I have a milestone birthday coming up, and a friend insists on giving me a party.

But please, no presents! I don't like stuff to begin with, I have everything I need or want already, and am in de-acquisition mode, culling all my stuff and donating most of the excess to charity shops.

Ten years ago, the same friend gave me a party for an earlier milestone birthday, and said essentially what I said in the above paragraph, with regard to presents, in her invitations.

The result? Most people brought "just a token gift; I had to bring you something." So I walked away with a large bag full of useless token gifts, some of them so useless that I couldn't give them even to a charity shop without blushing. (Of course, I faked sincere gratitude, and faked it very well and wrote thank-you notes.)

Any ideas on forestalling token gifts this time? Asking for donations to charity in lieu of gifts seems crass. Or is this just something I have to endure for the sake of friendship?

Edit in response to comments: No cultural aspects. This is WASPS in the suburbs of DC. As for experiences, my calendar is pretty full already.

  • 5
    Do you want to avoid any sort of present, or just physical gifts? Experiences with others, for instance - trips, dinner, etc. - can be even more rewarding, and a great way to build memories.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 1:37
  • 1
    Answer-comments are at risk of deletion. They are discouraged network-wide. Please convert your comments to an answer ASAP so that they can be saved and voted on.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 5:01

11 Answers 11


Giving money is hard for some people, 10 bucks can look like a lot less than a box full of towels from the dollar store that maybe cost you 5 bucks. Bringing nothing is even harder for some people. They realise you are providing them with food and entertainment and they want to repay you.

I think you can totally encourage supporting charities and pleasing your friends by letting them give physical gifts. For my 21st birthday I asked for towels, cat/dog food, toys, candy and possibly money to gift to my local shelter. This worked very well and people either brought me the physical products, or something like a dog ball with money taped to it.

So from these experiences I have a few suggestions:

  1. Ask people to bring food/drinks/snacks to the party instead of gifts. They don't have to feel upset about anything and you don't leave with things you don't want to have.

  2. Ask people to bring supplies for people in need for you to donate. (Blankets, clothes, food, shoes)

  3. Ask people to bring supplies for animals in need for you to donate. (Crates, towels, food, toys)

Have your friends bring only modest cards to wish you well.

I have a friend (USA) who threw her own birthday party, and invited all her friends. She too said "no gifts", but she mentioned that she treasures cards that show people's feelings and has their names on them. She indeed treasured them and displayed them for quite some time. She received no gifts.

The reason this approach may work for you is that it fills the need for someone to bring something. They bring a card, and it allows them a way to say and feel that they brought something (their best wishes).

Now you can walk away with something you may actually enjoy: a record of people's best wishes for you. And there are easy to dispose of if you read them only once.


Ask for consumables, e.g., food. Food will only clutter up your life until it is eaten.

You note that your calendar is pretty full, so experiences don't help. However, I assume that even with a full calendar, you will still find the time for eating. And getting some interesting ethnic foodstuffs or bottles of wine you don't know yet might in fact be an interesting and enriching experience.

Added benefit: many foodstuffs can in fact be consumed at the party itself. (Especially stuff you are not keen on.) Or you can use it in the little thank-you get-together you may want to throw for the friend who is organizing the "actual" party for you. Finally, anything you are still left with (and is unopened) can be donated.

If you go this route, of course you will want to note and allergies or other specific wishes you have.

  • This is my chosen route for all birthdays and christmas, jars of chutney are always welcome and it works.
    – WendyG
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 8:38

Since you asked specifically about the charity I use, I can tell you what I did.

I said,

We bless ourselves with water
We cleanse our bodies with water
We drink water & give it to our plants that grow to feed our bodies
We wash away bad days, soak away sore bodies, and feel renewed

And my cup is full. I have been so blessed in my life, by all the people I love & those who love me, I couldn't possible want for anything more.

It is in this spirit that I ask you not to gift anything personally to me & instead honor me with a donation, and allow my cup to overflow & bless others with the gift of access to safe water to nourish them the way your love has nourished me.

Donation can be made to The Water Project on my behalf if you feel inclined to give.

And in case you didn't know (this is not on the invite) it is estimated that 80% of illnesses could be prevented with SAFE water. Just that alone. This is always my go to charity. EVERYONE should have something safe to drink, for themselves and for their children. It shouldn't be a privilege.



One approach that worked well at a wedding shower I helped arrange was simply to write on the invitation:

Gifts? A monetary gift and / or card is welcome.

...and later on on the invitation:

What to bring? Your smile. That's it. :)

The point of this kind of approach, which I just noticed that @John pointed out, is that it makes people feel like they are bringing something.

This also circumvents the fact that in general, at a a party, people feel less uncomfortable being one of the only ones bringing a gift that one of the only ones who didn't. Since they'll feel everyone is bringing a card and/or monetary gift, they'll feel like they are doing something, but that they'll still fit in with the crowd.


I usually ask people to donate to a specific charity instead of giving me a gift, you say it sounds crass in your question but when accompanied by a note to the effect of

I am very fortunate to call you all my friends and family. The only gift that I need is your company. If you insist, please donate to ______ as it is a great charity and provides for the less fortunate.

I believe that this is a valid option because it sounds like you have everything you need, and providing for people that do not is never crass or unacceptable.


My last big party I said to everyone: we already have everything we want, so please bring a salad / pudding / starter / cake. Then I made a big list and coordinated it. This worked perfectly, and as they all arrived carrying plates it gave them something to talk about as well.

The ones who are musicians brought instruments and played for us - this is a really good deal if they are pros.

I have also been to parties where groups of people were asked to organise entertainment instead of a present - they have a quiz or a silly game with small prizes. Huge fun.

Some people still wanted to bring presents, so I said bring a bit of cash if you really must. Then I bought myself a big piece of garden furniture which I had wanted for years, and sent them all a photograph of it being used.


Make the gift time

My neighbors did this for their daughter's birthday party who was turning 2. What do you get a 2 year old? Another toy they're never going to play with? What we all did was got dirty fixing up an old flower garden. They bought all the wood and dirt and we just showed up with old clothes and maybe a couple garden tools and we fixed it all up!

It wasn't just "oh we got yard work to do" but it was about making something beautiful for their girl to enjoy for years to come. So much more fulfilling than another toy to sit in a box until it gets donated.


Another idea not mentioned yet is to request that gifts be given to a charity in lieu. For example, setting up a Just Giving page.

The OP mentioned that this might seem crass; One way to make this less crass is to make it clear that not donating at all is perfectly fine.

You don't have to get me anything at all for my birthday this year but if you'd like to give something, charity donations to my preferred charity would be a welcome gift.


Ask for gift cards/vouchers.

This allows people to spend money on you without having to find a present (other than choosing a card).

The bonus is that you can spend those vouchers on buying presents for other people or pass them on as gifts to other people.


A variant to John's answer is to ask them to prepare a signed photo of best moment with you. This will remind them and you of the memories you had together, and definitely bring laughter​ as you remember those times together.

Additionally, you could prepare a cardboard or cloth for them to write their wishes for you.

Of course, you can add some twist: add handprint, or kisses if everyone are ladies.

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