With three kids, we wind up going to — and hosting — a reasonable number of birthday parties. As with anything one does frequently, I find there are ways to make this a smoother process than it otherwise could be.
First, we joined Amazon Prime. This is probably the best $80 per year I spend (for unlimited 2-day shipping). You almost never need something in less than 2 days, and Amazon carries almost everything. Are their prices the best? Probably not, but getting in the car and driving to the store costs time and gas. Most of my kids’ birthday and Christmas presents are ordered this way. We also use this for other kids’ presents if the gift closet is running low.
What is this gift closet? This is another key component of the system. We have a reasonably-sized closet in the guest bedroom that the kids never go in. I aim to have a few gifts on standby in this closet at any point that work well for kids around my kids’ ages. When I’m really efficient, I go to Target in late December/early January, and buy tons of toys and art supplies on post-holiday clearance. These can then be doled out during the year. I’m usually not that efficient, though. So every few months, I order a round of toys off Amazon and stick them in there. These are often things my kids already own (and like — the ultimate sign it’s a good present) so if they do go in the gift closet they won’t be as tempted.
If people give my kids presents that they already own, I put them in the gift closet instead of returning them. I recognize there is a slight risk that we will accidentally regift a present to the same family that gave it to us, but the odds are against it. I suppose I could put a post-it note on a gift reminding me who not to give it to.
This closet has wrapping paper (bought in bulk from Costco), scissors and tape. We also have a wide variety of gift bags, ribbons, and bows rescued from presents people have given to us. While I originally started doing this because I’m cheap and hate the idea of paying $2 for a decorated bag, it has a nice green tinge to it — recycling! — that I play up if anyone asks (which they don’t. People are polite!)
As for goodie bags at my kids’ birthday parties? If we’re hosting somewhere that throws in goodie bags as part of the package, we go with that. But if it’s up to us, I’ve been trying to give books. It’s not that much more expensive, and I figure other families have more than enough cheap plastic crap all over their houses, just like we do. It’s a favor to them not to add to the pile.
Do you have a system for kid birthday presents? I realize some people reading this might love shopping for presents and relish thinking about each individual person they are shopping for as they’re in a store weighing options. But if you’re not into shopping, a gift closet system has a lot going for it.
In other news:
Meagan Francis writes at Babble about ways to make birthdays special
Real Simple does a showcase of 31 unique kid birthday gifts