I turned 40 last month. And as you can imagine, it was a time of much introspection… by which I mean introspection by my friends, who were scanning their memories for all of our shared histories to figure what I would love to get for my birthday. This was proving to be a tricky task for them because I was being “such a difficult person” (their words, not mine) and not telling them clearly what I wanted.

They are lying of course – I did tell them exactly what I wanted – I wanted no gifts… but they considered it lying, and, of course, also a personal challenge. Dammit, they would get that perfect gift, and hence prove that in fact, I did want a gift.

Ok, so maybe they are not completely lying. In a world where every special occasion demands a special gift, I am probably an oddball who is forcing friends into an awkward abstinence. My last few years of writing about consumerism around us makes me extra-sensitive to the idea that my celebrations are creating fodder for the landfill. But I am so sure I am not alone in this.

If you’ve thrown your child a big birthday party – you are nodding already. Didn’t you struggle with finding cupboard space for the goodies that came in? If you hosted a festive dinner – isn’t it true that so many gifts have been tucked away for re-gifting later (with a mental note not to hand it back to the same person!). Tell me – didn’t you secretly wish you got only the few things you actually wanted, and rest would just disappear? Didn’t you wonder if all that money could have been better spent on something else?

If you’re still reading, I guess you answered yes! So just for you, I have put together this guide – the guide to getting less (and giving more!) when you celebrate. Some tips come from personal experience, but mostly they come from google searches ;). Used well, they’ll help you get nothing at all, and when you do get something, it’ll be something you truly want or help a cause you dearly support.

Follow this:

Don’t be shy

If you are worrying that it’s not kosher to have a gift-less event, relax – even royalty has accepted the idea. Just earlier this year, Prince Harry and Meghan requested guests at their wedding to donate to suggested charities in lieu of gifts. So if anything, you are late to a growing trend of people who are changing the gifting tradition into purposeful uses!

royal wedding donation not gifting
The royal couple used their wedding as a means to raise funds for the charities they support.

Put it in words – written words

As the royal invitation demonstrated – nothing speaks as clearly as, well, writing! Kensington Palace may have chosen Twitter to broadcast its wishes, but if you are as fame-challenged as I am, then include a simple, clear and respectful message in the invitation itself. Here’s a snippet from my kids’s birthday invite when they turned 6. We decided that we had enough toys, and if we could raise money for a dog shelter instead, wouldn’t that be great? (It was!)

birthday invite asks for donation instead of gifts
We crafted a cardboard donation box for the party – and ended up raising about $500 for SPCA in that kitty!

Pick only pet causes and passions

When you are channeling gifting to raise money for a cause – be it orangutan rescue, or the Ocean Cleanup, or even a travel fund that allows you to honeymoon in Galapagos – pick a passion or cause that is genuine (or in the case of your kids birthday party – a cause that is truly supported by your kids!). If friends and family see that the gift is towards something that you truly value – that is when they will see a value in adding to the cause. Likewise, if you are really living a zero-waste or low-waste lifestyle, then your request for no-gifts has a chance of being understood and respected.

Keep it simple, make it easy

Do gifters know how they can donate to your cause? Will there be a donation jar at the venue, or are there online links you can share? Is the charity legit, and is it easy to find information on it online? Can the amount stay anonymous? These are simple questions you must answer to make it convenient for the gifters to contribute to your cause.

Get help – just outsource it!

If you wish someone else would do all the legwork on vetting charities and collecting monies for you-you’re in luck. Several budding enterprises can hand-hold you right from managing invitations to transferring donations. For instance, on the portal Gift-it-Forward (that Secondsguru tested and loved!), guests are able to pool in their gift money (any amount they like). Part of the final lump sum goes to a big gift and the rest to a charity – both chosen in advance by the host.

Gift it forward
“Superstars” who used Gift-It-Forward to share their birthday booty with charities in Singapore.

Likewise, Hong Kong-based Two Presents and a growing number of socially responsible enterprises are trying to change the way we celebrate.

And this is key – gift mindfully yourself!

The next time you head out to the birthday / wedding / housewarming, gift useful, mindful, simple gifts. If you can steer clear of handing out excessive gifts yourself – you will find others will return the favor!

Related article
When gifting used things is NOT taboo! | Unique gifts that owe their charm to a past life

2 Comments
  • Happy birthday Anuja! What a beautiful thought!

    • Thx Juhi – for the birthday wishes and also the vote of support to the idea!

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