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Are Goodie Bags Really Required?

By Madeline Holler |

goodie bags, party bags

Say good-bye to the goodie bag

Goodie bags have become a standard line item on to-do lists for kid birthday parties — right after theme and cake. A blogger over at’s Moneywatch asks whether she’d be making a huge mistake if she didn’t offer party bags at her soon-to-be 4-year-old’s birthday.

No, no, quite the opposite. She’d be making a huge mistake if she did offer them. They’re extra money, as she points out. They’re not all that appreciated by the kids and only barely tolerated by adults. Bad for the environment. Bad for notions of entitlement! All valid reasons to send guests home with nothing more than a sugar high and juice stained clothes.

But here’s the biggest reason Sarah Lorge Butler shouldn’t hand out bags of stickers and candy:

She doesn’t want to.

Butler can’t stand goodie bags. She remembers a time when they didn’t exist. She doesn’t think they’re fun to put together. She doesn’t like it when her kids bring them home. And yet. And yet she asks her sister-in-law, whom she describes as a domestic goddess, whether she’d be committing a faux pas by not giving out goodie bags. The Goddess doesn’t answer directly; instead sending her links to art kits on sale at Michael’s.

My take? Don’t. Go. To Michael’s, Sarah. Don’t go! YOU are throwing the party. You get to decide!

I think Butler’s party bag question is a bigger issue than just hostessing. The bags are something of a metaphor for how grown people parent these days. I think a lot of parents operate under the idea that there are rules to how we’re supposed to raise our children and that we need permission to try something else.

It’s not just goody bags, it’s everything. The toys, the clothes, dinner (what time, which vegetables, how much milk/water/dessert?). Which schools should we be going to? Which classes? How many? When? So many of us seem to want permission to go in a different direction than our herd.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to parenting, I love being part of  a herd (and this herd changes depending on topic and locale, no doubt). The herd has done a lot of the legwork — figuring out who the good doctors are, for example, or offering up a strategies for things I don’t feel terribly invested in, like potty training.

But I’ve got my own ideas, too, my own values and opinions. And, like Sarah, I don’t value goodie bags. It is my opinion that goodie bags are a waste of money, time and the earth’s resources. I don’t do goodie bags and couldn’t care less what a domestic goddess thinks about that. I am stunned when others ask me something like “how did you get away with no goodie bags.”

Get away with it? Turns out, I’m in charge and paid for the party. So, I suppose, that’s how I get away with it. Mom up, Sarah. Go with your gut and skip the bags.

You have my permission. (Though you don’t need it!)

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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12 thoughts on “Are Goodie Bags Really Required?

  1. mominCA says:

    I skipped goodie bags and my wonderful mother brought things for my nieces and nephews anyway because she didn’t want them to be disappointed or go home empty handed. And she did it behind my back thinking I wouldn’t find out. She didn’t respect that I didn’t want them or think they were necessary.

  2. K. says:

    My friend just told me she is giving out a mixed cd of her son’s favorite songs at the b-day party on Saturday. I am actually looking forward to bringing that home (it may only get as far as the CD player in the car!)

  3. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I like the mixed CD idea. Putting that one away for later…

  4. Manjari says:

    I have given books, art supplies, and origami paper/instructions at my kids’ parties. I like giving one nice thing (like a book) instead of a bag full of little things. That said, my kids recently got goodie bags full of lots of little things and they were SO delighted and still treasure some of the gifts in the bags.

    I also agree that no one should ever feel like they HAVE to do certain things. Parents shouldn’t feel like they need permission to do things their own way!

  5. Stephanie says:

    I like giving goodie bags, but I don’t spend alot on them. We usually do a craft they can take home and a small goodie bag. If you go to the dollar store and pick wisely then it’s usually not that much. Plus it teaches my kids a way of showing appreciation to their friends for coming, cause they help with putting them together. And I don’t have to worry about thank you cards, lol.

  6. g8grl says:

    I bought everyone a large plastic ball from Target for $2. All the kids loved it and it was a one shot deal without a ton of work for me

  7. Marj says:

    I bought mini tamborines & little bouncy balls for the babies at my kids birthday. I figured they would make great distractors.

  8. mbaker says:

    I had a very small party for my son where everyone pretended to be a paleontologist by digging for dinosaur skeletons and dinosaur eggs in the backyard sandbox. Instead of a goody bag each kid got to keep what they dug up and they got “supplies” they needed for the dig including a pail and shovel, a plastic pith helmet, a small magnifying glass, and an animal shaped measuring tape. It was more expensive than a regular goody bag but the party itself was cheap and easy to plan plus the parents told me that their kids played with everything long after they got home.

  9. Linda says:

    We usually have our parties out somewhere. This summer both of my older kids’ parties were at the skating rink. I figured that since I paid for each party guest to skate for 3 hours, have a lunch of pizza, drink, and desert, and gave them all glowstick necklaces (purchased beforehand at the drugsore) that the experience was their “goody bag.” Same as when we had swimming parties. The guests had the experience of swimming and we gave a small rubber duck as a party favor. I don’t have anything against goodie bags, I guess. To me they are a waste of money.

  10. Varotica says:

    I hate goodie bags that just contain a lot of candy. I try to get my son to loose weight and then he gets these goodie bags, halloween treats etc. Hate it.
    But as we live on welfare for the time being my son does not get a lot of things during the year. He understands the “we have no money for your favorite (healthy!) food”. To make amends for this hard time I feel like throwing him a party “of his dreams” is what I can do. And I try to do it cheap by crafting a lot and thinking creative. I love thinking about the goodie bags and what could be in them and how I can manage to do these things without spending a lot of money. By now, the bags will be huge, the items inside will be incredible and I am really happy about that. Especially as it is decorations I use for the party and costumes and activity-items the boys get during the event (it’s Star Wars Theme for us this year). This might be a bit much compared to what other parents do within the area we live in but it is not the bag filled with candy which makes me really happy. And I like preparing it. If you don’t like doing it – don’t do it. My bags are posted here btw:

  11. Julie says:

    I totally agree, that they are not necessary and moms and dads should not feel obligated to have them. I do like goodie bags. My daughters help me put them together and it teaches them to do something nice for their friends and show appreciation. I do agree that the goodie bags the girls come home with from parties end up just making a mess after just a few times playing with them. I like to do 1 or 2 “semi-big items” like a craft item (this year i bought plaster figurines to paint) or a book with some small items like stickers, markers, bouncy ball, etc.

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