One of the things you notice when you start helping homeowners declutter is the astonishing amount of stuff kids possess these days. How is this happening? A lot of it comes from kid’s birthday parties. Besides the gifts kids receive for their birthdays, my kids accumulate a lot from the loot bags given out at other kids’ parties. As a host, the bar is high: parents feel they need to spend a lot of time and money creating a great experience, including the perfect ‘thank you’ loot bag. The dirty little secret is that these well-meaning gifts lead to a lot of unwanted stuff that makes parents on both sides cringe, especially as kids seem to have more and more parties to go to, requiring parents to spend more time and money buying presents.

Don’t get me wrong, we love celebrating birthdays, but over time this stuff adds up and can take over our homes, especially when we run out of dedicated storage space. Many try to solve this problem by renovating or buying larger homes. Sound extreme? In my experience what boils-down to plain and simple too much stuff is a major contributing factor to this trend.

Instead consider birthday party options that are cheaper and better for families, and better for the planet too.

Get in front of the clutter: Limit the gifts your kids bring into the home and give others

How do you limit the gifts your kids receive? It’s tricky. We live in a culture where love and appreciation is often demonstrated through gift-giving. It’s expected at parties: not just by the birthday honouree, but by the guests too. It’s so culturally ingrained that even when you request no gifts, you receive them anyway. We can’t deny this custom, but we can adjust it so our lives are not overwhelmed with stuff. As parents hosting birthday parties, a great way to start is by limiting the gifts and getting rid of loot bags.

No More Loot Bags

I hate loot bags and I know other parents do too. No one needs the loot. All those plastic bits end up underfoot and in landfill. The sugary candies cause cavities. Even the pencils and notebooks — do we really need more? I use to hand out books thinking this was a better option, but many children have more than enough books. Do they read the book they receive or does it just end up in a pile somewhere in the house? I suspect it’s often the pile because it doesn’t interest the child, is a duplicate, or gets lost amongst all their clutter.

Loot bags also add additional cost and time to party planning. Through discussions I’ve seen on parents’ facebook groups I can assure you many parents love the no-more-loot-bags movement. Tip: If you are concerned about how it looks, explain what you are doing and emphasize the environmental concern.

Request Alternate Gifts

Moving away from gifts is not easy. Most birthday guests would feel uncomfortable showing up empty-handed, so offer an alternative. Suggesting the guest make a donation to a particular cause in lieu of a gift may not ease that empty-handed feeling. However, I have found that requesting two toonies ($2 dollar coins) – one for the birthday kid and one for a charity of the birthday kid’s choice – works very well. Perhaps this is because the guest can give the birthday honouree something physical (the coins) and knows the child will get something with all the coins. This equals not only less gifts, gift bags, etc. but the child will learn about money, giving to worthy causes, and will prioritize their wants. Tip: give a little backstory to choosing the cause so the giver really understands why it is meaningful to the child.

Bonus: Eliminating an errand from a parent’s task list. A number of parents who no longer need to spend time and energy shopping for yet another kid’s birthday party gift will be delighted and thankful.

Help positive change spread

A really great way to help other families who also struggle with child-related clutter, or just to explain your choices, is to talk about it. Kid’s birthday parties are a great catalyst and talking point. Start the conversation: clutter is a problem for many of us, here are some birthday party ideas you’re trying out to combat it. You could even tell them about the no-more-loot-bags movement and see what they think. Tell anecdotes about your experiences. Talk about great consumable or experiential ideas. Ask them if they have any tips or ideas for you.

Gifts are full of lovely intentions, but children and adults alike only need and have room for so much stuff. Experts actually say kids do better with less stuff. We simply need to move away from our tendency to buy gifts that clutter the home, so let’s talk about it.

When in doubt, declutter.

If you already have a mountain of birthday gifts and loot bags staring you in the face, the only answer is to declutter (we can help). However, a few changes like reducing the birthday gifts and related clutter that enters the home will really help you accumulate less.

Do you have other ideas about how to limit the stuff your children accumulate? I’d love to hear from you.