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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Celebrating meaningful Birthdays

I am into simple and minimalist living, but it sure is a bit more complicated when you have small kids and are surrounded by many consumerist minded family and friends.  Zenguy and I have stopped making a big deal out of our birthdays since kids came along, we still celebrate our birthdays, doing things that each of us really want that, we can not simply go and buy.  For example, I like some alone time, meaning I should be able to take shower without kids knocking on door, writing, reading a book, blog or magazine while sipping hot tea, things that matter most to me. For Zenguy, his passion is nature, music and food. On his special days, either, I cook his favorite food, or sometimes we go out to eat his favorite restaurant and go to easy outdoor hiking or listen to classical music at home.

Kids birthdays are little bigger deals and celebrated with a few friends and family, R is old enough to ask for what he wants to eat, and what he wants as gifts, little P is too young, he is simply happy to be crawling around or play with empty boxes with his brother and us.

Last weekend we had a birthday celebration party for kids, as little P has turned one, and R had turned 5 a few weeks before. We asked everyone to just come, have fun and give blessings to kids, and no gifts. Zenguy and I both believe that R and P have way too many toys and do not need more stuff.  However, at the actual party, everyone came with some type of toys, clothes, and books for gifts. What else could I have done to convince everyone not to bring gifts? Or we as a society, do not know how to stop consumerism even when asked not to buy. I can understand the peer pressure to bring something and not come empty handed, even I would feel the same way many times. However, I would call the host and ask, what do they really want or need and do that and if they still insisted and I felt it was genuine, I would try to honor their wish of no gifts.

Our well meaning friends did not budge so we got so many gifts that we do not need or want. We are going to donate most of these gifts that we got and keep a couple of toys that kids might like, that is the best solution I found that keeps our friends and family happy and us happy too.

I am not against gifts or buying things we may need or want, however, I am against buying so much, more than we could ever use.  Once we went to Christmas party where a 7 year old got about 52 gifts, I saw the kid's eyes light up while opening the first gift, and the second, after the 10th, he was tired, bored and did not care for all the well meant gifts that people gave. I remember growing up with one or two toys, and they were special to me and I remember a doll that I carried everywhere. Now a days, R and P have too many toys, despite our wish to be simple, grandparents, friends and other relatives keep buying stuff for both the kids, thinking we are depriving both our kids by our minimalist approach. My mom who grew up simply, also likes to spoil kids by buying things.  There is a thin balance between your values and other people's emotions.

Some of the gifts that were given to us in past, were not needed, wanted or even useful. One of our friend knows I like cooking, so they gave set of cooking stuff, which included some egg and meat cooking utensils, which were very nice to someone who ate meat or eggs, they were utterly useless to us as life long vegetarians.

While I do not know how to stop others from giving and recycling their unwanted gifts to others; I think most of us will be lot happier if we got useful things as a gifts, such as;

  • Hand written coupon for watching kids for an hour or two
  • Cooked meal, Running an errand for them
  • Lawn mowing (when you are sick or have new baby)
  • Experience gifts such as yearly membership to favorite museum
  • Teaching something you are expert at and they want to learn/know
  • Just one-on-one time : Uninterrupted, talking and listening
  • CD compilation of favorite songs, recorded story telling for kids
  • Book or journal sharing special memory with them

How about you? What do you really want for your birthday that is meaningful and special to you? How do you celebrate? How do you deal with grandparents, relatives or close friends not honoring your wish so all of us can be happy? Finding a balance is sometime tough, but we have to keep working at it until we are living the life we want to.


Photo source: www.webweaver.nu/clipart


Anonymous said...

Very nice post.

I love the ideas on the gifts that matter. Very sweet. I like the listening part. Very thoughtful.

I can imagine a whole room going Wow! with the coupon for watching kids. The sky is the limit.

Very yummy food for thought!

sanka said...

Thanks for the post. I think this is so important to talk about...because people take birthdays so seriously! I have a friend that used to subtly complain when I wouldn't give him a present for his birthday (I would simply call him to say Happy Birthday), he would say "what, not even a CD?" He couldn't even remember my birthday! I think tangible gifts are nice, given they are useful. I think it just gets to the point where people just expect it all the time. It would be nice to change that mindset, to get people to understand that happiness and celebration is having family and friends and knowing that you gained so much knowledge and experience in the past year. I think special food is the perfect way to celebrate a b'day. Heck yeah!

sanka said...

BTW, I have vague details of a book that recently came out that talk about minimal/frugal living. I saw it in Borders several weeks ago...it has a simple white and green cover. Have you heard of such a book and would you by any change know the name/authour? I have been racking my brains and I can't remember it!

zengirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zengirl said...


Thanks for the comment. I am not sure, if whole room will "wow" with handmade coupon but most parents would like that. For non-parents, coupon could be simple as massage, 30 minutes of listening, or special treat that person likes.

Thank you for stopping by and your comment. I guess we all have one of those friends who expect a royal treatment in their birthdays.

There are lot of books on frugality and minimalist life now. I do not know new one you mentioned. Here are a few I like, Leo's Power of Less and Elaine St. James's Living the simple life Check these out.

Betsy Bargain said...


I have been to many celebrations where "no gifts" were requested, and people brought gifts anyway. I think people are just so used to bringing gifts that they are not comfortable with such a request. They are afraid if they don't bring a gift they will look cheap or stingy in the eyes of others. I like experience gifts too. One gift I always enjoy is a gift certificate to a favorite local teahouse. I can go and enjoy a nice afternoon with my mom, my sister and some friends.

zengirl said...


I like tea house experience idea that you share with your mom, sister and friends. I think you are right, many of us want to be frugal but not cheap, so we buy, recycle and give gifts!

Did you brought gifts at those "no gifts" gatherings? I suppose it is tough choice.