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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.

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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