Goody bag goodbye

There's no denying goody bags have become an expected part of attending children's birthday parties. But has this practice gotten out of hand? Here's why I'm breaking free of the goody bag trap and why I hope you will, too.

Take a stand against the pervasive goody bag

Like most people, some of my fondest childhood memories are from my birthday parties.

My extended family came to our house, we ate cake and ice cream, opened presents and then the kids ran off the sugar high outside.

What we didn't have were elaborate meals, over-the-top decorations or goody bags. I do vaguely remember some game prizes and noisemakers but nothing more.

Here's how to have an old-fashioned birthday party for kids >>

Going astray

I was an adult when I saw my first goody bag, but by the time my daughter turned 1, like nearly every other parent, I fell victim to the trap of sending each guest home with one.

The night before her birthday, I sat hunched over my dining room table, stuffing 20 (!) personalized goody bags with gifts chosen carefully for each guest. I had to rationalize the necessity of goody bags to my husband and in that moment, I somehow found it acceptable to spend nearly $200 on goody bags.

Returning to simplicity

Since that night, I realized that the simplicity of birthdays -- the joy from my own childhood -- had somehow gotten lost, and I had no one to blame for that but myself. So, I no longer host elaborate birthday parties.

I'm also done with goody bags.

And I'm not the only one who's disillusioned with the idea.

The problem

Susan Linn, psychiatry instructor at the Harvard Medical School and director of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood notes that children have come to believe that "an event is only fun if you get a material award for it."

Linn makes an excellent point. Birthday parties are no longer about the child whose birthday it is -- the focus has shifted to the guests.

What's gotten lost is the beauty in seeing our kids give selflessly and with no expectation of reward other than gratitude.

Brush up on birthday party etiquette >>

Linn goes on to point out that, "The rise of the goody bag is part of a larger escalation of the commercialization of children's birthday parties… both in terms of brands, but also in terms of competition around the lavishness of parties."

Goody bag alternatives

If goody bags are a part of your birthday party circuit, it can be scary to be the first to stop handing them out. But, you just might start a trend that other moms will thank you for.

If you'd like to break free from the goody bag trap, but don't think you can stop completely, try simplifying with one of these ideas:

Make something

During the party, set up a craft or project station where guests can create something to take with them when they leave.

Plant a tree

Send your child's guests home with this Tree in a Box. They’ll have fun planting it, and it will long outlast any cheap plastic gift from a goody bag.


Donate what you would have spent on goody bags to charity, and have each child sign a card to send off with your donation.

Of course, kids will be taken aback at first by not receiving a goody bag, but if more moms take the leap of faith, the kids will soon adjust.

More on scaled-back birthdays

Eco-friendly birthday party recipes
Birthday party decor you can find at home
Cheap birthday party ideas for children


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Comments on "Goody bag goodbye"

Rae January 31, 2014 | 10:57 AM

Hate the goody bag. Had a pool party under the sea party. Gave out tie dye shirts instead. The kids love them.

Katie Hurley April 19, 2012 | 1:37 PM

Wow. I am genuinely shocked by some of these comments! I have done bubbles, inexpensive books and coloring books in the past, but I like the idea of a cool craft better. We usually have one anyway, so why not make it something fun to bring home? I really love this post. I think a lot of parents feel the same way about the bag full of cheap toys and candy...I say put the energy into the party!

Casey April 19, 2012 | 12:38 PM

I loathe goody bags. If I wanted a bag full of crappy toys made in China, I'd take my kid to the Dollar Store myself. In my family, birthdays are about celebrating life, not about presents, and certainly not about showing your kid's friends parent's that you have enough money to send their child home loaded down with a bunch of plastic junk and candy. And I gladly wear the crown of liberal control freak. I let my flag fly!

Katie April 19, 2012 | 10:54 AM

Oh my word...HA! Some people want to throw their politics into everything! Oh! I am laughing so hard! Goody bags are dumb. I did them for E's first birthday and realized, no one wants that ish going home with their kid. In fact, I found some of the stuff broken and left behind after the guests left. Big fat waste of money. I do like giving each kid a cookie or something like that in the theme of the party. But a goodie bag full of plastic garbage? no.

Rachel April 19, 2012 | 9:35 AM

Hate goody bags. Hate birthday parties. Does that make me a liberal control freak?

Victoria KP April 19, 2012 | 8:30 AM

I have spent the last 2 days cleaning out the room where my kids keep their toys. I have thrown out POUNDS and POUNDS of cheap plastic crap. I will NEVER make another goody bag as long as I live. I love the idea of taking pictures of the kids or some other craft for them to do & take home. And honestly, the commenter who used the term "liberal control freak"? Why must people politicize EVERYTHING these days. This was an article about goody bags for heaven's sake. BTW, I can probably be described as a "liberal control freak" and I've made & given away more goody bags than you can count... with or without a Harvard education.

Kelly @ Dances with Chaos April 18, 2012 | 6:56 PM

When my son turned one, I had a definite "oh sh*t" moment because we needed goodie bags. Like a diligent follower, I purchased items for goodie bags and put them together - then promptly became so distracted during the party I forgot to gave them out. This has happened at least three times now. Next time, I think I'll go with your plan and do either a craft-thing they can take home, or forego it all together.

Leigh Ann April 18, 2012 | 6:04 PM

This year in lieu if goody bags I opted for some homemade favors: chocolate covered oreo pops at one party and Blow Pops decorated to look like flowers an superheroes at another. Not nearly as over achieving as it sounds -- they were all very simple. I don't want that cheap stuff laying around my house, and I don't want to do that to my friends! So I gave them something they could enjoy, but that wouldn't clutter their house.

Julie Gardner April 18, 2012 | 4:45 PM

Where I live, goody bags became less about the birthday boy or girl and even less about the children who were invited and more about the hosting mom trying to outdo the other mothers in her circle. No joke. It was just another type of "keeping up with the Joneses" competition. And thankfully my kids have become too old for it (no self-respecting teenager expects a goody bag in my neck of the woods). I can't imagine with the advent of Pinterest how depressed mothers must feel with the daunting task of being more creative than the next; of coming up with an original New Great Idea; of spending the most money to demonstrate their love. We moms already have enough on our plates, enough cause for rampant insecurities. Let's not add insufficient goody bags to the list. Stop the madness.

Amy @ Thoughts of THAT Mom April 18, 2012 | 4:37 PM

Liberal control freaks? Really? You DO know this is an article about GOODY BAGS, right? It will be okay. I promise. Even if the kids DON'T have a goody bag. FYI: I never received a goody bag at a party growing up nor did my husband. We have never given them out at any party held for our children. Amazingly, we have all survived. I figure the fact that we're not calling people liberal control freaks because of GOODY BAGS is an indicator that we turned out okay.

Angie April 18, 2012 | 4:34 PM

Goody bags (and birthday parties, for that matter) are completely out of control, and the only time I've done them is when they were part of a package deal birthday party we held at an art center. The "goody" is the party. To the "liberal control freak" commenter: what on earth do your political leanings have to do with goody bags at children's parties? If your comment means that you're a conservative, than frankly, I'm embarrassed to admit that I am, too. Because that's the kind of comment that gives the rest of us a bad reputation.

Jessica April 18, 2012 | 4:19 PM

I hate when my kids get goody bags at party because they don't need the stuff. I don't buy them when I have parties. Instead I spend that money on something useful, like food.

Karen April 18, 2012 | 4:08 PM

I hate goodie bags. 99% of the time they have Oriental Trading Co. junk in them, which is just something else I have to throw away. We go with semi-useful take-aways. For our daughter, the kids made tie-dye t-shirts. For my son, they walked away with a small tub of Play-doh. So, go ahead and call me a "Liberal Control Freak" for not wanting Made-In-Sweatshop crap floating around my house.

Cameron April 18, 2012 | 4:06 PM

I remember the goody bags when I was a kid having a noisemaker and maybe some Hershey's Kisses and balloons or bubbles, nothing elaborate, personalized, or out of control. I hate the ones you get from commercial party venues, the stuff is cheap and unnecessary. My budget doesn't allow for much more than cake and pizza or whatever, and I won't send a lot of senseless dollar store crap home with my friends' kids, so I don't do them. Never have, don't plan to start.

Lena April 18, 2012 | 2:31 PM

PLEASE do not let a person with a PHD behind their name or that tells you that they graduated from Harvard within the first 5 minutes of meeting you how to raise kids (and Harvard being Obama's school, well, you know where I am going here). Kids LOVE goodie bags and they and I loved them when I was a kid which was over 50 years ago! STOP IT YOU LIBERAL CONTROL FREAKS!!!

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