Wow. We've ALWAYS asked for "no gifts" at birthday parties. Maybe nobody dares to disobey me!!! Seriously, it works. If someone shows up with a present, it goes away until after the party.
Note: we limit birthday party invites to one friend per year of age and grandparents (who ignore the no gifts rule or complain bitterly about it). The first "party" is when they are 5 years old. Yeah, I'm a scrooge. I also dislike the whole notion of goodie bags. The first party was a playdo party, so DD & I made playdo to give to each guest. The other parties have had **home made** pinatas filled with NOT candy (just a little) and NOT crap. The kids were given little brown bags to fill up. Yeah, I'm a scrooge!!!!! But everybody loves our parties, so I'm doing **something** right.
I think a birthday party is an excuse to celebrate with friends and eat food that may be bad for you - it's not an excuse to "get stuff" - and my kids have been raised that way. They don't understand why other kids have presents at their parties - it's not much fun for guests to watch someone get to open presents. But, they don't go to a lot of parties, either. Unfortunately, the ones they go to are way over the top and confusing to kids who are blessed to have no "needs".
Present ideas: craft supplies, membership to zoo or museum, tuition money for additional classes. I'm very picky about the items that come into my house, but I'm ok in general with additional crayons and crappy coloring books. My in-laws NEVER listen to us regarding gift ideas, so it's a big sore spot. They have been on the receiving end of a lot of open criticism for their thoughtless disrespect for the way we choose to raise our family. And yet, each year for Christmas, Easter, birthday, etc, they bombard us with crap because it's their "right" as grandparents to buy whatever they "want". I have sent presents HOME with them!! Most of the time, they get downright offended because we veto their thoughts and they end up not giving my dd a present at all. That type of manipulation doesn't work for me. (example: last birthday, they paid for the moonwalk and THEN wanted to buy her a camera - we said the moonwalk was good enough, thank you VERY much!!! and the camera became the central focus of the holidays - it was a camera that we felt was too "young" for her, but they took it the wrong way, of course, so no present! no big deal, in my opinion. They did buy a better camera for Christmas and gave DD2 the "younger" camera - it was almost too young for her.)