Simplifying Birthday Parties

We are in the birthday celebration season around here. The Boy and the Girl have birthdays less than a month apart. Before The Simple Year, birthday parties were EVENTS. And expensive. And exhausting. The time to plan, coordinate and execute was ridiculous. So were the parties themselves. And this was, believe it or not, not at the top end of extravagance as far as birthday parties go for my kids’ friends.

Examples of their previous birthday parties included:

  • Renting out a play gym/bounce house place and hosting 30 or more kids with pizza, cake and party bags (Approximate Cost: $750)
  • Having a party at home complete with a face painter and bounce house, again for about 30 kids, with snacks, party bags and cake (Approximate Cost: $650)
  • Renting two suites at Great Wolf Lodge for a night, one for the girls and one for the boys, with three friends each, along with grandparents and cousins. Included matching pajamas for all the kids, pizza, cake and food at the water park. (Approximate Cost: $1800)

Just writing that down makes me realize how ridiculous it all was. Not even counting the crazy amounts of money. But reinforcing an environment of materialism. When you host 30 kids for a birthday party, your kids get 30 gifts. Which is nuts and contributed to the the volume of toys we had to address. Do that four or five years in a row and you get insanity and chaos. And it also sets up unrealistic expectations. They see the world through this lens of privilege and they have absolutely no idea. And, during the chaos of such an event, the kids don’t have time to enjoy the company of their friends. There’s no time to play with each one.

This year? Totally different.

Invites were a simple email to the moms to ask if the girls were available for a slumber party. The Girl had 4 friends come over, they ate dinner, had cake (from the grocery store, not a bakery), watched movies, played dress up, colored and stayed up way too late talking and giggling before they FINALLY crashed a little after midnight. They really enjoyed each others’ company. And we got to know the girls better, too. It was lovely.

Total time to execute? About an hour. That included sending the email (Free), going to the grocery store for snacks and cake ($35) and Ulta, where the Girl chose lip gloss and hair accessories for her party favors ($57). Total cost, including the pizza we ordered for dinner and donuts for breakfast which fed the whole family and the girls (for more than one meal for the family), was about $175. If you don’t include the cost of the leftovers we ate the next day, we’re closer to $150.

Is it the least expensive birthday party ever? No. Is it significantly less expensive and less complicated than birthday parties of days past? Absolutely. It was a blip in my week. I didn’t stress about it. She had a great time. And we will do it the same way for the Boy.

The era of the enormous birthday parties is over in our family. Because really, it’s not necessary. Celebrating a birthday is important. But an enormous event every single year isn’t. When I think about all of the money we’ve spent on birthday parties before now, I cringe. When I think about what a child learns when they receive 30 birthday presents, I’m horrified.

For us, simplifying birthday celebrations was better all the way around. The Girl had a great time. She got to spend quality time with some of her closest friends. Her birthday was celebrated. It was simple. And it was perfect.

18 Responses to Simplifying Birthday Parties

  1. We are just about to start on the whole birthday party thing, having successfully evaded it for the last nearly five years! But now BigSmall is turning 5 and is at school, and the whole politics of the thing is rearing it’s head. We are standing firm though, and he has been allowed to invite 6 friends (his age+1 is what we are hoping to stick with over the next few years!) and we are having a Lego party (although Make Do and Mend style) at home. So no plastic tat in the party bags! Congratulations on your epiphany-I hope we can stand firm over the coming years-I am debating the idea of saying “no presents” on invites next year…

  2. I don’t know how old your kids are, but does this typically continue in your social group throughout their childhood? My mom declared me “too old for birthday parties” after I turned 8, at which point it became “milestones only”–13 (become a teen), Sweet 16 (maybe? I’m not actually sure that happened), and …well I suppose an 18th party would have happened, except that there was a family reunion that week end followed by moving into my college dorm.

    • The 8/9 year olds are still going strong with the birthday parties. They are fewer and farther between for my son’s age group (10/11) – more like a few friends getting together for them.

  3. Great article! Starting two birthdays ago we started specifically requesting no gifts at the friend parties. I was worried about how our kids would respond, but they’ve been fine. When my daughter has been confused about it we just remind her that she gets gifts from us, but the birthday party with friends is a gift because she gets to see many friends at once all there just for her because it’s her special day. We do up her day BIG at home, but not expensive… just lots of decorations and the kids get choices in food, activities, etc to make the birthday stand out from any other day. It also allows parents to really focus on our children and making memories with them rather than running around distracted and stressed. Way to go!

    • Thank you! That’s a great idea about no gifts. Do you all do party favors for the other children as well? That’s a whole other layer/level of complication/expense/crazy on top of it all.

  4. I loved this post. I’ve never understood why birthdays have to be such an ordeal. They do need to be celebrated, but like you, I agree we can do special things without all the hassle and the money.

  5. LOL.Your neighbourhood is not only on another continent than mine, it is in another world. And yet I am considered a high income middle class person here.
    I am impressed by your courage, to dare to chose a kind of minimalism while living and entertaining among people that seem to spend without limits. Keep it up, and keep telling your story!

  6. Awesome my daughters 5 year birthday this coming year will be very simple. I will be getting her an experience gift, some money for her future and that is all.

  7. Is it bad my kids have never really had parties? We invite grandparents over for cake and call it a day. Well, except last year when my baby turned 8 and she wanted a sleepover for her birthday (that was literally on her list), so we invited three of her friends with the understanding that the party was the present. It helps when everyone knows you’re a minimalist. 🙂 They watched a movie, decorated cookies to take home (my mother-in-law had given Johanna these huge prepackaged gingerbread men with the works… lucky for us there were four), and played with Monster High dolls. And had pizza for dinner, I guess. It wasn’t so bad, even if I did have to sleep on the couch.

    Before that, my only other kid party was for my oldest, when she turned five. We invited three friends (and their three brothers). It was simple, but afterwards I decided that just having grandparents over was actually quite genius. And that was that until I caved last year. 🙂

    • Not bad at all! I wish we’d never have started with the crazy birthday parties. Good for you for keeping it simple.

  8. awesome post am glad after read this. its really special birthday party.
    we are provides birthday parties and able to bring all the fun, energy and enthusiasm you need to make your party a success.

  9. This sort of crazy party spending is now here in the UK – there was an article in the Evening Standard (London paper) which was a review of a top hotel (I think the Mandarin Oriental) and incidentally to the review he was staying with his daughter and three of her friends as a birthday sleepover. I was waiting for the flood of comments about how crazy and extravagant this was. Nothing. And now a lot of people who read it will probably start feeling inferior about their parties and upping the ante to keep up. This is how it happens!!! Love the blog.

  10. We didn’t do birthday parties with friends. It helps that both were summer babies and extended family lives nearby. We’d get together with grandparents, Aunts/Uncles and cousins for cake and ice cream. Some times we’d do several kids at a time and have dinner.

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