Consumption and overspending need not be part of your family birthday tradition.
Birthdays are definitely cause for celebration, but in many ways the American norm has gone over the top. While birthdays can be celebrated in a gazillion ways, there seems to be one commonality: decadent consumption.
I’ve read articles about some of the extreme one-upmanship that parents can play into, and how often parties are thrown without even talking with the child about what they want. I remember going to a kid’s party prior to becoming a parent where all the kids brought a toy as a gift, and in the end the child was totally overwhelmed by about a dozen plastic gadgets. The birthday was in September, and I calculated that if the child played with each toy for one week until Christmas that they still wouldn’t have played with them all! And really in the scheme of things, this was a pretty average birthday for a middle-class American child (key word: American.)
Then there are the obligatory gifts bags for all the kids, often filled with cheap plastic things made in China. At one party, the gift bag had a plastic spinning top that lit up as it bounced, and within about 5 minutes the top came off and I discovered a mercury disposal warning inside! I was dismayed, but knew that the Mama of the birthday girl had only wanted to see the kids smile.
We can choose to celebrate in meaningful, simple, and fun ways. Others have already written creative Planet Friendly Party Tips, so I won’t repeat ever idea under the sun here. But I would like to share what I’m doing for BigGuy’s 4th Birthday Party:
- Party invite printed on reused office paper – 4 invites to 1 sheet
- In lieu of a gift, kids will bring a book to exchange (I actually got lucky on this one, because it happens to be the norm for the whole preschool)
- BigGuy has recently been inspired by rocket ships, and we’ll be making some out of reused poster tubes and other reused materials
- Serve guests on durable plates (combo of bamboo and plastic) that we bought for previous gatherings – no need to buy more! Eat from real silverware.
- BigGuy’s gifts will likely last him several years (and be enjoyed by Girly): U.S. map floor puzzle and a fishing pole fish kite for trips to the beach
- We’ll do something special as a family to celebrate too, by going to a new space exhibit at our local kid’s science museum
I will also note that this is also BigGuy’s first “class” party (only boys at his insistence!). His first two years we celebrated as a family and last year’s small party was as much a chance to show off our new Girly, since she was just six days fresh. In future years I plan to take the lead from the EnviroMom bloggers and celebrate through other creative and experiential ways. Growing up as a twin, my mom chose to throw us big parties only at milestone ages: 6, 10, 13, 16, 18. On the in between years we could each have a friend for a sleepover, which I recall being just as much fun as the big parties. Another childhood friend had a birthday in the winter, and we did a beach party together for their 1/2 birthday (which was our true birthday.)
The key is to talk as a family about how you would like to celebrate. Set clear expectations to make sure that the no-party options isn’t seen as a punishment, but just a unique way to celebrate a unique person.
Happy Birthday/UnBirthday to you!
Sustainable Family Finances
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.