Flush with all the toys and clothes your tot could ever want? Consider throwing a present-free party for your child’s next birthday. You might have tried doing this in the past, but found that folks like getting something to commemorate a wee one’s birthday and have a hard time showing up emptyhanded. So if you feel your guests’ presence is truly the only present your child requires, you may need to suggest some alternatives.

One fun option is a book exchange. Ask invitees to wrap a book without a gift tag and take it to the party. This works with new books, or you can specify that they bring gently-used books. At the end of the festivities, each child selects a wrapped gift to take home. There’s no need for party favors, and everyone has fun getting a chance to give and receive. We love this example (and photo above) from mom blogger Jennie Dixon.

Another idea you’ll enjoy for years to come, is asking guests to bring a letter to the birthday boy or girl in lieu of a present. More than cards, letters will give your friends and family a chance to express their personal thoughts and wishes. You’re bound to get a range of funny and heart-warming sentiments. Save them as they are, or get creative and use them as components for a scrapbook or time capsule.

For an activity-based idea, request that children bring beads to the party instead of a gift. Set up a kid-sized craft table with plastic lacing string, and combine all the beads in a bucket. Everyone’s contribution makes a fun party-time project. Plus, each child heads home with a special friendship necklace or bracelet.

Older kids will understand the importance of having guests donate the money they would have spent on a gift to a charity instead. Take some time to talk to your birthday celebrant about the organization they’d like to support. Some charities that are geared toward the needs of children—such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities, or Big Brothers Big Sisters—may really resonate with your little one. Or, if there’s something happening in the news that they keep hearing about (i.e. Haiti), they’ll feel a connection to that. Then you can all feel better about having used their birthday as an opportunity to help others.

—Kristen McClusky