Five ideas to celebrate without the clutter

You’ve cleaned and KonMari’ed your house from chaos into order (or something approximating it). You’ve surreptitiously donated old toys to the thrift store, handed them down to a pal, or made a few bucks through a Facebook buy/sell/trade group. Lego bricks no longer lurk around like dust bunnies, and the mountain of outgrown clothing has been, if not entirely eliminated, reduced to a small hill.

And then it hits you: Your child’s birthday is looming. And with it, inevitably, comes more stuff, from junk gifted by peers whose well-meaning parents feel obligated to get your child something to piles of goodies from grandparents eager to spoil your kiddo.

But don’t lose hope. There are alternatives to the birthday gift-glut. Here are some ideas for stemming the tide of stuff—and maybe helping others in the process. 

Try a Do-Good Gift
My son turned 1 in January, and thanks to doting grandparents and generous friends and relatives, he is well-stocked with books, stuffed animals and all sorts of plastic gear that lights up, plays music and does everything but the laundry. (Oh, how I wish his toys would do that.)

This, I know, is a privileged problem to have. But then it hit me: Why not solicit donations to the Columbus Diaper Bank? After all, one of our biggest child-related household expenses is the cost of disposable diapers, and needy families do not get federal or state public assistance to buy their own. True, it’s not the most glamourous or the cutest gift, but it’s one with a big impact. Plus, since the nonprofit accepts open packages, we have another means to clear more clutter from our home. Win-win.

There are other charities to connect with, of course: For an older, animal-loving child, consider asking for donations to Columbus Humane. Or perhaps support A Kid Again, which helps families caring for a child with a life-threatening illness. 

Give ’Em Five
Say your child has his heart set on a particular present. It’s not any gift: It’s the gift. And it’s out of your price range. Perhaps a fiver party is in order.

A fiver party works like this: Invitations suggest that instead of a material gift, guests bring $5 that will be used toward something bigger. That’s less than they’d likely spend otherwise, and the money can go to one big, nice item, rather than your child amassing numerous things he or she might not even like (or play with). Fair warning: Although fiver parties can help streamline the gift-giving process, some people might find it tacky, so know your crowd and tread carefully.

Hit the Books
Encourage children’s love of reading—and share that love with their peers—through a book swap. Instead of presents, request that kids come to the party with a book they think someone their age would like. The books can be wrapped or unwrapped, new or gently used—just be sure to be consistent with your wording so all gift-givers are on the same page. At the end of the party, each child can choose a book to take home.

Think Outside the Box
Giving an experience isn’t necessarily cheaper than buying toys or clothing, but it can keep clutter at bay and also make a resounding impression on the recipient. This is an opportunity to get creative. You can think big (like a family membership to Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, COSI or the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium), or small (who doesn’t love a milkshake or a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich from Krema Nut Co.?) Heck, there are even low- or no-cost experiences to be found at locales such as the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum or the Grange Insurance Audubon Center.

Looking for more ideas? Head online to Groupon for discounted admission to trampoline parks, laser tag, mini golf and more.

Look Long Term
Finally, there’s the gift with legs: donations to your child’s 529 plan. Admittedly, it lacks the charm of a cuddly bear or a new outfit, but this is the gift that will keep on giving. Ohio’s 529 plan, CollegeAdvantage, provides tax advantages, and the sooner you start the account, the better: You’ll have compound interest and tax-free earnings on your side. It’s easy for others to contribute to an Ohio 529 plan via Ugift, which allows gift givers to use a unique code to donate as much as they want, whenever they want. There are no fees associated with the tool, which means that every dollar given goes straight to the savings plan.

Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer, mother and fan of all things pop culture.