A Life Less Complicated

Your Guide to Stress-Free Birthday Admin

Did you know that the average UK adult purchases 32 gifts each year*? That’s almost 3 a month! Not to mention the birthday cards on top of that! While gift giving (and receiving!) can bring lots of joy, let’s not overlook the amount of headspace involved in making it happen. From remembering whose birthdays are when, thinking about what to buy them to remembering to buy it, wrap it and hand it to them in time for their big day, birthday admin certainly takes its toll on mental load. In this post, I share my top 6 tips for stress-free birthday admin.

1. Simplify your birthday list

The first thing to do is to decide who you want to send cards and gifts to. The purpose of this exercise is to really think about who you are giving to, and not just blindly sending them to the list of people you have always given to. Your time and headspace is limited so choose how you use them both wisely.

Step 1: Write a list  

Write a list of everyone who you send a card and/or gift to during the course of the year. Family, friends, colleagues, friends’ children, your children’s friends, teachers, nursery staff and so on – make sure the list is complete.

Step 2: Simplify your list

Go through the list and consider how you would really like to mark their birthday. Do you want to get them a card? A gift? Do something together? Do you simply want to send a message on the day or give them a quick birthday call? It is unlikely that there will be anyone on your list that you simply cross out altogether (although I’m intrigued to know more if there are!) so then it is a question of simplifying how you mark their birthday.

Go through your list and ask yourself the following questions:

    • Is it reciprocal? Do you both give to each other or is it one-sided?
    • Do you enjoy buying for this person?
    • Do they appreciate and use the gift that you give them?
    • Do you buy for them because you want to or because you feel like you should?
    • Do you think they enjoy buying you a present? Or is it possible that you are both dreading the annual gift sending ceremony in equal measure?
    • Would they be understanding about stopping gift giving?
    • Could you swap gift giving for card giving?
    • Could you swap card giving for a WhatsApp message or birthday phone call?
    • Could you swap gift giving for vouchers or a meal out together?

Step 3: Make it Happen

Now you’ve decided how you want to simplify your list, you need to actually make it happen. Here’s how:

1) Advance warning: Tell them well in advance of their next birthday to save any awkwardness

2) Position it as a reciprocal change: i.e. that “we won’t do gifts for each other anymore”, rather than “I’m not going to get you a present anymore”

3) Just say it how it is:  Something along the lines of “I’m looking for ways to reduce my mental load – would YOU mind if we stopped doing birthday presents and just did cards from now on?”.

4) Bite the bullet: If the idea of this fills you with cringe-making discomfort, I encourage you to just bite the bullet and give it a go anyway. I have recently done this with a number of people in my life and everyone has been incredibly receptive and supportive of the concept and I suspect they may be a little relieved that they don’t have to get me anything anymore either! Keep your eyes on the prize: a smaller birthday to do list and more headspace for other things.

2. Reminders, reminders, reminders

Ok so this may sound obvious, but if you haven’t already, you need to organise your phone calendar so that it TELLS YOU when it’s someone’s birthday. Don’t leave it to your poor overloaded mind to remember. Four steps to get properly set up:

  1. Add birthdays (and special occasions) to your calendar
  2. Set them to recur yearly
  3. Add addresses to your contacts so that you know WHERE to send their card/gift
  4. Most importantly, set reminders for 1 week before, 3 days before and on the day so you have plenty of time to get organised

3. Birthday Card Stash

Now that you have an updated list of who you are going to send cards to, and reminders in place that the big day is coming up, you need a card to actually send to them. Time to grab a box and stock up on a variety of cards catering for birthdays, new homes, engagements, new babies – you name it. Make sure you have some blank cards too which are a great fallback option for any occasion. I love my stash of Whistlefish cards – great value, high quality cards from Cornwall, UK, featuring local artists’ work. Use this link to get £5 off your first order!

Stock up on stamps and throw them in the box too, along with a couple of pens and you’re all set for the next card-sending occasion.

Pro Tip: If you want to be super organised, try writing your birthday cards monthly or quarterly so they are ready to pop in the post when the time comes. And of course, don’t forget to set a reminder for that!

4. Birthday Gift Stash

Alongside your card stash, it’s really helpful to have a gift stash. Keep your eyes peeled for nice gifts whenever you are out and about at the shops and pop them in your gift box/drawer ready for a suitable birthday. Chocolates, bath bombs, notebooks, mugs and books all make for great gift stash ideas, alongside toys, craft kits, books and notebooks for kids too. Reduce the stress of the looming deadline by shopping throughout the year, and spread the cost too! Be sure to check out the sales to grab yourself some bargains for your stash. And of course you will also need wrapping paper or bags, gift tags, tape and scissors in your stash so that you have everything you need in one place ready to go.

5. Birthday Gift Ideas List

If you’re anything like me, it can be a real chore trying to think of what on earth you’re going to buy people when their birthday is coming up (or Christmas for that matter). This is a really quick and easy hack to help you out and works particularly well for the nearest and dearest in your life. Create a note in your phone called “Gift Ideas” and add to it throughout the course of the year. Whenever your other half says “these kitchen knives are rubbish” or “I love this whiskey”, sneakily add it to your ideas list. When their birthday comes around, just pick something from the list and order it – saves you from wracking your brains and means that they get something they actually want!

6. Scrap the Official Dates

How about deliberately ignoring the official birthday date and sending cards/gifts at a time that suits your schedule? Tell your friends and family to expect a card or gift out-of-the-blue instead of on their big day. Reduce the pressure on yourself and brighten their day when they least expect it. That sounds like a win-win to me!

There you have it, 6 strategies to simplify birthday admin. Will you give any a try? Let me know in the comments!

*According to a 2021 poll of 2000 adults conducted by One Poll for The Card Factory

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Hi, I’m Lesley

I'm the blogger behind A Life Less Complicated. I’m passionate about simplifying busy lives and reducing your mental load. Keeping on top of modern life doesn’t have to be so hard - stick around to find out how!

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