Last month, S had a birthday party. It went surprisingly well, and everyone seemed to have a good time – but one thing had not occurred to me until after we’d invited over twenty guests to the party.

Actually, it never usually occurs to me until after the party. The first time I threw a birthday party for S, it was her 4th birthday. I was so worried about making sure I had enough food, drinks and so on, it hadn’t occurred to me that we would also need to transport twenty-plus presents home. And then open them. And then write thank-you cards. And find places in cupboards and on shelves for twenty-plus gifts.

We went to a birthday party a couple of weeks before S’s birthday, and I ended up sitting next to the present table. I watched as the gifts piled higher and higher, and suddenly it occurred to me that there would be a similar situation at our party in a couple of weeks.

I really don’t want to sound ungrateful here – it’s lovely to have birthday presents, and S’s friends have been incredibly generous with their gifts. This year especially, she received some very thoughtful gifts from friends and family members who really seem to know what she will enjoy… and I can’t imagine that S would be too pleased if she had a party with no gifts!

On the other hand though, it all seems a little vulgar to have a birthday party, and then to come home with over twenty gifts to unwrap. We are incredibly lucky and S has a lot of toys already. I can’t imagine that she or any of her friends really needs or wants that many new toys in one go. Does any child?

After S’s birthday, faced with a mountan of discarded wrapping paper from so many gifts, I made the decision to switch to cloth wrapping wherever possible. The next time S went to a party, we chose a piece of fabric from the local shop and wrapped it with this instead. I think I was just suddenly struck by how wasteful these things can be.


I was talking about the birthday present thing with a friend a while ago, and she told me that for one of her son’s early birthday parties they wrote on the invitation, Please don’t bring a gift; instead bring a wrapped board book and all the children can have a lucky dip. She thought that was a good idea – and I did too, when I heard it. Apparently it didn’t go down so well with the guests though. Some thought she meant they should bring a gift for the child and a wrapped book and considered this a bit much.

When I was little, we had birthday parties in our houses, and since our houses weren’t that big we didn’t invite many people. Looking at my house now, I can’t imagine we could fit more than two children into our living room. The trend these days seems to be for children to have birthday parties in village halls. There have been several parties where the whole class were invited. Don’t get me wrong; the parties are wonderful and S has been delighted to have been invited to lots of them. And I absolutely don’t begrudge buying gifts for her friends. I just wonder – where the hell do the parents put all the gifts?!

I know, I know: the answer is probably to force my child to have a big old clear-out and get rid of some old toys before the new ones come in. But she loves all of them! Plus, it kind of doesn’t resolve the issue of this being a lot of consumption. There are no toys in her bedroom that she has grown out of, which are broken or with which she doesn’t play – so getting rid of any of them seems wasteful.

S’s birthday was almost a month ago now, but many of the gifts she received are still in the living room, waiting for us to find space for them in her already overcrowded bedroom. For next year’s party, I’m already trying to think of ways to allow S and her friends to enjoy a fun party, and for S to receive gifts… but without quite so much stuff  being involved! I don’t like the idea of asking for cash or gift cards instead, or of dictating what people can and can’t buy for her… but surely there must be a better way? Actually I’ve been looking at this list of gifts for book lovers, and I think perhaps we might suggest people look at this sort of thing in future before buying. What do you think?

Vicky Charles

Vicky is a single mother, writer and card reader.


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