How to Throw a Clutterfree Kids Birthday Party

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My triplets turned 10 last week (wah! I know!) and I thought this would be a good time to share some of the things I’ve learned about throwing a kids’ birthday party, clutter-free.

I used to think that you couldn’t throw a big birthday party without acquiring tons of clutter. But I’m happy to report that it is totally possible. With some intentional planning and upfront communication, your child’s party does not have to be an all-access pass for clutter to enter your home.

I avoided big birthday bashes until my kids were eight for a few reasons. First, my kids’ birthday is in mid-July, often when many families (including ours) are on vacation. Also, since they were out of school, they really didn’t have friends on the mind that much. Before age 8, their parties were small gatherings of family friends, often in the backyard, or a big outing with just one or two friends.

But… as my kids got older, things changed.  They went to enough big parties to want one for themselves, and they started putting on the full-court big party press. I was triple-teamed and knew it was time to figure out how to to a big party without all the clutter.

So, after three years of hosting bashes with 20+ kiddos and zero clutter, I’ve learned 5 big lessons. Hopefully they will help you, too!

Lesson 1: Communicate With Your Kids

If we’re throwing a pricier bash (for example, laser tag or rock climbing where you have to pay per child), we are very clear with the kids: the party is their present. We explain that big parties cost money, and we’ll happily give them the party as our present to them. The kids are fine with this, but it’s because we’re very upfront about it.

If the venue isn’t expensive–for example, a shelter at a local park–we tell the kids that the party won’t have presents, but that we will give them presents later at home. Again, they are totally fine with this because they know ahead of time. (And if you’re curious, we give 2-3 presents each. This is a number they are used to.)

Lesson 2: Communicate With Your Guests

I’m sure to communicate on the invitations that it’s a no gifts party. I word it something like: “This birthday is all about the par-tay, so no gifts, please! Just bring yourself and your party shoes.” I’ve also worded it this way: “No gifts, please. We just wanna party with you!” Say it in a way that feels comfortable to you, but make sure you send the message. If you don’t, your guests will follow social norms and bring gifts.

Lesson 3: Have a Gift Alternative

Let’s face it, kids still love to get gifts on their birthday! So if you can’t stomach the idea of a party with no presents, one way to get your child something really special–and still satisfy guests’ needs to give something to your child–is to have everyone chip in for a larger gift, maybe something like a bike or a really cool experience. You can let your guests know ahead of time that this is the plan and that if they’d like to contribute, there will be a place for that at the party.

Lesson 4: Make the Party About the Party

I think parties should be about parties. So when I approached my kids’ first big party–when they turned 8–I put all the emphasis on the par-tay itself.

I let my kids choose the venue, and after much discussion, they settled on laser tag. (Somewhat ironic and funny aside: my son Reese, who had played laser tag before, decided on the day of the party that he was afraid to go into the arena so he spent his entire birthday party in the lobby, playing arcade games. Ah, kids!)

I knew that if I wanted my kids’ party to not be about stuff, I had to center it around a fun activity. Swimming, squirt guns, obstacle courses, camping, trampolines, etc. are similarly fun activities for kids’ birthday parties. If a party centers on something very engaging for kids to do, the activity becomes the focus, not the gifts.

Lesson 5: Ditch the Treat Bags 

Seriously, can we all just agree that treat bags are artfully packaged clutter? The only things my kids have ever received in a treat bag that did not end up in the trash within a week were edibles. I’m making an honest plea to my fellow parents out there: stop the treat bag madness! If you feel that you must give a treat bag, might I suggest some (mostly) clutterfree alternatives:

  • sweet treats, such as cookies or candy
  • snacks, such as crackers or juice boxes
  • a packet of wildflower seeds
  • coupons for an experience
  • consumables, such as bubbles or sidewalk chalk
  • fun necessities, such as berry-flavored toothpaste or cool BandAids
  • a note saying that a donation has been made to ________ (insert charity of your choice) in the guest’s name

I’d love to make that list longer, but I hate to break it to ‘ya: there is not much you can put in a treat bag that is not clutter. I say, save yourself the hassle and show your guests how much you really appreciate them by having your child send each guest a handwritten thank you note the week after the party. This will make your guests feel special, and it teaches your child a valuable life skill that will serve them well into adulthood.

I hope this post helps you re-imagine the big kids’ birthday party without all the clutter. I’d love to hear ideas on how you manage kids’ parties!

Cheers to less stuff and more you!

PS Ready to start your own minimalism journey? Grab my FREE Minimalism Starter Guide and let’s get going, friend!

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