The No Presents Birthday Party


When my daughter turned five, we threw a birthday party without presents. After looking around at her room and our living room filled with toys, we said enough is enough. She has everything she wants. We decided to ask for donations to our local SPCA. But not monetary donations. We asked that guests bring old towels, dry food, cat litter, and toys that we would collect and then drop off at the SPCA.

Close friends were concerned that my daughter wouldn’t feel special without presents; that I was somehow robbing her of a supposed birth right to rip and tear into mounds of things she didn’t really need. I comforted the concerned parties by telling them she would still receive presents from family and, the biggest gift of all, a brand new kitten. “Alright,” they said, “you have a point.” Most of all, I said, I wanted to teach my daughter that more is not necessarily better and giving can make you feel just as good as opening a present for yourself.

I’m happy to report that, in her ten years on this planet, she has never once mentioned her fifth birthday and its lack of presents. In fact, I think the orange-striped kitten that is now a full-fledged cat named Zoe Princess Pom-Pom made her fifth year totally awesome. We couldn’t imagine our lives without Zoe and my daughter knows that without the kindness of others, Zoe may not have lived – let alone become our pet.

If you’re considering throwing a birthday party without presents, here are a few things to think about.

Is your child ready?
My daughter is very giving by nature and, at the time, she was a Girl Scout. Donations and giving back were a solid part of her life and vocabulary. With all of this combined, I thought she could handle feeling special without throwing a traditional party with gifts.

Make giving back and volunteering part of your life
With small children, it can feel hard to find ways to give back or volunteer beyond writing a check, but it doesn’t have to be. Your child’s art work can be donated as cards to a retirement community or you can make breakfast bags for folks who are homebound. Joining a youth group program like scouting is another way to make sure thinking about others becomes a part of your everyday vocabulary.

Here’s where you can look for volunteer opportunities
You can try Volunteer Match or search for more opportunities with the Corporation for National and Community Service. Or, read one of my favorite bloggers who has dedicated all of her writing to helping others giving back with Found the Marbles.

Be specific in your child’s party invitation
Parents like specifics so they’re not guessing. Are you accepting monetary donations or items? And what kind? Be open to answering questions and accept if parents feel a bit uncomfortable. I had one parent give a donation and a gift even though I said the gift was not necessary. Try not to take offense if another parent doesn’t feel comfortable not bringing a present.


Send a thank you note after the party
We filled a red wagon with all of our SPCA donations and took a picture with the loaded wagon in front of the animal shelter. I turned the picture into a thank you card and sent it to all of the attendees. I also made sure the SPCA was aware that all of our donations were from my daughter’s birthday party. Her beaming smile and pride at a good job done was reason for me to know it was a successful birthday party with or without presents. 

 Have you given a party without presents? Will you in the future?

Image via Flickr

What do you think?

The No Presents Birthday Party

Liz Henry is the irreverent voice behind the award-winning blog The Six Year Itch. She lives with her daughter and her partner, Slasher, in Philadelphia. That's not his real name and that's not her real hair color. Her soft middle is totally real. Liz graduated summa cum lazy with a degree in English literature, which means she knows how to write properly, but rarely does. She loves Harry Potter and Luna is her favorite. ... More

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  1. Crystal says:

    My son turns 1 in a couple of weeks. We don’t have a very big apartment or very much storage. On the invitations I put "Your presence is the only presents required! However, if you would like to bless Sam with a gift, books are always welcome. You’re welcome to choose one from this list (amazon) or one of your favorites!"

    When my family asked what to get him I told them I would love passes to the zoo, children’s museum and butterfly pavilion. And that’s what they have collectively gotten him. We are so excited about spending our summer outside of the house!

    I love the idea of having a day to celebrate a person without making it about gifts.

    However, we still haven’t decided if we’ll continue this for future birthdays. (There’s a good chance 😉

  2. Dawn says:

    I think a wonderful idea. Having children involved with community gives them a wonderful gift. The satisfaction of knowing others were helped

  3. Emily says:

    yessss! this means less toys around the house that makes it look messy.

  4. dvmsara says:

    I wish everyone would do this. Probably 95% of kids already have more than enough toys!

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