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The No-Gifts Birthday Party

The No-Gifts Birthday Party

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

Whenever I run into a parenting problem, I usually search through your glorious advice smackdown columns and can find an answer to my issue (like WHY??!! won’t my toddler poop in the dang potty? – answer: deal with it). But I’m having a dilemma I can’t find an answer to. Basically, am I allowed to request no gifts for my soon-to-be-three year old’s birthday party?

The issue is, my daughter’s party is in about 6 weeks and I’m due with baby number 2 in about two weeks. This is the first “real” friends (aka daycare kids) party I’m throwing for my daughter and a big reason I wanted to do it this year was to give her a special day after turning her world upside down with a sibling. Although, I’m not crazy. I am forking over a small ransom to a kids party place so all I have to do is show up with a cake. I know a lot of family and (our grown up) friends will probably buy her a “big sister” present when the baby gets here and then again for her birthday, so it’s not like this kid is not getting a fair share of new stuff. We have a small house and she already has a ton of toys, coloring books, etc. I really don’t want to deal with presents from her daycare friends as well. But, whenever we talk to her about her party, she mentions presents. Somehow, it’s ingrained in their little psyches that parties=presents and I don’t want her to be disappointed. So, can I ask daycare friends to not bring presents (and if so, how do I word on invitations) or should I suck it up and deal with more onslaught of toys in order to avoid disappointment (especially after I have shelled out so much cash for a party, I don’t want the only thing she remembers is that she didn’t get presents)?

Save me from the mountain of stuff!

You are ABSOLUTELY allowed to stipulate “no presents” for a child’s birthday party. It’s a perfectly acceptable, commonly done thing for all the reasons you mention and there’s no need to overthink the invitations. Simply put “No gifts please!” somewhere in there and be done with it.

As for your daughter and warding off any potential disappointment, you’ll be super extra mega-grateful for that small ransom you paid to the party place, because presents aren’t be on the agenda at all. Typically these places offer a bin or some designated place for guests to drop off presents, which is then quickly whisked away and out of sight once the party begins. Presents aren’t the point or focal point of the party, and I personally dig that. I am also a fan of parties that I do not have to clean up after. Money well spent.

You should give your venue the heads up that you requested “no gifts” however, so they don’t put whatever gift receptacle they use all front-and-center where guests who followed your instructions will see it and get confused. But be prepared that there will inevitably be a few rule-breakers (or people who didn’t read the invitation that closely), so the party hosts should also be on hand to collect and quickly store/hide any gifts that show up. I imagine every professional party place has handled a “no gifts” kind of party…I’d say a good quarter of the parties we’ve attended over the years have made that request.

So. When you talk to your daughter about her party, explain that she won’t be opening her presents AT the party. Which she wouldn’t do ANYWAY, since they’ll just load anything she gets into your car at the end. She’ll open her presents AFTER the party, at home. Where you can then give her whatever gifts came from grown-up friends and family, or just something small from you.

And at home, I promise you she won’t care if there aren’t a million things to open. As long as she gets something, she’ll be perfectly happy. (And you know she’ll get something, even if you hired a skywriter to broadcast the NO GIFTS PLEASE!! request.)


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Liz

    August 24, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Some no-gift parties I’ve attended that have been nice included something else for the guests to bring. For instance, a book exchange where in lieu of a gift, all kids bring a fun book. Then there is a random drawing or some game and all kids go home with a different book. Another one picked a charity that the kid felt strongly about (a specific dog breed rescue) and in lieu of gifts had people brought stuff to donate to that charity. The invite said how much the girl loved this charity and how much she will love being able to bring these donations in. I thought that was really sweet.

  • IrishCream

    August 24, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    I did a book swap in lieu of presents at my kindergartener’s birthday party this year. Kids brought a new or lightly used book with them and got to take home a different book at party’s end. I made it festive by decorating the cardboard box that was the “book swap shelf.” 

    It was a win all around…we didn’t end up with more toys, families felt like they were bringing a present without having to buy anything new unless they wanted to, and it eliminated the “need” for us to provide party favors, so we weren’t sending our guests home with additional plastic junk! My daughter was disappointed for about a minute but rallied when we reminded her of the large stack of presents she received from extended family.


    August 24, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    We just had a “No gifts” party for my 1 year old.  We had to travel over 4 hours to host the party near our family and bringing back gifts was not an option.  What we did receive we ended up leaving at the Grandparents’ houses.  I used the phrase “No gifts please.  Your presence is present enough.”  We still had quite a few gifts (nothing was going to stop the grandparents…) but I think it kept people in check. 

  • Mary Ann

    August 24, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    I recently had to drive presents home from a neighborhood friend’s daughter’s party. She requested no gifts for her daughter’s first birthday party, repeatedly, and then her family proceeded to bicycle to the venue.

    I brought a card my kid colored on and a free guest pass for the children’s museum. And drove the gifts home, because I think I was literally the only person who didn’t bring a toy. It did make me feel better about my lazy driving after seeing them with their bikes, though.

  • SarahB

    August 24, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    We just had a birthday party for our four-year-old.  Our invitation read “no gift necessary,” and I’d say about half the folks brought a small gift anyway, which was great as far as I was concerned.

    Our son didn’t seem to notice that some people brought gifts and others didn’t.  He was plenty happy with the party and the fact of presents.  

    Do your parent friends a favor and do favors that will be used up quickly like bubbles or stickers!

  • df

    August 24, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    We got tired of gifts the older our two boys got, and I was really relieved when I discovered Echoage. This website/service builds the process of invitations into a very direct request for any ‘gifts’ to actually be financial contributions to a charity. The birthday child can learn about social responsibility and the notion of giving back by helping to choose the charity, and recipients get a very friendly but clear message that if they want to make a gift, it can go to the charity. We only ever got good feedback from parents who were keen to learn more, and both our boys were keen to adopt the idea in spite of having already had a few parties at which lots of gifts had been a feature. I didn’t know if it would be a hard sell for them, but it really wasn’t.

  • MR

    August 24, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    My daughter was invited to a birthday party for a girl at school once, and included with the invite was a note that said something along the lines of, “We appreciate your thoughtfulness, but are requesting no gifts. We have a very small house, and little storage room, so we are looking forward to having fun with you at the party.” It was nicely done and didn’t make me feel like I should still get one anyway. But, I will warn you, that 3 year olds ARE going to think that their friends are bringing gifts. It is a BIG deal with most of the kids, and all the kids at my daughter’s school talk about how so and so is going to give them a gift. I combatted this simply by keeping the party small and only inviting 3 kids. It was awesome. 🙂

  • CeeBee

    August 24, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    We just did a no-gifts party for my 3yo. In fact, I didn’t even give him a gift after spending over $100 on a party he requested last minute (I wanted to do something just us this year). One person brought a gift: two simple number and letter sticker learning books. And no one else did and I was so grateful and my kid never noticed. If anything, an unwrapped toy to go to a homeless shelter or the like would be really awesome. I would have done that had I given party goers more than four days notice of the party.

  • EG1972

    August 25, 2015 at 4:17 am

    Having been on the giving and receiving end of no gift parties for little kids, I think they are a great idea and the kids involved have always seemed to have an equal amount of fun as kids at traditional birthday parties. Do it!

  • julie w

    August 25, 2015 at 9:29 am

    3 straight years of no gift parties (twins, over 20 kids invited each time, do the math…)

    In general their very close 2/3 friends in the neighborhood give them a little gift (on their actual birthday). A few kids always end up bringing gifts to the party and so my children open the 3-4 gifts when we get home. This is what they know, they are fine and happy with it. We always make it clear that the big party is our present to our children…that our kids just want to have an enormous playdate with all their friends and classmates.

  • Rachel

    August 25, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I am on board with “no gifts” But please, please, please don’t give me an assignment instead. I don’t want to have to go buy dog food for the shelter, I don’t want to make an online donation. Let me pick a nice superhero figurine or skip it all together, but don’t burden me with something “cute”.

  • Jane

    August 25, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    I am 100% for ‘no gift’ parties, if that is what the host wants. (I am one of those hosts.) I have never done an alternative thing (food drive, book swap, in-lieu-of charitable donation). Rachel’s post, above, has made me reconsider my recent considering of doing an alternative thing. It would only be a desperate attempt to get guests to comply with my ‘no gift’ request, anyway. Glad to see that I am not the only parent who is not into getting more plastic crap for my kid to not play with!

  • S

    August 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    I agree with Rachel. My exception being to bring a toy for a toy drive or homeless shelter.

  • Kim

    August 31, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    I am baffled by Rachel’s response. How is buying a bag of dog food harder than buying a superhero toy?  I think asking for charitable donations is a great alternative. And as always, they are *gifts*. It’s always your choice what to get, or not get.