Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom – Decluttered Kids’ Parties

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


Clutter and birthday parties, especially children’s birthday parties, fit together like a hand and glove, don’t they? They don’t have to. My youngest, Audra, turned 10 last week. Her birthday party cost less than $31 (less because there were food leftovers), generated virtually no trash, and was a great success.


First, let’s think about the things that create trash at a child’s birthday party.

  • Disposable table cloth (cheap paper or plastic)
  • Paper plates
  • Paper napkins
  • Paper cups
  • Cheap themed decorations
  • (Often all of the above are purchased at the same time from Wal-Mart, Target, or a party store on an aisle that’s designed to encourage you to buy all the matching this and that they’re selling)
  • Plastic forks
  • Juice Boxes
  • Disposable water bottles
  • Plastic cake decorations
  • Ribbons, bows and package decorations
  • Wrapping paper
  • Junky little toys that are often given as prizes for games; they may not be trash today, but they will be soon
  • More junky little toys given as party favors, often in throw-away bags
  • Gifts that are quickly forgotten about or discarded

Audra had an Olympic-themed birthday party with just six guests. They girls did gymnastics routines (very small routines), the long jump, triple jump, shot put (bean bag throw), swimming races, and diving. (The last two activities took place in an accommodating neighbor’s pool.) None of these activities produced clutter. We also served a nutritious lunch of hummus, pita triangles, carrots, cherries, celery, and cucumbers followed by homemade cupcakes. We watched the some of the Olympics while we ate our lunches. Gift opening was last.

We avoided creating clutter by:

  • Using all non-disposable cutlery, plates, and glasses from my kitchen
  • Using cloth napkins
  • Not using a table cloth (although if we had, it would have been one I already own)
  • Getting ice and water from the refrigerator and not offering water bottles or juice boxes (again, if I had offered juice or milk, it would have been poured from a larger bottle, not offered individually)
  • No prizes were given for success in the various games
  • Decorations were kept to a minimum, which was Audra’s choice. Using some art supplies and the back of a foam core board that I brought home from work, she made an Olympic sign that she hung on the mailbox. She put up a few signs that she printed on the computer using paper that had already been used on one side that said things like “Olympians only after this point” and “Long jump starts here.”
  • One friend gave her a sewing book, one friend gave her gift cards to a local ice cream shop (yum yum), and one friend gave her a gift card to a huge accessory store. Audra likes fashion and dressing up, and she will get twice the thrill first getting the gift certificate and then shopping for her item.
  • At the end of the party, Audra gave each guest two Japanese erasers. These are hot items among her peers and have been for several years. (Rarely do they actually get used as erasers, although they can be.) What’s interesting is that Audra loves Japanese erasers, but she only wants animals ones. The first thing she did was sort through her own erasers and pulled out the non-animal ones. Right there, we almost had enough for party favors, and only a few more needed to be purchased. Next, she made little boxes from paper for each of the guests. They were only paper and tape and 100% recyclable.
  • No gifts were wrapped in wrapping paper. The envelopes were recycled, and the bow and gift bag were put away to be reused.
  • The last thing we did was remind our guests of anything that could be recycled. Audra pointed out that she recently went to a party where the hostess provided recyclable cups, but since she didn’t tell or remind anyone that they were recyclable, most of the cups got tossed in the trash.

It is 100% possible to have a fun, inexpensive, and clutter-free party. Do you belong to a circle of friends from whom even over-the-top is not enough? If you don’t want to get new friends, then throw your own decluttered party your own way. You don’t have to be a follower; you can be a leader. Just don’t act shocked when two of three of your friends express envy at the simplicity of your child’s party.

I am on vacation with the birthday girl and her older sister for two weeks, and will likely not be reading comments, let alone answering them. Until I am back in Austin, have a great two weeks.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter one of those once favourite outfits that you never wear any more. Chances are it is now out of fashion.

Today’s Declutter Item

Yet more of the craft items recently sold on ebay.

Foam Craft Stamps

Eco Tip For The Day

Don’t leave you car idling for unnecessary periods of time such as when you pull over to use your cell phone. 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting your car.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. GREAT wisdom!! And happy travels Cindy. I wanted to add my two cents on this – several times in the past (my daughter will be 12 in December) – we have requested that people bring used children’s books to donate, or canned food, or this year I think we might request dog food or cat food donations. We also never give out goodie bags – maybe we did the first one or two birthdays, but for the last 8 years we have given each guest a book with a little sticker in it that says “Thanks for celebrating my birthday with me [the date] and my daughter’s name” – this has gone over great and several friends have started doing this as well. Then the kids go home with a little something but it’s not trash.

  2. Other parents will appreciate you. There is so much clutter that comes home from school parties and birthday parties. What a great job you did! Good ideas for all of us!

  3. I cringe at all the waste produced by kids’ birthday parties. Even people who tend to be eco-conscious in their everyday lives buy all sorts of disposables for parties. It bums me out to see kids sit down for a few minutes, wolf down some food, then run off to play while the whole table full of garbage (including forgotten party favors) gets wrapped up into the tablecloth and dumped. With just a little effort and some creativity, parents can come up with ways to eliminate (or greatly reduce) the environmental impact of their parties. From my experience, kids are thrilled to run around with their friends and don’t even care much about the refreshments, decorations, or goodies.

    Good topic and great ideas. 🙂

  4. What a great post. I so agree that there is way too much trash that comes from parties. It isn’t just birthdays either. Baby & wedding showers can really make a mess. To me it seems like this in one of those areas where people keep trying to outdo each other. Crazy. Much easier to have it simple. The most elegant wedding I ever attended was done completely with flowers out of friends gardens and rented dishes with simply cake, nuts and mints. A lot of friends helped and it was beautiful.

  5. Love the book idea. And the food donations, especially the dog and cat food. What a wonderful idea.
    When my children were small, they were only allowed to invite as many guests as they were years old. After the 1st and 2nd birthdays where so many family members came, this was so much easier to handle. I was never a fan of the give away bags – who is the party for anyway. We did play games and the game winner got a small prize, otherwise, nothing. Sometimes we requested no gifts but some people always bring something. My son had one friend who always handmade a gift because he had a large family and little funds. We still have most of his gifts – a picture frame with shells, a log that he burnt my son’s name in, and a picture he painted. Gifts that no price can buy. Others are long gone. I’ll mention these great ideas to my daughter for her kids’ next parties.

  6. This topic came up at Colleen’s coffe date (in a way), and I’m glad to be in a community who despairs at this level of waste! I’ve never considered catering with ‘disposable’. (although perhaps curing hours of drying up dishwasher-ed crockey and cutlery at our 150+ church lunch recently, I may have flirted with the idea!)

    I do have paper napkins, and it KILLS me that mum keeps buying those, when she could buy me some cloth ones once, and be done with it (and yes, I have gently suggested it!)

    • Having been in charge of large church functions, you are exhausted when they are over and thinking of washing dishes for 150-200 people is not something I am interested in doing. After talking to someone about this, we came up with the idea that we should have a recycling garbage can as well as a regular one. That way people can put their trash items in the proper can, and we can recycle whatever we can. I don’t use paper at home except for very rare occasions, like when we are taking baked goods to other people.

      • Spendwisemom, the ladies of our church back when we lived in Indiana sold items and donated money to a fund to buy a commercial dishwasher and plates, silverware, cups and glasses for the church. It took a couple of years to come up with enough money but we made it. Now they don’t use anything disposable except napkins. What a difference it made. They sold church cookbooks, baked goods, crafts, etc.

        • I can’t curse the drying up (of dishwashered stuff… I mean if we were patient, it’d dry from the heat of the wash cycle!) I’m glad it’s all multi use stuff.

          I reuse the plastic ‘take away’ containers and the like, that I get, to take baked goods. Double use at least, but less of a concern to ‘get things back’

      • Hi Spendwisemom – I’m with you on this, there is a limit. I recently discovered paper plates that are made of sugar cane (still look and feel like paper plates) and are biodegradable. I have to admit I haven’t organised any major functions in a long time and my kids are too big for parties (at least not the kind that cake gets served at) but when our best friends are come to visit us (they live further down the country) we use these sugar cane plates for dinner as our time together only happens once a year and just isn’t long enough. However we use them as starter fuel for the bonfire.

  7. How topical Cindy! My daughter’s 12th birthday party was on the weekend. She had 8 girls here for “High Tea”. I used all my vintage cups, saucers and plates and a pretty oilcloth table cloth. Made almost all the food myself, though I bought pre-made tart shells which were wrapped in plastic. The only disposables I used were paper napkins (and that was because they were a gift sent to me from overseas, really pretty ones). The only decorations were these:
    which are going to be hung in my daughter’s room because they turned out so pretty!!
    I borrowed a Playstation Singstar unit so they could do Karaoke, but the highlight of the afternoon was our huge dressup box: all the girls got right into it and were parading around in Batman costumes, wigs, even my wedding dress! They had a ball. The gifts were all really thoughtful too: no plastic tat but journals, drawing materials, chocolates, cooking-related things like a gorgeous apron and a cookbook. Most of the presents were in gift bags which I’ve put away to reuse 🙂
    Have a lovely holiday Cindy!!

  8. Enjoy your vacation with your girls!
    Back in the dark ages, when my kids were young, we decided that they didn’t have to have a big party every year. We did a party every other year and the ‘off year’ we did something special as a family.

  9. timely post. I just had a spontaneous barbecue at my place (my backyard was ideal for it) yesterday with about 12 people. the problem is, I have exactly 6 big plates, 6 forks, 6 knives. So I had to use paper plates and plastic cutlery, which were already there, because they ended as leftovers from the last party (someone else bought it – not me). I still have a lot of paper plates left, because my friends are eco-friendly enough to eat from a used, but re-usable plate again, in order to not produce trash (I am a bit proud of them)…
    I filled exactly one smallish bag of trash today, which were napkins, oily paper-plates, plastic wrapping, tinfoil and candle rests. I figured that it could have been more, but also less – as soon as the paper plates are used with the next parties, I will borrow normal plates and cutlery again.

    I think its great how your family celebrates birthdays, have a happy holiday!

  10. Carrie Butterwick

    Guilty, Guilty Guilty!!! Thanks for opening my eyes to the fact that I am part of the problems this planet is experiencing!! Great Column! Keep it up!