Raven, Simple Living

Trying to Make Birthdays About More Than the Presents


Ever since my big decluttering project in 2013 (aka, 50 Weeks to Organized), I’ve become increasingly wary of bringing new stuff into our home. Not only does new stuff (often) represent money spent, but it also represents stuff that I now have to find a place for in our small apartment, stuff that I have to dust around and care for and try not to trip over, and stuff that inevitably takes at least some amount of investment of time and energy on the part of all of us to continue keeping in our lives.

While most days, we operate from the assumption that we will spend no money that day, we do recognize that there are certain days when we would like to mark the occasion with a gift or purchase of some kind (aka, birthdays and certain holidays). That being said, I still hold up the ideal that I want those special days to not revolve around the presents—I want them instead to revolve around spending time with loved ones, considering the reason for the special day in the first place, and taking the time to really relish certain treats that only come up every now and again.

To start off on the right foot, for Raven’s first birthday, we requested that if people chose to bring gifts (which we did not expect them to), we asked that they bring her some clothing in the next size up (either new or secondhand) since we didn’t have very much clothing in that particular size. We also decided that since she loves books and we want to encourage her in her love of reading, we would mark birthdays and Christmas with the purchase of several books to add to her growing collection. Last year, for her birthday, she actually only received one toy—a carefully-selected handmade wooden truck that hooked onto a little cart holding different-colored wooden blocks, which we bought from a local artisan. It’s a well-made piece, didn’t cost us much at all, and is something that we will want to keep for a long, long time—which are the three things we are trying to keep in mind when it comes to buying gifts now.


This year, we didn’t make any specific requests of family members who came to her party last weekend, but we did reiterate that we didn’t expect anyone to bring anything. I was pleased that of those who did choose to give her gifts anyway, many gave her books (always appreciated!) and clothing (also always appreciated!), and that the toys were things we knew she’d get a lot of use out of.

The only big thing she got from us was a wooden table and chair set that I’d played with as a child (and that were over 35 years old!). My mom and stepdad had taken the time to carefully fix and restore all the pieces, and she absolutely loved coming out in the morning on her birthday to see this new little table set that was just her size (oh, and to see the balloons, of course—there must always be balloons).


We also got her the usual books as gifts, but the only other things she got from us were actually a few little trinkets I’d found while searching through some of my old things that were still in my childhood bedroom that I knew she’d love.

When all was said and done, we only ended up spending $20 dollars on her birthday gifts (plus an additional $18 for food for the parties we held with our families).

But despite all those paragraphs I just spent talking about the presents we chose for her, my real point for this post is that on her actual birthday, the presents played a very minor part, indeed.

While she did come out in the morning to the sight of her new table and chairs, most of the real specialness of the day came from carefully choosing things and activities throughout the day that I knew she would love.


1. Made a special breakfast that we normally don’t indulge in (especially since it involved whipped cream!) and let her help mix the batter for the German pancakes (one of her favorite ways to help).


2. Dressed her up in one of her beautiful new birthday outfits (complete with its matching new hairbow made by her aunt Katie)


3. Went to the park for a super fun play group so that she could see her little friends from the neighborhood and spend time in the sunshine, swinging on the swings, playing in the sand, and going down slides (aka, her favorite way to spend any afternoon).


4. Watched a movie while eating tacos for lunch (something that we basically never let happen usually, but she loooooves movies, so I thought it would be a fun treat for her).

5. Read more books than usual before putting her down for her afternoon nap.

6. Went out to Pizza Pie Cafe for dinner (going out is also a bit of a rarity). We tried to make sure to select a place with a wide variety of foods that was super kid-friendly so that she’d eat well and enjoy the atmosphere.

7. Sang her happy birthday several times throughout the day and snuck her little treats here and there (usually a Hershey kiss or a couple M & M’s).

8. Spent extra time playing games and chasing her around whenever we could fit it in (with lots of extra kisses and hugs, too!)


And of course, we also had two parties (one with my family and one with Matt’s) last weekend, but that will have to get its own post since this one is already waxing long…

All in all, you could tell that she had a blast—she got a whole day full of things she loved, was reminded frequently how much we adore her and are glad she’s part of our family, and got a few special treats that hardly ever come around (which makes them seem all the more special when they do).

And, in a nutshell, that’s ideally how we’d love every birthday and gift-oriented holiday to be.

How do you make birthdays more than just about the gifts?