Day 252 Kids Birthday parties

Family Birthday Parties without Clutter

A guest post by Cindy Bogard

On Day 209, Colleen wrote about having a clutter-free birthday for her 19 year old son. For those of you with younger kids who thought, “Sure, that worked for her; he’s 19 after all,” this post is for you. My daughters are 8 and 10 (just beginning 3rd and 5th grades), and I’m here to tell you it is possible to reduce their birthday haul without reducing their birthday happiness.

First of all, if you’re going to make any drastic changes to the way things have been, you need to prep your kids in advance. With my girls, the preliminary conversation was easy and began naturally. My eldest daughter’s birthday is right before Christmas, and we had celebrated her birthday at her Grandmother’s house. At the end of the evening, we packed up her gifts into a box and brought them home. Over Spring Break (March), I realized that the box was still sitting in my daughter’s room, largely untouched. That began the conversation about how much we enjoy receiving gifts – much more, usually, than we actually enjoy the gifts themselves.

What Colleen did for  her son, and what every birthday person enjoys, is feeling like the king or queen of the day. I have few memories of any particular gifts I’ve received, but I have great memories of parties and special dinners that were thrown in my honor. You child is no different.

This year when my daughter turned 8, I had been decluttering for 2 months, and clutter had become part of the flow of family conversation, which included my husband, my children, and my mother. I did have to send an email about it to my in-laws, and they were much more receptive than I would have guessed. (I’ve been trying to trim down gift giving for as long as I’ve been a part of their family, so they can’t have been too surprised.)

My daughter received a necklace holder made for her by her Dad, several pieces of jewelry, a lucky bamboo plant in a special container, and a rosebush for her garden – that’s it for gifts from her parents, sister, Godfather, and two sets of grandparents. (As an aside, I have to brag that my husband made the necklace holder only out of items he found in the garage – a decluttering project in and of itself –  and when she hung her necklaces on them, my daughter decided that she was through with two of them and that they could go to the thrift store.)

Where’s the part where she was the Queen of the Day? Her birthday was on Sunday this year, and she ruled from Friday night through Sunday evening. On Friday, we had a family birthday dinner where she selected the menu and opened gifts from other family members. On Sunday, she received a blessing at church, and I took her picture with the rector afterwards. She opened one gift before church and one gift after church. We watch a DVD and have pizza every Sunday, but as a birthday treat we went out to dinner and saw a movie at a theater instead. In between, every time we said prayers from Friday through Sunday, we said an extra thank you for her.

These things, I believe, are the memories that she will retain, long after any games or trinkets she might have received would have broken or been passed along to younger children.


Another craft ebay sale once again not a very lucrative one only $5.00 again.

Rubber Stamp Set

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About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. This is so true. I love the idea of making the birthday child feel special in different ways, saying those extra prayers, and letting her choose foods and activities for the weekend.
    My daughter is only turning two this year so I’m ahead of the game.. I have told everyone that just one gift is enough from one household, and it doesn’t need to be big, and especially later when she is older it can be an experience, like theater tickets.
    I would love to make her a crown of fresh flowers too, but they’d have to be store bought since she was born in December!

  2. Just wanted to share something we are doing here in the community where I live. There are a number of us who scrapbook or do other crafts. As time goes along we all find supplies that we no longer need (we have used part of them, etc). So we decided to have a craft supply exchange. We collect up all the supplies we want to get rid of, put prices on them, and total up what we have to “sell.” We then have that much we can exchange for other craft supplies the others are getting rid of. While it isn’t necessarily decluttering as we are exchanging supplies, but it means that we have gotten rid of things we no longer want for things we do. Just like using up your supplies before you buy more we are exchanging rather than buying.

  3. Thanks for a great post Cindy – My own memories are of picking the type of (homemade) cake (chocolate!), my favorite dinner and sitting at the head of the table. It’s really about the special feeling. I also cherished handmade gifts from my dad and excursions with my mom.

  4. What a nice birthday experience for your daughter! And this kind of “gift” really requires us to think about the recipient, not just run to the store and pick something up.

    Would you mind sharing how your husband made the necklace holder? I’ve been trying to think of how to make one, and keep coming up blank!

    • Let’s see if I can explain this so you can imagine it: He took a piece of wood and cut it to the size he wanted, about 8 inches long and 3 inches high. Pretty small, really. After measuring, he drilled holes in a straight line across the piece of wood 1″ apart. He drilled them slightly at an angle. Then he took pre-cut pieces of dowels, glued the ends, and stuck them into the holes. He also countersunk holes on each end for the screws. It screws directly to the wall. Lastly, he spray painted the whole thing white.

      The pre-cut dowel pieces were originally purchased for assembling wooden window screens, I think, so they were already slightly rounded on each end.

      Two alternative ways we thought of doing it were to use brass nails with pretty heads instead of the dowels and to use a picture hanger on the back instead of screwing it directly to the wall.

      If Colleen were home, I’m sure we could figure out a way to send a photo, but alas, she’s off having fun.

      • No photo needed, your description was great – thank you! Such a great idea to keep necklaces tangle-free and right at hand – would probably work for scarves too, in a slightly larger size … for a slightly older recipient LOL (don’t see many 8 year olds wearing those)

  5. What timing!!! My son turns 7 on Friday, my daughter turns 6 next Tuesday. On Saturday they are baking and decorating their cakes (ok, I’ll supervise, take in/out of oven…and of course, clean up after they ‘clean up’…hee hee hee!!); on Sunday from 3-5 we are having friends over (of all ages) to eat the ‘cakes’ and ice cream. That’s it. We’ve a few gifts for them (to receive on their actual b-day) and requested no gifts for Sunday’s gathering. Let’s only hope! People still tend to bring gifts, and we’re thankful for their efforts! Any last tips? PLEASE let me know! 🙂 Oh, and special dinner/desserts on their individual b-days, too!

    • Sounds like you have it under control. If your friends really want to bring gifts in the future, you could talk to your children about charities they might be interested in and ask that guests bring donations of items for that charity. ( For example, pet food for the humane society – always a popular choice with the kids.)

      • Hi Annabelle and Cindy,
        Another idea, for another year, you could arrange the party, for the children to bring cans of pet food as the “present” and all continue on the the local pet shelter to deliver them?

  6. I’m so excited to share my birthday party idea. In my neck of the woods, at least (U.S.), there’s as much “stuff” leaving the party as is coming into the party. I’m talking about the “goodie bags” that “must” be given by the hosts to each guest upon leaving the party. Consequently every household has a trove of soon-unwanted plastic toys and trinkets that become clutter under the bed and forgotten by the kids. This year for my daughter’s 9th birthday, I decided I wouldn’t burden my mom-friends with this stuff any longer. I decided that the only thing the guests would go home with would be the result of our party’s main “activity.” I bought many bunches of colorful flowers of all kinds (not expensive) as well as colored tissue papers and ribbons. The party activity was flower-arranging, and each girl left with a beautiful self-made bouquet of flowers. The moms were beaming with delight as they picked up their girls from the party, to see that they were bringing home a beautiful (and short-lived) addition to their decor, and no plastic junk! Happiness all around, plus the best, most colorful birthday photos we ever had! I felt very clever that day 🙂

    • Hi Eve,
      how wonderful, I hope the girls gave the flowers to their much deserving mothers, wouldn’t that be a treat. And yes you are very very clever.
      I am so glad that when I came back to live in Australia the the cost of a beautiful bunch of flowers was less expensive than they used to be so I use this wonderful gift idea quite often.

  7. Good post Cindy!

    For my daughter’s 9th birthday last year she had a Karaoke party at home. We borrowed my sister’s Sing Star system and 14 girls just sang their little hearts out. In keeping with the theme, my daughter made up a mix CD of her favourite songs and printed up a playlist with a photo of herself. That was the take-home gift. They all had a ball! She still got plenty of gifts, but thankfully they were things like diaries, drawing supplies and stationary (everyone knows I’m not into clutter :-))

    This year my son will be 8 and we’re planning to ask a couple of his friends, his Godmother and my sister’s family and have a pizza party and play cricket (his favourite sport) in the local park. The only gifts he ever asks for are books and Lego, and I can live with that 🙂

    Colleen, hope you are having a marvellous time.

    • Hi Loretta,
      you have the kids birthday issue all sorted out by the sounds of things. Good for you!

      And yes, I am having a wonderful time and my husband (tour guide, food provider and butcherer of the Italian language) is taking good care of me so I am truly having a real vacation. I am not sure I want to face the reality of going home.

  8. Love this, Cindy!
    I’ve been leaning toward, encouraging, talking about, trying for the same thing — celebrations as clutter-free as possible.

    For my daughter’s 5th birthday this year, we asked guests to bring presents for an exotic animal farm nearby (camels, kangaroos, llamas, etc.). The farm gave me a list of ideas that I passed on to the guests before the party. On the day of the party we took all the presents to the farm and got a bonus of a mini-tour! My DD still got presents from family, but that was only a few things. Fun for all!

    If anyone is interested, has some great ideas! Just enter “gift ideas” in the search box.

  9. Ladies, I am so impressed and thrilled with everyone’s efforts to keep their parties as clutter free as possible. I have written another blog discussing how to keep the party itself from becoming a cluttter-fest, but I don’t know where it is in the line up. Colleen did a great job of getting everything together before she left, so I know it’s scheduled for sometime soon.

    I agree that goodie bags are a waste; I have also given the craft of the party as the take-home gift. I personally thought my biggest stroke of genius was giving pool noodles at the beginning of a pool party as favors, and of course, the girls used them in the pool, but I suppose the receiving parents might have felt differently.

    We also once received a CD as a take-away from a birthday party. I cannot tell you how many times we listened to it. The girl and her parents listen to a wide variety of music, so the CD could be enjoyed by all ages.

    I’m just so impressed with all the thought everyone is putting into their parties, and their lives. As a pillow I recently decluttered says, “The best things in life aren’t things.”

  10. These ideas are so great – I just wish I could go back a dozen years and do over my kids’ parties!