No Presents Please!


I have been seeing a trend in birthday party invitations lately where parents are requesting that guests not bring gifts. Or parents do some sort of donation drive in lieu of presents for the party. I am whole-heartedly on board with this and want to take a moment to explain why, at least for our family, we truly prefer that you not bring presents to our party.

I promise that I am not just a birthday grinch who wants to steal the joy out of my children’s special day.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gifts people bring, but we have two sets of grandparents, one set of great-grandparents, and a whole lot of other family that shower the kids with gifts for their birthday. As their mom, I even have to hold myself back from getting them too many presents, because I know they’ll be overwhelmed by the ones they get from relatives.

Also, we have too much stuff in our house. Like, way, way, too much. Every closet and box and nook and cranny are crammed with toys and dolls and games and kid collections. In addition, my children are in a hoarder phase. So, all those lovely sets of toys you purchase don’t stay together so that they can be played with . . . no. They wind up in a hundred different bags and purses stashed throughout our house so that I can never find anything.

Exhibit “A”

Below is a picture of the contents of ONE of my children’s hoarding bags (there are probably around 30 of these in my house right now.) I found this in their play tent and was told that every item in there was extremely important and could not be thrown away. In case you cannot see it clearly, the inventory includes: two balls, one naked baby doll, one orange pom-pom, one paper fan from school, one princess crown, one random McDonald’s toy, a crumpled up paper I was told is a map, three alphabet letters from a ride-on train we haven’t had for over a year, a single high heel from Build-A-Bear, a flashlight, one dress for a magnetic doll I can’t find, an inflatable airplane, a notebook, a straw, a lei, shorts, another purse, a Doc McStuffins camera, a tea cup with a small ball stuck in it, the table and toilet from a doll house, a superhero mask, a nail file, plastic lettuce and french fries, and a bag with three pretzels that I am pretty sure are from before Christmas.

child toy clutter pile
This is where your birthday party gifts wind up!

At least once a day I consider just burning the place down and starting all over.

Now we do something different instead of presents.

One year, we flat out asked for no gifts. The next year we did a diaper drive for Pamper Lake Highlands (2022 update: FYI, this non-profit is no longer active.)

We tried something new this year and did a book exchange instead of presents. Everyone is supposed to bring a wrapped book instead of a gift, and then every child leaves with a book instead of a party favor bag. That way, I don’t have to spend a bunch of money on little plastic toys that you will find in the crevices of your car forever, you have one less birthday to shop for (I don’t care if you wrap up a good condition book already in your house), and most importantly I don’t have to write thank you notes.

I truly hate writing thank you notes. It is nearly impossible to keep the cards with the gifts when the teenagers at the party place bag them up for you. And then you wind up having no idea what gift is from what person and have to write something very generic like “Thank you for the really fun gift!” Ugh.

If you didn’t get the memo and brought a gift instead of a book for the exchange this year, that’s totally fine. The kids loved all their presents, just please understand that I am not going to write you a thank you note. I made my stance on the invitation vis-a-vis gifts and if you did not see it or chose to ignore it, I’m not mad or anything, I just won’t be writing notes this year. Consider this my very public thank you!

To the people who gave us play dough sets, toys that include 1,000 small and very sharp pieces, or anything that loudly repeats two or three phrases and has no volume control . . . why do you hate me? Did I do something to you? If so, I’m sorry, but I would much prefer a confrontational email than passive aggressively annoying presents.

And to my sister, who got the four-year-olds each a caboodle full of makeup (like the real drugstore kind, not play makeup): Just wait. You have children too, and I am biding my time. Next Christmas there is a Baby Alive in your future. The one that loudly cries until you feed it play dough food — which it supposedly poops out and then eats again. Oh, and by the way, that food doesn’t really come out, it gets stuck in the plastic body, so you have to give Baby Alive a colonoscopy with a chopstick every time your child wants to get the poop out so that she can feed it to the baby again. Have fun with that!

If you absolutely must bring presents to a party that requests no gifts here are a few acceptable options:

1. Books.

Books are always welcome in my house. If we already have the one you brought, don’t worry, we will re-gift or donate it. Or possibly replace our old copy with it because ours is probably partially destroyed and there is jelly sticking the pages together.

2. A handmade gift from your child such as a card or picture.

I can’t promise I won’t throw it away after a few weeks, but the kids will like it, and it takes up little to no space in our home. Plus, that teaches little ones the same lesson about thinking of others that picking out a toy does (if that’s what you’re into) but at almost no cost to you!

3. Arts & crafts supplies that are not crazy messy.

Examples are markers, crayons, drawing pads, sticker sets, etc. Under no circumstances bring glitter into my home. It’s like lice, once in the house, it’s almost impossible to get rid of. Please don’t infect my house with the lice of the crafting world! Although . . . I just realized that my sister’s Baby Alive is going to come with 10 shades of glitter, which I will encourage my niece to feed the baby and have her poop all over the house!

4. A donation to any child-related non-profit and a note saying that you donated in their name.

Or even go do volunteer work with your child and give us a picture saying that for their birthday you helped with Meals on Wheels or something. Again, great thing to teach your kids and it doesn’t add to the clutter that makes me crazy.

5. Alcohol for the parents.

Would you like to bring me a bottle of wine to celebrate the fact that I lived through another year with children? If so, gift away! Remember that I have twins, so it’s appropriate to bring one bottle per birthday child.

I hope that this has shed some light on the “your presence is our gift” phenomenon that’s sweeping the birthday party world. If showing up empty-handed to a party causes you extreme anxiety, just remember #5 from my list. When in doubt, bring booze.

Looking for more thoughts on birthday parties? Check out these other party posts on Dallas Moms:


  1. I heard of an idea once to ask for everyone to bring one dollar instead of a gift. Then the birthday child can use the money to buy one thing he/she really wants.

  2. We do this and love it. This year we asked people to bring items to make goodie bags for the homeless – helping bags we call them. the kids took them as party favors and shared the bags. More than one mom shared bow their child loved passing out the bags.

  3. I’m sooo with you! But my family keep thinking that one more toy is not going to harm “my house”
    LOL at your “why do you hate me so much ” comment OMG I think exactly like that WHYYYYY???

  4. Love this! My son’s Birthday is close to Christmas, from his second birthday, we ask for donations. We have done dog/cat food for animal shelters until last year where we did Plano Christmas cops. We let our son pick one item to keep and the rest he donated. He went with me to drop off the items off so he could see it all! He was very proud and wants to do if this year again.

  5. I love this post! You are hilarious and I can relate to every last thing you said! We did a donation drive for the local humane society one year rather than gifts and it was wonderful and my son was very excited to take all of his “presents” there!


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