Minimalist Birthdays VM.4
Birthday’s can be a big point of struggle to any minimalist. It’s not just about ‘stuff’, it’s about a lifestyle and the reasons we lead this lifestyle. We don’t want to come across as ungrateful but we do want our values to be understood. It’s a balance of putting aside our own values one day every year OR teaching others our ‘why’? Both are not ideal and can be considered ‘rude’.
Every year since I figured this out, I just want to scream it from the mountain tops. Instead of pushing gifts, we push a ‘Birthday Do-Gooding’ project. This targets our family’s generosity somewhere where it is far more needed in the name of the birthday kiddo. There are a few reasons we choose to do this:
- Gifts in a tiny space add up FAST. We just don’t have room (gladly) to collect all of the things. Fortunately this comes with some great side effects – the things we DO make space for, matter. Usually a lot!
- It’s not only space. Most gifts are just completely unnecessary, maybe even harmful, overall. I’ve noticed with my kids that the more ‘things’ they have the more stressed they are. The go into ‘protection mode’ instead of being their usual lovey selves. While gifts are ALWAYS well intended, sometimes they create big battles and heavy emotional burdens. Having all the toys is not as important in our house as having empathy, kindness and respect for others. At this age, too much ‘stuff’ seems to impede on those values.
- Perhaps most importantly for us, most gifts are made with unsustainable practices. Either unfair labor, unfair sourcing a or sub-par processes. These are issues we try to combat in our house with every single purchase. Having a big important day every year where others contribute to these unfair systems in the name of our kid feels wrong. I feel like it sends the message that our values only matter when no one is looking. Or there is a free pass for special occasions.
My mission has been to find a way that doesn’t offend people who have different values while also not sacrificing our own. I think we found a happy point that the kids get awfully excited about!
Trial and error
The first couple years were trial and error. First, we asked for no gifts. That was either ignored completely or even offended some. Gift giving is just simply some peoples’ Love Language (read the book if you haven’t). It turns out it is quite a few peoples’ love language in our family. It was unfair of us to ask them not to show their love to our kid in the way they do.
Next, we said that gifts were not necessary but if they must we asked for experiences and/or consumables only. Things like zoo passes, food, snacks, clothes. things that can be used up and don’t take unnecessary space. Turns out this takes some real creativity or it’s boring. Both to give or to get. It doesn’t quite garner the same reaction as something by Fisher Price. It sort of worked but I could tell it was not enjoyed near so much by the gifter.
The last thing we tried, again, clearly stating gifts were not necessary but if they must, something hand made would be preferred. A coupon for a movie night at grandmas, or a picture. Anything that wasn’t contributing to the consumer cycle we avoid. I had good intentions but that was a big flop! People just don’t have time for that. And it takes a bit of being able to ‘put yourself out there’ if they did. Who will do that for a 2 year olds birthday? Not many… It would have been lovely, I’m sure, but no one partook.
Then we found it! Our family tradition!
Every year, we find a something that is important to our kid at that time. We, the parents, do some research and tell them about some foundations and organizations that support that thing they like. We share with them 2-4 options of opportunities to support. Then they pick one to support as their birthday do-gooding project. We/they set a goal and ask the family to rally behind them and support them to meeting it!
I have two goals with this:
The first is simply to target the generosity where it is really needed.
Second, I document this every year in our family book. I hope, each time and over time, they can gain a sense of accomplishment. Life is not always easy. Having a sense of accomplishment sometimes helps. Over time it is easy to see exactly how they have helped impact their world in their own way and I want them to see how fantastic they are, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
I guess I have a third goal now, too. To encourage others to do something similar!! It helps our house. It helps family members (and I love that they get into helping the kids!). Most of all, it helps others and important organizations!
Miles Version 4 – Do-Gooding
This year, we’re moving to Moscow. One of the places we really like going when we have a little downtime is the Palouse Discovery Science Center. When we were there last time they played in the craft corner for a bit. We realized that their supplies seemed low. I had already spoke with the new Education Director about how we can help support the center (James and I would love to volunteer to teach a class or something). She mentioned they just had a shifting of staff and they are reorganizing that and to stay tuned for opportunities to support them soon. She shared that they are always grateful for community support though.
While sitting there watching the kiddos craft, Hazel had the idea to use her birthday to raise supplies for the center. I thought it was fantastic and we marked it as a possible for her next birthday. Well, Miles’s birthday plans fell through because our barn is not where we’d like it to be this year to do the party we were planning for him (one with the local fire department). That one will have to wait. Instead, Hazel, very generously, said that he could use her idea! He was very happy with that! This is what he has raised so far!
A lasting iImpact
Of course my kids love toys. They love getting toys, a lot. You know what they don’t forget about though? Their birthday projects! The toys are ephemeral. They remember that Poppy brought the biggest box of canned foods. They remember the mail they get from people all over supporting them! They are learning to look for ways to help others. To find those opportunities. And to leverage their good fortune for what they are passionate about. We support other do-gooders whenever we can and they love that too! They love giving the feelings that they get! The whole thing is just aligns with our family values and I love it!
Some of our past projects:
Hazel VH.3 – Cat Rescue Party – asked for cat food and toys to hand deliver to the Humane Society cats
Miles VM.2 – Raised money for IP Foundation. IP Foundation researches to find a cure for the disease his grandpa passed away from. (side note- raising money is not as much fun as raising a tangible goal since they don’t get to physically hand over the items)
Hazel VH.4 – Raised money for the National Park Service while on a National Park tour. (fundraising again… but she got to dabble in making a video for her family which she was stoked about!)
Miles VM.3 – Built a little free pantry and asked family for items to stock it.
Hazel VH.5 – taught her friends how to plant a tree and asked others to donate a dollar to One Tree Planted (who plants one new tree for every dollar donation along with educating under developed areas the importance of trees in our ecosystem)
Miles VM.4 – Raised art supplies for the communities children at Palouse Science Discovery Center.