Five years of living in a tiny house with two spirited boys, an alpha-dog of a cat, and an obsessively tidy husband has taught me much about minimizing clutter for the sake of sanity. Forced to stay organized, I naturally pare down and streamline on a daily basis. I’ve learned that among the biggest booby traps for bringing unnecessary items into our home are kids’ birthday parties. From the useless favors given out at every celebration to junky birthday gifts (that my kids love for a day and then forget about), there’s a swell of stuff that has to be reckoned with every time my kids eat cake. Just as birthday parties tend to be traps for unnecessary caloric intake for a person on a diet, they’re also traps for unnecessary things for parents hoping to live in a home that doesn’t resemble a toy store. For my own children’s birthday parties I always put the following line in the invitation: Gifts are completely and utterly unnecessary, but if you would like to bring a present, art supplies or books are where it’s at. I find that there are always a couple parents who don’t read the details and bring a talking Iron Man or a Nerf Gun—and that’s fine. There are also enough family members who know what my sons really want (namely Legos), so they get a few of those too. But classmates and acquaintances bring gifts that are eco-friendly and useful, thus minimizing the plastic crap that accumulates in their room.
For other children’s birthday parties, we give gifts that turn the focus away from things and instead encourage activity and creativity—gifts like the following five.
1. Little Artist Kit
Create custom artists’ kits for kids. The New Domestic shows how to make a kit that’s quick to make and hip to gift. Next time you come across a few inexpensive balsawood boxes, buy five or 10 of them. Then stencil initials on top for each little person you anticipate celebrating over the next few months. Buy art supplies in bulk and distribute evenly between the boxes. Customize to each child’s age and gender by getting strategic with color palette or monogram stamps and stickers.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on how to help your kids get creative with fort-building without letting them dismantle your home. The fabulous instant fort kit I found at Saltwater Kids is a perfect DIY birthday gift that’s unique, eco-friendly, and infinitely fun.
3. Lemonade Stand Kit
I’m pretty sure there’s nothing more fun than setting up a lemonade stand with kids on a hot summer day. The lemonade-stand kit Mariah features on Giggles Galore is just darling. Any child—boy or girl—will love getting this kit as a birthday gift. And if my boys are an accurate litmus test, they will likely have lemons on the brain until they can open for business.
4. Rock Collector Kit
Emily, a.k.a. The Student Teacher, shows step-by-step instructions for creating a rockin’ collector’s kit for the geologist in training. She’s a seamstress, so she creates her own vest and magnifying glass case, but you could also purchase a vest and tuck it into a bucket with an illustrated guide to rock hunting, plus a few polished stones and geodes.
If you want to encourage creativity with your gift but don’t have time to create a DIY project from scratch, Roblox may be your answer. Children transform a cardboard box the old-fashioned way, then add Roblox Wheels to get it rolling. When the latest box is tattered and forgotten, pull the wheels off and save them for the next burst of creativity.
What’s your favorite gift to give children? Have you ever requested alternate gifts at a child’s birthday party? I’d love to hear about it!