How to Host a No-Toys Birthday Party

birthday party 3

I eased myself out backward from under my almost 8-year old’s bed, dragging yet another Barbie. That was number 17! With toys, puzzles, Shopkins, cuddly toys and unopened craft boxes all around me, I sat back on my ankles.

The tears just started silently flowing. It was meant to be a simple exercise in spring cleaning and instead, it took me to a place of sadness. Some of these items hadn’t even been opened or played with in almost a year. Could my daughter really have this much stuff? It was far from how I was raised, so how did I not see this happening with my own child?

Heather walked into her room to find me crying softly and was lost for words. “What’s wrong, mommy?” she asked softly as she knelt beside me with a comforting arm on my back.

I found it difficult to explain. Was I really getting this emotional over too many toys? She’s a tidy child; her room is never too messy but maybe that was the issue. All of this stuff was, for the most part, neatly stacked in piles under the bed or inside of the closet.

Puzzles, games, Barbie accessories, coloring books, boxes of paints, and at least five beaded bracelet maker kits. Wow!

We did not need all of this stuff, and low and behold, another birthday was approaching – which meant another influx of gifts.

“There’s just too much stuff Heather,” I blurted out. “You don’t need or play with all this. Look at some of the boxes you still haven’t even opened.” I showed her. “I know,” she muttered. “Maybe we can give them to kids who don’t have any toys?”

A Party with a Purpose

I was happily surprised by this suggestion. Apparently some of what I teach them does go in and resonate. I often talk about the kids who don’t have much and how we should donate more often.

But this time, I was really irked.  I’d had enough of all this waste and felt compelled to address this in a bigger way. Wiping my eyes and pulling myself up off the floor, I took her hand and we sat on the bed together.

I looked her straight in the eye, “How about we have your birthday party as planned but…”

“But what?” she frowned.

“We ask people NOT to bring any gifts.”

Her frown curved into raised eyebrows and then there was silence as she stared at the wall.

baloons party 2“But how would that work?” she questioned. “I mean, people always bring gifts to birthday parties, don’t they?”

“Yes, usually,” I replied. “But we have enough stuff and you don’t even get to play with it all! Just have a think about it and we’ll talk later.”

Not to push the issue, I left her to ponder what we had discussed and spent the rest of the day clearing out everything and moved across the hall to a new room taking a mental note of the items as they piled up.

Fewer Toys, More Joy

I said something I had often thought about doing. I had said it out loud now. I had decided we would be hosting a “no gifts” birthday party. We would celebrate, for sure, and have friends and family to enjoy cake and fun – but no gifts. Instead, we could request that people consider donating to a charitable cause.

I had another talk with Heather and after I answered a few more questions, she understood. To be honest, she was more worried about remembering to invite every friend she loved.

We decided to include her little sister Kelly in the mix as well. Their birthdays fall back to back, so why not host a joint party? At three years of age, she was too young to realize gifts were a thing anyway. To her, it was all about the princess cake, party hats, and friends.

balloonsIn the days after I felt motivated to research some local charities and get started on invites. It felt right, and I honestly believed I was doing all our guests a favor by not giving them the headache of having to source a gift.

Outlining my reasoning, I decided to solicit recommendations of local charities via various Mommy Facebook groups and received tons of suggestions. In between all the various names pitched, every now and then I received comments saying, “Wow, great idea.” Or, “How did you talk your child into that?”

For the most part, all comments were positive and encouraging but some left me to reflect on the notion if we’re sometimes held hostage to the idea that we must have a gift-filled party every year for our children.

Presence Over Presents

We love to celebrate the day and focus on the experience. I wanted my girls to slowly understand time is precious, and shouldn’t we enjoy spending it and celebrating with those we love, giving us the gift of their presence over presents?

After much deliberation over which charity to support, I chose Frisco Fastpacs. It’s a local non-profit organization that offers assistance to FISD students who are meal insecure by sending home meal packs in their backpacks. These packs contain breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the entire weekend.

frisco-fastpacs-logoCaring for kids one pack at a time, their mission is to ensure no child in Frisco must endure hunger when school isn’t in session. I felt that being an FISD family, it made sense, and it was a simple cause to explain to Heather.

How fortunate we were to have food in our pantry and refrigerator to eat every day but some children at her school weren’t so lucky…and we could help a little.

We chose a party venue to suit the ages of both of my daughters and their friends. Within the invitation, I highlighted that we just wanted people to give the gift of their presence and not bring any presents. Instead, they could consider donating non-perishable food items or cash/cheque donations, but no one was under any obligation to do either.

Give Back Party Frisco FastPacsI got a large shoebox and simply covered it in birthday paper, with the Frisco Fast Pacs logo, and made a slit on top for guests to drop in anonymous donations.

While the general reception to the invite was positive, a couple of people did struggle with the idea of a no gifts party. One parent asked me how on earth I managed to pull this conversation off with my eight-year-old, and another family really wanted to bring a gift and donate.

My answer was a simple, “No. If you bring one, everyone else there will wish they had also, and we will be right back to square one.”

Party day arrived and was a huge success with fun and enjoyment for all. The venue was helpful in taking in the food pantry items, and the donation box was discreetly placed for anyone who wanted to use it. Later that night, Heather and I opened the monetary donation box and to our delight counted over $300 in cash and cheques.

We had also collected three large boxes of food for the Frisco Fastpacs pantry. The following week we enjoyed a visit with the charity and handed over all the donations and check. Needless to say, they were very thankful, and my girls got to see full circle how they and their friends’ efforts helped so many people.

This is the one party I will never regret – or forget. It was fulfilling and never for a minute took away from my daughters’ enjoyment of their birthdays.

birthday cakeWe still allowed gifts from grandparents and cousins, but as far as the birthday party, it was a 100% a “Give Back” theme.

So, I ask you… Look around your home. Can you honestly say you need more kids stuff? Do you have a kid’s birthday party on the horizon? Why not consider having a “Party with a Purpose” and put a philanthropic twist on it? It feels good to give back and you’ll set a great example for your children.

If you think this could work for your next child’s birthday, there are many great charities in Frisco. You can start your search at to view dozens of nonprofits who are either based in Frisco or serve the Frisco community.

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