WHY WE THROW “NO GIFTS” BIRTHDAY PARTIES (AND HOW WE MAKE IT WORK)

My son recently turned 6, and we threw a big dinosaur-themed birthday party for him at the park.

There were plenty of sweaty, screaming kids running around having a blast. There were treats, small favors, and games. There was a pinata. There were candles to blow out.

Just one thing was noticeably absent. Presents.

That’s because of a simple line on the invitation that read, “No gifts, please.”

This is our third year throwing a “no gifts” birthday party for our son. It isn’t that we are opposed to presents. On the contrary – we love seeing him receive gifts him love. My son still get lots of great gifts on his birthday and throughout the year. 

But after the first few years of traditional parties with piles of presents, we had to wave the white flag.

Here’s a few things that led to this decision:

  1. We have a large group of family members and friends – which means we like to invite a lot of people to birthday parties to celebrate. The number of gifts coming were just excessive. 
  2. Having our son open gifts in front of everyone was stressful – for me. He was only 3 and didn’t always react with the gratitude people expect. I hated for people to think he didn’t like the gifts or wasn’t appreciative. He was just little, and still had some learning to do. 
  3. Having so many presents seemed to make our son LESS grateful. He was just opening an assembly line of gifts. “Next!”
  4. We only have so much space in our home, and it seemed like many of the gifts weren’t getting played with, which seemed wasteful. 
  5. As our son got older, he wanted to invite classmates to his party, which just added to the number of people (and gifts). We couldn’t even begin to imagine how we could handle any more gifts. 
  6. We truly wanted people to come to the party and celebrate another year. We didn’t want anyone to feel obliged to bring a gift – or add more strain to their budgets.  

Throwing “gift-free” parties been a game-changer for us. I think it’s been a positive experience for our son. And we’ve overwhelmingly positive comments from family and friends. 

(Disclaimer: We don’t believe everyone should do this and truly don’t judge anyone for doing what works best for them. Presents or no presents – we’ll be there with party hats on.)

But if you are thinking about going “gift free” for your next birthday party, here are a few things you may be wondering:

Won’t your kid hate it?

Maybe? I don’t know your kid. But I know our son, and he’s been okay with it. (He did make one comment to his grandparents about the “no gifts” policy this year, but hasn’t said anything to us and was thrilled with everything he did receive.) 

Our son LOVES presents. And he still receives plenty of gifts. We just don’t do them at the party. 

And we have been very clear about this before the party. He loves having a birthday party and we are more than happy to host one. But if he wants to have a party, it won’t include gifts. That’s just the deal. We don’t want him to be totally focused on the presents.  

And we’ve been pleasantly surprised at his reaction. Instead of getting excited about gifts, he gets super stoked about planning games, making the pinata, and creating decorations. He really loves getting involved, and rarely thinks to ask about packages tied up with string. 

So who DOES give gifts to your kids?

We don’t mandate gifts from anyone.

As his parents, we still give him gifts on his birthday – which we do at home together. And he typically receives a few gifts from his grandparents and his aunt and uncles. If you are doing any counting, that means he receives gifts from 4-5 families, including us. This year, he didn’t ask for anything major, so there were more small gifts.

Honestly, that’s more than enough. But he gets things he actually wants and he seems to play with the gifts a lot more than when he had a pile of presents at a party. 

How do you keep people from bringing gifts anyways?

We don’t. Some people will still bring gifts to the party, and that’s totally okay with us. We appreciate people’s generosity and believe it’s our job to teach our son to be gracious – which we do in thank-you notes following the event. I think that refusing gifts or getting uber-controlling about it defeats the purpose. 

With that said, we still don’t open gifts at the party. We do it afterwards and save all the fun and games and food and prizes for the party. 

We have found that a few people will still bring gifts and lots of people bring handmade and store-bought cards (which our son LOVES now that he can read). We had a ball reading all the cards he received this year. And a few family members tucked in $6 (his current age) or a gift card into his card, which he thought was super cool. 

But the vast majority of guests don’t bring anything but themselves, which is great.

What if your family or friends give you a hard time?

In our experience, people have an overwhelmingly positive reaction to not having to buy gifts. I mean, it’s one less thing they have to remember to do and buy. We’ve only had a few people who have asked, “Are you sure?” And we just say that our son has plenty of things and we really just want to celebrate together. 

Remember – this doesn’t have to be a mandate written in stone. And your child does not have to be deprived. Our son still receives gifts from immediate family or grandparents and aunts/uncles. I think that helps make the whole idea more bearable for the child and relatives. And it makes the amount of stuff much more manageable. 

I personally think you can be flexible. If my child’s great-grandparent wants to buy a gift, I’m not going to try to stop it. (In fact, I think that’s pretty special.) I’m going to be grateful – and my son is going to be grateful (so help me, God).  

Again, this isn’t meant to be a judgement about parties with gifts. Momma – you do you. 

But maybe, just maybe, you have felt overwhelmed about all the gifts coming in after your child’s birthday party. And you’ve wondered if you could just skip them completely. 

The answer – YES. YOU. CAN. And if you are like us, you may never look back. 

What do you think? Would you ever consider a “no gifts” party?

10 Responses to WHY WE THROW “NO GIFTS” BIRTHDAY PARTIES (AND HOW WE MAKE IT WORK)

  1. Shannon L June 22, 2018 at 7:12 am #

    Such a great idea and I love that you have done this for a while. I never realized how stressful the gift opening part of the party could be. We do have high expectations of what we believe their reaction should be. Then the fun of the party goes out the window at this point at least to us.
    Also we truly enjoyed Henry’s handwritten thank you card. So sweet and we adore his little message. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kim June 22, 2018 at 9:14 pm #

      Thanks, Shan! It’s been a relief to let go of the stress of Henry opening presents in front of everyone. 😉

  2. Heather June 22, 2018 at 9:59 am #

    We did our first “kid party” at age 5 and instead of gifts invited them bring something to decorate cookies – it was an activity at the party for everyone to be able to use their sprinkles or frosting or whatever they brought. So no gifts but guests could still have fun shopping for something to bring if that’s what they wanted to do and we made it part of the party! Our now 10-year-old has since then decided to ask for things that would support specific organizations – one year it was gifts for the Quad City Animal Welfare Center, one year it was items for refugee families through World Relief. As you said, never mandated but more of a “if you’d like to bring something…” And then we provided a list of items that the organization was currently collecting. It has worked out great! Kids loved it!

    • Kim June 22, 2018 at 9:15 pm #

      I love the idea of having everyone bring cookie supplies! What a clever idea!

      I am loving all the parents with ideas of integrating charitable giving. My son would be at a good age for that, too.

  3. Paula O’Brien June 22, 2018 at 11:00 am #

    This message SO speaks to my minimalist-leaning heart! Birthdays in our house don’t usually get too out of control, but the volume of “stuff” that comes in at Christmas is overwhelming! I don’t know whether its the fact that people know that our kids only get 3 gifts on Christmas morning, so they over compensate … but it always feels like too much. Do you have a solution for Christmas? 😊

    • Kim June 22, 2018 at 9:12 pm #

      Christmas can definitely feel overwhelming, too.

      In my experience, communication is key.
      1. Ask family members for really specific gifts. (If you tell someone who wants to buy gifts that you don’t want anything, you’ll likely get stuff your kid doesn’t really want.)
      2. Ask for larger, special gifts. (This has worked really well for us as my son has gotten older. There are family members who spend a certain amount every year – instead of lots of small gifts, request a big gift that your child really, really wants. It’s less overwhelming to have one thing your child really loves. And in general, I love it when he gets something he loves.)
      3. Ask for experiences. (Last Christmas, we asked my parents for a family membership to the zoo/museum. We have gotten so much use out of it and it didn’t take up any space in the house.)

      However, I also hesitate to be too controlling about gifts. It can be a really special thing and it’s just not worth getting upset or controlling about it. It means as much to the gift-giver as the receiver. If I can, I ask for specific items that fit into our home and get my son involved to ask for things he really wants. But when the gifts are given, we do our best to be grateful (my son and me).

      With that said – iif he’s not playing with something in a few months, I also don’t hesitate to get rid of it. 😉 Hope this helps!

  4. Polly June 22, 2018 at 6:11 pm #

    Oh my! With 8 brothers and sisters ,they had children and their children had children! And on and on plus bridal showers ,wedding gifts ,Christmas gifts and birthdays,graduations,wish I thought of no gift
    parties!

    • Kim June 22, 2018 at 9:13 pm #

      Wow! That’s a lot of presents! It can definitely get overwhelming fast!

  5. Mary Beth June 22, 2018 at 7:52 pm #

    We have done no gift parties for a couple years successfully. Along with asking for no gifts on the invitation, we have suggested making a donation to a charity (sometimes the child’s choice, sometimes up to the guest) instead in honor of the birthday. I enjoy the party much more and my kids don’t notice the lack of gifts because they are playing with their friends.

    • Kim June 22, 2018 at 9:14 pm #

      That’s a great idea! I hadn’t thought of the idea of integrating charitable giving, but it’s a great idea.

Leave a Reply