I've been tempted to start living a minimalistic lifestyle with my family for ages. My husband is a minimalist and he has been my biggest source of inspiration! I stumbled upon a book by the Japanese organising Guru Marie Kondo: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I have a bit of an OCD so this book made so much sense to me! According to Marie, you keep things in your life that "spark joy" and give away the rest.
Around April, I also had an opportunity to be certified as a National Geographic Educator (one of the first in Singapore). I chose the topic of 'Living a Sustainable and Conscious Lifestyle' and did a project on the 3Rs with my kids. We spoke on how reducing our consumption of single-use plastics and being mindful of littering would save the ocean animals. Research shows that children have an biologically innate interest in animals and a natural instinct to want to care for them so this was something they could relate to closely.There's so much you can do at home (without much investment in terms of money or time) to live a mindful and eco-conscious lifestyle.
It is really timely that my first blog post has been written on my youngest's (A2) birthday. I thought I could share some really simple ideas that you could try out when planning a birthday party for your little one. We have also celebrated the oldest's (A1) birthday similarly in the past. These ideas have worked really well for our family but I can't say this enough that living minimalistically is a lifestyle change that will defintely be challenging at the beginning. It is a journey and not a destination so please don't be hard on yourself! Birthdays are times for celebration and if you believe that it is the one time to go all out to make sure your child and loved ones have a good time, then go for it (I have some tips for that too after point 1).
1. GIFT THEM 'EXPERIENCES' RATHER THAN TOYS
I don't remember having big birthday parties for my children (who are now aged 4 and almost 6). The one time we did have a "conventional, themed party" was 3 years ago for A1. He got really overstimulated and focused a lot on what gifts he got. A few months down the road, those gifts were sadly forgotten. I asked A2 if she remembered what we did on her previous birthday and she said "We had delicious cake mommy":) If that's what she remembers about her birthdays then that's what she'll get ;)
What has worked for us the last 2 years is buying a simple cake (and what I mean by that is nothing with artificial colouring,fondant or special cartoon characters) and getting the kids to share it with their friends in school on their special day. I haven't baked their cakes myself in the past but I intend to from next year if all goes well with my baking practice at home. We also give the kids some options on what they would like to do that day (if it's a school day then we have our 'special outing' over the weekend). Some examples would be:
watching a play or movie at the theatre (we seldom have screen-time at home and when we do, it usually lasts for about 20 min for that week's quota. Again there's no reason to feel any guilt if you do have screen-time at home. This is just what has worked for our family and may or may not be the right thing to do. I'll talk about this in another post!)
a trip to a waterpark or amusement park (Singapore has lots of amazing theme parks so we are really spoilt for choice!)
eating at their favourite restaurant or cooking their favourite meal together
playdate with their friend at home or outdoors (we live very close to a nature park and the kids love it there!)
This year, on her 4th birthday, A2 chose to go to the beach and have icecream. A simple and easy-to-execute request ;) On her 2nd birthday, we spent the day at a park and had a cupcake ready for her to cut. A1 on his 4th birthday, requested to go to an amusement park.
I've observed that spending quality time with the kids beats expensive toys and gifts hands-down, any day! Although I must add that if I've had a toy on our wishlist that will last longer than most (open-ended ones like magnatiles, Lego blocks, Grimm's wooden toys or even subscription boxes), then our extended family members are more than welcome to gift it to them. In our home, family have always checked with us what the kids need so sometimes clothes are treasured gifts too! It's good to include Grace and Courtesy lessons here when well-meaning relatives or friends may get your child something that may not be needed at home. In such cases, we give it someone who would love to use it or donate it.
What's great about this idea is that it's plastic-free and zero waste!
If you do decide to have a party, here are some great ideas that I've tried in the past and some others that I myself might want to try when the kids are older and request for a party.
2. NEUTRAL THEME
My kids have never been fascinated with a particular cartoon character so we haven't had a 'themed' celebration for either of them since the last 3 years. I think that having a simple colour scheme that could be re-used year after year would make a more sustainable option.
There are a lot of options to go paper-less when inviting guests for a party:
creating a chat group with the parents (whatsapp, Facebook messenger) and sending a text-style invite or using a template made with a software like Canva (I personally love this software and it's free!)
using e-invitation software (Canva, Paperless Post or evite. I've used evite in the past)
phone calls to the parents and other guests
4. NEUTRAL DECORATION
Following the same principle for the theme, I have neutral coloured decorations (paper tassle garlands and paper lantern-style balloons) in my home that I can potentially use every year for both birthdays . As rubber balloons (or even the foil, animal-shaped ones that are doing the rounds these days) aren't environmentally friendly (the helium-filled ones are really dangerous if they fly away and land somewhere as litter), we have completely removed them from our home much to the childrens' disappointment at the beginning of our zero-waste journey. After explaining to them that they can be harmful to marine life, they haven't asked for them since. If you have a table cloth for your food table, that could be re-used for all your parties. If not, you could always borrow one from a friend :)
5. PACKAGE-FREE CAKE
I would love to have a homemade cake for my kids but since I haven't baked in years, I'm not ready to try this out just yet! I have a twin sister who is an avid baker and if she lived close-by, she'd definitely be making my kids' cakes. If you have a friend or relative who could bake a cake for the party, I'm sure they'd be more than happy to help out! And what a lovely zero-waste gift that would be:)
I usually buy a simple chocolate cake with chocolate ganache which the kids absolutely love from a neighbourhood store and I try and avoid the artificially coloured icing cakes. The cake is usually cut in school to share with their friends during snack time. Do take note that the cake meets the special dietary requirements of the kids in the party (allergies, halal-certified). Other alternatives to cakes are cupcakes or brownies! I plan on taking my own container from the next round and politely refuse the plastic knife and candle (with the tiny plastic holder) that comes with store-bought cakes. These are easy to replace with reusable options (the candle can last for many birthdays before it can be discarded).
6. SIIMPLE COTTON CLOTHING
My husband and I usually buy my kids' clothing at the start of the year for the next 2 years (5 clothes each) and we save 1 item for each of the kid's birthdays for that year. This way we have easily avoided getting rushed into buying new clothes nearer to the birthday and since we don't do themes, it is definitely less stressful to buy standard colours and patterns.We always buy 100% cotton (works really well for the weather here too!). (Note to self: To start exploring eco-friendly kids' clothes stores soon).
This part of the celebration isn't essential of course but it's just something we do to get them excited at the start of their special day.
7. FINGER FOOD AND FRESH DRINKS
My kids and I avoid sugary, processed snacks and drinks in general (I was brought up with no carbonated drinks at home) so the food at their parties in the past has been simple, home-cooked and easy to eat. If you can get their help to prep, that is an added bonus. Sandwiches and pizza are the easiest to prepare in advance and they don't require plastic single-use cutlery! Instead of plastic-bottled drinks, buying citrus fruits or a fruit medley and blending them to make a fruit juice is an excellent idea. Do remember to serve food and drinks in reusable napkins, plates, glasses and cutlery (if required).
Creating a spotify or apple music playlist based on your child's favourite songs is so easy to put together! We have Spotify Premium so we can listen to their music anytime on the go. We don't have music CDs for the kids as that would take up a lot of storage space.
We haven't had games yet in our parties in the past but when the kids are older and we do decide to have their friends over, some nostalgic old-school birthday games come to mind that don't require any fancy preparations.
Pin the tail on the donkey
Blind Man's Bluff
Lemon Spoon race
Face painting (The blog How To Adult has a homemade recipe without using food colours. I haven't tried it myself but it looks really interesting)
10. PARTY FAVOUR BAGS: TO AVOID OR NOT TO AVOID, THAT IS THE BIGGEST QUESTION
This is a tricky one. We had party favours last year for A2's celebration in school and I got each child a customised play dough tub. Although I have no regrets with my choice at that time, I don't think these favours are treasured for longer than a day by most kids. And that isn't very eco-friendly in my opinion. I'm also not sure how this culture came about but a sweeter gesture to show gratitude to your guests would be a hand-drawn card by the birthday child or a delicious edible something wrapped in paper & string (so it doesn't lie around forgotten). I will defintely be doing this if and when I plan their next party.
And there you have it, some zero-waste and plastic-free alternatives when planning your child's birthday party. I'd love to hear your thoughts!