46 Ways to Give Experiences Instead of Stuff This Year

46 Ways to Give Experiences Instead of Stuff This Year and why you would want to

As we near the time of the year often dedicated to gift giving, I can’t help but think about the fact that often these well intentioned gifts eventually lead to more stress, for the giver and the receiver. In our family, we’ve chosen to give experiences instead of material gifts most of the time and the results have been amazing.

Don’t get me wrong… I love giving gifts and always enjoy finding, wrapping and giving the perfect gift to a family member or friend. As a mom, I also dread the aftermath of gifts… the paper all over the floor, the toys all over the floor, the lingering messes and the kids complaining about having to clean up their toys.

Also, as every parent has inevitably experienced at some point, the joy of material gifts fades quickly and even the most anticipated Christmas toys soon become a chore to clean up.

Are We Drowning in Too Much Stuff?

The dramatic success of the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up provides a hint that perhaps many of us feel that we simply have too much stuff (short summary of the book= throw most of it away).

Turns out, we probably do!

Think for a second about your grandparents home when you were growing up. If it was anything like mine, it was probably a small house with even smaller closets. And the closets were not that full. And they raised six kids in that house! They also didn’t need drastic storage and organizing solutions or extra storage rental units.

Fast forward to present day, when the LA Times reports that the average American home has over 300,000 items in it and there are over 50,000 storage facilities nationwide (and this is the fastest growing real estate segment!). In fact, at least 1 in 10 of us have a storage unit to store our excess stuff. Consider this:

The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation. Thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self storage roofing! (source)

Do we really have so much more stuff than people did just two generations ago?

Yes we do…

More Clothes

Our grandparents had an average of nine outfits, including dress clothes and work clothes.

Now, we have an average of 30, plus a lot of extra clothes that don’t qualify as an “outfit.”

The AVERAGE family spends $1,700 on clothes annually while giving or throwing away over 200 pounds of clothes per year.

More Toys

This is the part that really shocked me…

The average child in the developed world owns over 200 toys but only plays with 12 of them on average per day!

Even crazier? Only 3% of the world’s children live in the US, but they own 40+% of the world’s toys!

If it Makes You Happy…

Those staggering statistics about how much stuff we all own wouldn’t worry me if it seemed that the excess stuff improved our lives in some way or made us happier, healthier or closer to our children… but that isn’t the case. To quote Sheryl Crow:

If it makes you happy
It can’t be that bad
If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad

We have and consume twice as many material goods than we collectively did 50 years ago, but statistically we are much less happy.

54% of us report being overwhelmed with clutter and 78% of us have no idea how to overcome it!

This also leads to additional stress:

Over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for misplaced items.The research found we lose up to nine items every day—or 198,743 in a lifetime. Phones, keys, sunglasses, and paperwork top the list. (source)

Certainly, there is much more to why we are less happy than we used to be than just the excess clutter, but statistically, it is a contributor, and an easy one to address.

Why Give Experiences Not Stuff?

Many studies have shown that material possessions do not equal happiness and that experiences are much more intrinsically fulfilling that things. (Additional bonus: you don’t have to find a place to store experiences except in your heart, memory, and maybe on some pictures!)

A researcher named Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University has spent more than a decade trying to understand why experiences have the ability to contribute to happiness so much more than material purchases. Along with another researcher, Matthew Killingsworth, he recently published his research in the Journal of Psychological Science showing that experiences provide more lasting happiness than material possessions. (source)

The basic conclusion was that people tend to get less happier with material purchases over time, and more happy with experiences. They speculate that this is because we adapt to physical things, so even the nicest car or  newest phone becomes commonplace after enough time, while memories tend to get fonder over time.

Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences. (source)

Even negative experiences, they found, can often be remembered fondly as a funny story or bonding experience. Experiences are also a uniting factor. You are more likely to bond with someone who enjoys the same hobby/activity or has traveled to the same places that you have than with someone who has a similar possession.

The anticipation leading up to a trip, event, or experience even has the potential to provide happiness itself, making it the gift that truly keeps on giving! Happiness in the anticipation, happiness during the experience and happiness in the memories.

Beats the heck out of a pile of toys that you trip over while tucking the kids in at night!

It turns out that Aristotle had it right all those years ago: “men fancy that external goods are the cause of happiness (but) leisure of itself gives pleasure and happiness and enjoyment in life.”

Give Experiences: The Importance for Kids

As important as shared experiences are for adults, they are even more important for children and for healthy psychological development. In fact, shared family time (even in simple things like family dinner together) is drastically important for a child’s well being (much more important than the dozens of extra curricular activities we often neglect family time for).

Shared family time and experiences have been linked to:

  • Bonding within the family
  • Fewer behavioral problems in children
  • A stronger sense of identity
  • A sense of security for children
  • Higher rates of academic success
  • Lower rates of violence

Of course, these shared experiences can be as simple as time spent together during/preparing meals, while driving, or reading stories before bed, but prioritizing shared experiences as gifts helps reduce unwanted material items and fosters family bonding.

Kids don't remember their best day of tv

Our Rule for Gifts

You might have heard of the “4-Gift Rule” that some parents follow of:

Something they want, Something they need, Something to wear, Something to read

The Rule of 4 for gift givingWe follow a variation of this focused on shared experiences. Our kids typically get:

  1. The “Want”: One Material Gift– despite my preference for experiences, we do get one gift for each child that is strictly something they want. Often these end up being experience gifts as well like craft supplies or a sewing machine or the gorilla gym that has been a favorite in our house for years. Sometimes they are also educational gifts like a Roominate set, a Perplexus puzzle or bulk legos.
  2. The “Need”: Experience Gifts– Each child gets at least one experience gift per year, and often we get them several more experience based gifts as well (see my full list below). Since family experiences are so important for us, we consider these gifts a need so we prioritize and budget for them.
  3. The “Wear”: Clothes– I’ve been working on creating capsule wardrobes for my kids (post on that coming soon) and for holidays they often get one clothing item they need like a new coat or hiking boots. This may also be something fun, like dress up clothes, if they don’t need any new clothing.
  4. The “Read”: Memory Books– We try to take the kids to the library often since they get to choose so many new books without them taking up room on the shelves, so our kids get a different kind of book as a gift. Each year, I keep a folder on my desktop for each child and throughout the year add pictures from field trips, birthdays, daily hikes, camping trips and other fun memories. At the end of the year, I compile each child’s photos into a hardcover book that I print through a photo service (like Shutterfly). This is my favorite gift to give them each year since it helps them relive and remember everything we did as a family that year, and it is a gift that they can take and show their own families one day. These books end up being the favorite gift every year (and bonus, the photo service saves them so I can reprint if one ever gets ruined!).

What About Extended Family Gifts?

Even once we decided to make the switch to experiences with our kids, it took a while to figure out how to approach the topic with extended family. We approached it in two ways:

  1. Switching to giving experiences to family members as well
  2. Gently explaining our reason for choosing experiences and encouraging extended family to give experiences as well

It has taken a few years, but extended family is now on board and the kids cherish the time with other family members as well. This year, one family member is taking our daughter to see the Nutcracker, and grandparents often give memberships to museums or zoos or gift certificates to go to a movie or lunch.

At the end of the day, we can’t (and shouldn’t) control what extended family chooses to give our children. Personally, I’m very grateful that our family has decided to prioritize experience type gifts as well, but even if they didn’t and decided to still give material gifts, we would welcome these and teach our children to be grateful for these gifts (as the relationship with family is more important than arguing about the gifts).

Ideas for Ways to Give Experiences

The average parent spends over $250 per child on toys and gifts each year! While experience type gifts can be a litle more expensive up-front, they end up being much cheaper in the long run. Especially when we consider that with that average, we’d spend over $1200 on gifts for our children, we don’t mind spending even a couple hundred dollars on a worthwhile memberhsip or experience that will last all year.

The move away from material gifts was a slow one for us. If you’re considering focusing more on experiences this year, here are some of my favorite ideas that our family has enjoyed over the years.

Family Gifts

Bigger memberships or vacations are often family gifts:

  • Museum Memberships– Check around for local museums that offer annual memberships. Many offer discounts for local residents or have programs for kids. We have found great deals on local art and history museums.
  • Science Center Memberships– Many cities also have a children’s museum or science center with an annual pass option. We found that it was cheaper to purchase an annual membership to a nearby science center than for our family of 7 to go one time! This is a great place to go on a rainy day and is a common destination for our Friday field trips.
  • Orchestra Season Tickets- Even though we don’t live in a large city, we have a local orchestra that preforms every couple of months. I called and found that season tickets for children were extremely affordable (less than $8 a show) and this is now a fun family activity that the kids look forward to.
  • Community Theater Tickets– If you have a local theater, take children to these as well. This was our big family gift last year, and we got a few season tickets. My husband and I get to go to the more grown-up performances as date nights and we alternate taking the older kids to performances that they enjoy (like Annie, Rudolph, etc.).
  • Tent for Camping– Sometimes a material gift can lead to an experience. This tent was a family gift a couple of years ago and we’ve used it quite a few times (I picked that one because it is really easy to set up!).
  • Minor League Baseball Tickets (or college, or MLB)– We all love baseball (because it is the best sport 😉 ) and season tickets to our local minor league team have been a great family outing that lasts all summer long. Really, any sports ticket (college, pro, etc.) is a great family activity.
  • Nature Center Tickets– Check for local nature areas or nature centers in your area and see if they offer an annual pass. We’ve found these for nature centers, a local cave and state parks.
  • Local Attraction Season Passes– Any other local attraction with a season pass can be a great gift. Check for other types of museums, historical sites, or local attractions.
  • New Family Hobbies– Take up hiking, camping, card games, a sport or other fun activity and get the necessary equipment or passes for your new hobby.
  • Be Puzzled– Feeling brave? This 33,000 piece puzzle is the world’s largest. It might take you the whole year to put together and will foster a LOT of family time!
  • Fun Family Outing– Plan in advance a trip to a local amusement park, a family vacation or other activity. Remember, looking forward to an experience makes the experience more fun and fosters happiness on its own!
  • Volunteer– Truly a gift that keeps on giving. If possible with your kids ages, volunteer at a local food pantry or charity and give your kids (and yourself) the gift of helping others!
  • Give to Charity– Another favorite in our family- we designate about $100 in end of year contributions per child to let them decide how to give. Most often, they love choosing gifts like farm animals, fruit trees or educational supplies for those in need around the world through programs like Food for the Poor.

Gifts for Kids

  • Local Pottery Painting – An absolute favorite with our girls. Our local pottery place has dozens of options to paint and this has been a fun activity for the kids (and me!). Either pick out some un-painted places to paint or get a gift certificate.
  • Pottery Making-For older kids, some places offer pottery making lessons or classes.
  • Rock Climbing– Have a local rock-climbing gym? See if they offer annual passes or pick up gift certificates for a climbing outing with older kids. Bonus: it is a great way to get exercise too!
  • Local Jump Gym– Another fun activity that helps kids stay active. See if you have a local jump gym or indoor trampoline center and get annual passes or gift cards.
  • Batting Cage Membership– For a child who loves baseball, look for a local batting cage that offers year-long memberships or bulk discounts on packages. This is a great way to stay active and a fun outing with your child.
  • Bowling or Skate Tickets– These are getting harder to find, but if you have a local bowling alley or skating rink, ask them about family passes or gift certificates.
  • Every Kid in a Park– If you have a fourth grader, there is no excuse not to get this one: a free year-long pass to all the national parks with the “Every Kid In a Park” program. This pass provides access to national parks for everyone in your immediate family, not just the fourth grader, so it is a  great family gift and is available to homeschoolers as well! (Here’s how to get it)
  • Treasure Hunt– If you are giving a material gift, make the giving itself a fun experience. Instead of wrapping up the final gift, wrap up a clue and let the child go on a treasure hunt to find the final gift (or figure out what it is and go with you to get it!) This is especially fun for a larger gift or experience!
  • Geo Caching– Speaking of treasure hunts, geocaching is fun, free way to go on a treasure hunt with your kids almost anywhere in the world. You can learn more about it here.
  • A New Skill– If your child wants to try horseback riding, sewing, painting, or other similar activity, give them classes or ways to experience and develop this new hobby or skill. To keep it low-cost, see if you can find a family member or an elderly member of your community who might enjoy passing on the skill at a lower cost.
  • Lunch Dates– Give gift certificates to a favorite breakfast or lunch place to a child and plan a one-on-one date with that child.
  • Movie Tickets– We don’t go to the movies often, but this year, our boys are getting tickets to go see Star Wars with their dad (and I’m guessing this will be a favorite gift!).
  • Question Book– My kids all love this Question A Day Book and it gives us a fun conversation starter each day. The “question book” is a fun pre-bedtime activity at our house.
  • Learning Magazine Subscription– Our kids love getting “real mail” in the mailbox and extended family members often get them subscriptions to learning magazines. They look forward to the magazine coming each month and to doing the activities (and bonus: you can recycle the magazine when they are done with it!)
  • Craft Bucket– One of my favorite Chrismtas gifts as a child- a basket of craft activities that lasted me a year! My aunt filled a large basket with scissors, paper, glue, string, and every other craft supply imaginable. That basket led to dozens of hours of fun for me as a kid, and now my girls sometimes get activity baskets like this with crafts we can do together. My kids have loved getting books about how to draw, painting kits, sticker pads, construction paper, and other craft gits.
  • Garden Kit– Just like crafts, gardening is a great activity to do with children. If you have a budding gardener (pun intended) on your hands, wrap up some seeds and gardening supplies and let your child help you garden all year!
  • Musical Instrument– A favorite gift last Christmas was a steel drum that my husband has been teaching the kids how to play (though I admit, on a couple of especially loud days I have regretted the idea!). This is the one we got, and they have loved learning to play it. We’ve also ordered mini musical instrument kits for the kids to all create their own music.
  • Movie Night Packages– Our children don’t watch much TV, but we do love family movie nights. To make the tradition even more fun, we wrap up a family movie DVD, and some healthy snacks in a box for each child to let them “host” the movie night.
  • Game Night Packages– A game night is another great family activity, and giving each child one game was a fun way to expand our collection and they love playing “their game” when we have a game night. Some favorite games are Apples to Apples, Tsuro, Uno, Sequence, and basic card games. Or just get a bunch of soft bouncy balls and have an indoor “snowball” fight minus the snow. Really brave? Get enough nerf guns for your family and challenge everyone to a nerf war!
  • DIY Gifts– My kids have enjoyed getting the supplies to make homemade soap, lip balm, lotion, or other DIY items that they can use or give as gifts (bonus: they are learning new skills too!). This paper making kit was an especially big hit with my older kids last year!

Gifts for Dad

Check out this post for ideas of usable practical gifts that Dads will enjoy (and that help them be healthier, sleep better, etc.). In my experience, guys are the toughest to find experience based gifts for, but here are a few ideas that my hubby has liked over the years:

  • Home Brewing– My hubby likes beer and I prefer when he drinks organic (or at least non-GMO) beer. A few years ago, he got into home brewing beer and it has been a fun hobby for him. I’d recommend this book to learn more about brewing, and while there are pre-made brewing kits, I’d suggest talking to a local home brew store if possible to find out what supplies and ingredients he will need.
  • Sports– Any sports related experiences have been a hit with my hubby. I think my biggest (and most expensive!) surprise for him ever has been to get to go to spring training for his favorite team and even get to play with some of the players, but tickets to see his favorite teams play have also been a big hit. These all tend to be more expensive, so I had to save for several years for one of these surprises, but I think it ended up being an amazing and memorable experience for him.
  • Outdoor Activities– This will vary a lot depending on the guy, but finding ways to support outdoor experiences he already loves is a great gift idea. This might be finding time to camp as a family, or for him to go hunting, hiking or play sports.
  • Scuba Certification– One year, my hubby and I gave each other scuba certifications as a gift. We got to go through the process together, and ended up with a great hobby we could enjoy (though not a great one for taking younger kids!)
  • Skydiving– Is your guy adventurous? Skydiving is a ton of fun and many cities have a local place you can go.

Gifts for Mom

Memes abound online about mom enjoying going to the bathroom alone, or her hobbies including eating without a child in her lap or sleeping in. These are some practical experience gift ideas that every mom will enjoy!

  • A Day Off– Moms work hard all year, and things seem to get even busier around the holidays. One of my favorite gifts ever was a series of “days off” that I didn’t have to cook, clean or have any household responsibilities (and it included a gift card to go out for coffee!). Even better (hint to dads)- get together and schedule a moms night out for several of your wives to go to dinner together!
  • Pampering– With that whole “motherhood is pretty hard work” thing, any kind of pampering is an awesome gift, and one that mom may not do unless it is a gift. Massages are my personal favorite!
  • Date Nights– Getting time along can be tough with kids, so some of my favorite gifts ever have been pre-planned date nights when my husband handled the arrangements, lined up a sitter and made the plans.
  • A Nap or Getting to Sleep in- This may be one of the toughest gifts to pull off, but one of the most appreciated. If you can figure out how to let mom sleep in for a day or take a nap, she will be grateful!
  • Any Family Gifts– Any of the family gifts listed above are also a great option to get for moms as they’ll enjoy the family time and the idea of an activity to do with the kids.

Gifts for Grandparents + Extended Family

  • Day Out with Kids– This has been a favorite for grandparents to give to the kids, but also to receive. The kids pick a fun activity they want to do with grandparents or extended family and give it to them as a gift. It might be something like going out for smoothies or playing at the park, or even a trip to the grocery store to gather ingredients and cook a meal together.
  • Amazon Prime– I know several extended family members who use Amazon all the time, but did not want to pay for the Prime membership. In the past, we’ve given these family members a Prime membership (click on “give the gift of prime” and enter their email address). This is partially a material gift as well, but tends to make purchases they are already making faster and easier.
  • Memory Book– Either make a photo book with a company like Shutterfly that showcases some favorite memories with the recipient, or let your kids make a homemade book by printing and cutting out pictures and writing captions.
  • Membership Add-Ons– For grandparents who live close by, you may be able to add them to any of the family memberships listed above. We added guests/grandparent options to our zoo and science center memberships as well as to many of the local attraction places. This allows them to come for free and spend time with our kids (and is a bonus for us as well, since we have extra eyes to watch and help with the kids.

Giving Experiences: The Bottom Line

Even if you’ve already purchased gifts for this year, consider adding some experiences as well or slowly transitioning to more experience based gifts over time. The family time and memories are worth so much more than gifts, and statistically, giving experiences may help reduce your stress levels and contribute to family bonding.

We still give our children at least one physical gift each year, these gifts just aren’t the focus of our giving (or our lifelong memories!). We also try to make these gifts usable, practical and educational if possible (this gift guide has some of my favorites).

Have you tried to give experiences instead of gifts in the past? What other suggestions would you add to this list?

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  1. Last year we sent all of our nieces and nephews passes to their local iFly (indoor sky diving). The kids LOVED it and we got great pictures of them smiling and flying and they haven’t stopped talking about it from last year. Their parents loved it too. 🙂

  2. For years, my parents have been gifting us experiences, which usually means helping to pay for the upcoming summer vacation. The kids never feel like they are deprived by the fewer material items because they start looking forward to the upcoming trip right away.

    This year, we are adopting the 4 present rule for the family, and I am so happy we are. Our only issue is that we have 3 gift-based holidays in December, so trying to cover all the basis can get a little overwhelming. Thankfully, we have been slowly scaling these back year after year.

  3. This was such a great post with so many good ideas! Thank you so much for what you do, your blog has made a huge difference in our lives this past year!

    • I second Jen’s statement! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for for a while! I’ve done my own soul searching when it comes to presents & when family members ask me what I want, it’s simple & practical (slippers, fuzzy socks, etc.)
      My hubby & I don’t have kids yet but I want our lives to be very different from the generation being raised today. Katie, you give me inspiration & hope that things can be different, the kids will like it, & they can enjoy life the way a child should-without an excess of toys!
      I’m currently working as a nanny for 3 lovely & spoiled kids who have WAY too much stuff & simply yearn for their parent’s time & attention. It’s heartbreaking at times, yet they are too old at this point for me to make drastic changes in their lives (after all, I’m only the nanny?)
      I look forward to more posts on your views of raising kids the right way. Way to go, Katie! You’re doing parenting right!

  4. Great article! This shift from “stuff” to “memories” has been documented to be not just a sign of our times, but generational as well. Moving from stuff to memories also seems to bond our families closer together-because it’s shared and enjoyed by all, not just one! I hope it continues, and that we will all consider our family’s separation from materialism to be a step towards total wellness-body, mind and soul.

  5. You can also do things like “adopting” and endangered animal for kids through organizations like WEF. It’s edicational and helps protect wildlife for their generation.

  6. Love love love your posts. Huge fan. This is by far one of my favorites!

  7. I really respect you for this. It’s an excellent idea. We do buy gifts for our kids, but we only buy gifts at Christmas and on birthdays. I know a lot of people who buy their kids a toy, a present, or a treat every single time they go somewhere, or everytime their child wants something, and that makes me sad. When I go somewhere with my boys they don’t expect to get anything. That doesn’t mean they never ask for an occasional treat when we are out somewhere, but they do accept my answer without arguing with me or asking again. That being said, there are two huge bins full of toys they never play with (mostly gifts from family). I’ve been trying to work up the courage to go through them and get rid of things, but I just haven’t been able to find the nerve to tackle it. This article makes me want to finally get it out of the way, before Christmas! We are big on experiences in this family too! Lots of hiking and nature exploration, farmers/local markets/teips to the zoo etc. We also do shoeboxes every Christmas for Samaritan’s Purse. This year, other than a visit from Saint Nicholas this Saturday night, and stockings from Santa on Christmas morning, the only gift they are getting is a computer to share. We are ordering the parts, and wrapping them individually so they have something to open, and then they’re going to build the computer with their daddy and me on Christmas Day. So it’s a present yes, but also an experience that they will hopefully never forget.

    • I can relate to the toys sitting and not being played with. I finally couldn’t stand fighting with my daughter about cleaning her room, so I bit the bullet. It was hard, but the best thing about it was how happy having a clean room made her. She suddenly wanted to play with the toys we kept and was able to keep her room picked up.

      • I’ve done it a few times over the years, mostly as they outgrow their toys. They don’t usually with stuff that’s not accessible and too many toys can be overwhelming! My kids really don’t have all that many toys, but I really do need to tackle those two bins, which have become a dumping ground for Lord knows what!

  8. This reminds me of what my family put in stockings – something to eat (usually good chocolate, an apple and a clementine), something to wear (like socks!), something to read (like a hoped-for novel) and a something miscellaneous (like a little gift from a relative). It’s a lovely tradition. 🙂

  9. I like this post, but wish the gift ideas for mom and dad were more inclusive. I’d love to do something adventurous and hate being pampered. My husband stays home with our son and might like a day off or a night out.

    • I was thinking the same thing. There were great suggestions for Dad’s interests, but not for Mom. I’d hope my family knows some of the experiences that bring me joy (hobbies, preferred foods, favorite music, roller derby season tickets, etc.) beyond not having to do the laundry for one day. My husband and I purchase concert tickets as our gift. Luckily we have similar tastes, but he’s also introduced some new-to-me groups and revealed his deep music nerd roots.

  10. As a yearly Christmas gift, I replace all my son and daughter in laws spices. They both love to cook, and knowing that they have fresh spices on hand is a gift they love.

  11. I love your post! I just wrote something similar yesterday with a roundup of links to all the local places for experiences! Here’s to hoping for less stuff! We also are trying the 4 gift ideas too! I’ve seen it on pinterest for several years. Such a great concept!

  12. Hi, I’ve enjoyed reading about simplicity over this last year, and love some of the ideas you’ve posted here. Something stuck out to me though…

    the gifts you suggest ‘for mom’ weren’t really what I was expecting! Shouldn’t sleeping in, days off and date nights be something that each partner in a relationship get the chance of? (That’s if you’re fortunate enough to not be raising kids alone.) I would expect that these things would be possible for a guy to appreciate too and I would like to think would fit in to a routine, not saved up for Christmas! The same goes for ‘family gifts’ too – these would no doubt be enjoyed ‘for dad’. And home-brew, sky-diving & sports gifts from the dad’s list could easily find their equivalent on the mom’s list.

    Perhaps this is already the case for you, and I’m just jumping to conclusions, but it jumped out at me that you were suggesting sky-diving experiences for dad and simply requesting sleeping in for yourself… maybe you could treat yourself a bit more – I’m sure (like any parent) you deserve something special every now and then could helpfully promote that for other mothers who read your posts.

    Keep up the good work!

    • I agree, this mom loves skydiving! Yes, sleeping in is great. Some of us are active and want to have adventures!

  13. Katie, I couldn’t agree with you more and this is an awesome reminder. Even though your preaching to the choir, I often fall into the toy trap. This is a real goal for me to integrate over the next year. This post blew me away. One of my favorites ever. It’s critical actually that we get this. I often feel like a salmon swimming up stream, this post is such a support.

  14. The premise of this is great and there are some wonderful ideas here. I do think that the ideas for Dad & Mom are a bit narrow-minded and quite sexist. I mean, outdoor activities and skydiving for dads but date nights and naps for moms? C’mon.

  15. “At the end of the day, we can’t (and shouldn’t) control what extended family chooses to give our children. Personally, I’m very grateful that our family has decided to prioritize experience type gifts as well, but even if they didn’t and decided to still give material gifts, we would welcome these and teach our children to be grateful for these gifts (as the relationship with family is more important than arguing about the gifts)”
    Thank you so much for saying this! I have seen do many people try to dictate, to the point of ruining relationships or creating such hurt feelings, over this issue. I read on one blog, one mom after Christmas at her families & in-laws houses would take any presents that didn’t meet her requirements for what should be given, place them in trash bags, and place them in the trash…at her parents or in-laws home, in front of them!! Yes, I think giving experiences is wonderful and most of us have way too much stuff, but what a horrible lesson we teach our children when we treat family and friends with such an ungrateful spirit & disrespectful actions.

    • Exactly! Take it from a family who never received gifts from any extended family because it would be too expensive, we have ten kids, be grateful, so grateful for anything family wants to bless you with!

  16. One of the ideas we also do that is not related to gift giving but to one of the comments above… when we do go and make a memory… the family knows that we will be getting a Christmas ornament to remember the occasion by…. whether it is the town we went to on vacation or the museum ( and once the kids realized that yes we were going into the gift shop to get the ornament there were no more pleas for gifts for themselves. ) We now have a table top tree that is just our ” travel ” ornaments. So every year the kids get to remember that family vacation or trip to a museum.

    • We do this too, and it’s been a big hit! We have a memory tree… At this point, nearly all the ornaments on our tree are from major experiences each year, trips we’ve made, ornaments the kids have made, etc. Each child gets a new ornament each year to pour in the tree and they have their own special box they get to use to decorate the tree.
      Each year as we decorate, we remember each wonderful experience. 🙂

  17. Thanks, Katy, for getting the fire built under my imagination! I love Christmastime, with family get-togethers and all the traditions that are so precious; I despise the commercial side, with all the “gimmes” that emerge. It’s really hard not to be caught up in the shopping trap, especially with children making their wishes known…repeatedly! I have been looking for some experiences that I know would bring smiles all year long. My older ones will get certificates for pedicures, and a massage gift certificate for the son-in-law. For the younger ones, I found a Fencing class, only 20 minutes from home, and a pottery shop that offers make-it-yourself sessions! For the grandchildren, gift certificates for a bodywork session (CranioSacral Therapy), and am making each a personalized bath towel. SO, SO much more fun than buying yet ANOTHER battery-powered toy! Keep it up!!

    • http://www.Cloud9living.com has different experiences all over the country. They are more on the expensive side, but have some really cool one of a kind ideas.

  18. I love this so much. My husband and I have talked about what gift-giving might look like for our future family. All of these are such great ideas. I love the concept of the “4-Gift Rule.” Do you encourage this kind of gift-giving from extended family members or friends? If so, how? Kids wind up with so much “obligatory” gifted junk from well-intended friends or family.

    • Yes, we tell family that the kids already have enough “stuff” and that it would be more enjoyable for them to go to lunch with a grandparent, or the park, or any number of other activities that they’ll remember for much longer than a cheap plastic made toy that will break in a week…

      • You are right! and it also works for grandparents, they are delighted when they can spend free time with kids… My babies are 5 and 7 and in behalf of them this year for Grandparents Day I’m going to gave the best gift. I already ordered star from Kingdom of Universe. My dad was physic teacher so we will go to planetarium, and he will learn my kids about sky, stars and space. Then grandchildren will give them their own star… I believe that this memory will last forever in our minds. 🙂

  19. For a couple of years I put a “Family Fun Adventure” passport in our childrens stockings. This homemade card was divided into 12 month squares on one side and what the family fun adventure for each month was on the other side. Some were free, some were local activities, some we traveled some distance for. Movies, swim park, apple festival, nature center, museum, christmas pagent, etc. As each adventure was completed we marked it off on their passport. It was a year long intentional family experience that we looked forward to each month and was so much fun for all of us. Now that we’re grandparents I may revive the adventure card and call it “Awesome Adventures with Grammy and Papa” .

    • What a lovely idea, I will try this for my two boys.

  20. Last year I got my brother and step dad tickets to the shooting range and they still haven’t gone! I can’t force them to go….so that was a waste of money 🙁

  21. This is brilliant, and I think my boys might just be getting Star Wars tickets in their stockings so that we can all go see it later on Christmas Day, since due to family traveling and work schedules we won’t be celebrating until the following week. Double bonus because it will turn ‘the Christmas we didn’t do anything’ into ‘the Christmas we got to go see STAR WARS!!!!!’

  22. I love this idea and I love getting experience gifts more than material items. The difficulty I run into is that being a 20 something getting my life together my Christmas budget for my fairly large family is very small. Most of these and the cooler experience gifts are pretty expensive. I also do not live near my family so the experience can’t include me. Would love some more gift ideas around the 10-20$ range

  23. Such awesome advice! We put an inground pool in this year and my adult children and grandchildren have enjoyed it so much that they suggested that the pool be the “gift” that keeps on giving!

  24. Your Mom gifts of “a nap” and “a day off” make me sad… sounds like your husband isn’t doing his job if you’re having to ask for those things as a gift. If you’re a single mom, then that’s another thing entirely, and it would be a gift a friend/relative could give you (e.g. take the kids overnight) but if you have a partner then you should be able to sleep in as often as he does. In our house we took turns, one slept in on Saturday and the other on Sunday. And now that the kids are big enough to turn on the TV themselves in the mornings on weekends, we both sleep in together. One still gets to sleep in extra long as the other will sleep in a while and then get up and make breakfast, and again, we trade off.

    • It’s a suggestion for an experience… Don’t read too much into it 😉 All moms need it, and it’s one of *my* favorite gifts to receive, regardless of how often I receive it.

  25. We gave child sponsorship to our children. The gift allows our privileged children to experience first hand what life is like in a 3rd world country. The sponsored children receive education, uniforms for school and food for their entire family. A pen-pal relationship can form between the families. Sponsorship through a reputable organization can be life-changing to the giving family and the sponsored child

  26. I am glad that I read this post just in time for this holiday season. Our family simply have too much “stuff” laying around. While we always work on decluttering, giving experience is such a great idea.

  27. Do you have any ideas of how to “wrap” the experience up to give it to the person? I would prefer not to wrap up a piece of paper telling them what the experience will be. We’ve got a few fun experiences to give this year. Thanks for the ideas :).

    • We’ve revealed big experience gifts (like our spring break vacation) using a scavenger hunt. You can search the Internet for riddles or scavenger hunt ideas.

  28. I really love this, except… the section for Mums. Especially the last bit that says family gifts are for mum too. Ugh. Mums like more than pampering, date nights and sleeping in! My mum would LOVE a skydiving experience as a gift. Me, not so much, but… horse back riding? Archery lessons? Cooking class?! So many options.

  29. So, moms only want days off and dads only want adventurous activities? Hm. Sucks to be a mom I guess.

    Love the concept of this article. Not a fan of the suggestions for parents.

    • Feel free to suggest others that you’d like then 🙂

  30. Thank you for such a timely article! While we routinely give experiences for Birthday’s we hadn’t made such a larger change for Christmas….yet. I did go back and rework some of my gift ideas. Now to get everything done and here by Christmas.

  31. I really really love this idea of giving experiences over material things. I have lately become so frustrated with the amount of STUFF my daughter has, yet there are often activities that I’d like to be able to do with her, but they are not in the budget. We are doing the 4 gift concept this year as well, with a slight variation, but I am going to keep the idea of experience gifts more in mind, especially from extended family members. Thanks for the extensive list of ideas!

  32. I love this concept! We have been giving zoo and museum memberships for years, and I love some of the new ideas (a tent!). The Mom and Dad gift ideas are gender-stereotyped and out-dated: Dads want more than just sports, adrenaline, and beer; and Moms shouldn’t feel or be limited to the “spa, manny/peddy, someone else do the dishes” gifts. My wife loved getting voice lessons and joining the local choir, and also liked her gift of 4-days away to do a backpacking trip with her girlfriends. I loved my gift of a good bottle of wine, a book, and the promise of a roaring fire on a cold winter evening (or a campfire in the summer)….though, I also love the getaway ski weekend with my friends.

  33. I tried the experience thing in the past but found that some folks did not use the gift certificates. For instance my wife was given a certificate for a day at the spa- unlimited. Well a year later still sitting in her draw and expired. This post has some great ideas but like any other gift I think you still have to match the gift of experience to the person and what they may enjoy doing.

  34. Great list! We are starting the 4 gift rule this year with our 18 month old daughter. Hoping that by starting early it will be completely normal by the time she gets to the age where she starts to realize what Christmas is sometimes like at other households.

  35. Experiences last; ‘stuff’ ends up forgotten in a closet or self-storage unit.

  36. This is an awesome post! I love how much detail you give in the way of ideas. I have really been gravitating more & more in this direction in recent years, especially in what I have asked to receive, and my family has found some amazing gifts! Groupon is an awesome source for this. Some of my favorites I’ve received have been: A beginner’s falconry class (you get to learn about the sport and actually experience holding/calling to/sending off a hawk on your arm! Northern CA has a great place for this called West Coast Falconry.); a glass-blowing class; studio & instruction time making lamp work glass (making jewelry beads, etc from glass); and 1 or 2-nights stay at nearby bed & breakfasts.

    So thanks for the wonderful reminder & encouragement! I think I will make a point of focusing more & more on this in the future. ?

  37. My 3 sons are grown now, but when they were little, I would separate their toys into 3 or 4 groups and “rotate” their toys. They would have a small group of toys to play with for a month or so, and then I would replace them with a different group of toys. It kept them from being overwhelmed with all their toys at once and made every rotation lke getting new toys all over again. It also kept clean-up manageable!

  38. Awesome post! Agreed that we all have way too much stuff ( see George Carlin “Stuff” on You Tube https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dn1u6tzwRxA ) I have just moved, and my husband and I threw away SO MUCH STUFF! We both agree that simplicity is key. You’re either moving a pile, or maintaining one. I prefer my “pile” to be smaller! Ha ha

  39. I am trying to make experience gifts as well.
    Last year I gave my sister and her family bags to carry ski gear then we went skiing a few times – they loved it.
    This year I am gifting my best friend and her family (two small girls 4 and 6) with 25 individually wrapped books to use as an advent calendar. They get to pick a new book each night to read together as a family before bed. I bought Robert Munch for the first 24 then a new author for the 25th to read Christmas Day. I hope she likes it.
    For my husband I bought a craft beer advent calendar. I know he’ll like it.
    I think I might get my sister and her family a Christmas movie advent or family game advent – not yet sure but I like the idea; I will have to cut it down to 5-6 nights before Christmas though, not the whole 24.
    Thank-you for your recommendations.
    Rhonda

  40. SO many great ideas in one spot. Thanks!

  41. I like the idea, but, this year, my boyfriend bought $350 tickets to a concert featuring artists I have no interest in. I’m forced to go, or he loses his money. I truly appreciate the gesture and don’t want to sound unappreciative, but can you imagine going to see a musical act you have no interest in? Oh how I wish he would have chosen a different experience…

  42. What a fabulous post! I teach karate and as part of our martial arts curriculum, we include acts of kindness as a requirement for belt rank. The idea being if we treat each other with kindness and respect, we will hopefully all get a long better. Our current project is called Randy’s Reindeer and we are collecting “lovey kits” for the homeless that include blankets, hats, socks, candy, and some toiletry items. One of my adult students goes out to the local homeless shelters on Christmas Eve and distributes these kits. Thanks for reminding us all about the power of giving!

  43. yes yes yes. Great post. Looking forward to your post about wardrobe capsules..needing some ideas about kids clothes as the cousin hand me down supply is drying up, especially if you have any resources for relatively inexpensive USA or fair-wage basic (label, graphic free) classy kids clothes. Hope you’ll include the link to that post in your weekly email so I know when you post it. thanks!

  44. Our daughter is getting a gift certificate for 10 driving lessons with her Dad.
    Dad is getting a voucher for a home massage.
    Other “voucher” ideas. A home cooked meal, a house clean, 4 hours gardening….the list is endless, and the only cost is time.

  45. I gave my mom a ride on a Zamboni one time and another time a hot air balloon ride. Another was a horseback ride with her grandson. She also enjoyed learning to do glass blowing and she got us lazer tag passes as well as karate and gymnastics lessons for the kids. She got us dance lessons as well. We love giving this kind of gift!! 🙂