No Gifts Please: Should Your Child Have a Gift-free Birthday?

When I wrote about Emme’s 3rd birthday and showed off the adorable invitation, you might have noticed that “No Gifts Please” was printed under the date and location information. Yep… We asked people to skip the gifts for our kid’s birthday.

Maybe that seems horribly mean? Here was my reasoning: My daughter is the only grandchild on one side of the family; one of three on the other side. I knew her grandparents and other close relatives would give her generous gifts, and from that alone, she would be receiving quite a bit of stuff for her birthday.

No gifts please

When the guest list for her party started to get a little out of control, I started to think about the added clutter and writing dozens of thank you notes. Based on my untrained medical opinion, my blood pressure began to rise. So I started to think about requesting no gifts.

As you can imagine, the first person I consulted for advice was the entire Internet. And like most things on the Internet, the people seemed divided. Some regarded a parent’s request for no birthday gifts as an affront — they seemed convinced it was a trick. Others were totally on board.

Since the Internet is typically not to be trusted, I asked my IRL mom friends for feedback. Everyone seemed to think it was totally fine. They reassured me that no one would be offended by a “no gifts” request. They also said that people would probably bring gifts anyway (they were right).

I went for it. And many people brought gifts. That’s OK. Some people didn’t. That’s OK too. The people who did bring gifts, brought smaller items. Some people skipped the gift, but brought Emme a small token — a mylar balloon or pack of stickers. Others took the time to write a sweet message in a birthday card.

And it was all good! We did get less stuff, which was the main goal. However, the decision to ask for no gifts did have some pitfalls. People weren’t totally sure if we really meant it (we did), and a good portion of the party goers apologized for either bringing a gift or not bringing a gift. It was definitely not my intention to put any kind of pressure on my friends and family.

So, based on my experience, here are a few tips if you decide to ask for “No Gifts Please.”

How to ask for no gifts please at a child's birthday party. Tips for parents who don't want guests to bring gifts to a child's birthday party.

Keep the message simple.

I thought about trying to get super cutesy with the request that guests not bring gifts (“Your presence is our present,” etc.), but ultimately clarity and simplicity won out.

Make sure you mean it, but don’t be crazy about it.

Some people will end up bringing gifts and some won’t. If the choice people make is going to bother you — either way — just don’t do it.

Don’t send mixed messages.

People will likely ask you if you’re sure about this “no gifts” thing. A friend asked me, and I almost launched into a whole, you don’t have to bring a gift, but you know, people might bring small stuff and you should do what you want. You know what that sounds like? That sounds like I expected small gifts, which are still gifts. And I didn’t. So I just said that I meant the request and not to worry about bringing a gift.

Keep any gifts out of sight.

Often at parties, the gift table is displayed front and center. But if you’re asking people not to bring gifts, displaying the gifts can make people feel uncomfortable if they didn’t bring one. We tucked gifts away under a picnic table, and I don’t think anyone gave it a second thought after they arrived.

Don’t open gifts at the party.

To be honest, I haven’t been to a kid’s party where gifts have been opened in front of guests since Emme was born. When you’re entertaining families with young children, making them sit through an extensive gift opening session can be tedious. But if you do typically open gifts at a party, don’t if you’ve asked for no gifts. That will make people think you weren’t serious about your request and make them feel bad if they followed your instructions.

Emme had plenty to open, and at 3, she wasn’t totally obsessed with the idea of getting tons and tons of gifts — though I imagine that was the last time this will be the case. I probably won’t do it again, but we’ll also probably be transitioning to parties that are more kid-focused that family and friends focused.

7 thoughts on “No Gifts Please: Should Your Child Have a Gift-free Birthday?

  1. Another option might be to request items for a charity donation. Gently used kids clothing or toys that a local shelter could use. That way people don’t feel awkward coming to the party empty handed, and some kids in need end up with things they could really use.

    • This is definitely another option. On the Internet, I did see discussions of asking people to donate to a cause or something like that, but not actually bring something. If I had had the foresight to research something like this, it would have been a good option and something to keep in mind for the future.

  2. We requested no gifts for my son’s first birthday, but everyone (family) brought gifts anyway. Some small, some big. For my daughter’s upcoming fourth birthday, we’re going to try it again. Somehow I’m thinking people will still bring gifts for her! But my thought is that at least we seem to get LESS stuff this way, which is an improvement.

  3. I love this idea! We live in a small house and Allie’s nursery is tiny so I was so overwhelmed by all of the baby gifts I’ve received. Allie is also very spoiled by her grandparents so I think this is a great idea for her next party. I already know I’m going to put a limit on her Hanukkah & Christmas gifts.

  4. Pingback: Holiday Gift Guide for the 3-year-old Girl in Your Life | Mommy Sanest

  5. Our son turns 6 today and we’ve always said “No gifts, please” at his parties. We do it for many reasons – his birthday is in December, he will get plenty from family, we don’t want so much stuff, and if he gets 10 presents at a party, what’s left for the family to give him? A couple of years we did a book exchange and that worked well. Thankfully, all of his daycare friends ask for no gifts, so he’s used to it and it’s not an issue. Kindergarten however is now a different story!

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