Theo is 4! A gift-free birthday party not in 600 square feet.


We hosted a birthday party for Theo and about 12 little friends this past weekend. We haven't done a proper party for him since he was 1, mostly because a cake with family was enough celebration for him. But this past year his friendships have become more important to him and we knew that a party with his friends would mean a lot to him. While we wanted to celebrate him and his budding friendships we didn't want the focus to be on gifts. When I sent out the invite I purposefully wrote, "no gifts please as you may have heard, we have a small space". Now we aren't heartless, we did buy Theo one special gift, a new scooter (if you are curious we bought a 2 wheeled razor scooter as recommended by my friend Em of Our Nest in the City) because it is a useful toy and activity. We also made the point of giving it to him in the morning and not at the party. By doing so we were hoping to make the party about the friends and fun and not about gifts he would get. 

Most friends were fine with no gifts and brought adorable handmade cards. He did receive a few books because everyone knows how much he loves books and that we always make room for kids books. I was so appreciative of friends' respecting our wishes and while Theo loves a new toy as much as any 4 year old, I'm happy his party was about people and playing and not gifts.

We also chose not to give out goodies bags at the party (gasp! I'm probably not going to survive kindergarten am I? #rebelmom ). Goodie bags drive me crazy. They are often filled with tiny cheap toys that end up all over the house, or they are beautifully curated and cost the host so much that I feel bad about the gift we brought for the birthday kid! It all feels counterintuitive and unsustainable. Why are kids getting a gift for attending a fun party? I think we should all agree to put an end to goodie bags! I did decorate the table with animal masks for little imaginations at the party. They were fun to wear at the party and something to take home, only if the kids (and parents) wanted to. 

Back to the party... living in a small space, and having hosted a park party for his 1st birthday, I knew I wanted to find an existing space to rent and host the party. I didn't want to worry about unpredictable weather or organizing games/activities. There is this beautiful play cafe nearby called Circus Play Cafe, where you pay an admission to have your kids play in their beautiful European inspired play space while you sit nearby and drink coffee (of course keeping on eye on your kiddo at the same time) and they host events! For urban living parents in a rainy city, Circus Play Cafe is genius. I wish there was one in every neighbourhood. Their toy selection is so inspired. I have often found ideas from their space to bring back to our home.  For example I bought our Hape kitchen after Theo played with it for a long time at Circus. Their selection is from quality brands like Hape, Moluk, KidO and Janod (See more on the Circus Play Cafe website here). Knowing we would have a range of ages of kiddos from 5 to crawling babies I thought Circus Play Cafe would be perfect to allow the kids to play freely and the parents to relax and have a conversation. Luckily they book out the space on the weekends for events like birthday parties.  The party turned out just as I had hoped. 

We ordered in pizza and my friend Tina of Tarte Pop made Theo's dream cake of Chocolate on Chocolate with M&M's and dinosaurs on top. The staff members on site were so helpful, providing plates and bowls and cutlery (and birthday candles when I forgot them!). I also kept decorations really minimal with a few helium balloons spelling "hooray!" and some foam animal masks that the kids really took to. If you knew me a few years ago, this lack of decorating would surprise you but I've learned to lower my expectations and accept that I can't do everything. Also one of the reasons I chose a space like Circus Play Cafe was because it is already so cute! Any decorations I brought were just extra. With white walls, vintage schoolhouse furniture and mostly wooden toys it was already my aesthetic so I wasn't trying to cover up or compensate with decorations. 

Theo had an absolute blast and only stopped running and jumping to eat some cake. He didn't mention presents and seemed to just focus on the fun and attention from everyone who loves him. And as if the party wasn't already success enough, the clean up took about 15 minutes! 

I share about this party because my baby turning 4 is a big deal in our little family, but also because I think the inability to host big parties or gatherings is a deterrent for many people to live small. I wanted to share that you can still host parties but it may look a little different than expected. And while paying to host a party at an outside space may seem like an added expense, the money saved in lower rent or mortgage by staying in your small space makes it reasonable to spend a little to host events in larger spaces for those few times a year when you want to.

I also share because I'm often asked about how we deal with gifts in a small space. This is a real time example of how we deal, by minimizing the gifts we give and receive and by consciously taking the focus off of gifts and placing that focus on family, friends and experiences. And I don't mean that in a preachy, judgemental way for anyone that chooses differently. This is just the way we have learned to navigate our small space and have found (for us) that less really is more.

Thanks so much Circus Play Cafe for hosting us for Theo's 4th birthday and for creating a beautiful space to promote play in our city.

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