LIVING GREEN for Jan. 17, 2013

For Weekly SurgeJanuary 15, 2013 

Don’t let birthday celebrations include the piling up of more stuff

Birthday celebrations are inevitable, especially if you have kids. From their first birthday, the celebration seems to grow and evolve every year. And every year, I feel like I struggle in what to do, how to plan, who to invite. The details seem to be the most important and the most stressful part of the planning. Then, at the end of the day, we head home with a pile of gifts for our child, more stuff to add to their growing pile of existing stuff. Not only do we feel like we have more stuff, but our friends and family may be blindly purchasing gifts for your child. In this economy, none of us wish to go overboard and we sometimes feel like, is it all worth it?

I think birthdays are just another opportunity to get more “stuff” we don’t need.

To give you some background, my daughter’s bedroom is like Toys R Us threw up all over the place. Not only has she received gifts for birthdays and Christmas, she was also our only child until this week and the only grandchild for both sets of our parents. So, if that gives you any idea, you are right. While giving and receiving gifts is a thoughtful and sweet gesture, it also creates another emotion - expectation. Our daughter is only 6-years-old, but she is already getting spoiled and knowingly acts spoiled on occasion. I guess what kid doesn’t?

Obviously, this is something I am not OK with, especially for her future in our house. Our second child was born this week and our daughter is already counting her baby brother’s gifts from the baby showers. He was not even born yet and I could already sense there is a hint of jealously. The other night, we had a talk with her about gifts and her passion for more stuff. Although I feel like this conversation will have to be repeated for her to really understand, at least we are starting somewhere. My husband and I told her that gifts should be appreciated and we should be grateful for any gift we receive. However, if anyone else gets a gift, we should be happy for them and not think about ourselves. It shouldn’t be about the amount of stuff we get, it should be about the memories and we need to think about those who don’t have anything.

One of my friends shared her kids’ birthday ideas with me that give back to the local community. For three years, instead of gifts for her own kids, she asks guests to bring a donation for a local charity or a gift for a kid that they adopted (not legally, but for the purpose of this exercise). This idea of minimizing consumerism takes the place of adding more stuff for her kids while helping out someone else who really could benefit from the gifts. One year, she and her friends organized one big birthday party for their three families with kids, which not only saved resources, but also saved from going to three different birthday parties in one month. They chose a charity, Tara Hall Home for Boys in Georgetown County, and requested on the invitation that their guests bring donations of sporting equipment for them. Not only is it a different way of thinking outside of the box for a birthday, but it’s related to kids helping kids and according to my friend, people were so responsive because it was easy and fun.

She said that the hardest part has been figuring out the charity each time because you want to help them all. One of her kids celebrated a birthday in December, so they “adopted” a child in need and the donated gifts were a huge part of the little girl’s Christmas, too. She is teaching her children these values of giving back and this idea of an alternative birthday style really tugged at my heart, especially knowing that my own daughter had so many toys in her room, while many kids out there had none. Another time, my friend worked with Fostering Hope in Conway and helped bring in donations of school supplies as well as new underwear and socks for kids. The simplest things that most of us take for granted are basic needs for this organization. Basically, you just have to reach out to a local charity and find out its biggest needs.

So, I thought I would not only share this story, but try it myself for my daughter and our second child. If you are interested in creating some untraditional traditional birthdays, here are some alternative ideas to get started:

Combo Parties – Join with another close family and celebrate together. Not only do you save resources, but you avoid attending multiple birthday parties all at one time.

Give Back - Instead of getting gifts for your own kids, “adopt” a child and ask your guests to get gifts for him or her, maybe even find a child that shares a birthday with your own child.

Donate More – In lieu of gifts, ask guests to bring donations for a local charity. Pick your charity and ask for specific items they may need, such as sporting goods, bedding, clothes, etc.

Go Local – Support local farmers with local food recipes. Purchase your cake from the lady at the office or a friend that bakes. Forget going to a grocery store or a big box store for that cake.

Try Handmade – Make handmade invitations, homemade cupcakes, and handmade decorations.

Book Swap – Ask guests to give books as gifts that could be donated to the local library, given to a local charity or even swapped among the children at the party as a party favor.

Birthday Experiences – Rather than hosting a party at your house or a typical party venue, ask your child to invite a few close friends to go on a trip, such as go to a concert, a show, the zoo, the aquarium, gardens, etc. Such experiences will have lasting memories.

Here are some local charities you can get in touch with for fulfilling their wish lists for your next birthday party:

Fostering Hope, Conway, 254-8168, www.fosteringhopeinc.com

Tara Hall Home for Boys, Georgetown, 546-3000, www.tarahall.org

Waccamaw Youth Center, Conway, 369-0200, www.waccamawyouthcenter.org

Jennifer Sellers is the sustainability coordinator at Coastal Carolina University and offers her eco-views at her blog, mygreenglasses.com. Contact her at jen@mygreenglasses.com.

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