Ideas for Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts

Want to give EXPERIENCES instead of STUFF? Here are more ideas than you can shake a stick at.
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In our Holiday PSA episode of the TodaysMama Podcast, Rachael and I laid down the why’s and how’s of simplifying the holiday season (or birthday season)—as a way to help our families focus on experiences instead of stuff.

One reason; less clutter. (Can I get an AMEN?!)

Another reason; money CAN buy happiness, if that “money” manifests itself in the form of paying for experiences.

Why? Because our enthusiasm wears off with familiarity. That thing you wanted so much, well you get used to it. It becomes part of the background noise and clutter of life. But an experience—doing something out of the ordinary or doing something with a limited timeframe—helps the memory STICK.

From a very scholarly paper:

Over time, participants exhibited slower adaptation to experiential purchases than to material purchases. One reason why this happens is that people adapt most quickly to that which doesn’t change. Whereas cherry floorboards generally have the same size, shape, and color on the last day of the year as they did on the first, each session of a year-long cooking class is different from the one before.

I believe it.

The toy that my kiddo HAD TO HAVE? I don’t even know where it is. Neither does she. The time we stayed overnight in a hotel with Grandma and swam in the indoor pool and walked through the Christmas lights downtown? She talks about it weekly.

So Rachael and I have been making this a priority in our households. And it’s been a BIG HIT. (Listen here for our tales from Christmas past and plans for Christmas future.)

As promised in the podcast, here are some links to some of our favorite gift ideas:

THINGS TO DO

Movie a Month

Buy the gift certs and pick a movie each month. Commit to the refreshments. (This is big if you’re like me and are super stingy with the popcorn and snacks.)

Concert Tickets

Live music is an epic experience that will absolutely delight any music-lover. Young or old, this works for everyone!

Tickets to a Sporting Event

Include a team t-shirt as a hint. Make a big day out of it and go somewhere really fun for dinner.

Special Events at the Zoo, Aquarium, or Museum

Many of these places will let you purchase an exclusive encounter or activity with animals or staff.

Spa or Luxury Activities

Never underestimate the power of pampering. NEVER.

Outdoor Adventures

Check with the local outfitters and tour guides in your area to see what’s available. A bike tour? A mountain top acroyoga class? Heli-skiing?! Sleeping in a yurt. Sleeping in a fire tower! The list is endless.

A Special 1-on-1 Day

My kids love a 1-on-1 day with parents. Plan the recipients favorite activities from sunup to sundown.

DO A THING, A BUNCH OF TIMES

Season Passes

A season pass is often much more economical than the per day/per person entry fee to popular area attractions like water parks, indoor fun centers, trampoline parks or amusement parks. We rotate where we get passes each year to mix it up. The kids love it.

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Take a Lesson

Got a kiddo that is dying to learn the guitar? Or maybe loves to help in the kitchen? Or has been begging to learn how to do a sport? There are so many great options for classes or lessons out there—a few years ago my parents gave my daughter cooking classes for Christmas and she loved it!

Try Something New as a Family

Try something out of the ordinary for your group—maybe indoor rock climbing or sushi making or some sort of creative activity. Trying something totally new will give everyone a chance to stretch and grow and, surely laugh.

BUY A THING THAT WILL HELP YOU DO A THING

Not a totally clutter-free option, but are their items that, if you owned them, would get you OUT and ABOUT more frequently? Last year my Dad put new grips on my Mom’s golf clubs for Christmas. She loved them! They were red and peppy and she felt known and loved and it generated 0% new clutter in the garage.

Outdoor Gear

If you had a kayak or a paddle board, would you get to lake more often?

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If someone received a bike rack for their car, would it help them ride more?

If you had those snowshoes could the hiker in your family go less stir crazy in the winter?

Is a set of rollerblades going to make that kiddo’s dreams come true?

Gear for Gathering

If you gave your family an Outdoor Movie Theater set up, you turn your backyard into the most entertaining place in the neighborhood.

What about a stockpile of new board games to fill your screen-free Sundays?

We gave my Dad a bean bag toss game (we call it “cornhole”) and we’ve spent more time outside, trash talking each other than you can imagine.

TAKE A TRIP

You could also double down on the “experience” and travel somewhere to do some of your chosen activities. A weekend trip to see a sporting event or a concert takes that memory to the next level, and let’s be honest in some cases it might be cheaper than the smorgasbord of gifts you’ve grown accustomed to wrapping. Anna took her family to Virginia Beach for a holiday gift and everyone had a ball.

SUBSCRIPTIONS

My kids love mail. Just your average run of the mill mail too. The Costco mailer is carefully perused by not one, but both of my kids. Yeah, I have no idea. So imagine their delight when their Grandma gave them a subscription to National Geographic last year. Every month that magazine lands in our mailbox it’s like Christmas all over. They are so excited! Subscription boxes are also a really fun way to spread out the holiday joy. We’ve listed a few of our favorites down below.

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Subscription Boxes

Tinker Crate

Bits Box

Food Stirs (Look for the special kits for kids.)

Pipsticks (Someone give this to ME, please.)

Magazines

Ranger Rick

Highlights Magazine

National Geographic

American Girl

Boys Life

Sports Illustrated Kids

Time for Kids

HGTV (A favorite with Rachael’s teenage daughter.)

GET CREATIVE WITH THE WRAPPING

Rachael explained her saran wrap ball wrapping extravaganza on the podcast episode. Which is hilarious to imagine, and a VERY Rachael move.

When she gifted her young daughter a special penguin experience at the local aquarium, one “hint” was a stuffed penguin. We’re big fans of the Jelly Cat stuffed animals. I dare you to try to find a cuter batch of animals.

Rachael also suggested using balloons to fill the space under the Christmas tree, so that visually, there is a big Christmas morning impact.

Find a small companion gift to go with the large experience gift.

  • These journals from Letterfolk would go nicely with so many gift ideas. (They have journals for golfers, foodies, concerts)
  • A personalized beach towel to go with a season pass to the waterpark (available in Shark or Mermaid.)
  • An apron to go with your cooking classes.

Have you ever gifted an EXPERIENCE?! Tell me all about it, I need more ideas!

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