Friday, April 8, 2011

Keeping Birthdays Simple

Tonight we are celebrating my middle son's 8th birthday.  This got me to thinking about the modern standards for kid's birthdays.  I think in today's society, children's birthdays have really gotten out of hand.  It's seems to be the expected thing now to throw these huge parties, invite everyone in the class, and spend hundreds of dollars on cake, decorations and gifts.  After all, how much you love your child is measured by how much money you spend on them, right?  Sadly, much of our culture seems to think this way.  Of course you want your son or daughter to feel loved and valued, but isn't there a better way than buying them cheap plastic toys, (that they will break in a month) and sugaring them up with store bought cake loaded with chemicals and dyes, not to mention using the mountains of wrapping paper, balloons, streamers, plastic cup and plates that will end up in the landfill?  I think there is. 

Here are some thoughts/tips for keeping birthdays simple.

  • You don't have to throw a party every year-  Of course we always celebrate our birthdays as a family, and there will always be a cake and presents, but you don't have to have a full blown party every time.  Every few years is fine.  We try to rotate with our 3 boys so that each year one of them gets a "real" party.
  •  Keep the party small-  You don't need to invite every child in the classroom.  Really, you don't.  Keep the guest list to a few of your child's closest friends.  We usually aim for around 4 friends.
  • Limit gifts to one from each person-  I know this is a hard one, and we are not 100% strict on this, but it is the goal.  The reason for this is that I really want to impress upon my children to value giving more than receiving.  Instead of making the focus be "What do you want to get for your birthday?" we try to bring it back to giving by asking the rest of the family "What do you want to give?"  When each member of the family purposefully and thoughtfully chooses one gift for the recipient, it is a lot more meaningful than having a mountain of gifts that your child tears through, not even really knowing/caring who they are from.
  • Give homemade/non-plastic gifts-  After years of watching the piles of plastic toys amass in our kids rooms, most of them broken within weeks of being bought, I've gotten to the point where I've finally had enough.  Our kids do not need all this junk.  Simple, thoughtful gifts will mean so much more in the long run, especially when they are hand made.  Blankets, stuffed animals, hats and such, are some of the things I have made my boys that they still treasure.  For toys, choose traditional toys you know will last.  Books are highly valued in our household.  Puzzles and old-fashioned games are good options too.  My oldest son loves to draw, so for his last birthday I made him this with cute airplane fabric.
  • Make homemade cake-  Instead of store-bought cake, take a little extra time to make one.  And let the birthday boy/girl help you make it!  Kids love to be a part of making and decorating their own cake.  You can have some one-on-one time with your kiddo and create sweet family memories.  Plus, homemade cake tastes so much better and you know exactly what is in it.  I always let my kids choose the cake flavor, fruit filling, and frosting.  Sometimes the combos they come up with are interesting, but it is their cake, so I make it to order, lol.
  • Use homemade/reusable wrapping paper-  It always amazing me how much money people spend on wrapping paper and ribbons and bows only to have them ripped apart and thrown in the garbage.  I'm all for making things pretty, trust me, I love pretty things.  But when it's not something that lasts, I just can't justify the waste of money and resources.  Something as simple as using brown paper grocery bags with a nice ribbon is a really frugal, recyclable option. There are also some great ideas for making reusable fabric wrapping here and here.
Now these are not hard and fast rules, but they are goals I am trying to reach little by little.   It's not always easy.  Sometimes I struggle with guilt when I see the small, but thoughtfully chosen pile of gifts.  I wonder, will my child grow up and be resentfully that he didn't get a big birthday party every year?  But I know that teaching our children the value of simplicity and to be a generous giver and a grateful receiver, these are the things I want my children to hold on to.  I want them to remember the day of their birth being celebrated, not by the amount of money spent on them, or how many presents they got, but by the thoughtfulness and care taken to create lasting family memories of love and simple joy.


  1. I can completely relate to this!

    Our son has so many toys, the majority of which have come from other people. I tend to try and buy books, gardening things, art materials, clothes - things that get 'used up', not cast aside or broken.

    He hasn't had a proper children's party yet - that will probably come this year as he turns 3. But I always make the cake and we do something as a family - last year we went to an autumn fair, which he loved.

  2. An Autumn fair sounds so fun! I love how you put that- things that get "used up" :)