that all gifts from others should be appreciated but not expected and that giving a gift is a good thing.

Unfortunately, in our society, it isn't the gift giving and getting that's a problem, but the DEMANDING of the gifts, the type of gift, the re-gifting, the attitude, the lack of respect and appreciation that is more of the problem.

That said, when your daughter is invited to a party, purchases a simple, age appropriate gift. It does not have to be ellaborate or expensive. Just teach her that it can be nice gesture to give. Or, make something.

As for receiving, my mother is also one of those people who loves to buy gifts. She sends my son gifts when his other cousins have birthdays, for every holiday. It's a bit ridiculous. But, hey, it makes her happy. I just try and keep it under some control and will teach my son to be gracious but not to expect them.

But, while I don't consider myself to be overly materialistic, I too love giving little presents. I give plants, organic things, things I've made, interesting pieces of art. Cards. A copy of a poem that fits the occastion. For kids, I try to select wooden toys, non commercial, overly plasticky gifts.

Good luck navigating the material world. Giftee/Gifter


I am not materialistic either but define it in a different way. I find things and tools very helpful to create something new. I also don't like to spend much money on anything, because we don't have it and because it is unnecessary. But what is so bad about receiving a gift from someone? Do you object that care and love is occasionally expressed/manifested in an item which will make you remember the giver fondly or do you object to the items that are given? I always insert a special sheet in birthday invitations what kinds of gifts we would like or not. (i.e. yes to art supplies & craft projects, but please no barbie dolls). If your child gets invited to a birthday party, please bring a gift or don't even go. I always call to RSVP and make sure I talk in person to the parents and try to find out/balance what an appropriate gift would be for the child and what I am willing to buy. It can be done sooo smoothly. And why don't you let your mom buy items that you would need to buy for your child anyway or let her give you the money and you get them? I don't know what you mean by you being raised the right way. My world is not divided in right or wrong. This issue is only as complicated as you choose to make it. another non-materialistic mom
Rather than giving used, handed-down gifts to your child's friends, encourage your child to make simple handmade gifts, or a personalized handmade cards or letters to her friends as birthday gifts. Just a suggestion
There are books on what is called Love Languages and Gifts is one of the five. (Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation) I respect your intent in a materialistic world. I just want you to remember that people like your mom feel loved and express love through gift giving. Having the conversation about your preferred way to be loved, like doing things together (quality time) is a way to respect both. How about passes to the zoo or children's musuem? Going somewhere to do artwork or play. Cards and gifts that are made are always wonderful!!!!!!!! Help your child identify the love languages of others so she can give what they would most appreciate. Some kids just appreciate you being there, or a kind word, a hug, or anything wrapped in a box. I think the tradition of gift giving can still be valuable, but not by buying expensive gifts. It is about being a thoughtful, caring, generous, human being. Michelle
I try very hard to make special occasions not all about gifts, too, but really, it's fun to get things, and if my parents want to give gifts to my kids, I try to indulge them. Regarding your mom, maybe you could keep some of the gifts for later, and give them throughout the year? I remember when my daughter was two, my parents got her a bunch of stuff for Christmas, and she just stopped opening things after a while! She got tired of it. When they saw that, they scaled back considerably. If too much stuff is given while we're at their house, then lots of it will stay at their house (makes travel easier, too, because there are always toys at Grandma and Grandpa's!).

For birthday parties, we always give books. My daughter enjoys picking out books for her friends, we give her books as gifts, and it means a lot to her to give meaningful things to her special friends. For her birthday, we only invite a couple of friends out for special activities, so any gifts are minimal. We don't do big parties. She does get things from family, and we compensate by only getting her one thing from us (usually a book). When she outgrows toys, we donate them, and talk about the kids who will get to play with her old toys, now that she's done with them. For the holidays, we talk a lot about what she will be giving her family and friends, and especially talk about what they would like, and why we give gifts to special people. I guess we try to mitigate the "gimme" complex by modeling giving as best we can. Hope this helps. It's hard, I know. Donna


I don't have a great answer for #1 (bringing gifts to other kids' birthday's), but I struggled with #2 with my own mother. Although we do have some gifts in our household, my mom equates money/gifting with affection. I didn't want her spoiling/buying my kids. I never wanted my kids to greet her by looking behind her back to see what she brought them. And, we have too much stuff as it is. So I made the following rule (perhaps a variation of it will work for you): My parents can buy each one of my kids 3 presents per year. They can split it out any way they want - say, 2 at Christmas and 1 at birthday - but the limit is 3. Period.

Of course, the first Christmas was the hardest. When my parents arrived at my house for our family celebrations, I saw that their trunk was loaded with gifts. So I helped them select which gifts were coming in. The rest stayed in the car.

Boy...was she mad, but the benefit has been substantial. My mother was forced to create a relationship with my kids that didn't involve bribery. She now makes sure she is well-stocked with activities and games they can do together when she visits. She started purchasing for herself the same books that are in my kids' library and she now calls them once a week to read with them over the phone. She involves them in her scrapbooking activities, and her cooking, and so-on.

Taking away over-gifting has helped her become the kind of grandmother that she wanted to be...one that is in relation with her grandkids. And my kids have a pure and genuine love for her. And I have less stuff to pick up each night. ;-)

Hope this idea helps you. I can't wait to read the other responses. Best, Been there...or close to it


I feel your pain with the grandmas, but I'd try to put yourself in the shoes of others when dealing with gifts for your child's friends. There's nothing wrong with a healthy, non-competative gift exchange between friends. A small, hopefully meaningful, gift is a classic way to symbolize affection.

Many cultures rely heavily on this kind of exchange for mutual aid. I think the problem comes along when people, especially grandmas, seem to be either competeing with gifts for favor of the reciever, or when gifts seem to be standing in for, rather than symbolizing love and time spent together. (As a few others mentioned, too many gifts are overwhelming and spoil the fun. If you can stand/direct their choice in clothes ask grandmas for clothes for the kids). So, for other kids, just buy a simple book or very small toy that you think is nice, not extravagent. This way the friend will be able to accept the jesture of friendship, without feeling that you are owed something in the future. As you know from having a small kid, its surprising the small things that they treasure.

Unless its mututally agreed by the parents before-hand, I wouldn't give a used gift because this can be socially akward for your child, if the other parents/kids don't understand. anon


Just one more thought on this topic that I didn't see previously. My son will be three in December, and we plan to ask birthday party guests to bring gifts appropriate for donation to a charity. We haven't chosen the charity yet, but it will probably be a local women's shelter. I will contact the charity to see what it needs/wants, and include the details with the birthday party invitation. I already talked to my son about this, and he is on board with the idea (at least in theory). Same Dilemma
Hi! I think this is relatively easy to address. You should deal with it kind of like religious differences- explain to your child that we do X and other people do Y. So, we're taking a gift to their party because that's what this family does but we don't do gifts at our parties because ......

However, as your daughter gets older, she'll quickly get wise to what's going on with others and definitely could feel slighted. So, I do this....one toy in, one toy out for donation. Use those gifts as an opportunity to pass along your good fortune.

I would absolutely, absolutely not stop your mother (or anyone) from giving gifts, even lots of them. You can easily manage what you do with the gifts once they are in your care. There are so many ways to use that stuff to do good for others, so let your mom get her fix, let your daughter connect to her, and then you teach the values- not unlike what you would do with any other inappropriate gift that you would receive. People give the gifts because they love you and your daughter- don't reject that love, just figure out how to pass it along!
changing the world one toy at a time


Trying to combat excess, but 4-y-o wants presents, not a book exchange!

Dec 2004

Our almost 4-yr old has been attending birthday parties for the past year or so and this year we'll have a party for him for the first time. I've read the archives with great ideas about doing a book exchange, etc. to avoid a bunch of presents which he really doesn't need. When I discussed it with our son, he burst out crying saying he doesn't want any kids to bring anything home with them. I haven't really pursued the issue but I need to start thinking about how to pull this off (bday in January). How can I convince him that giving a present is as fun as getting one? I'm afraid he sees a party as being all about presents. Should we just do a book exchange and hope that he doesn't freak out?


Well, maybe your son is reacting to the idea that everyone else will be essentially getting presents along with him: in other words that he won't feel like the special birthday boy. Birthdays for children let them feel like a king/queen for a day, though there are a lot more elements to this than presents (cake, candles, having all of the guests of your choosing, choosing the activity etc.). There is an implicit exchange in most birthday parties: the host provides the party, and --in exchange--the guests bring gifts. If you are going to take away his presents, maybe you could find another way of making him feel like the special one. Or maybe you could just talk to the other parents about getting smaller gifts for your son, if that's what you're worried about.
We had wonderful birthday parties every year for my two boys (now 12 & 13). Lucky for us their birthdays are both in the summer so we'd stake out a corner of a favorite park (Totland when they were wee ones; later Alvarado (great creek) and Orinda Community park) and invite everyone we knew - kids and adults - for a BBQ. We requested NO gifts until they were about 7 or 8 years old. They never missed it (although some of the other parents would inquire as to whether or not my boys were being ''punished''!) and everyone had a great time. Most kids have waaaay too much stuff anyway. It's a thought.... susan
A birthday party without presents seems excessively Grinch-like to me, and I suspect that's what your son is actually reacting to. Why not encourage your invitees to give him things like art supplies, tub tints, books or music? It isn't perfect etiquette, but I bet the other parents would understand. Sara
I also have an almost-four-year-old and I think four is too young to understand this concept, even though it is very noble. He may well feel as though he is being punished if he is not allowed to have presents at his birthday. For my son, he didn't even get that presents are at birthdays till the past year, so it seems a little unfair to take away the presents as soon as he starts getting the concept. I think the other party attendees also may not understand why there are no presents. Instead, why not just invite fewer children, let them bring presents, and then use the opportunity to teach your son the equally important lesson of accepting gifts graciously.

By the way, about half the birthday parties I've attended in the past year have had the feature of no present opening till after all the guests leave. I personally love to see the presents being opened and I'm always disappointed when they stay wrapped! I guess the idea is that no child will feel bad that their present is not as good as other presents, or maybe it's meant to diminish the gift opening frenzy, but I just want to say right here how much fun it is to watch people open presents at kids' bdays, wedding showers, Christmas, and everywhere! It's fun for the guests! Mom who loves presents


It sounds like your son is due for a birthday party with a bunch of gifts! He's seen other kids celebrate their special day, and been showered with fun toys; in my opinion, as a mom of 2 and 4 year olds, let him have his birthday party, and any gifts that people want to give him. You can always see what he doesn't play with right away, and tuck them in a closet to be re-presented later on when he tires of the favorite ones. I think he'll be very disappointed and resentful even, if you throw a book party, when what he really wants might be a Rescue Heroes Firetruck or a Singing Elmo. Save the book party for when he's older and can appreciate the theory behind it. This only comes once a year, and when you're 4, it's a Big Deal! A Berkeley Mommy
We did a book exchange for my daughter's 7th birthday and it was a big success. She had a choice between a big party with exchange or a small party with gifts. She chose the big party. Four seems pretty young understand and appreciate a book exchange. How about a very small party or request small gifts/books from attending friends? Jill
I think he is too young to learn this lesson. Let him enjoy getting all the presents, as he gets older he can begin to understand this. My 9 year old has been disappointed by a lot of gifts that he doesn't value, so now prefers a smaller party, where the joy of the party is in sharing a special day with friends. jewel
I think you should accept the presents. My son just turned 4, and it is such a self-involved age that I doubt you will be able to convince him that NOT getting a lot of presents wouldn't be a tragedy. Plus, most of the fun is in receiving and opening the gifts. Then, if you don't want to deal with all of the ''junk'', ask your child to select a few favorites, and donate the rest to a charity. I find that my son loves to pick out clothes and toys that doesn't need anymore when I tell him that it will be going to another little boy who will also enjoy it. good luck
Hmm. Many years ago when my son was small I got a very good book on giving birthday parties for children. The author, a very sensible woman, has a lot of advice on what games are age appropriate. Before about age 8 or 9, most kids will feel that as the birthday child they are entitled to win all games. Thus it is best to use non-competitive games at this age. The author points out that sharing and the fact that others can win games are good lessons to teach, but you don't have to do it on the kid's birthday. So I'd say, lighten up a little. When you son is a bit older you can start with book exchanges and such, but for now just make up some kind of goodie bag for the kid and let your kid enjoy his gifts. A couple of weeks after the party you can gently point out to him that he doesn't play with them any more (because he probably won't be, at that point). Do this for a few years and by the time he is 8 maybe he will see the rationality of sharing and exchanges. Good luck Dianna
It's not just about presents- it's about cake and sugar, too (but that is exciting for the kids, as is playing with their friends.) I have thought about this every time the birthdays come up (my daughter is 6) but never thus far done a book exchange because I realized my daughter really loved the things other people had picked out for her and was proud to have a stuffy from her favorite friend, for example. It was very hard for me to give up control over which toys come into our house but then I found we could just get her one or two small or special presents and the rest come from the party. And we've stowed some away for plane/ car trips, rainy day activities, etc. when it was great to have something ''new'' (you could also give some away to children in need.) If you do do a book or present exchange you could put in a few extra so your son gets to take home say 3 books and everyone else one- and I would suggest NOT opening at the party as that could cause upset about what others are taking home. And I don't know if this is going too far but you could ask everyone to wrap the books in brown paper,like from a grocery bag, I may be over-thinking it but I imagine kids being disappointed if the birthday child doesn't get the book they brought, etc. Or if you can keep the party smaller there won't be as much stuff. i have been able to make the cakes myself with very low sugar and think of simple hopefully useful and not cluttery junk party favors (flower seeds, burn a CD of favorite tunes, markers) but have not yet done a gift alternative. I'm thinking somewhere between 7 or 8- 12 there is more social consciousness developing and that would be a good time to try something meaningful about the gifts; but by all means it is worth a try; if everyone understands the plan I think it will end up being just as fun. Good luck! presently ok with presents
I understand your frustration. I am not sure how the book exchange will go over with him. That could be a side part of the party. You could put in the invitations a small note about small gifts being appreciated. That way parents know that a small token will be a better idea. At 4 I think all children have those feelings. Parents will understand. You could also have some thank you notes written up so that a few days after the party your son could 'sign' his name and you could make a bit of a game of it. I am not sure if goodie bags are done for that age but I never liked the idea of them. You could also make the party a short and sweet one. Good Luck and remember that your child isn't the only one who thinks of the presents as the only part of birthdays. cristina
Judging from your 4-year-old son's negative reaction to your suggestion about a book exchange party, it sounds like he's not ready to handle a large birthday party with numerous guests and presents. Too many opportunities for conflict and the ''gimmes''. How about a smaller birthday party where he can invite a few (ie, three or four) of his closest buddies? Then he'll have to focus more attention on each of the few special gifts he does receive, and thus avoid the whole gift orgy thing in the process. Also, while a book exchange party (or any variation on this charity/sharing theme) is a great idea, especially if the idea originates from the child, if your son is not into it and you do it anyway, he will resent it. Personally, I think it's an equally good lesson that while it's good to be a giver, it's also good to be a recipient--that is, a gracious recipient who says thank you, doesn't act disappointed when receiving an item he already has or doesn't want, and shows pleasure (but not the boastful, gloating kind) in receiving gifts from friends, etc. This is a good thing for your son to practice in company of just a few friends. Oh, and don't forget that your son's friends will be going home from the party with little goodie bags. Let your son help pick out some of the items for these bags, and tell him that he'll be in charge of handing them out to his friends. That'll take care of the ''giving'' thing. CC
I think your son's birthday party should be for him, and not for you. Meaning, he cannot be expected to understand your adult ideas about excess. Besides, maybe it would be fun for him to receive some presents on his birthday. Perhaps these presents will be useless, but so what? If he tires of them quickly, then you can give them away to a charitable organization. Next week on Christmas my children will receive numerous useless gifts, and will be absolutely giddy with excitement. It will be thrilling for them. Like you, I dislike excess, but to me it's worth it: Watching children open presents twice a year is magic in itself. As for the book exchange, let's be serious: for children, it IS much more fun to receive a gift than it is to give a gift. Your son will learn in his own time how fun it is to give a gift. I do agree with you that birthdays shouldn't be all about presents (and of course, neither should Christmas), but I am an adult. anon.

How to honor her birthday without acquiring a pile of items?

October 2002

My daughter will celebrate her 7th birthday this month, and I'm trying to find a way to honor the occasion that doesn't require her to acquire a pile of storebought items. I am still reeling from the excesses of my elder daughter's best friend's party, which featured 24 kids,and two dozen presents which the birthday boy hasn't looked at nearly a year later (nor did he ever write thank you notes for all the unwanted stuff. Sigh.) I don't want to go that route.

We already risk social opprobrium by having ''small'' parties (6-10 kids). Even so, we still often find ourselves overwhelmed with stuff. I don't want to be the Grinch, but I don't think that my children, or indeed most kids in our circle, need more stuff. In the past we have requested that presents take the form of books or craft supplies. That has helped. But even still....there must be another way? Can we request that the children come empty-handed but make something? Or that they chip in together on one thing? Has anyone successfully navigated this issue in a way that kept both birthday child and guests feeling like they participated in the appropriate ritual?

Mother With Plenty


I heard a great idea for birthday gifts. A group of parents some where in Albany or Berkeley have birthday parties for their kids. Each kid (including the birthday kid) bring a gift and each kid takes a gift home. The birthday kid gets to hand out the gifts (still wrapped) and gets the cake and the song but everyone gets a gift. I have been waiting to share this! thanks. margy
HIya,
I totally understand where you are coming from not just with birthdays but with other gift giving holidays as well.. Something that we do that is pretty fun and helps us pick a theme is to choose a charity, My Kids love animal shelters and tha ASPCA, and ask the kids and family members to bring donatable items to this charity. We had a great puppy themed party doing this and the local shelter made out like a bandit.Can't wait to read others ideas. Maragaret
Here is how we did it for our son one year (although I think he was a little older -- maybe 10?). He wanted fifteen kids to come play football. We asked him how many of the gifts that kids would bring that he thought he would really love -- he guessed around five. We told him we would get him five great gifts of his choice (within reason, of course) if he would agree that we would put ''no gifts please'' (or something like that -- I think we came up with a nicer way of putting it) on the invitation. He agreed and it was really great. No pressure on the other parents to come up with a gift, the kids brought cards and just played. Kerry
Have you considered doing a book exchange? Every child attending the party brings a wrapped book, and every child leaves with a (different) wrapped book. No overwhelming pile of unneeded presents, no goody bags, just lots of happy kids with a new book to read. Janet
How about a book exchange? Every child brings a wrapped, age- appropriate book and every child gets a new book to take home. Ellen
My children were born on my birthday so we have a big bash together every year and that might give me an odd perspective. I always state on the invitation that ''your presence is present enough'' I don't like the idea that a party invitation is a gift request form. Last year we got lots of flowers because people don't like to come empty handed but they were gorgeous and enjoyed by everyone at the party. I encourage you to restrict presents on the invitation. Just ask that everyone come and have fun together. Dana
I agree that birthday gifts can get out of hand and obscure the reason for celebrating in the first place. Friends of ours recommended their approach that we have used successfully so far. All the kids invited to my daughter's party are asked to bring a wrapped book. Instead of my daughter getting all the books, we have a book exchange (make sure this is spelled out in the invites so the parents are on board). The kids love going home with a gift, and particularly when they are little, they love unwrapping the gift even more. Be sure to have an extra wrapped book on hand just in case someone doesn't read the fine print and comes with a huge stuffed animal or some other obviously non-book gift. Our daughter has enjoyed unwrapping hers in the presence of the other kids and so far hasn't complained. We've only done this for her 3rd and 4th birthday to date. For her older birthdays, we plan to allow her to invite one or perhaps two really good friends for a special event - a weekend camping trip, a trip to an amusement park, high tea, or similar special activity. With the number of invites reduced to a very small number, it doesn't appear to be a party from which others are excluded; rather, it will (hopefully) be seen by others as a kid who doesn't have birthday parties, and by our daughter as something extremely special for her. Good luck! Rachel
We have attended a few parties where the family requested gifts for $5 or less, to be exchanged, one each for each child who attends. This works well, provided you shop for an item appealing to boys and girls. It might be a good idea to pick up a few extras just in case a parent forgets. This way, every child leaves the party with a present, and its fun to have everyone opening gifts! For the birthday boy or girl, you can have regular presents at another time, perhaps before the party, so they don't feel shortchanged. K.H.
For our daughter's next birthday (she will be seven) we have suggested one of two things. One, she may take ONE friend to someplace special (the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, for example, or Marine World) in celebration of her birthday. Or two, she may have a slumber party with two or three friends. She is quite pleased with these choices! Tired of the Party Stress!
I appreciate your dilemma, which we're already anticipating even with a 9 month-old. We find the prospect of accumulating unneeded things kind of depressing, and not refelctive of our family's values. Friends of ours with a 6 yr-old son have, from the beginning, requested that instead of bringing presents to the birthday party, people create a page (distributed in advance with the invitations) for a ''birthday book.'' The page can include drawings, photos, messages, etc. I don't know whether this will work indefinitely, but so far it's been great, and the boy has wonderful and PERSONAL books for each of his birthdays. Good luck! avi
I agree that all these presents are too much! Not sure if this will help, but we have given parties or attended parties where the following worked. Admittedly, in some cases, you have to start the tradition when the child is small:

* Limit number of party guests by choosing special party activity or location that precludes the hordes (e.g, ''Only 5 fit on the boat.'')--and that birthday child really lusts after.

* Ask each child to bring a book and then do an anonymous book exchange, so every child goes home with book as their goody. This also eliminates the proliferation of goody bags filled with stuff that litters your house and breaks immediately.

* Ask each child to bring a can of food for a local food bank or a book for a children's charity. Nearing xmas, a wrapped toy for charity would be welcomed many places. This also teaches kids about service to others.

* Place an absurdly low dollar limit on gifts in your invitation and ask people how creative they can be with the limited funds.

* Give a party with one or more other children with close birthdays and then tell guests to bring just one gift that could work for any of the birthday kids. At the party, birthday kids take turns picking gifts to open, so they each take home fewer gifts.

Good luck with all this. Remember, a party is a big gift right there!! I have also waged a one-person campaign by bringing modest gifts ($7 or less). It seems so many parents spend so much and often the child doesn't really care--and we can't keep up the Joneses.

Good luck. anonymous


re: birthday present excess. A friend of mine persuaded her 7 year old daughter to give her birthday presents to a charity - in this case, Children's Hospital. All the invitees knew ahead of time that the majority of the presents would be donated (the birthday girl got to choose one present to keep), and had fun shopping for the less fortunate kids the presents would eventually go to. The birthday girl got to be very proud of herself for doing such a noble thing, and was thanked not only by the hospital, but even mentioned in a newspaper article for her generosity. I think it was a great idea that everyone was happy with. anon
I too have struggled with the Birthday Party Excess problem, and this is how I have solved it. We do a party ''grab bag'' of gifts. In the invitation I ask each party-goer to bring a gift, wrapped, for $10 or under. We put all of the gifts in the laundry bag, and at the end of the party, each child draws out a present. Buy something yourself, so your birthday child also gets to pick from the grab bag. Also make certain that each child brings a gift. One birthday 2 sisters came who only brought one gift, and that left us one short. This works out really well and also avoids the watch-the- birthday- child- open-their-gifts activity, which, I feel, only further emphasizes the material aspect of the occasion. Also, my kids still get plenty of gifts from relatives, so noone feels ''short-changed.'' Sondra
I'll be looking forward to hearing the answers you get, as this is a big concern of mine. So far, we've gone the route of having very small birthday parties, and/or saying on the invitation, ''no presents, please.'' Let me just say that I endorse your goal 100%, and I think most parents will agree. I don't think it is Grinchlike at all. I far prefer parties without goody bags and gifts. One compromise that I've heard of is to specify a kind of gift that is inexpensive and small. For example: if you want to bring a gift, please bring a matchbox car for Jenny's collection, or a charm for her charm-bracelet, or a utensil for her to cook with, or a tool for her toolbox, etc.. That way people can participate in the gift-giving ritual without it becoming an orgy of comsuption. I love the idea of asking for homemade gifts only. At our house, we're trying to do ''recycled holidays'' -- in which family members give each other only gifts that are used, recycled, home-made, etc., anything other than bought new. The gifts are much better and the holidays more enjoyable. But I'm not sure how you would translate that concept into a kid's birthday party, since it assumes a certain amount of prearrangement and mutual coordination. Anyway, good luck! Judith
Congratulations to the thinking mom who asks ''How Much IS Enough?'' which is also the title of an excellent book on excess. I raised my kid on a limited budget and that's turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we were unable, thank goodness, to shop or acquire much. Americans are seriously out of whack on consumption. 24 kids,and two dozen presents at a youngster's birthday is excess. The boy who was clearly overwhelmed by this and hasn't thanked anyone or looked at many presents a year later was not done a favor. If there is indeed risk in your circle of ''social opprobrium'' by having small parties (6-10 kids as you said), then I would be questioning who those friends are who disdain a child-scale event of modest proportions. Is this a model of behavior for future generations in a world with limited resources? Looks like a teachable moment for all parties, from the kids who don't need more to the adults whose sights are set on uber-shopping & training their children to imitate them. How about an ecology or simplicity theme party featuring hand- made gifts, plants or trees to plant outdoors, books on conservation, or donations to poor kids in Africa or Latin America as an alternative? Resources might be www.simpleliving.org/ (has a children's section) www.newdream.org/ www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/ You are on the right path and can set a much higher tone for a celebration than more stuff and junky toys that are soon forgotten. Good job and good luck, Mom! Christine
My siblings and I had ''public'' birthday parties every other year (there were four kids being raised on one very modest income). On the ''odd'' years we had a family outing, and on the even, a fairly simple party with home-make cake. My favorite birthday party was when I was 8; the focus was making our own ice cream sundaes - each kid brought an ingredient, and it was a huge mess and lots of fun. Those were simpler times, I guess.

Anything that makes the focus on being together and celebrating, rather than acquiring stuff, sounds great to me. I very much liked the idea of making a birthday book at the party - that's something we've thought of doing based on our daughters' preschool and kindergarten school traditions. I also love the book exchange - we have asked in the past that presents be restricted to books or art supplies, but doing it as an exchange would also be a great way to skip what my friend calls ''kiddy litter bags''. We have tried in the past to limit the ''kiddy litter'' by having the party bags contain one major item - like a flashlight for my October birthday girl. Nonetheless I don't like the way kids line up at birthday parties with their hands outstretched for their loot, or the way the guest of honor rips through presents with a panting horde around her. How much better it would be either have an exchange, have the gifts directed to a good cause, or just skip the stuff altogether!

Thanks for all the good suggestions. If even just a few of us simplify, perhaps the idea will spread... Natasha B.


Great topic! I have enjoyed reading the responses thus far and will take the suggestions to heart as well. In the meantime, while we haven't dealt with the excess issue, we did deal with the issue of opening presents at the party problem last time around. At our daughter's 4th birthday party, we talked to her ahead of time and told her we would not be opening the presents at the party so that she and her friends could spend all of the time playing and having fun (it was at the Oakland Zoo). By the way, we forgot to mention that to the parents before the party, which would have been a good idea in hindsight, as their kids were all asking when the presents would be opened. In any case, all the parents thought it was WONDERFUL that we weren't going to open presents at the party. One of them, in fact, said she was going to do the same thing at her daughter's party, which she did just recently very successfully. I personally hate the frenzy, envy, jealousy, etc. that goes with the public opening of the gifts and we have vowed never to do it again. Lori
Can you stand one more message about this? I recently attended a fifth birthday party where the parents handled the situation really well. First, as suggested on this list, they did not open the birthday girl's presents at the party. Second, they played a game in which all the kids sat in a circle and passed around a large bundle containing wrapped presents (one wrapped present, wrapped again, another wrapped present, the whole thing wrapped again, etc.). The mom played music; whoever was holding the bundle when the music stopped unwrapped the bundle and took out the present that was there. Then the music started again and the bundle was passed around until all the presents were gone. Needless to say there were enough presents for all (two bundles, plus extras in case anyone didn't get one). The presents were small, and everyone had fun unwrapping them with all their friends watching; plus, everyone got something to take home! We're going to try it at our next party. Lauren
June 2000

RE: Joint birthday party for 2 kids:
My sister-in-law recently had a birthday party for her 4 year old son and ended up inviting 40 children (because her son had just moved from the 3 yo to 4 yo room at school and wanted to invite all his "friends"). Well, the thought of one child potentially receiving 40 gifts was disturbing to my sister-in-law so on the invitations she stated the children would do a gift exchange. Each child was to bring a "gender-neutral" gift within a range ($10-$15, or whatever feels comfortable), and gifts would be exchanged at the party. I don't recall the mechanism for exchange (numbering each gift and having the kids draw a number from a bowl would be one way). Perhaps you and your friend could provide two or three extra gifts for the birthday boy and girl.

As it turned out approximately 25 children attended my nephew's party and the gift exchange worked really well. I like the idea because it demonstrates to the children that it is fun to give and receive. In your situation, parents wouldn't have to worry about whether or not they know both children and whether they should bring one or two gifts. Susan


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