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Wednesday
Mar212012

Minimalist Birthday Parties

violet-decor.JPGFor 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.)

violet-cake.JPG

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.

violet-birthdaygame.JPG

violet-towers.JPG

If you have other ideas to share about how you work towards minimalist birthday parties I'd love to hear them in the comments!


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Reader Comments (21)

Sounds like a lovely time! I always lament how, after spending so much time planning a party, I hardly get to enjoy them because I never stop running around long enough. You've inspired me to rethink the strategy this year.
March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPriya
Our girls (3.5 and 1.5) have birthdays in October and June, and we do the same thing every year, for every birthday. We invite all of our friends and family to meet us at the local park. We bring juice boxes, bottled water, fruit salad, and mini cupcakes, and the pizza is delivered. The kids have a great time running around outside, the adults get to talk, and we don't have to clean up a house afterwards. It's super easy and a lot of fun!
March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarla
Really good reminder about keeping it all in perspective. I went a little crazy for my twins first birthday, less so the next year, and I think for the 3rd (coming up soon) it will finally be at a rational level!

But one little thing stood out for me: the part where you decided not to do the baloon thing because you can't baloons and didn't want to ask John (your partner I presume to help). Why not? I think my number one rule of minimalist parenting [I do love that phrase!] is to make sure that you're not doing it alone and find ways to make sure to get help from others, with the number one being my partner. (who was responsible for filling all our helium balloons, for example!) (Not that you needed a balloon arch; just the general principal).
March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMolly
Hi Molly, oh, I'm glad you brought that up -- good point of clarification!

If Jon was into balloons and that was high on fun factor for him, then I would have asked him to help. However, my vision would have involved blowing up around 2-3 dozen balloons and I am 100% certain that would not have been high on fun factor for him. I was much happier finding an alternative solution that was pretty and easy (so much so that my daughter could help set it up).

But yes, in other essential parenting matters, I'm all about splitting the load!
March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Koh - Editor
For me, I always make sure there's a cake and put number candles on it. I love keeping those after. Blowing of candles will never be absent in my party. And also, balloons! :-)
As I was reading the post, I was scoffing a bit at the idea that it was all that minimalist, but that brings up another important lesson: What is minimal to one person is not to another. Our families would be insulted to not be invited to our kids' parties. Immediate family alone means roughly 30 people. Minimal for us is much grander than for someone who has no family nearby. That's OK, too. I'm glad you let your mom incorporate the things that were so important for her because love is more important than principle (as I know you know)!
March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristy @morethanmommy
Hi Christy, yes, you hit on something that I believe is at the heart of striving to do less in life (and is something Asha and I will address in our book): everyone is going to be operating at a different baseline and it's an exercise in shifting from that baseline. This party was definitely a huge shift for me...really, the only thing that took time for me was baking and frosting the cake and cutting up fruit for fruit salad. It was awesome to not be fussing over massive food prep and other details the morning of, and instead just hang out and enjoy the girls!

Also, I'm fainting a little that 30 = immediate family for you! But then again, it's also a blessing. So many parents I know have no village.
March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Koh - Editor
I have four children and after the first I learned quickly about the less is more concept. Now every year I asked them what they want to do and we make just an immediate family affair. My son Thaison's will be turning 8 on April first. We asked him what he wanted and he said anything science. we will have dinner at a restaurant of his choice(so long as it isnt too expensive) then we are surprising him with a trip to a science museum. He has never been so I am definitely excited to see his reaction!
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAisha
Aisha, that is so great -- he will undoubtedly be over the moon with a trip to the science museum! Have a fantastic time and happy birthday to Thaison!
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Koh - Editor
Such good thoughts, and that are never repeated too often in the high-stress world where we often just get so used to being overwhelmed that we forget that there are alternatives.We have a daycare, and keeping it simple was one of the biggest principles in designing the space and choosing the toys, and remains a top priority for setting up each day.You touched on it briefly, but I think it's worth emphasizing that when we make a tonne of work for ourselves, and over-exaggerate the whole thing, it often creates mountains of waste. It may not necessarily be super expensive to decorate our whole house, and make sure every child goes home with trinkets, but it's probably going to end up in the garbage anyway.
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTalia
Here on our block in Chicago the parents came up with "neighbor birthdays".We put out a flyer with the date and time, and kids and parents come over to the front yard of the birthday kid's house for cake.We take a group picture on the porch steps, and call it a day.Whole thing takes about an hour.No (or very small) gifts.The parents get to visit and the kids of all ages have fun. We have a wonderful record of the children growing up with the porch step photographs. All neighbors have done this for about 20 years.(Because our houses have porches, if it is raining we have coverage.)Rules:--Cake required--usually a homemade box cake with whipped cream for frosting.--Beverage optional--if you need a bathroom, go home.--winter? put on a coatHow much more minimalist can you get?

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLynn
we always do a toy purge before the times you can expect to get new toys. I ask my son to go through his toys and think about the ones he doesn't play with. He picks ten that we put in a bag and donate (if they are still in good enough condition). He remembers every toy he's every received so sneaking them out isn't an option for us, this way he's apart of it and doesn't feel tricked and he starts to understand the concept of helping others.















March 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercandace
This year, my soon to be 4 year old's party is going to be at the bounce house in town where there is no clean up, little prep and all of the kids have fun. Plus, it's pretty cheap (groupon deal helped)... Perhaps lazy, but no family or dads, a weekday morning party with the only goal of making my kid happy.

When I was a kid, birthdays, with the rare exception, birthdays consisted of dinner of our choosing, a cake and ice cream that mom made and the grandparents who lived 1/2 mile away. When I got older, maybe a friend over for a sleepover on the weekend. I'm trying to go back to this simpler time and keep it low key. We were no less excited then than now... And yet, I still remember my grandfather grousing that "kids these days" having too much stuff. :)
March 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterclothespin
Going to try to adhere to your fabulous suggestions as I plan my eldest's second birthday party next week. Last year we got slightly carried away with his first birthday and before we knew it had planned a celebratory trip to Hawaii, a family afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental, a birthday brunch with friends and a trip to the UK and all for our one year old who will remember not one second of it. Ha! Balance is the key word here I now know. Thanks for your suggestions.
March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily
@Emily -- wow, I wish I could get slightly carried away and end up in Hawaii!

@Christine, this isn't about minimalist birthdays, but I loved the picture of Violet in her hanbok choosing an item, and wanted to tell you we have a very similar tradition. I'm Bengali (Indian) and we have a ceremony called the "mukhebhat" or "annprashan" which is supposed to be the first time the baby eats rice, around 6 months old. The baby chooses items from a tray that are supposed to represent his/her future. Our traditional items are a pen (scholarship), a book (religion), jewelry/coins (wealth), and dirt (agriculture), plus the parents can add whatever they want. I didn't know other cultures did this too!
March 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCM
Christine,I appreciate your wanting to take a lighter approach to your daughter's birthday party; keeping it simple is often the way to go.I understand the importance of any decision involving your child in connection with other family members, since they carry such a vital role in your child's life.

Family traditions are an important part of the growing up years; I have kept a family tradition with my two daughters for the last nine years, creating a birthday wall collage to represent their interests and personality. I've written a how-to e-book on how to create such a collage titled: The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child. It's important to work in the boundaries of what you're comfortable with, and this family tradition was what I chose to make my daughters' birthday celebrations special.

I will link your post, Minimalist Birthday Parties, on my Birthday Wall blog, where I share info and inspiration in connection with your child's birthday and celebrating who they are right now.

Thanks again for sharing your point of view on this important subject.

Be refreshed,Dawn HerringAuthor of The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your ChildHost of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDawn Herring
I agree with balancing the responsibilities. But a note on blowing up balloons; I use my air mattress pump. My kids adore balloons and now it is fairly painless to fill the living room with forty balloons.
March 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjulie
Good tip Julie -- thank you! I do really love balloons so will keep this in mind for next time! :-)
March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Koh - Editor
Such great, thoughtful comments -- you guys are the best!
March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Koh - Editor
Last week, one of the little girls we play in the park after school had a birthday. The mom had decided, she will throw a big party later. But the girl and the friends had another idea. They refused to leave and decided they have to go home with the birthday girl.So, a birthday party, the best that ever was and is, was created. By the kids and for the kids. No presents, no frills. Just friends who really loved being together, cake from the store down the street, and watermelon that another mom brought. Add a glass of water, and we are all good.They played for many hours, 10 boys and girls, in different parts of the house, sometimes together, sometimes separately.I hope that I can recreate such a party for my little one next time.
April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMoitreyee Chowdhury
Oh my gosh! I didn't realize Korean's have a choosing game! Armenian's do too! We call it a "Hadig Party" known for a dessert which resembles baby teeth. But, no one in our family in this generation will eat it, so we serve a bowl of almonds instead. We do this party when the child has its first tooth! Traditionally, we lay out a pen [teacher/architect/doctor], Bible/book [religion/scholarship], and money [wealth/business]. But being 2013 people are now adding calculators and band aids. I am wondering if there are other cultures which have this custom?



April 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

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