The “No Gifts, Please” Party Dilemma

Read about whether you should still bring a gift when the party invitation says

Me and my cousins- rocking the birthday scene 1985 style.

I was overwhelmed with panic as I stared at the Evite.

At the bottom of the electronic invitation riddled with giraffes, elephants, and tigers was a not-so-unusual mandate:

“No Gifts, Please.”

I started sweating.

What do I do? Bring nothing, or run to Target and grab something?

This happens often with requests of this nature.

I get it. The party hostess likely didn’t want more junque to trip over that she would ultimately donate to the Salvation Army. She probably couldn’t stand to look at one more Elsa figurine, Melissa & Doug puzzle, or Lincoln Log (impalement risk: hello!). At two, the guest of honor wasn’t old enough to know she was “missing out” on what some kids consider the best part of a birthday party: presents!

I’ve been there, lived it, and understand.

Between Grandpa, Grandma, Pap, “Gammy”, aunts, uncles, and our friends, my kids have more toys than they will ever be able to play with. Some toys were accidentally destroyed before they came out of the packaging. (See: the time I accidentally cut the electrical cord of a flying fairy when I was opening the container). Some toys melted in my car. Some toys were inadvertently left at our local pool, only to be considered another child’s treasure when discovered in the “Lost and Found” box. Our children have so many toys that we have a schedule of “rotating toys” where some are stored away in a closet for a couple months before we reintroduce them. We like to call it “Christmas in July”.

However, asking that guests of children’s birthday parties not bring gifts puts parents in a quandary because there are always some (and in most cases, many) parents who don’t honor the request. It would be different if every single person complied. But it never happens that way. There is always someone who makes everyone else look like jerks.

The noncompliant guests bring gifts because:

  1. Their mothers (rightfully) taught them to never show up to a party empty-handed;
  2. The attendee wants to give a gift; and/ or
  3. Nobody wants to be perceived as a cheapskate by being “that person” who didn’t bring a gift, despite clear instructions to the contrary.

I surveyed women between the ages of 26 and 40 regarding whether they bring presents to “No Gifts, Please” events. Eight percent said they comply with the request, and a whopping 92% said they bring something, but usually a scaled-down version of what they would regularly give, such as a book or candy.

One of my girlfriends recently attended a “No Gifts, Please” party and had a run-in with the birthday girl’s mother. As my friend was placing her present on the dining room table (which was littered with gifts from other attendees), the hostess passive-aggressively said, “I guess nobody read the invitation…”

On one hand, you don’t want to dishonor the requests for “No Gifts, Please.”

On the other, you don’t want to show up empty handed because you’re darn sure other parents are still going to bring gifts. Anyway, people usually put that because they don’t want junk gifts that will clutter up their homes – but something like a Mug Photo Personnalis? © wouldn’t do that would it? It would come in good use if you ask me!

You don’t want to feel ashamed and judged as you pass the present table without making a contribution.

I threw my husband a party for his thirtieth birthday and requested that our guests not bring gifts. This was because I wanted them to attend the party and enjoy the food, drinks, and company without feeling like they needed to buy him- a grown man- a present. Besides, what do you get for the guy who has everything? Sure, he enjoys wine and craft beer, but what he really would have wanted was a Yeti cooler. Maybe even a wooden watch or a funky neon sign that could be kept on the walls of our home bar, like the ones you find on sites like to give him the similar feeling of getting drunk in an actual bar. I’m sure he would also want a new boat, or a trip to Alaska, and those would have been too extravagant coming from friends, acquaintances, and work colleagues (and maybe even his wife). Except for wine, the neon sign and a stylish wooden watch, everything else would have ended up stashed in a “to be re-gifted” bin in our hall closet.

The birthday mantra for my husband was “our guests’ presence was the present.”

Maybe the “No Gifts, Please” phenomena is a fad. Maybe it’s a permanent “thing.” Regardless, I’ll continue to bring a small gift, maybe something fun and practical like these Custom Photo Socks, and will discretely place it on top of the dining room table when the birthday child’s mama isn’t looking.

Cheers to good-intentioned noncompliance!


    23 Comments on The “No Gifts, Please” Party Dilemma

    1. Themed Donations
      June 24, 2016 at 10:58 am (6 years ago)

      This year we’re doing no gifts for my daughter’s 5th birthday. Since the theme is “octonauts” we’re asking that people donate to “Explore! Rescue! Protect!” coral reefs. We’re thinking that people will feel they’ve contributed by donating to a cause that goes along with the theme of the party.

    2. JC Marc
      January 30, 2016 at 2:12 am (7 years ago)

      For my husband’s 40th birthday, I had put a “no gifts” request on the invites. I wrote a note that I would supply the gifts, which were actually his own possessions that I wrapped and guests were to put their names on these “re-gifts”. It was hilarious and everyone had a great time being in on the conspiracy. Example, one of his fishing buddies game him back his own fishing pole; someone else “re-gifted” his BBQ apron, etc. The look on my husband’s face was priceless, plus each gift had a great story told. My husband claims this was the best birthday ever.

    3. Shylie
      September 28, 2015 at 9:34 pm (7 years ago)

      I thought I was unique, but glad to know I’m not 🙂 It’s probably tacky for me to admit but I’ve been invited to some birthday parties for one and two year olds that HAVEN’T included the “no gifts, please” clause, but thought to myself that I certainly do not know enough about toys to buy the coolest thing ever, so I’ve made donations on the birthday child’s behalf to various charities. I usually will print something about that and put it in a card (I try and get a fun one that has stickers), and sometimes I’ll do something like bring a balloon to add a festive atmosphere.

      • jenniferdaku
        September 29, 2015 at 5:52 am (7 years ago)

        Shylie, thanks for stopping by the blog. Donations are great alternatives to giving a traditional kids’ gift. You’re also not alone… at least once a month I’ll get an email from a friend saying they are going to a (age) party for a (gender) and asking what to get. (As if I’m any sort of authority- haha). You definitely can never go wrong with books, stickers, coloring books, or anything crafty (and most craft stuff is washable). I hope you and your husband had a great time on your recent vacation, I enjoyed seeing your pictures! Cheers xoxo

    4. Clare Speer
      September 28, 2015 at 8:41 pm (7 years ago)

      Such wonderful points and comments for bringing – or not bringing a gift – I must say that I hate when they say “no gifts”… and I am like the ONLY one who hasn’t brought a gift!

      • jenniferdaku
        September 28, 2015 at 8:56 pm (7 years ago)

        Thanks Clare!

    5. Stella Lee@ Purfylle
      September 28, 2015 at 8:39 pm (7 years ago)

      I remember the year my sister in law and I agreed to not do gifts for the adults for Christmas and she then proceeded to do gifts. I felt awful for not doing gifts.

      • jenniferdaku
        September 28, 2015 at 8:56 pm (7 years ago)

        I HATE when that happens. Or you mutually agree to not do gifts and then the other person gives “a little something”… it’s still a gift!

    6. Kate
      September 28, 2015 at 4:25 pm (7 years ago)

      All of my son’s birthday parties are “no gifts.” But, my son is autistic. He doesn’t really play with toys or understand the concept (even at 6.) If that changes, then I might change my policy. In general, I comply with whatever an invitation says. Whatever else I was taught, I was taught to honor the wording of an invitation…. whether it says black tie optional or no gifts. There are always reasons behind this. That being said… the only person who brought a gift to my son’s party was my MIL, his grandma. And it was clothes.

      • jenniferdaku
        September 28, 2015 at 8:58 pm (7 years ago)

        I love this Kate, and thanks for sharing. You have a great point… “honor the wording of the invitation.” Cheers!

    7. Davina
      September 28, 2015 at 8:33 am (7 years ago)

      Hi Jennifer,

      I’ve never been to a no-gifts party, and it’s pretty un-African to show up to someone’s house without a gift. So probably drinks, as they are always received well. I really enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing.

    8. Tiffany
      September 27, 2015 at 10:36 pm (7 years ago)

      As a host who’ has requested this, don’t bring gifts! There’s a reason we’re requesting you not to and it makes us upset when you do!

      • jenniferdaku
        September 29, 2015 at 5:53 am (7 years ago)

        Telling it like it is… I like it, Tiff! Can’t wait to see you this weekend.

    9. Katie
      September 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm (7 years ago)

      I haven’t faced this dilemma too often, but when I do, I tend to not bring a gift (and not feel guilty about it!). Our family has been trying really hard to save money & declutter our lives; I want to respect that philosophy in someone else’s life as well.

      • jenniferdaku
        September 27, 2015 at 9:38 pm (7 years ago)

        Good point, and yes, it’s a great way to save money. Being on the “Birthday Party Circuit” that starts once a child reaches a certain age can get expensive.

    10. Adonna Thurmond
      September 27, 2015 at 5:00 pm (7 years ago)

      I received a few evites and invites like that myself so I found the best way to not upset the host if he/she says no gifts is to bring a card with a gift card in it, that way if they use the card for something they need or want then I feel I gave then a good gift that they can choose how they want to spend the money and everyone wins!

      • jenniferdaku
        September 27, 2015 at 9:43 pm (7 years ago)

        A gift card is a great idea, Adonna, and definitely one I will keep in mind. Thanks for stopping by and Cheers!

    11. Olga
      September 27, 2015 at 4:59 pm (7 years ago)

      I’m with Aja, I’ve never been invited to a no gifts party…the closest I’ve come is my best friends wedding where she asked for experiences for her honeymoon instead but left it open for others to bring what they wanted. I would feel very strange not being able to bring a gift to a child’s birthday as its always a great experience seeing the joy on their faces when they open up gifts. I like the idea of asking for donations to a non-profit. I’m with you Jennifer, if I ever do get invited to a no gift party I will proudly leave my gift on the dinning room table 🙂

      • jenniferdaku
        September 27, 2015 at 9:44 pm (7 years ago)

        I think “No Gifts” parties are pretty much in vogue right now. Moreso for adult parties than for kids’ parties. Thanks for stopping by, Olga!

    12. Holly
      September 27, 2015 at 4:06 pm (7 years ago)

      We recently held a birthday party for my daughter and in lieu of gifts, we asked for donations to the animal shelter. Like you mentioned, I couldn’t bare the thought of more stuff! Birthday parties are fun and I LOVE to give gifts. I completely agree with the commenter above though – I wouldn’t bring a gift either and would also have my kiddo make a card. We want to acknowledge the fun day but also respect wishes. If someone were to make you feel bad for not bringing a gift, I think the blame should lay with them, not on you. I definitely hope the no gift party is a trend and not a fad. It makes our kiddos (and us to!) appreciate when someone gives you a gift verses expecting something every time it’s your special day. Bonus? No disappointments! 🙂 Great post with lots to think about!

      • jenniferdaku
        September 27, 2015 at 9:47 pm (7 years ago)

        Thanks Holly. I do love the picture idea and think it’s a great compromise. Cheers!

    13. Aja
      September 27, 2015 at 3:23 pm (7 years ago)

      I’ve never been invited to a no-gifts party for children. Instead, I have been invited to several parties where the parents requested we bring diapers for our local crisis pregnancy center or toys for our local children’s home. I think that’s a lovely compromise. However, if someone tells me to not being gifts, I wouldn’t. I would have my children draw a sweet picture or write a letter to the birthday child.

      • jenniferdaku
        September 27, 2015 at 9:52 pm (7 years ago)

        As always, Aja, thanks for your thoughtful insight. I do like the idea of a picture and think it’s a good compromise… especially because Arden- out of the blue- drew an incredible rainbow and man picture… looks like lots of birthday kids will end up with these masterpieces in their homes. We’ve also been to parties where the hosts requested we donate to charity in lieu of gifts and, no doubt, arrived to the party with a gift table packed with presents. #fail