Children want our attention and love. Most of us correlate that with the giving of material items. I have been on a journey to simplify my family’s life to allow us to enjoy the little moments more. Oftentimes, I look to my four-year-old son as a shining reminder of what is important.
When I asked him what he wanted to do for his birthday he said “Yo quiero estar con tu, Dada, Daniella, y Abu y Dodo y Tia Nanny” (Rough Translation: I want to be with my family). That’s what he wanted: to spend time together.
A year and a half ago I threw him a large 3rd birthday party. I used Pinterest, I prepackaged fruit cups, I bought lot of balloons, I rented a large space, I bought lots of pre-made food, I bought lots of single use plastic cutlery and plates, I bought take home gifts, in other words did what a lot of us have done routinely to some degree.
My son’s party last year
After all that work I looked at my son during the party and he seemed be unconnected and almost in a daze.
Fast forward to his 4th birthday: we opted to do a casual gathering in our neighborhood park with a few neighbors and guests that my son selected. I sent a quick text message to those friends and stated “no gifts please.” Short and simple.
I made some fruit skewers and homemade banana zucchini muffins for the gathering.
Zerowaste birthday snacks
I bought a handmade piñata from Etsy as my son expressed excitement when I talked to him about the idea of having a piñata. And I included my son in the process of filling it (which according to him was the best part of the birthday- the experience of doing something special together). We filled it with low waste, plastic-free items: crayons, chalk, raisins in boxes, a few lollypops, chocolate coins, a few rubber bouncy balls, and some silicone bracelets. And that was it for the “party.”
This simplified birthday allowed us to focus on what is important: celebrating completing another year of life. I was not stressed about putting together goody bags of things that would quickly end up in the trash. I was not out buying one time use décor or balloons that often end up going directly in the garbage bin, or ordering fancy cakes and entertainment, I was not stressed the day of and was able to enjoy the birthday boy who multiple times through out the day looked at me with sheer joy and said “Mommy you are the BEST.”
The decision to not buy him anything was an easy one. I am trying to create a culture in our home that does not revolve around buying more. It is so easy to be convinced that buying more equates to happiness and success as we are surrounded by that message day in day our through countless advertisements. Digital Marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day. That’s just crazy and pretty much completely out of our control.
It is clear to me that new things do not equal happiness when I watch my children with new toys. A new toy might give them entertainment and temporary thrill, but almost always that toy just ends up in a pile unused. It becomes another item to pick up and clean, another item for them to dump on to the floor, another item cluttering your thoughts. Children seek out attention, love, and new experiences. The association with stuff equating happiness is something that is learned and not inherent. Yes, we need things to survive as consuming is living, but these things can be thoughtfully purchased or acquired and not as an impulse buy because you think you need it, or you think you should have it, or because you think it will bring you happiness.
Yes. I gave my child nothing physical for his birthday. But what I did give him is my attention, a new experience, and an afternoon to be surrounded by people who care about him. We went out for pizza after the park gathering, baked a cake together at home, and sang to him in the evening. The look of wonder and happiness in his face glowing in the candlelight of birthday bliss said it all… simplicity may in fact be the key to happiness.
14 tips to have a simpler children’s birthday party
- Request no gifts please (make a specific thought out list for relatives of things your child needs to wear, read, or create).
- Ask for experiences over things- for example classes, memberships, gift certificates to favorite places (think restaurants ice cream place, water parks, etc.).
- Instead of gifts you could have people bring donations to a specific charity or donate to specific cause.
- Create an education fund for your child and have a link on your invitation.
- Use an evite/text invite or hand make invitations out of your child’s artwork.
- Do not give out goody bags – how often does your child use those items? You could opt for a book exchange instead.
- Use reusable décor, opt for very simple décor, or hand make simple reusable décor with your child.
- If weather permitting opt for an outdoor party (easier clean up- and fresh air makes everyone happier- in my opinion).
- Use reusable plates, cups, napkins etc. – You could get some second hand or borrow from friends.
- Bring your own recycle bin/compost container to the party to reduce the waste created.
- Bring a large water jug and refillable cups instead of juice boxes and water bottles. (You could bring a pitcher of lemonade/tea too).
- Have your little one participate in planning the party as much as possible.
- Invite fewer people. Ask your little one who they want to have at their party (after all it is their party).
- Most importantly: Enjoy the moment as your little one will never be this age again.