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A Buy Nothing Birthday

By Liesl Clark

Buy Nothing Birthday Love © Liesl Clark

Buy Nothing Birthday Love © Liesl Clark

Did you know that according to many sources, parents spend — on average — between $200 – $400 on a child’s birthday? For $200, reportedly, you can have a “no-frills” birthday. And for a mere $400 you can wow the neighbor’s kids.

Well, I tried an experiment this year for our 8-year-old’s birthday that might send shockwaves across the parenting universe. Right up to the day of her birthday, I… um… bought NOTHING. Zippo.

And said 8-year-old is still talking to me. She even gave me a big hug and a smooch this morning, they day after the big day.

Now, this Buy Nothing Birthday took some planning to pull off perfectly, but I’d love to walk you through the simple steps I took so you can try one of your own. It all started two months ago, when I initiated my prep for the Big Day.

Research:

7 going on 17. © Liesl Clark

7 going on 17. © Liesl Clark

8-year-old girls are pretty good at telling you exactly what they’d like to do for their birthday. They also tend to have excellent gift ideas that they drop as not-so-subtle hints whenever possible. My 8-ish girl wanted Littlest Pet Shop toys, those plastic bauble-headed creatures with big soupy eyes that girls tend to go ga-ga over.

Littlest Pet Shop Kitty. Found in our Buy Nothing Group. © Liesl Clark

Littlest Pet Shop Kitty. Found in our Buy Nothing Group. © Liesl Clark

The thought of buying more mini plastic toys to litter our living room floor kept me up at night, (I mean, we’re the family that’s trying to go plastic-free) until a brilliant idea popped into my head: Why not ask friends and neighbors if they have any annoying plastic bauble-headed pets that their daughters are done with that they’d like to pass on to a petite yet passionate plastic pet shop owner? Through our local Buy Nothing group, I was able to send out one request for the little buggers, and within a few days, I had over 70 Littlest Pet Shop critters and their accoutrements in my big paws!

IMG_7511 © Liesl Clark

Here’s a screen shot of my ask:

Ask, and you shall receive. The Buy Nothing Project.

Ask, and you shall receive. The Buy Nothing Project.

The response was overwhelming. One newly-made friend through the group even posted a picture of her daughter posing with her own Littlest Pet Shop critters that she wanted to gift to my daugher. The two girls had never even met. But I sense they’re going to be friends one day, much like their mothers are, all due to the binding effects of the Buy Nothing phenomenon.

A little angel gives her toys to a girl she's never met.

A little angel gives her toys to a girl she’s never met.

To top things off, a few days before the birthday, a neighbor’s daughter was in a giving mood and she posted 3 big plastic pet shops themselves, those fairyland-like houses that hold pets in various platform-like spaces with windows, compartments, and running wheels for the pets to work out on. Plastic pets never had it so good.

Little Pet Shops gifted in our local Buy Nothing group.

Little Pet Shops gifted in our local Buy Nothing group.

Giving Back:

In our family we have a tradition of giving back for our birthdays. For our son’s birthday last May, he picked up some serious trash we had discovered on a nearby roadway. It was a freak accident of perfectly good plastic bags having been set free through unintentional littering, and our mission was to cage those bags up again to prevent them from getting ingested by our aquatic wildlife in nearby Puget Sound.

Making the world a better place on your birthday. © Liesl Clark

Making the world a better place on your birthday. © Liesl Clark

Our birthday daughter decided to give a treasure hunt gift party to her friends and brother for her birthday. Throughout the summer, we’ve acquired free goodies as gifts for the party. I’m constantly amazed at how easy it is to collect perfectly good items for kids without having to spend a dime. We gathered a few boxes-worth of toys and science projects from our local Rotary Auction. All the items we found were rescued from being tossed into a dumpster. The treasure hunt was a huge success — 23 separate secret locations, each housing a little something for one of the children — and the kids are still playing together with their toys as I write this.

The biggest treasure hunt we've ever had. All free treasures courtesy of Buy Nothing. © Liesl Clark

The biggest treasure hunt we’ve ever had. All free treasures courtesy of Buy Nothing. © Liesl Clark

Decorations:

Our local Buy Nothing group also provided our decorations for the party. A neighbor just a mile down the road offered up some tissue paper flowers to the group that can be hung from the ceiling or tossed around a birthday scene. I’ve added these big clusters of pink, fuscia, and purple to a lending library of party items for future birthdays and holidays, perennially available for our Buy Nothing members to reuse over and over again.

A Party Supply Lending Library was set up by our Buy Nothing Group. © Liesl Clark

A Party Supply Lending Library was set up by our Buy Nothing Group. © Liesl Clark

Inspirations:

The first week our Buy Nothing group was up and running, a member posted this post:

“Help – Pinata! We are preparing to celebrate my son’s 5th birthday. He is desperate to have a pinata. I feel very torn about the candy and plastic junk but I gave into his sweet plea. So, now I have a pinata to fill. I am wondering if you have creative ideas for pinata filler (I really want to fill it with baby carrots and broccoli but my husband said that is only funny to moms) or if you have something that you would like to pass along that I might use to fill this pinata. I missed out on Kendra’s candy earlier today. : ( Any other goodies stashed around that might otherwise hit the trash that I could put to use? I will post a photo of the results in about a week – thanks!”

About 2 weeks later, this Buy Nothing member had found hundreds of goodies offered up by the group to fill her son’s pinata. Inside, she had stuffed small plastic toys (I happily off-loaded a box-full), stickers, small stuffed animals, and of course a little bit of candy. It was a feel-good collaborative Buy Nothing pinata, and I think our group will happily rally again for another little birthday person.

Food:

My good friend Rebecca baked delicious brownies topped with borage flowers from her garden for the kids (and adults) to enjoy. And adults sipped champagne gifted to us by our Buy Nothing friends.

Gifts provided by the abundance around us. © Liesl Clark

Gifts provided by the abundance around us. © Liesl Clark

What’s not to love about this zero-cost day? Precious memories were forged, new friends were made, delicious goodies were shared, and the birthday girl could give to her heart’s delight.

Try a Buy Nothing Birthday of your own and bring joy to the kids. © Liesl Clark

Try a Buy Nothing Birthday of your own and bring joy to the kids. © Liesl Clark

Are you up for trying a Buy Nothing birthday of your own? Let us know how it goes and what sorts of experiences you and your children had. We’d love to hear from you and collect ideas for further Buy Nothing traditions.

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About Pioneering The Simple Life

Filmmaker, Writer, Catalyst for Social Change

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