Greener and Leaner Birthday Celebrations

My family loves to celebrate holidays, and birthday parties are no exception. Sunday was my daughter’s second birthday and we  celebrated on a slim budget this year, but that doesn’t mean we had any less fun!

Here are my top five ideas that worked for us to make birthdays a little greener, leaner and less stressful in our house this year:

1) Keep it small. Not that we don’t love and cherish each of our friends and our kids’ friends too: but large, lavish parties are very stressful and expensive. So this year we limited the festivities to just extended family plus and a handful of our closest friends and neighbors.

2) Keep the menu simple. I have a tendency to want to please everyone, which means I usually plan the menu around the preferences of the kids who tend to be pickier eaters. This year, I decided if they’re not allergic to it, they can eat it – or it’s up to their own parents to figure out an alternative. I opened my kitchen to all the adults to take care of their kids’ needs but I didn’t go out of my way to specifically prepare dishes with each child’s individual preferences in mind, like I have in the past (I know, what was I thinking?).

LEGO® Brand Disney Princess lets your child build fairytale scenes.

3) Up-cycle gifts, wrapping and decorations. We live in a small house so before gift holidays, we purge the toy collection to make room for a few new things. Rather than tossing perfectly good toys that we’ve simply outgrown into a landfill, we take them to a local consignment shop where they get a second life and we can choose cash or trade for new-to-us items. This year, my 4-year-old sold a handful of toys and earned enough to buy his sister a beautiful, hand-painted wooden castle filled with PVC-free fairies, dragons and horses. The set was worth well over $300 and he got it in pristine condition for $20. The best part: he was able to buy her a gift she’ll cherish for years to come and he is so proud of himself. Each time she plays with it he announces, “I got that for Kaitlyn’s birthday at the consignment store! Look how much she loves it!”.

  • More Green Gifting Ideas: Make sure guests understand your values. Whether your family works hard to avoid toxic toys, batteries, or specific themes for play items, it’s ok to let your guests know it! After all, most people really want to choose gifts that the kids will love and play with. So don’t be afraid to share resources like that will help them make safe buying decisions for your family and theirs. Another green gifting idea that will teach the kids a fun lesson at the same time: ask guests to pool money toward a single gift rather than buying lots of individual gifts, and  use a service like ECHOage to manage the monetary gifts: returning half of the money to your child to purchase a gift of their choice and donating the other half to a charity they help select, like Healthy Child Healthy World or Autism Speaks . And if you’re up for something a bit different that’s really catching on: try (this is also a great resource for finding local costume swaps at Halloween!
  • Eco-friendly decorating ideas: Skip the paper invitations; send personal emails, set up a Facebook event, use an online invitation site like or pick up the phone and let people know when/where to show up. For decoration: rent, borrow or buy items you can re-use year-after-year. Really want a specific theme? Get one without having to throw it all away at the end of the party with eco-friendly and eco-nomical Birthday Kits for Kids!
  • Greener gift wrapping ideas: Make a homemade card instead of buying a new one, wrap gifts in blank newsprint and let your kids decorate the package, re-use gift bags you’ve previously received, or if you absolutely must spend the dollars for gift wrapping, look for a re-usable basket or storage cube rather than spending money on paper that is going straight into the trash.

4) Limit tableware and make it re-usable or compostable. Serving healthy finger foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, and opting for cupcakes instead of slices of cake makes it easy to eliminate the need for silver (or plastic) ware. We have also found that if we simply don’t put napkins out, then people (even kids) make their way to the sink to wash sticky fingers.
create a healthy home shop

5) Have some fun! Whether you have a big yard for kids to run around in or a small apartment that is perfect for a treasure hunt, use what you have and make it fun! I know this is an extreme example (just for the record, we don’t normally “entertain” kids at birthday parties…we just play outside in the backyard)…but earlier this summer, my husband and I attended a benefit auction to support Washington Toxics Coalition‘s important work. We felt strongly about supporting this organization and bought a gift certificate  from “the bubble guy” to support the auction. Rather than forgetting about it in a drawer, we  decided to use for Kaitlyn’s birthday.  Even though our party was small and on a gloomy day in our front yard, the bubble guy helped make it loads of fun by teaching the kids (and parents) about protecting the environment, while making bubbles out of everything from fly-swatters to musical instruments to those rings that you find on 6-packs of soda, all tied together. The kids were enchanted and the squeals of laughter from the kids drew passing cars and neighbors to stop and enjoy the moment.

Already taking or planning actions like the ideas above? Be sure and give yourself credit for it by earning the Green Kitchen and Green Shopper Badges from Practically Green.


Have greener, leaner birthday ideas or posts of your own? Please share them to the comments!
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Happy eco-celebrating to you and Happy 2nd Birthday to my “baby” girl!

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7 Responses to “Greener and Leaner Birthday Celebrations”

  1. Toni Lardizabal Keltner
    September 20, 2011 at 4:44 PM #

    Each time she plays with it he announces, “I got that for Kaitlyn’s birthday at the consignment store! Look how much she loves it!.” <— that had to be my absolute favorite!!!!!

  2. Mary
    September 20, 2011 at 9:11 PM #

    Just a romance story long before green living. My mother’s friend told her husband over 50 years ago not to waste on buying her a valiltine. So her gives her the same one every year with a new date. Thanks for the reminder. Hopefully it put a smile in your heart. Cheers!

  3. celebrategreen
    September 28, 2011 at 12:12 PM #

    I love all your ideas Erin. In fact, I’d love to re-publish as a post on the Celebrate Green! blog. It’s fun to see how parents are putting ideas of greening birthdays into action. This party looked to be SO much fun! And @Mary, love the story about the Valentine. Perfectly green!

    • GreenKidsGuide
      September 28, 2011 at 1:25 PM #

      Absolutely – I’d love it if you shared it with Celebrate Green readers!

  4. Charissa - The Gifted Blog
    November 28, 2011 at 8:37 PM #

    Erin, love the idea of intentionally clearing out old toys before the new gifts come in. Our son is 3 and already I feel overwhelmed with the number of toys we have! I write a blog about gift wrapping and love reusing materials to wrap gifts. Please come visit when you have a chance!


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