Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts

Last Christmas I was strolling on Instagram and came across a post by a mom. She had created a ‘choose your own adventure’ book for her kids to do just that, choose what they wanted to do as an adventure. This free ticket to family escapades was in place of a tree skirt full of boxes and bows.

As we have worked hard to purge our home of the things that are of no value to our home or lifestyle I’ve had many heart-to-hearts with myself. How did all this stuff get here in the first place? Why is there just SO much? Do we really need all of this!?

It has made me a gatekeeper of what comes in our front door. With the exception of a few things *cough, creepy trolldolls*

This also goes for the gifts we give.

This year we agreed that, as much as possible, we would give experiences rather than gifts……

(And by that we mean, give them the opportunity to experience something – even if it is a ‘thing’ we give them, like sports equipment,  we are giving them the opportunity to engage in the experience.)

How it has looked for us 

Instead of new hotwheels for Levi’s 4th birthday, we had a local ice cream date. Then made a big outing to the city for the play place, cake and pizza with some friends and family there. For his 5th birthday, we bought him his own fish and tank etc. The whole experience of buying it was pretty special. 

Rather than another princess-something for my niece, my sister and I had a special date of bowling with her daughter and Levi.

bowling with the kids

I’m sure Conor would have loved a new gunscope (is that a word?) for his 30th birthday.  Instead, I made him this book of all the favourite memories I collected from our family and friends. He reads it often and loves it.

favourite memories book

He’s used to seeing ‘words’ from me….Kinda like the personalized crossword puzzle I made him for Valentine’s day.

Lenayah had already caught on and when her bday rolled around the following summer she requested a family beach day and ice cream. So we loaded up and headed south to meet up with my family for just that. A following year we ‘renovated’ her bedroom for her birthday. 

Shortly after my bestie threw a surprise birthday for me this August, I took her on super fun lady date for her birthday.

I wasn’t sure how this would all work out, or how the kids would respond to it. After all, we do love spoiling our kids with certain things we know they will love. We also do love giving and receiving thoughtful and useful gifts. A lot can be said by putting intention and attention into selecting something special for a friend.

However, in the process of thinking of things to ‘do’ rather than ‘buy’, we realized we had lots of ideas on things we want to do together. 

There are those ‘bucket list’ things we didn’t even know existed –  until we made the point of selecting unique experiences we wanted to give to the people we love.

The ‘experience’ doesn’t just have to be an event you share together once.

It can be something a person does with someone else or alone. Or a giving a gift that generates experiences for someone else (like games and toys or crafts that they can create something out of)

Like, horse camp for my daughter, 

gift certificates to art classes for my niece,

board games the kid’s friends,

a scooter and sweet helmet for our son,

an epic Lego set for my son. 

It isn’t necessarily cheaper than buying presents but sharing an experience with someone, making a memory alongside them, trying to translate their passions into actions rather than things has made us look at celebrating others in a whole different light.

Experiences you can get others:

PASSES: A pass to a local park, museum, club, gym, theatre

MEMORIES: Pay for a photoshoot, create photo books, print off special photos

TICKETS: Tickets to an event, a concert, a retreat, etc

CLASSES: kid’s camps, local classes, an online class they have shown interest in

OUTINGS: set up an outing for them, their friends, or the whole family (geocaching, scavenger hunts)

VACATION: even if you use all your card points to book a hotel for the night, pick a place with a waterslide and bring the kids

INNINGS: create a cool experience at home, like a movie night in the yard, costume party, host a trivia night, etc. 

HOBBIES: equipment, training, magazine subscriptions, subscription boxes, apps, gift cards, etc. related to a hobby they are passionate about

TIME: Offer to babysit for other parents, take them (kid, friend, spouse, family member) out on a date

GAMES: I love giving games to others (here are a couple of our faves for other families)


The whole goal here is to be mindful about BRINGING MORE STUFF INTO THE HOME and shifting to offer others the ‘opportunity to experience something they would enjoy’ instead of add another ‘thing’ to their home. 

And just to add here. We aren’t a no gift family – gifts are magic when they are thoughtful and cater to our passions and interests. But I want to encourage my family to think about experiences too.

When we give experience with someone we are saying ‘Hey I want to spend time with you and be in your space and do this thing I think YOU will really enjoy’ That is the gift of attention and quality time with is a love language to some just as much as physical presents. 

Sometimes the totally punny sentiment ‘presence not presents‘ will always win out….unless someone wants to buy me a food processor, in which case I will have you over to experience the best beet hummus with me!

What kinds of ‘experiences’ have you given in place of gifts?




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