Sunday, May 11, 2008

Two Rants Against Goodie Bags

basket full of goodie bags

1. Christopher Noxon is tired of overdone children's birthday parties. His three-step plan to improve things begins this way:
Step 1. Immediate and total ban on goodie bags.

There was a time, not so long ago, when kids got genuinely excited by those little sacks of toys and do-dads given on the way out of a birthday party. That time is long gone and all those sad little bags do for us now is inspire worry about sweat shop labor and toxic plastic fumes. Kids have taken to carting off their bags with nonchalance. A ban on goodie bags will not only reduce waste - it puts the emphasis back where it belongs: the kid celebrating the actual birthday.
2. San Francisco Bay Area columnist Jon Carroll wrote about attending a charity event where he ran the auction. Here's a snippet:
On the way out, I noticed a phalanx of black bags sitting on the lawn next to the driveway. I walked a little farther, and a woman offered me one of the bags. It was, she said, their way of thanking me. Now, I can remember when someone's way of saying "thank you" was to say "thank you," and I actually preferred that method.

Do I need more stuff? Did any of the people who attended the event - who were mostly rich people, because charity organizers, like Willie Sutton, go where the money is - need more stuff? I don't think so. And yet there were the burlap-like black bags - further investigation indicated that they were made in China - to say thank you to people who, quite probably, already felt adequately thanked.

This cultural ritual is not confined to high-end charity events; children (or, rather, the parents of children) now expect a goody bag at the end of every birthday party. It's like, we invited your kid, we entertained your kid, we gave your kid lunch and some cake, and now - here's a reward for your child having to endure all that. Stuff! Because your kid does not have enough stuff.
Want to know what was in those adult goodie bags? Read the rest of the article.

Related Post:
Suggestion: Stop Giving Goodie Bags

[photo by Steel Wool / Wynnie Kwok]


Louise said...

Great post!

I'd take it a step further: let's get rid of giving away free junk of all kinds. In the last two days, my husband and I each refused a t-shirt and a pack of cards. (We were parking the RV overnight at casinos and these were offered as "welcome gifts.")

When we turned them down, the givers were stunned. The look in their eyes was pure disbelief. But they're free!

Nothing is free. Cheap promotional junk costs me space, serenity and time. No, thanks.

Angelia said...

Its true reg: the party packs, I have 3 kids under the age of 7 and each week (or so it seems) there seems to be a party in school (this is preschool over in Malaysia) and party packs given! I just dont always know what to do with the stuff, I've never given party packs for my kids, I've had puzzled kids looking at me, saying but.. where are the party packs I said we dont give them, we prefer to have fun at the party and say thank you after. I can tell you the look of confusion was quite funny LOL Im still trying to "recycle" much of what was given to us, esp the junk food contained within! cos none of us eat this in the house, it's going elsewhere!

I wish I could hire jeri, I so need the help to reorganise my house LOL but Im too far away!

Jeri Dansky said...

Louise, I'm with you on that one. There's a whole industry creating promotional items, and so many of them just become clutter.

Angelia, thank you so much for writing; it's interesting to hear that this is an issue in your part of the world, too. I have fond memories of Malaysia from my visits in 1985 and 1994.

Allison Spitzer Carter said...

You hit a hot button with me! I wrote about this 4 years ago. I even sent a letter to the editor I was so fed up with the weekly crap that came home from kids' birthday parties.
Here is the gist of what I wrote:
Don’t Buy into the Goody Bag Epidemic
Resons to end goodie bags:
1. Save money.
To get a variety of goodies, they need to be cheap enough to afford, thus making it a bag of junk that kids play with for 2 minutes and toss. You have spent good money for stuff that doesn't really enhance the kids lives one bit. I hear moms who buy them and moms whose kids receive them both complaining about the hassles.

2.Obesity epidemic:
Candy in bags - who needs it? Not my kids. They get plenty everywhere else.

3.Too much stuff:
Kids have way too many toys and much too much stuff in general. Let’s not add to the organizing dilemma. It is a nightmare to store and organize these goodies. As a professional organizer, I spend many hours a month throwing away items from goodie bags, fast food restaurant toys, and more.

4. Addicted to new:
It teaches kids that toys aren't for keeps, but just so you get the feeling you got something new, even if it's nearly worthless.

So lets start a trend. If you like to give a parting gift, instead of buying a bag full of little tchochkes, get one nice thing that a child can enjoy repeatedly, take a photo with the birthday child, or make a craft as a party activity. Or you could always just say “Thanks for coming.”

Allison Carter

Jeri Dansky said...

Allison, I wonder how the whole concept of goodie bags got started, and when. They certainly weren't part of birthday parties when I was a child.

Not being a parent myself, I didn't realize how prevalent they had become until I became a professional organizer and, like you, started finding their contents among the stuff to be discarded.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I suspect that the origin of goodie bags may be right here in LA among my entertainment industry pals!

Show biz goodie bags serve as promotional opportunities for products and services. They seem to have been around for decades, growing larger and more extravagant with the passing years. But let a "star" be seen in public wearing/using your product and the expense of all those bags was worth it.

Using trickle down logic, I think that the idea of giving bags o' stuff as a (totally unnecessary) thank you gift probably just got co-opted by parents who began to use it as a "promotional opportunity" to flaunt their wealth!

They say that trends that start in LA take a few years to spread across the country. There's been plenty of time for this trend to spread and it has!

Ah, for the days of a simple birthday gift for a child, a simple host/hostess gift for the kind soul who offers hospitality.

Jeri Dansky said...

Cynthia, now that you mention it, I remember hearing about the goodie bags given out to show biz stars. Apparently the the IRS got interested in them, too.

Your comment got me poking around to see if there were other ideas on the origin of the darn goodie bags. I didn't find anything (yet), but I did find a good discussion of the topic.

Gretchen said...

I'm totally with you on this! I actually do face painting at kids parties so I see first hand some of the most elaborate, waste-of-money parties!

When I was little my mom threw us the BEST birthday parties, and she never bought all the licensed character "junk"...she came up with her own games, made the cake and even made our parties totally original and really fun!

She would make a whole party activity out of making your own bag. Everyone got a plain brown paper lunch bag and spent part of the party decorating it with markers & stickers to personalize it.

Everyone would then go on a "sucker hunt," where she had hidden those safety suckers with the loop handles all over the house or yard, and the bags were for collecting the suckers you found. Sortof like an egg hunt. It was a blast, and rather than just giving kids a plastic bag pre-stuffed with crap that looks like everyone else's, the kids made their own and even had fun filling it themselves!

Love your blog by the way, and thanks for the link to my recycled junk mail scratch paper box on my site! ;-)

Angelia said...

wow jeri! didnt know you visited our fair country :) if you ever come visit, holler at me! would love to meet you!

Im trying hard to slowly reorganise this mad house lol I think I shall have to get the kids involved LOL

Jennifer Greene said...

Don't remind me those days. When the party was over, all parents were still waiting. For what??? exactly what you said "goodie bags." Anyway, my son 6th birthday was in February. When I was struggling what to buy, for my son and "goodie bags" my sister showed me something called giftventure. Oh, I even made the last letter at the birthday party. All kids read it at the samse time and had so much fun. When the party was over, the kids forgot goodie bags. But serious, I think the giftventure is pretty good. Check it out

Jeri Dansky said...

Angelia, I was in Penang in 1985, just after the bridge to the mainland opened. It was my first trip to Asia, and a wonderful introduction.

In 1994 I went to lots of places on the peninsula: Melaka, Klang and Kuala Selangor, Ipoh, Kuala Kangsar, Taiping, Kota Bharu.

If I get back to the area, I'll certainly let you know!

Jeri Dansky said...

Gretchen, face-painting sounds like a fun birthday party activity without being over the top. It's too bad parents can't just stop there.

I don't remember any of my birthday parties - my mom probably wasn't as creative as yours. But you know, I did just fine without a big extravaganza.

And I'm always delighted to find and link to people making neat stuff, especially from recycled or renewable materials.

Jeri Dansky said...

Jennifer, I'm glad you found an alternative to goodie bags. I'm a bit confused as to how you used giftventure; did all the children go together to find one "gift"? Or did each child go to get his or her own gift? What did you use as the gift?

Jennifer Greene said...

Kids monopoly. The children all got lost in the adventure when he showed them the letters and told the story. They had to solve a puzzle on a map that came with it. They did it as a group and he found his gift. I guess it isn't really an alternative for goodie bags but they definitely had a lot of fun with it and it certainly didn't involve candy!

Blue Yonder said...

It's been mentioned here before, but I can't plug it enough: Birthdays Without Pressure is an organization that supports parents who want saner celebrations for their kids, including cutting down on goodie bags and other over-the-top stuff.

Jeri Dansky said...

Blue Yonder, thanks for posting that great link! Eco-friendly birthday parties is another nice piece that might give parents some good ideas.

SUS said...

Hi Jeri,
We just had a birthday party for our daughter, and I wish I had seen your post before making all those goodie bags! Here's a link to an article from today's paper on this very same subject (you are ahead of the curve as usual):

Also, an article on an Austin mama who is giving up the house and cars, donating just about everything to charity, buying a bus, and taking the family on the road (eventually to VT):

Jeri Dansky said...

SUS, there's always next year to do the party differently. And now you'll have a year to think about what you'd like to do!

Thanks for the links! Here's one for you - another article on having sane birthday parties.

LadyBugAbode said...

I whole-heartedly agree that we should also get rid of all toys given for "free" at fast food restaurants. I hate those things, just another example of waste. When you ask the server not to put a toy in the bag, they look at you like you have 3 heads!

Have you seen Check it out. I highly recommend showing it to your kids then reminding them of it when they're begging for junk at the mall.

Jeri Dansky said...

LadyBugAbode, I agree The Story of Stuff is well worth watching; I wrote about it here.

Angelia said...

Jeri, Penang is my homestate! It's certainly changed a lot! but I live in KL, would LOVE to meet you!

I wish I could afford to hire you and bring you out here! haha I'm trying to get out of the feeling of being overwhelmed when it comes to reorganising.

Jeri Dansky said...

Angelia, I'm sure Penang has changed a LOT since I was there. I stayed in Georgetown (at the Oriental Hotel (which seems to still be there, looking about the same on the outside, at least) and in Batu Ferringhi, which was a pretty quiet place back then. I remember lovely beaches lined with Casuarina trees. A man named Bill had a menagerie with gibbons and otters, right near my hotel.

Such good memories!

Angelia said...

its more commercialised now (Batu Feringghi) but still worth a visit :)

Doing the house, section by section (more like cupboard by cupboard). Not as daunting a task that way huh?

Anonymous said...


all those little cute tchotchkas that kids bring home in goody bags, happy meals, docotrs office etc etc can be tossed into a big plastic caldron to use instead of candy for Trck or Treaters. New owners of this detrious can be offered a perk to toss it in the caldron. Works for us and by Halloween the cauldron is usually full with a bag of wrapped candy in the mix.

Jeri Dansky said...

Anonymous, I like that idea - thank you so much for sharing!