to Gift? or NOT to Gift?…that is the birthday party question

gems and geo birthday party ideas

Last week I posted about Owen’s GEO party…and I’m so happy to hear there are other geology-loving kids out there too!  Such a great thing to be into.

Some of you left comments about the party invitation I created in Illustrator—specifically the part about “please no gifts, just come play with us”.  This is actually a topic that’s been on my mind for a while now, so I thought I’d write this follow-up post to see how you guys feel about it too.

how to throw a geo party

Parties are so much fun.  And I really feel like it’s more about having fun with people you love, rather than parents feeling obligated to run to the store 20 minutes before the festivities, to buy a random gift for the birthday kid.

Now that being said, we’ve gone both ways with gift-giving at our house.  Some years people have brought gifts; and other years I’ve written “no gifts please”.  And I definitely discussed the topic with Owen first, so he understood that we would still give him a few family gifts on his actual birthday.  But this was more of a celebration for him and his friends.  And he was totally fine with it.  In fact at the end of the party he said “For my whole life, I’m never EVER going to forget that party! And the treasure hunt!” (even though his friend’s ended up with most of the treasure) Oh man, heart-bursting.  Those words made it all worth it.

how to host a geo birthday party

I guess I’m just testing out all the waters; trying to see where we all feel comfortable.  And I’m not sure what the answer is.

But sometimes–and I don’t mean to offend here—I think gift-giving at kids’ parties is a bit excessive.  It just seems that when I show up to a party and there’s a giant mound of gifts piled on the fireplace, which sometimes aren’t even opened till after the guests have gone home…well, it just feels unnecessary.  And I don’t mean to be a downer about it.  I know giving gifts is fun!  I love finding that perfect gift for someone I care about–something I know they’ll love.  But I also know that it can be hard to find a birthday gift, when you feel obligated to bring one, or when you’re not really sure what the child’s interests are, or when you’re trying to stay within a budget.

If I’m going to give a gift, I just want it to be meaningful.  And sometimes that can be hard to figure out.

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Do you guys feel that too?
Am I alone here?
You can just call me Scrooge.  It’s okay.

But before we go there, let me share a cool idea that really got me thinking, outside of the box….outside of the wrapping paper box?  Eh?  Eh?  Because a company called Sow contacted me and I really like their concept.

sow website for giving gifts

You know that I only partner with brands that I feel are worthwhile and clever.
And this is a really great idea—it’s such a smarter way to give gifts.  So tell me what you think of this…

Sow allows young people to register for goals that are meaningful to them.

Instead of giving a somewhat random gift, you can give a monetary donation to help a sower reach all types of goals like a college fund, a special trip to Grandma’s house, baseball camp, a new bike….whatever that Sower is working towards.

And anyone can sow, at any age, and for any reason.  Totally awesome. Parents can create a profile and add their kid.  I’d love to put $10 towards my niece’s Sow project, rather than buying some random princess toy that she might not even like (and which will probably end up in the thrift store pile in a few months…cause that’s what happens at our house)

*** UPDATE: Thank you for chiming in with your comments! It’s so fun to read the discussion from all angles.  Just wanted to clarify that my intention wasn’t that you would print “my child is registered on SOW” on the party invitation.  Because I agree, that feels tacky.  I don’t like it when people put that on wedding invitations either.  I envisioned sow being more of a thing that as people are thinking of gift ideas, they might search for you on Sow to see what you’re saving toward (if more people knew about it).  Or grandparents who always ask “what does Lucy want for her birthday?” might like to donate to a cool project on Sow for the grandkids, etc.  I think it’s a cool concept as more people are “sowing” and people can search for you, the way they do with social media.

And…your project could be that you’re sowing for a charity! (if you’d like people to donate to a charity)
It’s just an easy way to keep things organized ***

how the sow website works

The funny thing is, Casey and I have been doing a very similar thing over the years for his parents, with birthday and Christmas gifts.  We just didn’t know there was a website for it.  Well, there wasn’t. But now there is!  In lieu of gifts for his parents, we’ve been putting some money in their bank account to be used JUST for fun trips and travel.  But Sow makes all of that even easier.

And it’s easy to open an account–it’s free. Yay!

So for a child’s birthday party, or for grandparents that don’t know what to get for the grandkids, or for that special graduation gift, etc. this would be a really fun way to give and support a goal for someone; something that has a really big payoff.

It’s pretty genius.  And I love the video explaining how mom Tanya came up with the idea.

how to sow

So what do you guys think?  About gift-giving in general and about Sow?
I’d love to know your honest thoughts….cause I’m still figuring it all out.
But Sow sounds like the new way of giving.  A way to give with a purpose, that is.
I guess I should make my inlaws a sign that says “i sow….for travel….”

  1. 1) Heather phillips

    I would prefer to have gifts NOT be obligatory. Yes, if I or my child or whomever sees just the right thing, of course! Get it! But otherwise? Totally unnecessary and do any of us really need more stuff?

    I have been outvoted every year I have suggested “no gifts, please” to be included on an invite. We are divided even within the household.

  2. 2) Lisa

    Not grinchy at all! At least IMO. I ask for no gifts but honestly it’s bc most of it is plastic junk. :-/ We live simply and try to keep STUFF at a minimum so this also helps. Not against gifts either, but I prefer thoughtful gifts or experiences and it helps kids *hopefully * understand that life isn’t just all about what we can get.

  3. 3) Nina

    I agree on the gifts being over done it is nice to give gifts but like you said, only if you know the persons is going to love it. Some more plastic toys is definitely not needed, you’re right of to the charity shop they go in not too long. I have started giving my nieces and nephews a card with money inside that way they can chose their own gifts. And I often sew or make gifts too. I’m not sure about the Sow idea, I like the concept but I don’t see my parents/grandparents using it.

  4. 4) Julie

    I totally agree with you Dana. We buy special gifts for family and close family friends, but for all those other kids parties they get invited to, we try to make or get something that is useful, not just plastic stuff that will break within three days! We also have to stick to a budget, so my kids love painting a plant pot and choosing a special plant for it or taking a cutting or raising something from seed.

    My 11 yr old daughter wants to have a slumber party with 4 friends this year, so I will be talking to her about the no gifts idea.

  5. 5) Kelli McArthur

    I really like the idea of no gifts, I wanted to put this on the birthday invitations for our 2 year old but I was told I was being miserable, my reasoning behind it was; she is only 2 and her friends are only 2 and they really don’t care about anything other than cake and playing. My other reason is that we live in a small town where it is difficult to buy a present at a reasonable price and I hate the thought of people feeling like that have to buy a present.

    We have also decided when we get married we are asking guests not to bring a gift but to bring a bottle of wine instead.

    • 6) becky

      I totally agree Kelli! And I LOVE the idea of bottles of wine for your wedding – especially if you have an established household. We had so much leftover wine and beer from our wedding and it was so much fun to use it over the next two years when friends visited for meals. It felt like the celebration kept going! I wonder about doing the same for a birthday – no gifts but if you’d really like to bring something, bring your favorite snack or drink…

  6. 7) Nikki

    I am all for not bringing gifts!! We have completely embraced a more minimalist lifestyle. I LOVE what it has taught our kids….they learn to value the things they have rather than being overwhelmed by millions of random little toys that usually break within a couple weeks. We spend good money on toys that last and that encourage imaginative play. These are timeless toys (nice wood blocks, Legos, a dollhouse with sturdy wooden furniture), and that’s all they have! People probably think we’re Scrooges but I don’t care! It makes it easier for my kids to clean up after themselves and our home is cleaner and easier to live in (the more you have, the more time you have to spend taking care of “things”). And believe me this is essential for us since we have 4 kids ages 6 and under and our 5th is due next month. I would never be able to keep up with all the toys. Anyway, my kids spend a lot of time playing outside with each other. It’s always surprising to see how little kids need to actually be happy kids.

    I also don’t want people to feel like they have to spend money on something that isn’t of value anyway. We always encourage grandparents to just chip in for a year zoo membership as a Christmas present. Then we don’t have to clean it up, it takes up no room, and gives us valuable family time together in a fun environment. I also LOVE the Sow idea. My kids each have something that they work and save their money for (my daughter wants a basket for her bicycle for instance) and I’m sure she would love to see how fast she gets to achieving her goal because of the help of others. It shows her what having a goal and being supported to achieve it looks like.

    • 8) tanya

      Nikki, I love that you love the idea of Sow! I’d love for you to try it out (I happen to be the founder and a mom of 3 who also has wayyyy too much stuff!) Please let me know if you do try it out, and we’ll start your daughter out with $10 towards her basket for her bicycle! The url is Thanks so much for your support!

  7. 9) Emily Bennett

    We have a no gifts policy at our birthday parties. We have a lot of kids and we also have a lot of cousins. I don’t want extended family to feel obligated to buy presents for us all the time, and since we have a lot of cousins, I don’t feel obligated to reciprocate. Our kids get a birthday gift from us and each of the grandparents. Occasionally they are surprised when someone unexpectedly brings a gift, and sometimes we find something fun for someone else, but I find that the no gifts policy takes the pressure off. My mom did the same thing and I didn’t mind as a kid. I don’t think my kids mind, either. We try to include a treat bag or game prizes at their parties so that everyone gets something fun and no one feels left out.

  8. 10) Rebecca

    I think no gifts is a great idea. Its often so hard to find something that they will really like that nobody else will get them, so you end up stressing about the gift. Not fun. My eldest (14) has never been keen on getting gifts, as she never knows what she wants. She says that she has everything that she needs (gorgeous sentiment). So we encourage her to let her friends know that she doesn’t needs gifts, or would prefer little hand-made ones. Sow sounds like a great idea. Like a gift register, but way more useful.

  9. 11) Jessica Wilson

    My kids have parties on alternate years. On the off year they have a small celebration with one or two friends.

    On the years that we have a party, instead of a gift I ask for a small donation to a charity of my child’s choice. I feel like it’s a middle ground. People who like to give gifts can still give something that makes them feel good. We also don’t end up with a whole bunch of new stuff which I need to find a home for.

    Like you, I find the gift giving excessive at parties these days. As you mentioned, these days the birthday child generally opens presents after party guests have left. It annoys me too as I really put effort into finding the right gift for the party boy or girl. Sometimes I don’t even get an acknowledgement of the gift! I’m not even sure if it was actually received. I hand make some of my gifts so I find this really disappointing.

    I make sure that my children write thank you notes or drawings for all the gifts they receive. I’m trying to instill a sense of gratitude in them and make them realise just how lucky they are.

  10. 12) Angie

    I like when my children are allowed to bring gifts to birthday parties. I love how excited they get for their friends to open the gift. I think gift giving is a form of gratitude and showing love and I want to teach that to my kids. It does get a little extreme and can feel overwhelming on the receiving end, but extra toys can always be donated.

  11. 13) AlIx

    We have done it all types of ways. But we don’t call them birthday parties if there are no gifts. They are called birthday play dates. That way some parents don’t bring gifts and so do and then people feel awkward. Because. That has happened.
    We also have a big birthday at age 7. They invite everyone. We go to a bounce house and there are a ton of presents. At age 7 that is so fun to have all the attention and a big pile of presents. Before that it is too overwhelming and after that I have found that my kids just want to hang out with there few special friends.
    As far as Sow. I dislike it and think it’s tacky. I think putting where you are registered at on your wedding invite is tacky. It says come – and here is what I want you to bring me. You would have to put it on the invite. And say come and here is what my kid wants. If a parent wants to know of ideas they normally ask. I give them ideas or say cash because he is saving up to buy_________. I also tell grandparents this. That way they can decide.
    My BIGGEST pet peeve ever is not opening presents at party. Looks so ungreatful and my kids are always disappointed. They want to see the look on their friends face and have them say thank you and be so excited. And the other kids say cool.
    A budget friendly idea we have liked is a rolled up dollar or dollars inside helium ballons. Every kid at all ages loves ballons and loves money. We have also taped money together and rolled it up and put it in an envelope with a pull her tag. Then the kid keeps pulling money out. Ten bucks looks like a million dollars.
    Sorry but I’m a no on Sow.
    Also a cute easy thank you card is the kid holds up the present and a thank you written on paper and I take a quick picture and we send it to the giver either on the phone or sometimes when I am super cool mom printed and in the mail.

    • 14) Dana

      Great comment. Thanks Alix!
      I couldn’t agree more about people NOT opening gifts till after the friends leave. It seems to amplify the underappreciation and excess aspect of it all. And people really like to see you open their gift!
      I like the Thank you card idea. Great to get it done right there. And everyone likes a photo!

      Thank you for your honesty about Sow. It’s cool to hear the different perspectives here.
      I guess I should clarify better what my intentions were with Sow…
      I didn’t intend that someone would print “my child is registered on SOW” on the party invitation. Because I agree, that feels tacky. I don’t like it when people put that on wedding invitations either. I envisioned sow being more of a thing that as people are thinking of gift ideas, they might search for you on Sow to see what you’re saving toward (if more people knew about it). Or grandparents who always ask “what does Lucy want for her birthday?” might like to donate to a cool project on Sow for the grandkids, etc. I think it’s a cool concept as more people are “sowing” and people can search for you, the way they do with social media.

      And…your project could be that you’re sowing for a charity! (if you’d like people to donate to a charity)
      It’s just an easy way to keep things organized. But it might not be for everybody!
      So thank you for the comment!

    • 15) ANGELICA

      I personally hate opening gifts at parties. I appreciate the sentiment and am happy and grateful for the gifts but I absolutely abhor being the centre of attention while people crowd around, judging my facial expressions. What usually happens is I end up with a stone face and saying ‘I like this. This is cool. Thank you’ like a robot while people stand around looking at me and thinking I’m an ungrateful cow when I really do like it but everyone is looking at me and I can’t take the pressure. It was even hard for me when my son was born because I had to open his gifts for him and people were looking at me again. Family usually understand but it’s hard not to offend people you don’t know as well. They just think mean things about you because you’re avoiding present time, when really you’re trying to avoid an awful tense situation and upsetting people with your off reactions.

  12. 16) AlIx

    Oh another fun birthday play date is we decorate the car inside and out ballons and streamers. And then pick up a few friends. It’s so fun because all the kids run up and get the kids. And then we go get donuts or Ice cream and then go to the park. And that is it. It’s been a big hit. We did it for a six year old party. Then a bunch of his friends copied and all the kids enjoyed having the same party.

    • 17) Dana

      That’s an awesome idea. Simple, fun, and big payoff. I might need to copy this :)!

    • 18) Petra

      Now that is an extremely cool idea 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  13. 19) AmY

    I love having people come together. birthdays are a good excuse. but we have so much stuff and I feel it’s more important to spend time with friends and family. I always say “no gifts please, but if you must he is into ___________” I do this mostly because no one bides by the no gifts and at least this way there are gifts he’s interested in. this worked well with my 4 yr old that is really into dinosaurs. but I’m with you…. and sow sounds great too!

  14. 20) Amy

    Such a polarizing issue! And not just for birthday parties! Hostess gifts, end-of-the-year teacher gifts, showers, weddings, souvenirs, Christmas presents, even party favors are all hotly contested these days. What is good etiquette? Etiquette sure does seem fluid these days. My grandma would not hear of showing up to anyone’s home as a guest (be it for dinner, a weekend visit, or a party) with out a token gift for the host or hostess–flowers, a bottle of wine, a present for the birthday girl, fruitcake, a box of chocolate. She taught all of us that this is part of what it means to be a good guest. In the case of a party with “please no presents” in the invite, she would have brought a card ( no doubt with money or a giftcard for a favorite indulgence) and discretely handed it to an adult for later. Or maybe a beautiful hardback book with a thoughtful inscription and birthday wishes on the inside cover.

    In Japan gifts are a big deal. Omiyage (souvenirs) especially. But of course space is at a premium and there really isn’t any room for nicnacks. So people bring gifts of food. Families share a box of Tokyo Bananas. Friends bring a beautiful melon. Maybe a fancy box of chocolates. Always beautifully wrapped–presentation of the gift is just as important as the gift itself.

    Perfunctory giving is embarrassing and put me square in the “please no” category for giving and receiving those presents–although my resolve crumbles when cookies are involved. But thoughtful gift giving is a practice to cultivate and is such a joy for both the giver and receiver. Lets everyone, including parents, a chance to be gracious and the delight of sharing something you love and think your friend will love too–that is delightful.

    It’s a choice. You get to choose. Making choices for your guests about how to gift give, I agree with the other commenter, is a faux pas… When this happens with wedding invites, the demons inside demand I bring the most unsettling of lengiere for the bride AND groom as a gift.

  15. 21) Amy

    We just hosted my sons birthday party today and we didn’t put any restrictions on gifts. I think there are many valuable lessons to be learned, both in the giving and receiving of birthday gifts. At these early parties kids can learn about generosity and gratitude. For me personally, I find accepting gifts difficult even now as an adult. I want my kids to realise that it is ok to accept peoples generosity graciously, because they themselves know the JOY of giving. Sow is a practical idea, but I wouldn’t use it, I like that my children dont always get exactly what they want, that’s what makes gifts from friends so exciting.

  16. 22) Emma

    I feel kids have soooo many possessions now that they hardly even use. My daughter decided that this year she would rather say, “I am lucky enough to have what I need, so I don’t need gifts. If you would like to make a small donation to the animal shelter, it would be greatly appreciated”.

  17. 23) lynet

    gift giving feels obligatory. here in texas it’s insane. it makes me feel uncomfortable but i’m not about to turn away gifts when people hand them to us at parties.
    i think why you have such a problem is because you’re a minimalist. gifts take up way too much space & sometimes, ahem, can be tacky, and it’s easier to just say No Gifts. I get ya. I do.

  18. 24) Sarah

    I’m glad I read through all the comments as I now have so many different opinions! I’m all for less stuff that will never be used. Like friendship bracelet kits! My daughter got like 5 of them, all beyond her skill level and all annoying to me. Lat year I made pillowcases for her friend’s parties (your tutorial, of course!) That was different and seemed well received. I also stockup on dollar books from Scholastic and included a few of those. But yes, it is SO hard to pick out a gift for a child you don’t know, heck I struggle with it with my own kids!! I’m always the parent that wants to watch the present opening- just to get ideas!

    But like some others, I’ve been trying to figure out some non-plastic/non-garbagey/non-cluttery type things to give to people. Because, yes, sometimes you just want to give something. It’s in our nature or something . I haven’t come up with the answer yet. I like the concept of SOW but I wouldn’t use it. Like an above commenter said, I would be afraid it would look tacky. It’s like when people say “cash gifts requested.” Granted thats what we all want but as the giver I would feel embarrassed at only giving a few dollars. But I’d spend a few dollars on a clearance toy that no one would know the price of. So maybe that’s just a pride issue?? Hmm….interesting discussion, for sure!

  19. 25) Denice

    We’ve done gifts, no gifts and gift exchanges at our parties. We tend to limit party guests to a smaller number if gifts are to be given. If it’s a no gift party, more guests are invited and we’ll generally give a big family present to the birthday child instead. Usually we have the birthday child make a choice – gifts from friends or a big gift from us. Other times we have requested that each party guest bring a $10 themed gift (book, 8yo outdoor toy, 10yo craft toy, etc.) and then we do a gift exchange game and everyone goes home with a present. The gift exchange has been the most popular choice. Whatever we decide to do is based on discussions with the birthday child and how they feel about all the options.
    I probably wouldn’t try out Sow because it involves me or anyone else who wanted to use it signing up for something else online and then trying to explain how it works to everyone.

  20. 26) KF

    Our friend’s hosted a 2 yr old birthday party where the invitation read something like
    “we have everything we need. Instead we’d like to donate to xyz charity…”
    The familt was able to donate a respectable amount to the charity.
    It was nice experience.
    I am a big fan of your No Present statement on the invitation

  21. 27) Sydnie

    I love the idea of no gifts. I have had the anxiety of picking out toys for kids I have no idea what to get so many times. Then, as they tear through mounds of gifts it is hardly noticed and it’s kinda frustrating. I also love the idea of the birthday party being more of celebration.

    If family asked if there was something my daughter wanted, I may consider trying Sow but I would never just tell people to give money that way.

  22. 28) Lauren

    I totally agree! We have huge parties (80-100) because we like to include all our family and friends but the gifts get out of control. Even when we’ve requested no gifts I’ve found people still want to bring something so we’ve started collecting for a cause. Last year we did pajamas for foster kids and this year we’re collecting food/supplies for the spca. It’s a win/win because our guests get to bring something and our boys get to learn about giving to others.

    • 29) LIndsay

      I Love this! I am very much in the “No-gifts” camp, but I think collecting for a cause is great. My son’s third birthday is approaching, and I may just steal the Pajamas for Foster Kids idea. Thank you!

  23. 30) Lynne

    Over here in the UK I don’t think we ever let our kids open presents at the party and they always get saved for later. With my closest group of mummy friends we take it in turns to buy the kids a birthday present. By doing it that way we spend more on one individual present that the birthday child actually wants but we save money in the long run by not having to buy 5 smaller presents – everyone’s a winner! Charity donations are nice too though – for our office secret Santa we got asked to put suggestions of what we might like so I asked for a donation to charity as, without seeming ungrateful, I didn’t want more chocolate or alcohol! Instead I got 50 polio vaccinations via UNICEF which was much more worthwhile.

  24. 31) LK

    Wow! I think kids should have a few years there where they can just experience a birthday party with friends and family bringing gifts…..because they’re kids and don’t know what charities and donations are. Also how do you know, I mean really really know, that the money you donate to a charity is actually being used the way you want it to? As the kids get older, if you really don’t want gifts, then make it about going somewhere fun for the day with their friends. Also, I really don’t understand this whole “it’s so tacky to put where you’re registered” thing. Listing that info isn’t saying this is where you may get me gifts from and you’re obligated to buy me something – it’s more if you would like to get something here is a list of things I’m guaranteed to like and want – also kind of a sanity saver. When you’re getting married if you don’t list that info then everyone is calling to find out where you’re registered at and what you want or might already have so you can either repeat that info over and over for months OR you can include it on the invitation and save your breath. A registry is a suggestion and is meant to be helpful for the people who want to get a gift. It’s not a mandate. Have you ever been to a wedding and been turned away at the door because you didn’t bring a gift? I’ve never once seen that info included on a wedding invitation and thought oh my god thats so low class and tacky. Guess some people are just easily offended.

  25. 32) Nicola

    I completely agree with the no gifts thing. However people will always have different opinions and there’s no pleasing everyone! I think sticking to your values as a family is a great idea, and if others have opinions about it, then let them have opinions.

    Late last year, I started the conversation early with my MIL (the giver of stuff in our family) about how we were focusing on giving less this coming Christmas to the kids, and making sure the toys are good quality and will last. She thought that was sad and unfair to the kids. At Christmas time we were staying at her place Christmas Eve. I set out the stockings, Santa came. We went to bed. In the morning, we woke up to crazy piles of stuff in and around the stockings. It seems Santa came a second time… There were also piles and piles of presents from her to the kids. I was so annoyed. We had so much STUFF to cart back home. So much that the kids had no idea who gave them what and even what was theirs. The only thing I was happy about was the fact the we left the gifts from us to the kids at home under our tree for the kids to open when we got home a week later. Those gifts are the only ones the girls remember that they even got for Christmas!

    Not exactly birthday related, but to me the message is the same. Too much stuff isn’t necessary and the kids get overwhelmed and can’t remember it all anyway.

    • 33) hotdish

      Wow!! Our MILs should meet!! That sounds like EVERY one of our Christmases! We’ve asked that there at least be no adult gifts…no luck!

  26. 34) dirtgirl

    As a child I never had a birthday party, I was one of 5 kids from a very poor family. We barely even celebrated birthdays especially as mine came 2 days after Christmas. It was never an issue for us.

    I agree about the ‘no gift’ policy, let’s face it todays kids get so much throughout the year. I have 3 grandchildren and both sets of parents always stipulate no presents at birthday parties. Likewise when both my children got married, they specifically printed on the wedding invites ‘No gifts’.

    I think the idea of donations to a charity instead is a much better idea. I stopped sending heaps of Christmas cards to family and friends throughout the world and instead donate the money to a charity that restores sight to people in poorer nations. A much better use of money I say.

    • 35) Laurel

      My son’s birthday is also December 27th. 🙂

  27. 36) Laurel

    I have often thought of asking for no gifts at my kids’ bday parties or for baby showers (when I keep having girl after girl!). But, I have always rejected the idea for 2 reasons: 1) Every single time I have been to a party where the invitation requested no gifts about 3/4 of the guests brought guests anyway and when I didn’t I felt like a real heel, so I don’t want to put other people in that position 2) Especially for the baby shower thing, but also for my kids, even though I may not need another little dress it makes people happy to pick it out and give it to me, women who are done having kids or have all boys are always telling me what a joy it is to shop for baby gifts for me, for my kids their friends get excited about picking out presents for them, who I am to deny that?

    I also like to read Miss Manners and when people have asked her similar questions she has said that it is not appropriate to put “no gifts please” on the invitation because it implies that you are expecting gifts. Maybe that sounds weird, what I am saying is that gifts are not supposed to be expected at a party ever, they are voluntarily given by people who care about you, so it is not your place to tell them whether to do that or not. Your place would be to be gracious either way.

    I hope that was understandable, I totally get where you are coming from with the no gift policy, I just wanted to offer that position as well. 🙂

    Addressing the pile of plastic toys . . . in my family we started a few years ago giving homemade gifts for Christmas and usually on birthdays too. I know that you make lots of homemade gifts too. Since we’ve been doing that we’ve gotten a lot of homemade gifts in return and I feel like it adds a lot of meaning. My kids are also frequently the recipients of craft kits. 🙂 We also get a lot of books or practical gifts like a new swimsuit or beach towel for my daughter whose birthday is in July. The only plastic toys we usually get are Legos for my son.

    When they do receive gifts, I always remind them who gave it to them, so that every time my daughter uses that beach towel she thinks of the friend who gave it to her and I think it helps with gratitude.

    Anyway, I definitely know where you are coming from, I feel the same way that we don’t really need anything and I don’t want to be greedy or teach my kids to be. But, at the same time I don’t think its my place to tell people to bring gifts or not. A few times someone has come to a party and said, “Sorry, we didn’t have time to get a gift, we’ll bring it later.” Or something like that as if they owed us a gift as payment for the party, and I always tried to make it clear that they did not need to bring us anything and that we wanted their presence, not their presents. 🙂

    OK, seriously long comment, sorry!

    • 37) Amber

      At my daughter’s first bday party (all adult friends just drinking 🙂 ), I put a picture of a gift with the red NO over it. But, you’re right, about 3/4 brought something. It makes me wonder what the other 1/4 thought. Hmmmm…

      I’m going to keep asking for ‘no gifts’, because it’s just all too much!

  28. 38) Jes

    We do “no gifts” as well, although if the parents press, I suggest their child make something, even just a card or sticker sheet. However, we once attended a birthday party in which all child guests were asked to bring a gender-neutral gift for a gift exchange–it was optional but each child then received a gift and the birthday girl had a very special gift that her parents snuck in to the “exchange”. Adults handed out the presents and everyone opened at the same time. It was beautifully done but I would suggest if someone does this, they consider having a few “extras” because there were a few kiddos (siblings) that ended up feeling left out.

  29. 39) Julie

    How refreshing! It kills me to run out right before a party & buy some random gift! I love giving, but to see the piles of gifts at the party… Come on, people! I hesitate to even have a party for my daughter because I don’t want all the gifts (not ungrateful). She has more than needs already. I would love nothing more than doing exactly what you did! But… Some people seem to be uncomfortable arriving with no gift in their hands. Me included! You have brought up a point that I know so many moms (parents) are relating to! Thank you, Dana! Btw, my son, now 13, is a gem, geode, freak! If only I had read your party idea several years ago… Thank goodness for creative people like you to help us “others” out! I’ve been following you since the beginning… Love you! P.s. Sorry for the ramble 🙂

  30. 40) Bev

    This is such a big issue that as a family we have struggled with. We have done all variations – no presents, only homemade presents, cards only, do whatever – and it has almost always been a mess. People have given us such an incredibly great presents, and at huge party times we all felt overwhelmed. The one year I didn’t allow the kids to open the presents at the party because 2 whole classes were here and luckily not everyone had brought a present – every child was horribly disappointed – and I would never do that again. I think there is no real answer except to just keep the expectations as simple as possible. When my eldest son turned 8 a child said to him ‘I can’t come to your party, we don’t have money for a present’ and my son said -‘It’s not about presents. Come anyway, it’s just for having fun.’ And the child showed up and to be honest no one ever noticed if she brought a present or not.

  31. 41) Rebecca Pitt

    I love the “no gifts please” but have been vetoed by my husband now that our kids are older. A new trend in Canada is a “twoonie” party. Each friend brings 2 $2 coins – one for charity and one to go towards a gift that the birthday child will shop for themselves. I really like the idea of “SOW” too. Thanks for being open and honest about such a touchy subject.

  32. 42) Maureen

    My grandchildren are 21,20 and 17. My daughter-in-law never failed when they were younger to come up with creative birthday parties. Always, no gifts, please but one year a book for a needy child; another cans of food. The children always had family gifts.
    Another tradition in the early years were requests for homemade gifts from my husband and I. One year my husband made wooden blocks in different shapes, painted primary colors (for two little boys) and I made bags with their names on them for the blocks. They are grown now but I have many wonderful memories of birthday and Christmases past. They continue to receive a special ornament each year.. Many I needlepoint.
    In our materialistic world, I believe it is always more rewarding to give than get. \

  33. 43) Cara

    I agree no gifts is best. But I end up out voted at my house most of the time. One year I was able to talk my daughter into having friends bring canned food for the food bank instead of gifts. That was great, we were able to donate 2 boxes of food.

  34. 44) Iris

    I always let my kids pick their friends presents. It is the only time I enter a toy store with them. They love it and I love to watch how their present picking skills develop.
    I love the no gifts policy, because too much stuff.
    But in my case that would be a very selfish decision. Since I want them to be good givers (on a tight budget), I feel they earned the right to receive something too.
    Besides, they already bear the burden of at home celebrations when all their friends go fancy places 🙂

  35. 45) Petra

    Yep, this present thing at kid’s parties is INCREDIBLE! So excessive. Sometimes I wonder if the birthday boy/girl wants everyone in his/her class to come along just to get lots of presents!!! I’ve thrown a couple of parties for my son (when he was around Year 1 and 2) at an indoor play centre, which costs a small fortune, and the whole class ends up coming, and it sort of feels like you’ve got to do it, and invite everyone, because every other kid in the class is doing the exact same thing. So…for 25 or so invites a year, that’s 25 birthday presents to kids I hardly know, which is about 2 or 3 parties a month – far out! I LOVE the idea of “no presents”, and we started to do that a few years ago.

  36. 46) Amy

    Last year I put no gifts please on the invitation for my 5 year old’s party and it was not well received. Several parents said their kid wanted to get a gift and I even got some comments that I just couldn’t do that. So this year I said in lieu of presents Henry is asking for donations to the food bank and that was very well received. The same parent that was annoyed last year told me what a great idea it was. And of course a few people brought just a small gift which was perfect.

    • 47) Keisha

      Going to put this arltice to good use now.

  37. 48) kIM

    In our group of friends we have what are call Green Parties. The birthday child asks for a small amount of money usually $10 instead of gifts. They then donate half the money to their favourite charity and then are able to buy one big gift with the other half. It works great especially when you don’t know the child that well and don’t what to get them something they aren’t going to enjoy. Saves on all the packaging after the gift opening too!!!

  38. 49) Sarah Heat

    I think that the problem is that parties are too large. If you have just 5 close friends over, then the presents are usually meaningful and not excessive. We haven’t ever had a party that’s for all the kids in the class- maybe that seems exclusive to some, but I think that a small party is more meaningful to everyone.

  39. 50) hotdish

    I wish I knew earlier that you could have a “no-gifts” party – I would have done it all along!. We felt our kids got so many presents from our family that we never even bought our kids birthday gifts till they were 4 or 5. They never even noticed. My son’s turning 9 in a week and I’ve cleared it with him that he’s done getting gifts from friends, but yes, he’s still getting them from family. My daughter who’s turning 6 at the end of the week is still allowed gifts from friends, simply to be fair as that’s how it’s been done in our house up until now. But again, if I had known it was an option!…
    My son has been to a couple of parties with “no gifts please, but if you like, a dollar or two would be acceptable and used towards the birthday child’s choice of something to remember that day.”

  40. 51) Molly

    I love seeing what people are saying! We usually say no gifts for birthday parties (my kids are only 4 and 1) and people usually bring gifts anyway – it is a hard decision – my kids love the gifts obviously, but anyone who doesn’t bring one still seems to feel awkward, and I don’t want them to feel that way! Plus even with just 2 young kids, my house already feels like it’s bursting at the seams with toys and I’m tired of it. They don’t play with most of it, but it’s hard to get rid of something when you can say “Oh, that’s what Grandma and Grandpa gave you for your first birthday” – sweet memory, but I don’t want to have to keep it forever just because of that.

  41. 52) k

    Regarding the opening at the party, I strongly dislike the practice of having the kids sit down and watch while the birthday child opens one gift after another. It is like a stuff orgy, it showcases the differences in what guest A brought vs. guest B, and most of all it means the kid can’t be excited about a gift and enjoy it because mom is pulling it away and making them open the next. It can also be hard for the guest kids to watch another kid get so much stuff while they just sit. We’ve started having the birthday child open gifts as the guests arrive, in a casual way. That way the guest is thanked and sees the reaction, the child gets to be excited for a few minutes and play with the item with the guest who has given it before the party activities begin.

    Is anyone else having a hard time using the page with new design? I can type/scroll for a few seconds before it freezes and then I have to wait about 10 seconds to move further. Anyone know a setting I can change, or is that just how it is? Thanks! (Looks great, Dana, just very painstaking to get through for me!)

    • 53) K

      Popping back to answer my own question, just in case anyone is having the same problem I was getting the new page to load. My husband suggested that I try a different browser, and it has worked perfectly since.

  42. 54) Michele Robbins

    I have lots a kids, so we don’t do a birthday party every year, still all the presents can seem excessive. Here are two party ideas I have done to combat all the stuff:
    Cereal Party–everyone brings their favorite cereal to share as a gift. Then all the kids sit around and eat cereal.They get to try some new cereals and I don’t have to make snacks.
    Gift Exchange–everyone brings a gift, and you play white elephant. This went okay–there were some kids who didn’t like what they got. One cried (a lot). Perhaps my mistake they were only six years old. I think this would work for a little older kids–maybe 10 years and older would have more success.

  43. 55) Kristie

    I love the no gifts idea. My kids have enough stuff. And every year we have to get rid of so much stuff around Christmas, because birthdays happen so close to Christmas. My kids also have 3 grandmas, and each has to get them something that almost turns into a competition to see who gets them the “best” gift(ie. most expensive). It drives me crazy. I really just want the grandparents to donate to the kids college funds. Or do it where the grandmas can only give a gift every third year and on the off years they can just donate to the college fund. I don’t have the space to store a bunch of toys, or to store duplicate toys (I have daughters that are close in age so one grandma just gets them the same thing, because it is easy I guess). This is such a soapbox for me. But I totally agree with what you said.

  44. 56) dispack

    Dana: I agree with you on the gift giving dilemnas. One year for my son’s bday party, I said no gifts, but that something small would be fine…I told him that was the deal…well the friend’s did something small, he ended up with some original/novel tokens–such as a candy bar story/ a one dollar bill for how old he was turning, in an envelope/ his favorite candy bar, etc.

  45. 57) tricia Cartner

    We alternate years for gifts because with 3 kids…they have more than enough. And knowing that my kid is just one of several that is having parties, I don’t want people to be burdened to buy another gift. We first tried the “no gifts please” policy and a few rule breakers would still bring something because they love our kids and they were being kind. But then that makes the people who didn’t bring gifts (because you asked them not to) feel bad. So – we started doing charity gifts instead and everybody loves it and participates. We’ve collected baby food for the food pantry, toothbrushes for mobile dentistry, jackets for kids, school supplies for a school in Haiti, etc. I love teaching my kids about giving back and they get really excited about it too. Their grandparents usually do more than enough for them so they are not without gifts for their birthdays.


    We always asked for no gifts but people still bring gift. This year I wrote: “Your love and presence is more than enough for us so please don’t feel obligated to get any gifts. If you insist (as I know some of you would still bring gifts); since the birthday boy loves to eat, things like $5 Jamba Juice/ Baskin & Robin’s gift card would be much appreciated. We had so much fun celebrating throughout the month as long as there’s still gift cards in his wallet. 🙂

  47. 59) Amanda

    I love giving and getting birthday presents but if it’s a big party with more than just a small handful of guests I’d much rather request no presents. It’s just too much to spend so long opening a huge pile of gifts and the excitement is lost after just a few package, especially for young children. If I’m hosting or am the guest of honour, I’d rather spend the party time playing and eating yummy party food.

  48. 60) Michelle

    I fully support this idea. Once I tried to help birthday goers give with a purpose. It failed. I let my child register for ten things priced $5-$20. Every item she had requested at some point in the months up to her bday. Anyhow one person used the registry. It seemed like folks were offended by the very thought that we should request something specific. Family used the registry. I do notice often that giving money is less fun for some because it is not as exciting and immediate a thrill as opening a wrapped toy.

  49. 61) Sarah

    I’ve written the same thing on my kids invites the last couple of years. My kids are totally fine with it and just enjoy their party with their friends! We still give them gifts ourselves, and their grandparents will send something too, (usually that I’ve helped them pick out), but we don’t open them at the party.

  50. 62) sharron

    I’ve done “No gifts, please” on every birthday party we’ve had, and my oldest is about to turn 8. Yes, there are some parents who buy gifts anyway and yes, that is a bit awkward, but quite frankly, while we appreciate whatever the gift is, we don’t NEED it! At a recent party for my 3 yr old, one of the kids asked how many presents he got! That was the determining factor of a good party! Ugh. I hate that. Plus I don’t want parents to feel like “what the heck do we buy this kid” OR to spend their money for a present for a kid they don’t really know. Then it’s not a thoughtful gift, it is just a gift to GET something. I have thought, as my daughter (oldest) gets older, to do a charitable contribution for gifts, like bring a book to donate to a childrens shelter, or a new toy for donation, or even clothes and food and such. THAT would be a meaningful gift. Not for my kid but for someone who needs it! Then we can ALL feel good. And I think my daughter would appreciate being able to go to whatever charity to donate the items, as well. So, that’s my long term plan. In the meantime, I ask for no gifts and wish my kids friend’s parents did, too!

  51. 63) Rebecca

    I love the idea of no gifts and making the focus, the fun, the celebration and the getting together with friends. I agree that sometimes going to the larger parties with 30+ kids, the mountain of presents can look a little obscene. In the same way, kids parties can get out of hand with too much razzamatazz attached. Essentially they just want to get together, play a few games and eat some treaty foods.

  52. 64) ann

    I have 3 girls and have gone back & forth on this issue and tried several things. We tried letting our kids choose between a special date with mom & dad (babysitter for the other kids), or a party with friends. Book or game exchange idea sounds good, but it really can’t be “optional” or it just ends up making the non-participants feel bad. It’s the parent, not the kid who decides to opt out, but it’s the kid who is the one sitting out of the gift exchange. Bummer. We have done the charity donation as a “no gifts please, but if you’d like to bring something, how about a book for school library, canned food for African Refugee Center, etc. The canned food wasn’t exciting for kids to bring or for our five year old to receive. Oops. Book for the library was better – we read the books with our kids before donating and then the school puts a little sticker in the book saying it was donated in honor of their birthday. Our kids have plenty of things – we typically get them one or two things, and something handmade by mom that relates to their current interests. They get a couple of gifts from relatives. And if they have a party, they may get a few things from friends. I think it’s okay to put “no gifts necessary” – some will, some won’t. Some will have the kids choose something used from home. Some will have their kid draw a picture or make a card. Where it starts to go over the top is when everyone in the class invites everyone in the class to every party. That’s a lot of party-going, a lot of gifts, a lot of people one-upping on parties, etc. Taking that down a notch to a handful of good friends makes everything more manageable, not just the gifts. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask for money in any way, or to tell people what to give – even hinting at their interests. If people want to know, they will ask. And it sounds a bit rude & ungracious to hear about “all the cheap plastic junk people bring out of obligation.” I guess there are lots of views, but I never think it’s in good taste to be heavy handed about no gifts, or what type of gifts. (Think about the pressure on a less crafty person to come up with something that is hand crafted, not plastic, etc. – they end up spending $30 at a handmade craft fair to meet your demands.) If the joy is in giving, let’s be flexible, gracious receivers if someone wants to bring a gift. And if it’s that important to limit or curate the stuff coming into the house, skip the party altogether.

  53. 65) Victoria

    We celebrated my son’s first birthday a few months ago and requested either no gifts or if they really wanted to bring something, books. It was mostly close family so we ended up with a gorgeous pile of board books that my son has loved to bits!
    I think no gifts is good but sometimes people will feel obliged to bring something. I don’t know if it’s pushy to request certain things but I wouldn’t mind adding to a child’s library or art-tool collection or whatever they like if it was on the invite and worded nicely! I guess Sow is just an extension of that and it’s great but I think something physical to choose and wrap is part of the fun for some kids.
    I also love handmade and often give knitted items to family but I know that some parents and kids won’t appreciate it and my hard work will be wasted.

  54. 66) Savannah Holloman

    Last year, for my oldest’s 6th birthday, I asked for no gifts, but we collected donations for the local food pantry’s backpack program (where kids go home with backpacks full of food for the weekend). We were able to donate $70, which paid for 15 meals. This year we had a much smaller party, so we didn’t raise as much money, but we had no gifts. It was so nice to focus on friends, not stuff.

  55. 67) more info

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this brilliant blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will talk about this blog with my Facebook group. Chat soon!
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  56. 68) Karen

    We started having our girls pick out a charity. So instead of a pile of random stuff that they honestly don’t need, they get the gift of taking care of others. They still get gifts from family. My oldest daughter picked an animal shelter that had an amazon wishlist. The kids brought all kinds of things for the kitties and dogs at the shelter. I took my girls to make the donation and the smile on their faces…the lessons they learned…were far and beyond anything that a material gift could ever achieve.

    • 69) Dana

      I love this! Great idea. 🙂

  57. 70) annie

    I just had an extremely awkward experience with this. A good friend of my child’s invited four close friends to a “no gifts” party for a 9th birthday. I had never heard of this before, and didn’t want my child to be the only one not bringing a gift. We were the first to arrive, and the party location put the gift into the party room inconspicuously. Apparently, no one else brought a gift. When we went to leave, the hostess said (practically yelled!) “I said no gifts! Do you want to take this back?” I didn’t know what to say. I was really taken aback and felt really badly–especially since my child had spent a lot of time hand-making the card. Should I actually have taken the gift back? What’s the etiquitte?
    BTW, the hostess for the no gift party also sent every kid home with a goodie bag of tchockes. Is the goal no clutter? or something else??

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