Avoiding children’s party clutter

As an adult, you can write “No Gifts Please” on birthday party invitations and guests usually respect these wishes. It doesn’t work this way for children’s parties, however, or for baby showers or even random trips to grandma’s house.

Children love gifts and people love giving children gifts. It’s the way of the world. Gifts, although well intentioned and truly appreciated, can still end up as clutter.

For example, my friend Kristine received 14 baby blankets at a shower her mother threw for her when she was pregnant with her second child. She ended up keeping a couple that were hand knit, one that was quilted, one that could easily be laundered, and then gave the other 10 to charity. She was extremely thankful for the generosity people showed toward her and her future child, but there was no way that she could store or ever use 14 baby blankets.

When having parties for children or baby showers for new parents, there are some things that you can do to help keep gifts from becoming clutter:

Baby Showers

  • Establish a baby registry. Amazon has an online registry where friends and family from across the country can purchase items for expecting parents. These lists help to focus gift giving toward things that new parents need. Yes, it is sterile and soul-less, but it also is considerate and useful.
  • Throw a “help the community” party. When my friends adopted a baby from China, they had a baby shower where people brought gifts for the Chinese orphanage. When the couple traveled to pick up their daughter in China, they took the blankets, books, and clothing to the other orphans in China still waiting to be placed with families.
  • Have a “pamper the parent” party. Before a baby arrives, mothers and fathers are often the last people on everyone’s minds. Remind the parents that you’re thinking of them, too, by having a day at the spa where guests can join the expecting parents in manicures, pedicures, and massages.

Children’s Parties

  • Have a theme party. On a child’s first birthday, have a “stock the library” party where attendees bring their favorite children’s book. If your child can’t get enough of trucks when he’s two, ask for attendees to bring truck gifts to his party. A focused theme helps to target gifts toward things that will be used, and also helps the gift buyer when trying to think of what to bring.
  • Have an adventure party. In lieu of gifts, let party attendees know that there will be a small fee (I’d try to keep it to $15 or less) to white-water raft or ride in a hot air balloon or be admitted to Six Flags. This is probably an approach best suited to older children. Other parents will thank you for not having to buy a gift and for taking their children off of their hands for a few hours. Plus, your child will remember the experience for a lifetime. Remember, too, that family members still will likely give gifts, so there will be presents for your child to unwrap at some point during the day.

Let’s hear from parents about other ideas for good gift-giving parties in the comments.

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

18 Comments for “Avoiding children’s party clutter”

  1. posted by molly on

    A baby registry? Tacky!

    You should be grateful for any presents received regardless if you get multiples or if you personally would have selected something else. But some people I suppose just want to shake down friends and family for things they want because they decided to get pregnant. It was your choice to get pregnant, you shouldn’t expect others to finance your decision. As for 14 baby blankets, that is the luck of the draw. I am surprised the gift givers didn’t offer to return the blanket for her and get something else (that’s a bit tacky too).

  2. posted by Dr. Ragan, www.psychologyofclutter.com on

    I have come to rely on gift registries and get annoyed when the expected mom or bride says, “Whatever you get me will be fine.” I want to buy something I know my friend wants and needs. No registry always equals a gift card. I always set my budget before looking at a registry and if there is noting in my price range that is another gift card opportunity.

    I don’t have an idea for a children’s party, but I recently went to a “stock the bar” party for a friend’s 45th birthday. That was fun.

  3. posted by Kim on

    We sponsor a child through a non profit agency. Our sponsored child shares the same birthday as our child. We decided to have a large birthday party for our child this year, and in lieu of gifts we requested donations to the non-profit that would go directly to the sponsored child’s family. Those funds were administered by the agency to provide directly for immediate needs the family had. We included information about the non-profit in the goodie bags we gave out at the party. Some folks still brought gifts, but we drastically reduced it from the 25 or so gifts she could have gotten.

  4. posted by J. Todd Leffar on

    Most of the parents of my daughter’s circle of friends (ranging from 3-5 years old right now) have no problem putting “No gifts please” on party invitations for their kids’ birthdays. We don’t either.

    As mentioned, family members are going to get your child gifts no matter what (our families certainly do), so it’s not like you’re being cruel and heartless and completely cutting off gifts. We only have one child so far, and already she/we has/have too much stuff.

    Of course, this can lead to a good life lesson about charity and “sharing” toys with children who may not have any.

  5. posted by A Tentative Personal Finance Blog on

    I am seriously considering not having birthday parties when I have kids.

  6. posted by Karen on

    I’ve heard of gift-swapping parties, where all the attendees come home with a gift brought by the other attendees (almost like a Christmas gift exchange).

    That also does away with the onus of “loot bags” for the attendees, which is another huge bonus (not to mention financial savings!)

  7. posted by M on

    This has been a hot topic amongst my friends. Similar to Kim’s post above the best solution we’ve heard is to suggest to guests that they donate to a specific charity. There is a story circulating at a friend’s school that one child raised $7000AUD for charity this way! (some school!)

  8. posted by Leslie on

    I am in my mid-twenties and have never had any children, but many of my friends are just starting to have babies. I personally am very grateful for baby registries, because otherwise I don’t have a clue what a new mother needs!

  9. posted by mwschmeer on

    Forgo the birthday party concept altogether. Celebrate quietly at home with your kids and teach them to live simple and uncluttered live, too.


  10. posted by Sarah on

    When we finally had “coming out” parties for our extremely premature daughter (in lieu of a baby shower before/shortly after she was born) we asked guests to make donations to the March of Dimes rather than bringing gifts. Some people still brought STUFF, but it dramatically reduced the amount of extraneous baby clutter we had.

  11. posted by jen on

    I really like how my sister handles birthday parties for her boys. She puts on their birthday invitations that a) gifts are not necessary and b) if they would like to bring a gift, bring a book to be donated to their school library. (The boys are 6 and 8, and pretty much all their friends are in their class.) They still get gifts for their family and the odd friend of the family or classmate, but they also make a bit of a ceremony out of bringing all the books to the library, and their school generally puts it into the newsletter too.

  12. posted by Colin on

    If you want to give a new parent something that won’t get pitched, don’t go cutesy because everyone does that. We tend to give a small package of stuff that they’ll actually need (like tiny nail clippers etc.) for maintaining the little so and so.

    As for birthday parties, we live in an area where there’s a lot of large parties with entertainers and so on… we tend to cap the invite list at 5 – 6 kids and just play outdoor games with them. Very relaxing. However, I think our daughter has noticed what we’re doing because there’s some genuinely focused lobbying for a moonbounce for her 5th birthday…

  13. posted by Lisa S. on

    We don’t give children material presents. Instead, we usually make a date to take them someplace like the zoo, the aquarium, a local paddleboat lake, a museum, etc., and we make sure it includes a trip to an ice-cream parlor (with parental consent). The child gets the undivided attention of one or two adults, along with a special experience, the parents get the gift of less post-birthday clutter, and we get the gift of greater friendship with the great little people our friends and relatives are raising.

  14. posted by Rick Taylor on

    The best way to avoid children’s party clutter is to stop breeding. Seriously, it even comes with plenty of benefits for the rest of society. Consider it!

  15. posted by Linda E on

    Stop breeding? That’s your solution to childen’s party clutter? Talk about throwing the baby out withthe bathwater!

  16. posted by Nichole I. on

    I think the best gift to give at a baby shower is diapers and wipes. What mom wouldn’t appreciate something that they are going to have to buy a bunch of for at least the next 2 years!????

  17. posted by Traci on

    I have three kids (I’m done breeding now…) and here’s what I do.

    For the younger kids, after opening the gifts, the ones that aren’t “wow” gifts either go to charity, or are reserved for another gift giving opportunity. Yes, folks, regifting is a great way to recycle, reduce and reuse. Just make sure that you don’t give the same thing to the same person!

    Older kids (teens) don’t honestly get as many gifts, but the location of the party can have a lot to do with it. If the party is to take the kids to an amusement park or some other venue, the focus is less on gifts and more on the experience.

  18. posted by Marion on

    When we had our 2nd child, my school faculty gave me an “all diaper” shower. It was great! And they varied the sizes of diapers. I don’t think my husband and I had to buy any diapers for the first 18 months!

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