Friday, February 04, 2011

No Gifts, Please

A few of you noticed in my party post that on the invitation I had written: no gifts please. And, there were a few questions about this - so I thought I would just address that here and let others who might do this share their thoughts as well.

First, here is my heart on why we do this ~

* As a parent, I have seen so many parties where the presents are just ripped into in only a few minutes and have grieved for the big rush through the gift pile. And, I have witnessed this with my own children at Christmas. Even though we try and slow things down - there is a natural tendency to hurry through so they can see what is next.

* I don't want the focus of our party to be gifts. I never want to hear my children say, "What did you bring me?" or "Where are all my presents?" We have just chosen to make the focus of our parties on spending time with friends they love and having a fun time together even if no presents are opened at the party.

* The party is a gift! Having friends and family take time out of busy schedules just to honor and celebrate the life of the birthday person is really a great gift! This is a time we can feel thankful for the friends who are in our lives and are honored by them being with us to celebrate.

In fact, instead of No Gifts, Please - I usually write something like: Your Presence will be our Gift. So that it communicates to the guest we don't expect a gift and really would just be honored with their presence.

* Last of all, I think that more than ever in our society - our children really do not need so many things. Do they really need all those new toys that I am going to be picking up and finding pieces to for the weeks to come? Do I really need to add all of that work and stress to my life and home?

If there is something a child needs, we will either plan to provide it for them or give it as a gift idea to a grandparent who would like to get them a gift for their birthday. It is certainly not that we don't want them to get gifts - we give them at least one gift and they get gifts from family members. But, we just don't feel that they need so much and have just chosen to limit gifts at our parties as much as possible.

Here were a couple of questions left in the comments:

Do people respect that?
Sometimes. Of course, there will be guests who just don't feel like they can come without bringing a gift. I get that - because I am sort of that way. In these cases, I encourage a hand drawn card or note for the birthday child so they can feel they are not coming empty handed, it is meaningful and handmade - and a special reminder of the friendship.

In some cases, I wonder if it is a relief to see that on the invite. You know how it is during birthday party season - which may be a certain time of year or a certain period of years! The gifts can really add up even if we are careful about shopping from our home store that is stocked with things from clearance racks and after-holiday sales.

No matter what, we have communicated that there are no expectations for a gift. If the guest chooses to bring something - of course, we will allow our child to receive it. Again, we are just trying to keep the focus of the birthday and the party off of gifts.

How do your children feel about this?
Of course, our children have been to birthday parties where presents are a big part of the party and where the birthday child sits and opens a mountain of gifts! I'm sure if I asked Emily or Rachel they would say that they would love for their friends to bring gifts! But, we've just established the standard that this is a time that we celebrate with friends and have an opportunity to share our special day with them.

For one, our children really do not know any differently. We pretty much started out this way and have just continued - so it is not something we've changed suddenly. Also, it is not as if they don't get gifts on their birthday. It is just not usually part of the party. One time I think we did let them open their family gifts during the party - but typically we do that with just family after the party is over.

One thing I can say for sure - I have no memory of being at any of their birthday parties and having them say or even act like they were missing out on anything.

I remember one year when Emily was turning two that she truly would've wanted to have friends over more than presents. Of those I invited, no children came and I was so sad for her - we had a great time of course, but my mothers heart knew. This experience impressed upon me that our friendships and relationships are more important than gifts and I've just wanted to emphasize this in our home.

Above all, what I'm hoping to cultivate here is a spirit of celebration and thankfulness without the gimmies and what's in it for me kind of mentality. Obviously I know that what works for us is not for everyone - and that is OK!

* * *

Your turn to chime in - do you request no gifts for birthday parties? How do you handle that with guests and your children?


Lisa said...


I love to see no gifts on party invites. A second favorite is a charity donation. Children in America have SO MUCH. Time with others is of the greater need for all of us. You are right on with this one!!!!!!!!

Tim, Allyson, and kids said...

We've always placed a "Please, No Gifts" on our kids' birthday invitations. People have always respected this. I think secretly most people are relieved. I know I am when the kids are invited to a party with a similar note :)

Our children do get presents from family members but we also (usually) limit that to things that they need or are educational. We've also always had a no battery operated toys rule. Now that they are getting a little older we've relaxed that to allow for educational toys with batteries.

Leanne said...

We actually don't have children's birthday parties because of the whole "gift" thing☺ however, I might change that because we just went to one AWESOME party where the parents asked that in lieu of gifts the children bring a small cash donation (totally optional)...then the money was given to the children's kindergarten teacher to buy supplies for her room!! I just LOVED THAT...there are so many things that can be done with that idea!
I agree...children, especially in our country, don't NEED much! I look for every opportunity for them to GIVE☺

Cheryl said...

Monica, well said.
We have done the same with our children as well.
It truly isn't about the gifts, it about the gift of time spent with family and friends celebrating their special day.

Annie said...

I agree with the other commentors... I love to see the no gifts, please on an invitation, and put it on ours as well. Since our children's birthdays are 2 weeks apart, it helps everyone.

Because we've moved 3 times in our children's short lives (they're 6 and 4), we keep their parites small with just a few adult family friends and not many kids - and they haven't asked for "friend parties" yet. They know that the meal and cake (flavor, deocration, etc.) of their choosing as well as the presence of good friends is gift enough, though we usually get them one small gift.

The problem we've had is that my in-laws don't see us/our kids often (long story). So, when we are together, the money and stuff thrown at the kids is ridiculous and overwhelms them and us. It definitely becomes about quantity and not quality or presence. (We'd love for them to just 'be' with the kids insteading of seeming to buy them, but they won't accept that.)

We also keep gifts to a minimum at Christmas. Usually a clothes item, an educational toy and a book. Our families, again, have a much harder time reining it in since this wasn't the tradition when we were kids (or with their other grandkids). This year was by far the worst, and my husband and I are already trying to figure ways to avoid it next year.

Congratulations, Monica, on following your instincts and teaching your children to "think big" in this situation.

April said...

Monica... I usually lurk here and don't comment, but I wanted to thank you so much for this wisdom! Our eldest is turning 6 this year and gets to have her first "friend" party. I've been feeling unsettled about it for some reason and this completely removes the worry!! Thank you so much for your wise presence and momma's heart thaat you share so beautifully.

Anonymous said...

Amen! Love the whole no gifts thing.
We had a pool party for my daughter's 8th birthday and requested that instead of a gift for her they bring an outdoor plaything for a local low-income after-school program. The jump ropes, balls, hula hoops, and other things we recieved filled my minivan! And there were only 6 girls at the party! The next Saturday we met these friends again at a local breakfast place near the center, ate breakfast, and then walked over bearing baskets and totes of gifts. The center took our daughter's picture with the items and put it in their newsletter. The girls got to play with the center kids with the new toys.

peggy said...

I think you are doing something very wonderful for your children. Mine are all grown up but I am blessed to spend some days with my great grandson. Somewhat like this, I try not to bring treats on a regular basis, I want him to be excited to see just me. Another thought is that those of us who are embarrassed by gifts, which sometimes we know others cannot afford, can go ahead and have this kind of a party and enjoy it. Great idea!

Stephani said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts behind this. I read somewhere that some people follow the wisemen's example at Christmas and get their children only 3 big gifts each. That sounds like a neat idea. Children are really surrounded with tons of "stuff" and teaching them to invest in relationships is a great thing. :)

angie said...

Thanks for taking the time to address this topic, Monica. I've always wanted to take this stand, but have not. I'm sold on making the change for this year's parties. Honestly, it is not planning the party or the clean-up afterwards that stresses me out. It is the thought of adding more toys to our already large collections.
When we are invited to a bday party, I try to give consumable gifts (such as art supplies) or experience gifts (gift cards to restaurant, etc).
I think a great party would be creating something for people in need and delivering/sending it to them. The party goers could help to bring the supplies. Just a thought...

Holly Days Closet said...

I like the whole No Gift idea. As a crocheter I always have something made up and my kids have given many of those things and have always been well recieved. We raised our kids to love the handmade gift more cause someones heart went into it and now that idea is being passed on to my grandkids.
Thanks for sharing.

ktquilts said...

Having a large family myself we have family parties with gifts, and if you get a friend party (not every year) then it is a no gift party. I am consantly trying to pare down, taking stuff to goodwill. This saves me trips. I myself am always relieved when my children go to no gift parties. My large family has a lot of friends, I could go broke! When gifts are warranted, we find that if we know the child's favorite candy bar, and get a large one, it hits the spot!



Jenny Lynn said...

In the last 3 weeks my daughter has received 2 birthday party invitations. Plus a list of needed things for school. These things add up. I was delighted to find that one of the invitations had a "No Gifts Please" on it. We have done this our selves. They add up when you attend more than one party and have more than one child receiving invites.

My daughter Roo wanted a party when she was 4 and no one showed up. I felt really bad, but turned it into a really fun day for her. One that she still talks about.

barbara said...

My husband and I cannot agree on this! I always put 'no gifts please' on the invitations and he asks me to take it off. I feel guilty about people bringing gifts (we have twins, so it's usually double!). My kids don't need any more toys!

Leah said...

Love this! I put something like this on my kids invitations too. Starting this year, we told my son that he could have one or two kids over for dinner and then we use the money that would have been spent on a big party to do something really special as a family. Memories last way longer than a pile of toys!!

Sheila said...

Okay, I'm one of those people who tends to bring a small gift no matter what. I just can't not bring something. My daughter went to a party last week where they requested donations to the food bank, so we got a bottle of nail polish, a few chocolates and wrapped them along with a check to the food bank. So I'm guess I'm saying I try to go with the spirit of it, but I do still feel that I need to bring something. This is something in me, of course.

Tracy said...

We don't do parties (because I'm terrible at them!) so instead we do an event. The kids pick a place they want to go and they get to bring a, go-carts, the beach... The look forward to picking a place and picking a friend. And the day is much more memorable!

Cortney said...

I'm not a mom yet, and I haven't honestly ever thought about it. But I love the concept and think I will do this with my children's birthdays someday. I think it helps put the perspective on the right things. Children really don't NEED those presents, and really don't even play with most of them. I think you are being a wise keeper of the home by not allowing more "distractions" into your home than necessary.

Debra said...

I wish I had started this with my daughter. She is 9 and I think it would be hard to go back now. We do have very small parties which limits the number of gifts and gives her a chance to enjoy the friends she has invited and not spend so much time opening gifts.

I think you are doing a very smart thing and teaching your children something important.

Mary said...

This was such a wonderful post! I have always wondered how to address this issue. We do not generally have large parties because (a) we have a large immediate family [there are 8 of us!] and (b) most of our extended family lives far away. When I was growing up, parties and gifts were the norm and it's been hard for me, and for my parents, to break away from that. Even when I've specifically asked my mom to cut down on the gifts, she still manages to fill our living room at Christmas. I'm pleased that it is something that brings joy to her, but there is one danger about gifts that you did not address. Sometimes we can unknowingly receive a gift for ourselves or our child that is detrimental.

I always appreciate someone trying to be a blessing to my children, but about two years ago my mother found an adorable doll for my youngest daughter (who is now 10). The doll was a talking doll, and gurgled and babbled and such in a cute toy kind of way. However, after several cycles of the doll babbling, the doll clearly said "Islam is the light!". This was horrifying to us all, as my husband and I are Christians and believe that Jesus is the True Light. We are trying to raise children who love and serve the Lord, and we certainly do not want them to be influenced otherwise.

I feel that some people, no matter how good their intentions are, could unknowingly bring a gift that my children would then not be allowed to have because of our family standards. My daughter was devastated when we took away her doll, but we could not allow such a thing in our home. When in the store on the short cycle of gurgling, the doll did not say anything except "mama". I no longer allow talking toys of any kind in my home.

We did not find out about the doll immediately because I only observed my daughter playing with it for a minute or so at a time, and the doll had to go through a specific number of cycles before it would say "Islam is the light". In fact, Emma really cherished the toy and carried that doll everywhere. My mother often asked her how "Baby" was doing, and Emma would always reply that she loved her baby so much and was taking good care of her. It seemed so innocent, like it was fostering Emma's natural nurturing. I could have unknowingly allowed my Emma to believe that what the doll said was true.

I just caution parents to really check out the things they allow in their homes. I felt awful that my mother's genuine and heartfelt gift was not something we could keep, but at the same time I was not willing to compromise on this. Thankfully my mother understood in this case, and there were no hard feelings when we threw the doll away (we could not figure out how to disengage the speaking mechanism -- the doll babbled even without a battery!). However, not everyone will always be understanding when they ask a child how they are enjoying/using a gift that they gave and the child no longer has the gift because it does not meet the family's standards.

I think it is wise for parents to avoid similar situations by stressing "no gifts", but I am still praying about how to deal with extended family on this issue.

LynnMarie said...

What a great idea! We use to put a price on the invataion - something like "Gifts are not expected but if you want to bring a gift, please only plan to spend $5.00" That took care of the whole cost thing.

The Home Room Teacher said...

I always say (if there's space, like on an email invite), "No gift, please. (And I'm not just being polite. Really. We have enough stuff!) If you still feel inclined to bring something, we will welcome a donation for the food bank that we will personally deliver after the party. Thank you!"

Heather said...

I really like how your birthday parties focus on family and friends and the blessing that they are.
Last year at her birthday party, our oldest ripped through her presents in no time, and I was dismayed that I had to keep reminding her to thank each giver. Then the next issue of Family Fun had an article called "The Present Game," where a Mom prepared her kids for Christmas by practicing opening presents with them. They said "thank you" when the present was given to them, and after they opened it, they had to say something thoughtful about the gift such as, "I will enjoy reading this." This activity really helped our girls receive presents graciously (and prevented me from being embarrassed at gift-givings by lack of manners!)

Thanks for taking the time to explain how your family does this. It gives me something to think about and talk with my husband about. :)

Wendi said...

Love this idea! I have been to some really over the top parties recently. I enjoy giving but sometimes it is hard on the budget. There seem to be party, after party some months. I love the idea of a donation. How neat it would be to have a toy brought, but saved for something like Toys for Tots. Maybe you'll start a new trend!

melissa said...

I also appreciate this post. I will definitely keep this in mind for children's parties, although I'm not sure that the culture where I'm living could adhere to a no gifts request.

We live away from family and know that my parents will always send a gift to our boys for their birthdays. I find that okay. Sometimes other relatives will want to send money, and we've decided to set up separate savings accounts for both our boys. the money that they receive for a birthday or christmas gift will automatically go into their savings account, which the will be used a beginnings to their college education. We are not able to help them financially, and figure this is the best way to get something started for them.

Katy said...

I love that...and I couldn't agree more, Monica! :) s

Kimberly said...

Thank you for this post!! I totally agree with your "no gifts please" post. I love seeing it on invitations we receive. When our children have a party with friends it is always on our invitations for many of the same reasons you posted. We always try to make the birthday about making memories with friends. Sometimes we just have 1 friend join us for a special outing instead of a party. My kids have never missed getting gifts. We have too much as it is. Even from family I try to encourage consumable gifts....craft supplies, special snack foods I don't normally buy, bubbles, tickets to a play, etc.

Mary Ann said...

First off, I really like this policy!

One year we took a donation to the local crisis pregnancy center during the "World's Largest Baby Shower" and a group of little girls were there having a birthday party for their friend (around 8 or 9). She had requested instead of gifts for herself that they bring diapers and baby items for the center. I was so touched by her selflessness and have hoped since then that I would be able to raise my own children to see past their own little world to the needs of those around them.

Since we have no children yet, my opinions are from the guests' viewpoint.:-)

We attend a good amount of children's birthday parties because we are involved in so many children's lives. We love this but yes, it can be a strain on the budget plus the birthday child often receives so many gifts that it sometimes is overwhelming to them.

I remember one party in particular where the mother requested no gifts. I was fine with that (relieved, actually!)and didn't take a gift. This was a party for a one year old so most of the guests were adults. Everyone else brought gifts. I remember feeling a bit embarrassed although I was the only one who noticed, I'm sure.

So I'm never quite sure if it's something they really want people to adhere to or they just say that so you don't feel obligated, you know?

Anyways, since then, unless they request no gifts, we bring a small gift. We decided long ago that we would not get caught up in the whole gift giving competition. Our gifts usually are something consumable( art supplies, a big "birthday" cookie, bubbles, chalk, etc.), an inexpensive book or two, a matchbox car, or something handmade like an apron, dress or skirt, crayon roll, purse or tote bag. My niece and nephew love story cd's that I have made for them.

I love giving gifts so this has been an area where it's been a bit more difficult to reign myself in. The truth is, most people do not remember later what you gave anyways, toys are played with for such a short time and most parents appreciate a smaller, clutter-free gift!

Melissa said...

I have only hosted family parties for Jane up to this point, and even at family parties I am bothered by all the gifts. When the timing is right and we are able to host a birthday party for Jane to include her friends, I am planning to add this comment in the invitation: Frienship is your gift to Jane - presents are not necessary. I guess this leaves it open, because like you, I want to take a small gift, especially if I am friends with the parents and I have a relationship with their children.

*carrie* said...


One other idea is that last year we requested a "recycled present"--something that the guest had played with and was ready to pass on. We got some really neat toys, and one of the moms liked the idea so much that she did it for her son's party.

This year, at Eric's encouragement, we requested no gifts. And I was surprised--but everyone actually complied!

Catherine said...

I LOVE that idea of Carrie's - a recycled gift! I think I'll use that one - so much better than all the silly spending.

Christy said...

We did that for our kids' party last year. Most people still brought a joint present which I thanked them for and put aside for my children to open later. I didn't want to make those who didn't bring a gift at our request to feel bad. All our guests were gracious and understood. Our kids then wrote thank you cards to their friends. I have always dreaded the gift opening part of parties. So much opportunity for someone's feeling to get hurt.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

For the first time last year we had a joint swimming party for our girls in the middle of the summer. They have spring and fall bithdays, so this was a sort of meet in the middle proposition. On the invitation we encouraged the guests to bring items to fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. This is not an idea original to my family, but it is one I hope we can continue.

Joani said...

Wow! Lots of good ideas in the comments. I have struggled with this both in hosting parties and going to parties. I've resorted to bringing handmade gifts when going to parties and limiting the number of friends invited to my daughter's birthday.

Jen said...

We do the no-gifts thing except for family. I wouldn't try to tell the Grandmas that they can't bless them with gifts. What we have done about the no-gifts with everyone else is we have usually put something else to go along with the party.

So, we've done "no gifts but bring $10 for your own build-a-bear" or "no gifts but bring $10 for miniature golf"....

This has worked well for when our kids got older than yours are now and we are doing parties somewhere other than our house. Parents have all been thrilled with this. They are happy to not have to go find a gift to buy.

One of my friends put "no gifts but we will have a can that you can donate towards Joey's lego fund." Which all the kids were thrilled to stick a dollar or two in his little can. It was totally cute.

Aubrey said...

My Judah is about to turn one and I am definitely going to write something like "no gifts." We already have plenty of toys. Of course, my parent's and jeff's parents will get him something no matter what I say. :) Actually I was thinking about putting out a basket where people could make a donation to our local crisis pregnancy center, a cause I strongly believe in, and something that I think would honor my son even more than a pile of presents.

melissa said...

Question: if someone does bring a gift to the party, would you 1) have the birthday child open the gift in front of everyone; 2) open the gift in front of the gift giver before they leave; or 3) wait to open the gift until after the party?

If the latter option is chosen (#3), how do you explain to the gift giver about not opening the gift at the party, or do you just leave it, and send a thank you in the mail?

Tracy said...

We asked for people to, "Let their presence be their present" (I got that from a friend) at my son's earlier parties. Some people did bring gifts, most brought cards. I know some people who didn't felt bad, and told me later. I told them they read the directions :) We did open them after everyone left.

The next year I didn't say anything and people brought gifts. Since we homeschool most had a sibling so it was controlled. My sweet boy, then 5, was kind and patient when he opened them and handled it well. He shared everything too right away.

This year we mentioned he might want to collect donations and told him how that could work. He agreed right away and is so excited! He choose two boys, Gage and Walter, from the Reece's Rainbow waiting child lists. They both have limb differences like my son.

Just thought I would share. I think all three ways work, it depends on your child and the birthday. :) I think the donation is my favorite, we will see how it goes at his party this week. I like that he is beginning to understand how blessed he is and that he can give to those who need so much.

Anonymous said...

My daughter started a tradition of asking birthday party guests to bring a gift for the birthday child to take to the Humane Society. The boys have received pet toys, blankets for the dogs and cats, dog and cat food. They are excited to receive the pet gifts, and it is fun to take them to the Humane Society.
They get to see the animals and know that they and their party guests are making a difference.

Rachel said...

We have always done "No gifts, please" on our invitations and our kids have accepted this as the norm. They still do receive gifts from us and grandparents and sometimes aunt & uncles, but I can't imagine the additional amount of stuff we would be dealing with then. As it is, it seems we are always waging war against clutter and excess. We want our friends to come and just feel an ease to enjoy the celebration without the expectation of a gift. Most have complied. And we have graciously received the gifts given by those who still insisted on bringing a gift.

We don't do parties for our kids each year. Often we just do a family celebration and we may be moving toward taking the birthday child and perhaps one friend to do a special event. I find it difficult to know where to draw the line on the invites list, so this solution would certainly simplify that.

But reading through the comments has encouraged me to train my children to open gifts graciously. Even as an adult, I feel very self-conscious when I have to open gifts, even though I truly am thankful for the thoughtfulness.

Jasmine said...

I am so glad to see this. I missed the previous post with the invite on it. I am planning my girls' birthday party (their birthdays are all with in 5 days so we do one big party) and we are getting ready to put the house on the market. We do not need more toys in here and I was thinking of putting no gifts, please on the invite. This will be our last chance to see a lot of our friends before we move out of state and I just want to have a good time with them. Thanks for the courage to go through with the no gifts.

Michelle said...

The last party I did, I forgot to add that "Your presence is our present" line but had fully intended to do that. Prior to that, it had been years since we'd done a birthday party.

This year I will do a party and I will make sure I add that to the invite. The reason? What your article said:)