Day 209 Birthday unclutter

Yesterday  was my son’s 19th birthday and what did I buy him? NOTHING. Yes that is right nothing at least not material things that linger around for years to come. Being a young person he is not rolling in cash so he received the one thing he needed, money.

You may be thinking “what kind of unthoughtful mother is she not even making an effort for her own son’s birthday”. Well I didn’t say I didn’t make an effort. Before I went to work I baked him a lovely chocolate cake with yummy chocolate ganache frosting. I don’t keep candles and that sort of stuff any more but I made a cute happy birthday sign out of some card stock and a rubber stamp and attached it with toothpicks. We also had take-out for dinner from his favourite Mexican restaurant.

The night before his birthday was officially the start of his “birthday week” which means  two things…

  1. I do all his chores for the week. So far I have taken out the trash and recycling and put the bins on the street and brought them back in, emptied the dishwasher and  picked up after him a few times. Quite frankly it is easier work than nagging him to do it which is the usual routine.
  2. He also gets to make a few “reasonable requests” throughout the week which I can either choose to comply with or not. For instance today he asked for some money to go out and buy lunch. No biggy, so I gave him a few dollars and he was a happy young man. I am sure he will milk this for all it is worth before the week is up but that is OK, I did say “if I choose to comply”.

So it is possible to be non-materialistic for someone’s birthday even a nineteen year old boy. There is no pressure to find just the right gift and everyone is happy.


This donation if off to it’s third owner. I got it second hand and now I am passing it on to someone else. It may have had more owners than that even, because who know how many hands it went through before it got to me.

We also had takeout for dinner from his favourite Mexican restaurant on the night of his birthday.
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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I like this so much. I would much rather have money or a gift card to a place (scrapbook, books) I really like. I don’t want any more things.

    • Hi Deb J,
      I feel the same. In fact my husband is in Hawaii at the moment and he asked if there was anything I wanted while he was there and I said NO. I hope the poor guy hadn’t already bought me something. He is such a great gift buyer and I hadn’t thought until now that this may be a bit restricting for him. I must remeber to talk to him about it when he gets home.

      • Colleen, my DH is a great gift buyer too…and loves to give. However, we’ve totally toned it down through the years. That’s a great thought though…whether it’s restrictive for him. Sometimes for my birthday I ask for a “honey-do” that I’ve been wanting, and he jumps right on it.

        I think it’s a great way you celebrated your son’s birthday. I enjoy receiving gift cards, money or something consumable from family or friends.

    • Deb J, this is off subject and several years later…but I’m wondering? I was reading one of the Real Life Minimalist profiles from Miss Minimalist (from 2010 I think). It was from someone named Deb, and I thought it sounded a lot like your situation. Was it you? Just wondering…

      Hope you will see this.

  2. Sounds like a smashing b-day success Colleen.

    • Hi Cindy,
      I like to think so. He is a 19 year old male though so who knows what he is thinking. He mostly just grunts a lot. Although we were having a good laught together when I told him I was being him for the week and he said I wasn’t doing a very good impersonation because if it were him the jobs wouldn’t be getting done so quickly. Wise Guy!

  3. great idea Colleen! actually for d past few days I was thinking about letting my friends & relatives know that I would rather receive nothing than receive sentimental clutters (on any occasions). I am yet to find a way to do this without hurting any feelings, plus I am too tired to explain my new Minimalist lifestyle to everybody.

    • Hi Gogol,
      I would suggest you pick the most reasonable person on your list and start from there. Hopefully once you have told a couple of people the word will start to get around and it will get easier from there. I really don’t understand why people would have such a hard time accepting the wishes of someone else especially when it is clearly a worthy request. If it really does become a challenge maybe you should write down your wishes and email or send letters out to all those involved and then people have time to digest the idea before you confront them personally.

  4. Thanx for d suggestions Colleen. will surely try them out.

    From Colleen, Gogol I wish you success I really do. This isn’t just about you it is about doing the right thing for the planet surely anyone can understand that in these times.

  5. Hi Colleen, these are brilliant non-materialistic ideas for birthday gifts! I can’t imagine any 19 year old turning down money or a week off chores or wishes granted within reason. What a lovely way to teach your son the importance of thoughtfulness, kindness, love and generosity without involving stuff in the lesson.

    • Hi Belinda,
      At nineteen you never really know if the lessons are sinking in. I sure hope the thoghtfulness, kindness, love and generosity part is not missed.
      He sure knows how to be frugel though, that is one lesson that sure hasn’t escaped him. When he has a goal to save for he can stick to it for years if he has to in order to reach it.
      One just has to cross their fingers and hope that they learn from your examples in the long run.

  6. My son just turned 20, and I put together a cookbook for him. I typed up recipes of his favourite foods or family recipes or things I think he might like to try. Plus I scanned a few of his childhood art projects and baby photos to add to the recipe pages. The pages went into a binder that I decorated with relevant pages from an ancient dictionary (bought second hand). Ok, I also bought him a jacket. We didn’t give him money, though, because all the other relatives did!

    • Hi Kate,
      I don’t believe you have commented before so welcome to my blog. That sounds like a wonderful gift. I particularly like the little added touches of photos etc. I made up a cookbook once for myeself, my mum, my little brother and my niece but it only contained recipes. Maybe it is time I did a reprint and added some of those extra touches. Sounds like you have the relatives keyed into the no gifts plan. Well done!

  7. @Belinda: You are right – cash is always accepted 🙂

    @ Gogol: Colleen had some good ideas for you. Also remember that once your friends and family begin to get familiar with your lifestyle, you won’t have to remind them of your wishes as time goes on.

  8. Colleen, I have given my son gifts along the same lines. Since he is a struggling college student with little money I have given him things such as grocery & gas gift cards, personal needs items, and other practical items that I know he cannot afford. Once I invited him to my favorite low-cost grocery store and told him to pick out up to $50 in food with the understanding that I could veto whatever I felt was not necessary. He was such a careful and healthy food shopper that I only vetoed one item. We left with a cartload of groceries and a very happy young man. Since I have been introducing him to some of the minimalist blogs I follow, I notice that he has become somewhat of a minimalist himself.

    • Hi Di,
      it seems you are on the right track with your young man. My son is in college as well but he still lives at home so he is still spoiled rotten with some things.

  9. That’s excellent Colleen. I have a loooong way to go with my 7 yo old son (Lego still rules!), but my almost 10 yo daughter is starting to get it. For her birthday, I’m taking her (just the 2 of us) for a night away in the country, and she’s getting her ears pierced. That’s it (not a cheap present, but there is no clutter). Oh, I’ll probably buy her a special book, but I really DON’T consider books clutter; they’re my main form of interior decoration:-)

    • Hi Loretta,
      I am not sure my daughter will ever “get it”. I believe I have set the same example for both of them but she is the eldest and he learns more form her mistakes more than anything else I think. I love them both though they worry me to death at times but that’s more aout me I think.

  10. It’s my son’s 19th birthday on August 10th, and he will also be getting money! 🙂

  11. I wish someone would give me a week off of chores for my birthday!

    • Hi Jessiejack,
      yeh me too. I am not sure why this birthday thing doesn’t work the other way around in my house. How sweet would that be?

  12. I love giving cash to my daughter and my grandchildren. There’s always something they need that they can choose themselves, and that way I’m not loading them up with things that end up as clutter.

    We laughingly say to each other, “Green-one size fits all” (for gifts of cash).

    My poor husband though–he loves to give actual gifts to people, and I’m constantly telling him to please don’t buy me a gift, and I’d really rather not even get a store bought card now. They are very expensive, and add to the clutter, unless you can bear to throw out a card from your husband, which I haven’t been able to yet.

    • Hi Becky,
      I used to love my grandmother giving us money when we were children too. You could do with it what you wanted rather than getting a gift that having been chosen by someone two generations away could likely turn out unwanted.
      My husband is also a good gift giver but he is happy with the new situation.


  1. […] Day 209, Colleen wrote about having a clutter-free birthday for her 19 year old son. For those of you with […]