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53+ Creative Ways to Give Experiential Gifts Instead of Material Items this Year

In the midst of holiday gift-giving, I can’t help but think how well-intentioned gifts can lead to more stress, for both the giver and the receiver. My family has really embraced a minimal lifestyle, so we decided to give experience gifts instead of material ones as often as we could. After a few years of trial and error, this is now the norm… and the results are amazing! An experience gift can be easy to arrange and thoughtful, even if it’s last minute. They’re also rewarding to both the giver and receiver. Going to the movies as a family, taking a painting class, or learning to scuba dive are priceless memories or skills that last a lifetime.

Table of Contents
1. Do We Have Too Much Stuff?
2. Why Give Experiences and Not Stuff?
3. Experience Gifts: The Importance for Kids
4. 53+ Ways to Give Experiences This Year
5. Best Experience Gifts for Kids

Do We Have Too Much Stuff?
Joshua Becker is my favorite expert on the topic of clutter and minimalism (see my interview with him here). He shares some sobering trends on his Becoming Minimalist blog. Consider this: The average American home has over 300,000 items in it. There are over 50,000 storage facilities nationwide. This is the fastest-growing real estate segment! At least 4 in 10 of us have a storage unit to store our excess stuff. There are three times more storage facilities in the U.S. than the number of Starbucks! There’s enough physical space for every man, woman, and child in America to stand in U.S. storage facilities—all at the same time!

Why Give Experiences and Not Stuff?
Those staggering statistics wouldn’t worry me if it seemed the excess stuff improved our lives in some way. But that isn’t the case. Statistically, we’re not happy. Over 54% of us report being overwhelmed with clutter, and 78% of us have no idea how to overcome it! There are tons of topics on organizing and decluttering out there to help us deal with all of our stuff and the stress it causes us. Thomas Gilovich, a researcher at Cornell University, spent more than a decade on the subject. He explored why experiences contribute more to happiness than stuff. He found that experiences are a uniting factor. You’re more likely to bond with someone who enjoys the same hobby or has traveled to the same places as you. Even the anticipation leading up to a family trip, event, or experience has the potential to give happiness. This makes it the gift that keeps on giving! Happiness in anticipation, during the experience, and in the memories. Beats the heck out of a pile of toys you trip over while tucking the kids in at night!

Experience Gifts: The Importance for Kids
Shared family time (even at family dinners) is drastically important for a child’s well-being. Much more important than the toys we give them or the dozens of extracurricular activities we often neglect family time for. There are lots of reasons to have shared family time and experiences, including: bonding within the family fewer behavioral problems in children a stronger sense of identity and sense of security higher rates of academic success lower rates of violence These shared experiences can be as simple as time spent together during or preparing meals. Or even while driving or reading stories before bed. Prioritizing shared experiences as gifts helps reduce unwanted material items while fostering family bonding.

53+ Ways to Give Experiences This Year
The average parent spends over $276 per child on toys and gifts each year! And over 40% of Americans are willing to go into debt over Christmas gifts. That just adds to our clutter and stress. Experience gifts are great because they reduce clutter, give kids something to look forward to, and promote bonding. Yes, they may be more expensive upfront, but the benefits outweigh the cost in the memories made. And sometimes they pay for themselves after one or two visits!

Family Experience Gift Ideas
– Bigger experiences, like memberships or vacations, are often family gifts. It’s a fun way to check a few things off of your bucket list. Or try a new activity as a family, ranging from kayaking or rafting to setting up a zipline in the backyard. Feeling adventurous? Schedule a hot air balloon ride!
– Season Passes or Memberships
– Museum Memberships – Look into which local museums offer annual memberships near you. Some even offer discounts for local residents or have programs for kids.
– Science Center Memberships – Many cities have a children’s museum or science center with an annual pass option. Sometimes these end up costing less than one visit.
– Orchestra Season Tickets – We have a local orchestra that performs every few months. I found children’s season tickets to be extremely affordable (less than $8 a show). It’s now a fun family activity.
– Community Theater Tickets – If you have a local theater, buy season tickets. If you can’t buy one for each member of your family, buy two. Parents can go to the more grown-up plays as date nights, and then Mom or Dad can alternate taking…
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