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11 Ways To Give Your Kids Experiences, NOT Stuff

11 Ways To Give Your Kids Experiences, NOT Stuff.
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The idea had been percolating around in my head for a while, the older our kids got the more STUFF they’d accumulated and I kind of hated it. I wanted to give our kids experiences over stuff but that’s always easier said than done, right?

I think it started for me at Christmas this last year. Even though I’d hardly stepped foot into a store (thanks Amazon), I looked over our bank account at the end of the month and felt sick. We spent SO MUCH MONEY on stuff. Our kids lost their minds over the literal buffet of THINGS we’d laid before them. After the wrapping paper massacre they all headed downstairs to play a new x-box game leaving nerf guns and footballs and scooters and tons of other junk just sitting there.

It was overwhelming to even look at and felt weird to me. Had we done too much, were our kids bordering on spoiled?

Probably so.

I sat back on the couch and looked at my husband and said “I don’t want to do this anymore”.

And I meant it.

Growing up, Christmas was a lot different for me and my siblings. We got a few gifts, usually one big ticket item (a letterman jacket for my brother, a new stereo/CD player for me, a really nice pair of Nike’s for my sister), and then our stockings would have a few trinkets and treats and we’d sit down to the most delicious breakfast of the year to be followed by a day of lounging, watching movies, sledding possibly depending on snow levels, and then a dinner to knock your socks off. My mom is a fantastic cook.

Of course that’s what I remember, THE FOOD. I’m nothing if not consistent in my priorities.

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Interestingly enough, the memories that stand out to me from childhood in general are the ones that revolve around the trips we took and stuff we did together as a family, heavily focused on the experiences we had as kids… not the tangible things we did or didn’t have.

Things are, after all, just things.

After that Christmas morning we committed. Less is more when it comes to toys and stuff, instead spend money on good gear for activities our family can do and follow through on plans to spend quality time together. Let’s get out there and make some memories, okay? 

Here’s a little insight into what we did from there: 


We’re currently in the process of selling our house and building a new one. This has nothing to do with the point of this article except for how it’s impacted my resolution to de-junk. In preparation and anticipation of the move I’ve gone into deep cleansing mode which has been a huge weight off my shoulders. Both literally and metaphorically. Extra stuff weighs you down, get rid of as much of it as you can. 


I donated 90% of the toys in the house to our church and to a local shelter, keeping only a few cherished and well played with favorites. When my kids say they’re bored, I rattle off an oft-rehearsed list of chores that need doing, books to read, and dinner to make and that usually does the trick pushing them out the door and off to play. The threat of chores and jobs are a powerful motivator in this house.

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We made a list of all the free stuff to do and on slow days we just pull it out and pick from that rather than stay inside and play xbox all day while crossing our eyes… even though on some days, that’s totally warranted. We’ve got lakes, fish ponds, splash pads, parks, waterfalls, canyons, and several family friendly hikes located within 10-20 minutes of our home. CAN’T BEAT THAT!

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We have several museums, gardens, a zoo, water parks and fun centers in our area and try to purchase annual passes to as many of them as the budget will allow because it’s so worth it in the long run. For example, it costs us about $50 for all of our family to go to the zoo for one day, but an annual pass costs less than $130. That math just doesn’t shake out and a pass gives you so many more opportunities to get out and do stuff. When in doubt BUY THE PASS! 

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We don’t really go on huge vacations requiring air travel mostly because we aren’t in a place where that’s super affordable for us and also because air travel with small children is literally hell. Our youngest is three, an airplane ride with him is akin to a nightmare in my book so I’ll spare myself and everyone else that experience. You’re welcome! For now, we drive. Gas prices are relatively cheap, cars have DVD players, it’s what works for us. What’s better than a good old fashioned road trip anyway? That may change in the future and get easier as our kids get older. I hope so! There’s a lot of stuff to see and do and I don’t necessarily have a desire to criss-cross the whole country via car with little kids in tow at this stage in our lives. I’m expecting that eventually our horizons will expand and we’ll grow a little more bold with our destinations as time goes on. 

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We sat down with the family calendar and made a list of places we wanted to visit over the next year and blocked off the dates we figured we could go so that my husband could request the time off work in advance and we could plan ahead budget-wise. My work is flexible and I make my own schedule for the most part. Again, most of these destinations are within a few hours drive of us which is what makes them do-able and affordable. 


We’re lucky enough to live within a few hours time of several major National Parks including Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon. These are ALL on our list, but we’ll probably pick a few to visit over the summer and save some of the warmer locations for the fall when the temperatures cool down. There’s literally so much to see and do in our own state it will take us years and years to explore. FINE BY ME!  We’ll also buy a National Parks pass, again, a wise and relatively affordable purchase considering what it gives us access too. 


We’ve been accumulating good gear for our kids and ourselves slowly, including sleeping bags and outerwear like jackets and shoes, by watching deal sites like,, and Craigslist too. There are some amazing deals to be had on secondhand stuff too off Craigslist and your local classifieds section. Take the down filled Patagonia coat we scored for our 8 yr old for only $30, or the Sorel snow boots for our 3 year old too, $25!  

When stuff like kid size kayaks go on sale at Costco or other stores, we snap them up when we can and watch the end of season sales too. 


I am not by any means, an expert in this area, it’s just what we’ve decided as a family to do. Nor do I think we’re necessarily that family that has foregone all of our stuff to live off-grid in pursuit of a life of abandonment and exploration unplugged. We still have wi-fi, I still like my Netflix, air conditioning and creature comforts (hello Chick-Fil-A drive through) as much as the next person. We have gotten rid of stuff like cable and dish because we find with streaming options available, we just don’t need it. 

As far as priorities go, we’ve just made more of an effort not to accumulate pointless toys and other stuff, to live a little more simply (relatively speaking, we’re not full blown granola, okay?), and focus on making the time we have together as a family really count instead. I mean, as much as we can anyway. Giving our kids experiences takes planning and work, but it’s worth it. 

Less stuff, more experiences, more time together.

Maybe the outdoors isn’t exactly your thing, thats fine! Figure out what you like to do together and go from there. Museums, plays, art, comic books, movies? Whatever! Personally, we’re big fans of nature and the outdoors, and I’d like for my kids to see and do as much of it as possible so I’m going to cram it down their throats while we as parents are still in a position of authority and pay for all the things giving them no choice. Hey, at least we have air conditioning and a DVD player, my kids have it WAY better than I did at that age. You’re welcome! 

We’re heading out on a trip to Wyoming (including my home town) later this month with plans to loop back home via Yellowstone, Island Park, Idaho and Jackson Hole too if we can swing it. One giant road trip with a family reunion thrown in for good measure.

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Family time TO THE MAX!

Luckily our costs should stay low thanks to family accommodations for part of it, and maybe one night in a hotel for the other which is cool because my kids love hotel pools more than almost anything else and one night isn’t going to break the bank. We’ll pack as much food in coolers to take with us as we can, and hit the grocery store along the way too. Kids are generally pretty easy to please like that. We’ll stop by the library and load up on books on tape for when the DVD player isn’t doing the trick. My kids love a good series, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are proving to be winners so far. 

Is it always going to be fun? No. Is all that driving and family togetherness a blast? No. 

But, I can’t wait to take them fishing in the mountains I grew up in, to run wild on my brother’s farm with cousins they see only a few times a year, and to go to bed exhausted and covered in dirt just like I used to. Not to mention their first sight of a buffalo up close, and how about Old Faithful? Mind-blowing!

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My hope is that these trips really light their fire for adventure, making our next destination and activity something to look forward to. So many cool things to see! 

We’ll leave the Xbox sitting safely on the shelf back home for the middle of winter when things get really dire… for now, we’ve got other stuff to do. 

I have to think there are so many others who feel the same, I can’t be alone with feeling overwhelmed by THINGS, can I? Especially when it comes to our kids….

Less stuff, more experiences.Are you on board? I’d love to hear about it!


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