Productivity hack: Kid birthday presents

photo-81With 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

23 thoughts on “Productivity hack: Kid birthday presents

  1. I have a gift closet but as we started preschool I wanted something even simpler. I usually give books since I’m a librarian So I picked a children’s classic title, ordered multiple copies and that is the present for this year. If I don’t use them all I will just use for the next child’s class. Each year I’ll pick a book. I figure this will be a fun way to engage my girls when they get elementary age too.

    1. @alissa- this certainly works to have a gift of the year. Especially now that children don’t actually open their presents at their birthday parties (which I recall doing when I was little). So no one knows that you got everyone the same thing!

  2. I’ve always kept a stash of presents ready to go but as my son has gotten older, birthday parties first went single gender and then became very infrequent (last year I think it was down to only 2 parties).

    Glad I didn’t go too hog wild with present buying. 🙂

    I recycle gift bags too. I will also purchase the $1-$2 Toys R Us bag that can be reused for other purposes. I hate wrapping!!!

      1. @N&M – yeah, I figure if we stop getting invited to parties, I’ll just dole stuff out of the closet on rainy Saturdays. If a kid is bored, even a toy aimed at someone 3 years younger can be fun for 15 minutes.

  3. I have such a closet. When I am organized, it also has baby gifts, emergency hostess/teacher gifts (soaps, etc), and a box of all kinds of cards (sympathy, birthday, etc). I also have a few gift cards — again for teacher emergencies.

    For far away baby gifts, I just have them wrapped and shipped straight from Amazon— setting up to mail something is too much. Even if I have something good in the closet, I’ll save it and order something if the person lives far away.

    I do have a cautionary tale about regifting. We got a nice piece of child furniture as a gift for my youngest, but it was duplicative with what he already had so I left it unassembled in the box. I had never looked at it, but I knew what it was from the label on the box. I was about to wrap it up and regift it when I noticed the name of the company was “Personalized something”……This made me suspicious. Oh yes, my son’s name was handpainted on the item.

    (And did I feel guilty then for never using it? Oh Yes).


    1. @J – ah yes, the question of far-away gifts. People who live far away get things that can be ordered and shipped directly, online (usually Amazon, again). I never want to be in the post office. It’s so inefficient. Sometimes when people ask for a copy of my book, I order it for them on Amazon. It’s about $9, plus free shipping. Whereas going to the post office and doing flat rate priority mail — again, for 2 days — is $5.65 (I think). Yes, my author copies are “free” but it’s a difference of $3.35, but saves *at least* 20 minutes of my time. If I have to go for a lot of mailings it’s different, but for one it isn’t worth it.

  4. Gift closets work for those last-minute gifts. But I do think there’s some value in taking your kids gift-shopping when they’re school age. I give them a budget and tell them to find something that their friend would like. I think it’s a valuable lesson in spending (should I buy four small things that cost the same as one big thing or is the one big thing better?) as well as giving and friendship. They really have to put some thought into what their friend’s interests are and what they like to do. My daughter once gave a friend a giant Costco-sized jar of peanut butter (strange, I know) but it was the friend’s favorite gift by far, her mother said. The empty jar is now in the girl’s room to collect coins — and showcase the girl’s love of peanut butter and the friend who knows her so well.

    I always have had my kids pick out presents to give each other for Christmas and birthdays too. I don’t want my son to grow up to be that guy who has no idea what to buy his wife for her birthday. 🙂

    But yes, there is that time in early elementary school when kids are invited to parties of classmates they barely know. The gift closet comes in handy then.

    1. @Emily – if we are at the top of our game, the books fit the theme of the party. So a dinosaur party for 6-year-olds had everyone getting Magic Tree House #1: Dinosaurs after Dark. A dinosaur themed party for that same child when he was 4 involved Danny and the Dinosaur for his friends, and a dinosaur board book for their younger siblings.

      1. Magic Treehouse sets for 1-4 and 1-8 have been given out as presents when it’s been cheaper for us to buy a Magic Treehouse set from Scholastic than the individual books DC1 is missing. They are generally very popular.

        re: shopping, I let DC1 pick out *which* gift(s) from the gift closet…

  5. I was going to do the same thing, with a book instead of goody bags, for our son’s birthday party this winter. This will be the first “friend” party I’ve thrown .
    We honestly don’t get invited to too many kid parties yet. And we only accept the invitations from kids I know my son plays with at daycare (we recently got one from a kid who is 2 years older, that I’ve never heard of and that my son couldn’t describe to me…we are not going). So I haven’t seen the need to keep a stash of things. I’ve kept toys for re-gifting that now both boys have outgrown, so to the goodwill they will go. I usually just buy something quick on amazon when we have a party to go to. Things like coloring books, stickers, art kits, play doh—stuff you can never have too much of—are great at this age, so I never worry about gift receipts.

  6. Great suggestions. With just one kid, and a house among whose major flaws is an absence of accessible closet space (argh!), we don’t have a gift closet per se, though I do sometimes buy (usually order) things to have as potential gift items.

    I do like taking my son shopping and having him think about what his friends would like, for the same reasons as @Marci. But if it’s a party for someone who’s more an acquaintance of his than a friend, we’ve done things like get a gift certificate to a local independent bookstore with a good children’s selection (something our town does have, at least for now), doing which checks several boxes for me.

    I’m a regifter, within reason. The absence of closet space points toward Goodwill unless I have a recipient in mind or it’s obviously a wonderful item for someone we know well.

  7. I have a “standard” – girls get a book and boys get Legos. This sounds kind of gender bias now that I write it…but my nephews wouldn’t have wanted a book at 4 or 5, and my own girls LOVE books.

  8. Laura, question about something that I bet you’ve thought about – kid’s activities. Do you allow your little ones do them yet? Do you ask them? Or wait for them to ask you? I’m struggling with this right now.

  9. Yes to all of the above! For several years now, I have stocked up on the Target clearance toys to supply my gift closet stash for kid parties. It’s a huge timesaver for me as a working mom.

    Another idea on re-gifting duplicates is to save them for the annual Toys for Tots drive. We do this each Dec, and our kids love being able to do a good deed and share their abundance with others.

  10. I love the book as party favor idea! Something I’ve been trying to do is come up with a basic gift list for kids birthdays. So for a 2 yr old boy, I always buy the same Melissa and Doug car transporter truck toy that my son loved at that age.

  11. I generally dislike attending large birthday parties, so thankfully T is young enough to have gotten invited to only a few. We haven’t needed a “gift closet”, so we usually order from Amazon a few days beforehand. I try to ask T what she thinks her friend would like, or give her a couple of choices before ordering. But I will not brave the Target toy section – too overwhelming and hard for a preschooler to stay on task!

    For favors we do one thing, usually a box of crayons or a tub of Play-doh plus a party balloon. I’m definitely not a fan of the “bag of crap” system after weeding out a bunch from my house.

  12. I find Amazon’s prices to be cheaper than the store most of the time, not counting if you catch a killer clearance sale. I agree Amazon prime is the best! As a student, I paid $40 a year for 3 years, and I knew after 1 year that I’d gladly pay for the full price for that service. It’s good stuff.

  13. One of my favourite topics 🙂

    I definitely have a gift shelf for all sorts of gifts – baby gifts, kid gifts and gifts for friends. I’m actually trying to empty out that shelf so we can start thinking more personally for the friends (my kids are now 4).

    However, something that’s helped me is I have a “gift of the year”. One year I did activity books, a “proper” book, and a “craft kit” with things my kids like – little notebook, crayons/ oil pastels, stickers, glue, scissors, stickers, etc. all neatly organised in a container. Another year I did little backpacks (I called it the Out and About bag) with a little magnadoodle, a small puzzle, a tiny block set, etc. This year I sewed up a MILLION aprons (ribbon on a tea towel/ placemat), bought little cutting boards, measuring cups, little recipe books, baking mixes, etc. and made sets of “chef” sets for all the kids. I still have two wrapped and ready to go for the Nov birthdays. I love giving gifts 🙂

    Overseas friends (I’m in SA so shipping is SUPER expensive) get something ordered online and delivered directly 🙂 but we send a card, handmade (two birds with one stone – craft time and a card!)

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