Minimalist Birthday Parties
For Laurel's first few birthday parties, I assembled fun yet somewhat insane birthday parties -- inviting tons of people, making tons of food, and admittedly not being particularly mindful of the fact that Laurel is overwhelmed by large crowds and that I was putting a lot of unnecessary work on myself. I eventually smartened up, opting for smaller and simpler gatherings. And whether it's a function of my minimalist parenting mindset (as it turns out, birthdays offer an excellent opportunity to work on "do less" practices), the second child phenomenon, or the fact that I'm experiencing discord with one of my siblings, for Violet's birthday, I truly was happy with the idea of celebrating with just our immediate family of four.
However, Laurel and my Mom were not on board with this idea. My siblings and I don't have much opportunity to get together these days + the first birthday is very special in Korean culture. We had already bucked tradition by not doing a 100 Days party (save having my mother over for dinner) so after discussion with Jon, we decided to accommodate, but I also tasked myself to do less. Sibling discord aside, the party and my do less practices worked out great so I wanted to share my tips for hosting minimalist birthdays.
1. Ask yourself why. And be resolved with the answer. One question I now always ask myself before committing to something is why. Had I done this for Laurel's first few birthdays, the answer probably would have been less about her and more about our desire to see friends and my enjoyment of flexing my culinary muscles. Meaning, not really with the person of honor in mind. Here, I initially wasn't wild about doing a larger party (I have six siblings so even just my siblings + partners + my Mom + us = large gathering) but after considering that the why was a mix of having Violet become more familiar with my immediate family and celebrating her milestone in the context of our heritage, I felt resolved with the decision.
2. Set a time frame that works for you. I made a point of structuring the party like any other kids party -- with a firm start and end and not over a mealtime (so, the 2-4pm window). I love cooking but when I cook for a party, I know that I overcompensate and exhaust myself and I'm still working on reversing this trend. I did not want to set myself up for this on a Sunday leading into a busy week. However, if a mealtime window is preferable to you and you can keep it simple and not exhaust yourself, by all means go for it!
3. Be explicit about simplicity. When I invited my family, I was explicit about the short time frame and the fact that it would be cake, fruit, and beverages (though my Mom did end up bringing several dishes...perhaps, as a hostess extraordinaire she was horrified by my limited offerings). When some of my siblings asked about presents, I told them there was no need to bring any.
4. If you like decorations, make it easy on yourself. I had a funny moment where I was thinking about decorations and thought about a balloon banner. And then I remembered that I am physically incapable of blowing up balloons (the pressure makes my ears burn) and I didn't want to have to ask Jon for help. Plus, it would probably take a while to make it. I subsequently was thrilled to find these inexpensive and festive purple tissue balls (which Laurel easily was able to pop open and set up) and ordered purple plates, napkins, and a tablecloth. Décor: done in 10 minutes = awesome. Also, it's amazing how simply hinging together a few simple decorations via color makes everything look incredibly festive (several people commented on it).
5. Prioritize tasks. In order of fun factor. And be OK with letting stuff go. Laurel, like me, has a tendency to make elaborate plans. A couple of days before Violet's party she actually used the phrase "I'm getting stressed about all of the things to do!" At which point, I suggested we sit down and list the things we both wanted to do and number them in order of most to least fun. And to not worry about letting things go. It was a really fun exercise and we both realized that baking (me: cake, her: cookies) was top on the list. We did in fact let several items on the list go (such as buying violets for everyone to take home...instead we were able to send everyone home with extra cake and cookies...perfect!) and it felt fantastic. (By the way, this ombre violet cake looks elaborate, but it was actually not difficult to make.)
6. Purge. Though I told my family that it wasn't necessary to bring gifts, they are generous people and brought presents for Violet. And admittedly, she's been pretty happy playing with them (even beyond the boxes and wrapping paper). However, we have plenty of things, so over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to do a toy purge and donate to families in need.
Finally, this doesn't really fall under minimalist practices, but I wanted to note that it was, in fact, really lovely to celebrate in the context of Korean tradition. With one exception (rounding up a few items for the choosing game), I let my Mom take the lead because: a) I wanted to do less; and b) this was clearly very important to her. She borrowed Violet's birthday hanbok from a friend and was the driving force behind the traditional food towers. When we played the choosing game and laid out the "future predicting" items: a spool of thread (long life), a dollar bill (wealth), a calculator (studiousness), and an orange (abundance of food), Violet first picked the calculator and then picked the dollar. And both of them she handed to Laurel. So sweet.
If you have other ideas to share about how you work towards minimalist birthday parties I'd love to hear them in the comments!