My daughter had a birthday last week so I have spent more time shopping and less time listening to podcasts whilst doing housework.
The shopping is challenging, given our values. I try hard to buy Australian, to consider the environment and to not completely blow the budget but it’s a difficult combination, especially where kids’ parties are concerned. I don’t want our kids to feel like they missed out because their parents were weird. And I don’t want them to think that being environmentally friendly means being stingey or being boring or a party pooper.
Most of the presents we gave our kids this year were from op shops. This isn’t because we’re financially hard up but because we want to reduce consumerism/waste. My parents and my sister-in-law totally got on board with the spirit of this idea too, so while both kids got one or two new things, mostly we did the lucky dip of what could be found second hand. It’s actually a really fun way to shop. You feel good about it, it’s way cheaper and you get some amazing and surprising stuff.
But apart from the gifts, there’s the party business. I wasn’t that well organised for my daughter’s birthday, partly because I got a cold the week before and was feeling rather sluggish and unwell. So her party drew near and I hadn’t done much about party bags (something she loves and I couldn’t forego). The problem with party bags is cost versus usefulness. I really dislike buying lots of little plastic bits that I know (from experience) will float around the house for months, and then end up in landfill. For my son’s birthday, a month ago, we used paper bags and we bought each child a little notebook, a pencil, a cookie cutter and a few lollies. The notebooks were surprisingly popular.
For my daughter, my first idea (from an article I found on the ABC) was a tiny succulent plant each. That steered me away from bags so I ended up getting cardboard boxes from The Reject Shop. I sat them in their lids (so that the child could still use the lidded box). In each box, I put the plant, a very cheap plain white mug and 4 little tubes of different coloured acrylic paint to decorate the mugs with. Each child also got a paint brush and a few lollies. It was harder to carry but, again, the kids seemed pretty appreciative.
My daughter chose to have her party at a rock climbing venue. We were supplied with a party room but the food and drink was our responsibility. So serving crockery/cutlery was also a quandary. I searched through the big supermarket in our local shopping centre. I was kind of surprised how little there was that wasn’t disposable. In The Reject Shop I eventually found some tiny “mixing bowls” in stainless steel. They were called mixing bowls but they are no bigger than a smallish dessert bowl. I bought ten. They were perfect because my daughter had decided she doesn’t really like cake and so she requested Costco Chocolate Mousse. Mousse needs bowls and spoons more than cake does. I didn’t do so well with cups but, luckily, it turned out the venue supplied washable cups and water. We still ended up using some paper cups.
For both kids I tried to let invited families know that we support recycling and to encourage them to thrift shop or to regift out of their own homes. I also encouraged recycled wrapping paper. Most people either aren’t comfortable with that yet or didn’t find the time to pursue it. But it brought up conversation and I’m not sorry I tried. Both kids got at least one or two recycled gifts and that’s fabulous, as far as I’m concerned.
One side effect of all this, that I hadn’t foreseen, is that when you can buy a really cool gift for $5, you end up buying loads of gifts because it feels cheap. I am amazed at how much my brain is accustomed to setting value by a dollar amount. I have to let go of that. The value is how suitable the gift is for the recipient, not the price I paid for it.
This means our toy room (only possible while the kids are still willing to share a bedroom) is packed to the rafters and a total shambles. Here I am trying to say I’m not interested in consumerism and yet my kids’ toys won’t even fit in the house. That’s a bit embarrassing. I still have to figure that bit out. Meanwhile, a clean-out is looming.