The night before my eighth birthday I barely slept. The anticipation of the party the next day was too much for little imagination to take. If kids nowadays are anything like I was, then parties are a big deal. We obviously want to make our kids' parties special, but we sometimes can go overboard with lots of money being spent on decorations, disposable crockery, wrapping and knick-knacks that will only see the light of day for a few hours before they are binned.

In fact, it's hard to imagine a kid's party without the several bin-bags of rubbish that you end up with once you tidy-up. So I put my head together with my amazing sister-in-law, Kirsten Button, to see what ideas we could come up with to combat the problem. Over to you Kir ...

Kirsten Button and her sonKirsten Button, pictured with her son, assisted Tara in coming up with ideas for a sustainable kid's party. (Photo: Kirsten Button)

Our ultimate guide to a BuyMeOnce kid's party

As a parent, balancing our daily lives with our values can seem like balancing two wriggling toddlers in each arm. Take eco-friendliness for example. We all want to do our bit for the environment and try to make the world a better place for our children, but against the pressures of time, everyday life and money constraints, what can really be done?

A children's birthday party is potentially one of the most consumerist events in the annual calendar, so what steps could we take to try and create an event with less ecological impact? Here are a few ideas we've come up with. Implementing even a couple might relieve our parental guilt, at least on this front… momentarily…?

Essentials

It's worth taking a look at what you already own and seeing if you can borrow additional items, like extra plates, platters, tableware, cutlery, chairs, etc. The mix & match look is fun and colorful, and items can be washed up and returned. If you regularly cater for large groups, you might consider purchasing an additional set of reusable plates and cutlery, which can be brought out time and again. Something in a neutral color which wouldn't look out of place at an adult party would be ideal. And at least you'll never be short of plates at Christmas! If you like some color, Biobu does a range of colorful eco-friendly durable bamboo crockery.

A sturdy, wipe-down-able, table covering is a highly useful addition to a busy household. Ideal for kids' crafts, too, and if you buy a color or pattern which can be adapted to many themes, it'll last far longer than a disposable Peppa Pig or Thomas the Tank Engine equivalent! Yellow, baby blue, white and pale green are all very versatile colors. See John Lewis for a range of designs from £12.95 (about $17.50) a meter, but it's worth looking in the sales when the prices drop considerably. Ochre and Ocre do organic cotton oilcloths that are thinner than standard oil cloths and therefore drape better than most, and Cath Kidston also do a few patterns like the multicolored dots below that could be very versatile. Franclaire Fabric cloths (bottom 4 pictured) are acrylic coated which means they are not only wipeable but can be machine washed, too, which is super useful.

Various styles of table coveringsReusable and wipeable table coverings can be used for any party. (Photo: BuyMeOnce)

Franclaire Fabric cloth coversThese Franclaire Fabric cloth covers are machine washable, making them even better at being reused for parties. (Photo: Franclaire Fabric cloth covers/Franclaire Fabric)

Invitations

Think about sending email or text invitations instead of paper ones. It can be a timesaver as you can send several at once, and if there is a cost, it often doesn't work out much more than buying and sending paper equivalents. Companies such as Redstamp and Paperless Post have dozens of attractive and fun designs available either free or for a minimal fee. You can also send thank you letters/cards this way – some might say less personal, but I'm all for making life a bit easier where possible!

Decorations

Fabric bunting is a fantastic way to add color and personality, plus it can be folded away for another time or hung in your child's bedroom between parties. My mum bought my kids a set with each of their names on and we look forward to hanging out 'their' birthday bunting year after year, regardless of the party's theme. Not on the High Street has a number of styles at a variety of price points.

Not on the High Street Not on the High Street has a number of cute banners that can be used again and again. (Photo: Not on the High Street)

Colorful paper lanterns can take the place of balloons and can be collapsed to reuse again and again. Hanging Lantern have a wonderfully wide range and their lanterns are made using sustainable materials. Fairy lights are also great at making any space feel special and creating a warm atmosphere. You can even get solar powered ones. Try putting some in a vase on a table to make an inexpensive and pretty decoration. Great at Christmas, too!

Examples of hanging, reusable lanternsHanging lanterns make for lively and still-colorful replacement for balloons. (Photo: BuyMeOnce)

If your child has their heart set on a party based on a particular character or film, instead of throwaway paper, why not buy the duvet set and hang it as a banner/backdrop? It will be high impact, and then the duvet set can be kept and used as a longer-lasting present from the day. But this is probably only worth doing if your kid has a deep love affair with said character … otherwise you may end up with a stack of almost new Teletubbies and Minecraft bed linen!

Have a look at what you could use to create signs, etc., at home: Lego number or letter signs look great and can be a fun thing for your child to make the day before. Or try making a number or letter sign made out of photographs of your child – a very personal decoration which can be kept for posterity!

Use a mini-blackboard to write signs/display information. You can use this for other purposes year round too … mine is used to remind me of what stuff the kids need to take to school each day (Yes, yes, I know they should be responsible for their own things, but who am I kidding?!).

A photo collage in the shape of a letter, a chalk sign and a number built out of legosSigns bring an even higher degree of personalization to a party (Photo: BuyMeOnce)

Get the kids involved in making decorations for their party – Okay, I know few of us jump at the chance to make more mess (!), and this might be your idea of hell. But if you feel inspired, or your kids are anything like mine, this is the kind of thing they love, and you can tailor the color to their requests/teach them a little bit about recycling along the way. Egg carton bloom garlands are one way to create something pretty out of flotsam and jetsam!

And for the serious over achiever...

Games

Luckily many party games require very little equipment and again, can be created out of things you already own. Here are a few ideas:

  • The fancy dress relay for this you need plant pots and some old clothes/dressing-up box items. Station two lines of pots spread apart outside. At the first pot, place a woolly hat, at the second a pair of wellies, at the third a coat, at the fourth a scarf etc. Line up the two teams – the first competitor for each team, runs to the first pot and dons the hat, runs onto the second pot and puts on the wellies and so on. When they reach the final pot, they turn around and come back, removing the items in reverse order. They then tag the next competitor. The first team to complete the relay wins! Age 5+
  • The chocolate game is an old classic, but be warned, it gets hyper competitive! One friend decided to bring this out at a dinner party! You will need a large bar of chocolate, a hat, scarf, pair of gloves, a dice and a knife and fork. Sit the children around the bar of chocolate in a circle. The children take turns to roll a dice. If someone rolls a six, they have to put on the hat, scarf and gloves and begin to try and cut a piece of chocolate off the bar with the knife and fork. Meanwhile, the dice continues to be rolled by the other children. As soon as the next person rolls a six, it is their turn to try and cut off some chocolate. It is a race against time!! Age 5+
  • Music-based games such as musical chairs, musical bumps and musical statues are huge favorites and don't add any mess.
  • Create bags or t-shirts with fabric paints as one of the games. These can then be a keepsake parting gift.
  • Felt games which can be brought out at every party can become a family tradition/heirloom. If you're crafty, here's how you can make your own (If you're not, see sprinkleofsparkles on Etsy for an abundance of felt 'pin the…on the…' style games (e.g. pin the cherry on the cupcake or pin the flag on the castle)).
  • Who doesn't love bubbles?! Make some bubble solution in a big bowl and buy some bubble wands that can be kept for another time – or ask a friend or relative to consider buying a bubble machine as a gift – this can be reused time and again and adds a magical dimension to celebrations. From babies upwards!
  • Age-appropriate board games such as Twister can be kept for decades. Or create life-size chalk games/activities, particularly good if you have a summer party.
  • Use sandpits to create search games. Mine for chocolate money, or shells, or pebbles painted gold!
  • Sometimes, the old games really are the best. Pass the parcel is a huge favorite of course, so rather than skip it, think about using recycled paper, colorful newspaper pages or tissue paper saved from other purchases. From 3+

Party bags

These are a personal bugbear … mindless plastic tat is the bane of my life! Plus party bag items are often tiny: not great if you have a little baby crawling around the floor, hoovering up potential death traps at every turn.

A 'sweets shop', a collection of books and a gardening pailParty bags are filled with plastic knick-knacks. Offer sweets, books or small gardening kits as alternatives. (Photo: BuyMeOnce)

A few alternative party bag ideas

  1. Choose a book for each child that relates to the party theme and is appropriate for the child's age. Give these as their parting gift – something they can return to again and again, and which can be passed on to other family members. And it often doesn't work out as more expensive than a bag full of bits and pieces!
  2. Other alternatives for a 'one-hit wonder' parting gift include a little bucket and spade, a plant pot with a pack of seeds, a puncture proof ball or a photo frame containing a picture of the guest with your child.
  3. A piece of birthday cake
  4. A sweetshop system: display sweets in glass jars or vases and invite each child to help themselves to some on the way out. This way they only choose sweets they like, you can reuse the glass jars/vases and you can also use paper bags for the sweets.
  5. If a party simply wouldn't be a party without a 'classic' party bag, consider gifts which are more sustainable, e.g., a wooden yo-yo or spinning top. See Little Cherry for ideas.

Presents

Many of your kid's friends will bring presents that maybe aren't in the spirit of sustainability or trying to live a less throwaway life. And in the face of such generosity, you don't want to appear rude. However, if you are asked for ideas for gifts, or can approach very close friends and family, you may want to suggest more enduring presents:

  • You could suggest that several family members club together for a wooden train set, bicycle, climbing frame or other items which you know will give your children (or, indeed, your grandchildren) pleasure for years to come. The BuyMeOnce Toy selection is small at the moment but growing all the time, and it can give you an idea of the types of things that can last over time.
  • You could also consider asking close friends and family to give the gift of time or their area of interest. This has the dual benefit of less stuff in your home and creating special one-to-one time with that child.
  • A visit to a museum/theater can be expensive, but it needn't be – many museums put on free exhibitions, or it could be a trip to the cinema/local theater. National museum permanent galleries are free entry, but they charge for temporary exhibitions…
  • The gift to an older child of a voucher for their favorite restaurant can be fun, so that they can invite a friend or two out for dinner – Pizza Express, ASK, Zizzi's, etc.
  • Classmates can club together to give one gift too… this year, my daughter's class parents have decided to give one gift between us. It often works out at about £10 (around $14) per head, but the child gets one gift rather than a raft of things they may not want. There has been no pressure to be involved –simply an invitation to join in if you want to.

Have fun!

Buttons and her daughterBirthday parties are supposed to be fun! (Photo: BuyMeOnce)

Hopefully this provides some food for thought. It is certainly not meant to be another rock with which to beat ourselves up. Lord knows parents have enough of those! But if trying a couple of these makes our lives a little easier by accumulating less stuff and saving some time, and heck, maybe even imparting a little environmental wisdom to our offspring on the way, we might give ourselves a teensy tiny pat on the back … well, until the next parenting fail anyway!

This story was originally written by Tara and Kirsten Buttons for Buy Me Once and is republished with permission here.

How to host a kid's birthday party without creating a lot of waste
The founder of Buy Me Once offers some tips on how to host a kid's birthday party without creating a lot of trash.