At first blush, Echoage, a service that aims to allow eco-minded parents and kids to tame the excesses of birthday giving by encouraging guests to give cash online, to be split 50-50 between a cause and one big gift, would seem to made for me.
I’ve struggled as long as I’ve been a parent with feeling out of control of the amount of stuff that enters my daughter’s life via gifts. We have a small house, an anti-consumerist ethos, and a general philosophy that a few simple art supplies, instruments, dolls, and cardboard boxes and being forced to have recourse to creativity from time to time would probably be a better way to grow up than drowning in stuff. Our daughter is used enough to hearing the stories of who had her clothes and toys before her that at one point when she was quite young she got fairly upset when we told her something came from a store and no one had had it before. But we haven’t done so well at keeping the overall volume down.
So the idea of gathering enough cash to purchase something usually out of reach, plus making a donation, plus skipping the worrying what to do with a new plastic gew-gaw, should appeal to me.
But it doesn’t, for the same reasons that I haven’t actually just laid down a “no presents” request around her birthday. First is humility. While I can wince and roll my eyes at the occasional inappropriate present or excessive amounts of pink clothes that I really wish my daughter hadn’t been given, the fact is that most of our friends and family actually have a pretty decent track record. In fact, they regularly think of things that are spot on and wouldn’t occur to me, make things, and are otherwise thoughtful gift givers. To think that something more expensive that I choose (or my kid chooses) would definitely be better than the varied creativity of our friends seems a little arrogant.
We do make it very clear that we never expect a gift (and really truly don’t keep track) and structure any present-opening activity to be informal and not highlight who brought them and who didn’t. Under such conditions, the inspired gift-giving impulse is one to be honored. Being expected to pony up a specific amount of cash online is not the same—not to mention that it puts thrifty, creative people at a disadvantage.
And then there’s the part where unwrapping presents (in moderation) is fun. A good fun. It’s an anticipation thing, a little bit of magic, not quite the same as acquisitiveness. It doesn’t have to be an ecological nightmare. We wrap presents in scarves, newspaper, reused wrapping paper.
When my daughter turned two she was given a cloth bag of hand selected rocks for throwing in ponds and streams. It was as green a present as you could want, and activity to round out the party, an education in not using something up all at once, and in general a delight she would have missed if we’d taken the Echoage route.
All that said, if you’re a hippie surrounded by wealthy conspicuous consumers, Echoage might well be useful. Also if you feel obliged to invite the whole preschool to your kid’s party it could stave off a lot of angst and competitiveness. I do like the idea of a formal way to tell people they can cool it. For me, though I just don’t want to throw the rocks out with the Disney kitsch.
Photo by Matt McGee.
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