Giving Experiences instead of gifts

No Christmas Gifts?! Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts!

Have you considered giving experiences instead of gifts for Christmas?

“Becki Svare has made a radical decision: She won’t buy any more Christmas presents. It started a few years ago as an experiment with her extended family. The holiday season began as it often did, with a dozen family members drawing names out of a hat. “

(You can read the rest of the Washington Post article here.)

Try giving an experience instead of a gift. Go have fun and create some amazing experiences.

No Gifts for Christmas?!  I know, it’s rather startling, right?! Well, let me explain…here’s why we did it!  Last Christmas we decided to shake things up a bit and NOT give gifts! What!?! No gifts?  What the heck would we do on Christmas morning?! We decided that we would give experiences instead of gifts to each other! It was pretty scary going out on that limb, but I have to say, the results were well worth it!

Traditional Christmas Morning

So, typically our Christmas looks something like this.  We exchange names among everyone who will be around for Christmas.  The exchange may or may not be a little rigged, but it would be for good reasons if it were! Not saying that it is, though!  Then, we tell the person that has our name what we want for Christmas and they get that gift. Then on Christmas morning, we exchange and open our gifts, knowing exactly what we’re getting – because it’s what we asked for.

Why Experiences instead of Gifts!

Now there’s nothing really wrong with this scenario, but it’s not particularly meaningful.  And, last year we realized that we really don’t need anything.  None of us! We are fortunate to be able to say we have what we need and then some!

I don’t know about you, but our house is overflowing with stuff!! We’ve realized recently that so much of what we have isn’t either needed, used or even wanted.

How the heck did we get to this point? Well, a small part of it is the exchange of unnecessary gifts each year. And, the fact that public storage has become such a booming industry attests to the fact that we have too much stuff! In fact, public storage has become a booming industry that made more than $32.7 billion in 2016 and continues to grow(1). We have so much stuff that we need extra storage space in order to have somewhere to keep it all!!

Are you guilty of having too much stuff? Do you have a desire to do something about it? If you, like me, are trying to downsize, my friend Nicole over at Tailoring the Good Life wrote an article about decluttering even when your life is crazy busy! Accumulating stuff is the easy part, lol! It’s getting rid of it that’s harder!

Christmas Gift Experiences

One of the questions that we asked ourselves when debating changing our Christmas morning traditions is What can we use instead of exchanging Christmas gifts? What the heck will Christmas morning look like if we don’t exchange gifts?!

We really weren’t sure what to do! Then the idea of giving experiences instead of gifts came to mind.

Family Christmas Ideas instead of Gifts

So, here’s what we did.  We went ahead and exchanged names.  It included me, my husband and our two kids, my brother, younger sister and older sister and her two sons and husband.  Also included were my mom and aunt.

But, instead of giving gifts, we exchanged experiences!  And, we were each completely responsible for figuring out our adventure with our person.  So each person would participate in two separate experiences (one that they were the giver and the other the recipient).  

The ages in our family at that time ranged from 12 to 79!  The only criteria for giving experiences were that it was an appropriate experience for your person, and to try and stay within a budget – which was $20.

We threw around some family Christmas ideas for experiences instead of gifts until everyone seemed comfortable with the idea.

Christmas Gift Experiences

Christmas morning, we wound up giving our experiences instead of exchanging gifts.  We went around the room and said whose name we had and what our experience together was going to be.  

And, while we didn’t have the traditional mound of gifts and wrapping paper, we did have the fun of talking about who we were going to spend time with and what we were going to be doing.  And, because some folks would be heading back home soon, the experiences had to be completed within a couple of days!

Results of our Experiment

One of the unexpected results from our giving experiences instead of gifts experiment is that a Washington Post reporter interviewed me based on this article!  It was really interesting and a lot of fun talking about why we decided to go to give experiences instead of gifts in our family.

<You can read the article here>

Creating New Traditions

We decided that since we were shaking things up, that we may as well take a look at what our traditions were and what we felt strongly about. And, to think hard about if we wanted to add anything.

One tradition we’ve added is called Jolabokaflod. It’s an Icelandic tradition of exchanging books. And, since we are a family of book lovers, this seemed like a nice fit for our new holiday traditions.

We exchange names and buy a book for that person and wrap it up and put it under the tree. On Christmas Eve, we go around and open our book and spend the rest of the night reading! Who wouldn’t love this tradition!!

Give Experiences instead of Gifts

The idea of going from presents to presence might be a little radical, but it’s also really exciting!

But, I can tell you, the results of our Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts Experiment were Exceptional!  Everyone had a great time, and precious memories were made! Did we miss the gifts?  I don’t think so!  

Personally, I didn’t and from what I heard, even from my kids, the Christmas gift experiences were better than a gift would have been!  The gift of time far outweighed just another thing to drag home!

A few of the highlights:

Changing Relationships

One of the best outcomes of our Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts Experiment is the building of relationships! My brother had my son’s name for the swap.  The two of them hadn’t hung out one-on-one ever.  So, this was kind of a big deal. His gift to my son was a ride on his Harley, lunch at our local sushi restaurant and then an afternoon at the reptile center.

First off, the riding on a Harley was cool!  What 12 years old wouldn’t want to do that!! Next, sushi ~ sushi is his favorite food!  So, for his uncle to take him out for his favorite food was a pretty awesome thing. And, lastly, what boy doesn’t like a reptile center?!  I wouldn’t have taken my son there because well, I don’t like snakes – AT ALL! So, for them to be able to hang out, touch snakes and talk sushi – it made for a very memorable, awesome day!  They now have fun memories that just the two of them share! I love that!!

Fun & Interesting Memories

My kids had both of my sisters’ names for their experiences.  They decided to go together on giving their experiences and bought Groupons for kayaking.  Neither of them had been kayaking before, but they knew their aunts both enjoy being outdoors. They paid for it themselves and were pretty excited about it!  They all went out on New Year’s Day and had a great time together. As an added bonus for the experience, they were interviewed by our local paper and were on the front page of the local section the next day!  How’s that for an experience 🙂

Quality Time Together

I had my aunt’s name for the exchange.  We don’t get to spend much time together as just the two of us, so it was a fun day!  I took her to lunch at her favorite restaurant and then I gave her a gift card to Barnes & Noble, so we wandered around the bookstore together for a couple of hours.  Our idea of a good time 🙂

Because life is so busy, probably even more so during the holiday season, it’s important to make intentional decisions to spend time (and quality time) with those who matter!  It’s always a choice of where we spend both our time and our resources, so choose wisely!

Want To Try Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts?!

If Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate) seems too big to try and change, then maybe try a birthday instead.  We have been giving experiences instead of gifts for birthdays for several years now. One year we bought 4-day passes to Disney.  We each got one day that was “our day.” We got to choose which park and the meal for our day and we all had a great day!

Now, just to be clear, we don’t have a problem with gifts and we do give our kids gifts.  But, the goal, I think, is to shift the focus off of gifts and onto the people we are spending time with.  However you do that and whatever works for you and your family, is what is right! Your right will probably look different than my right!  But again, we always have a choice of where (and with whom) we spend our time and our resources ~ Choose Wisely!

Christmas Gift Experiences for Children

Giving experiences instead of gifts to children may be the hardest to wrap your head around. You might wonder What Can I give instead of toys? Here are a few experience ideas for children to get you thinking!

  • Learn something new together
  • Give lessons for something (art, music, dance, etc.)
  • Teach kids a skill you know (woodworking, cooking, knitting, etc.)
  • Trip to the bookstore to pick out some books
  • Indoor trampoline or rock climbing
  • Trip to a local reptile center or zoo
  • Trip to an arcade

Christmas Gift Experiences for Adults

Making the switch to giving experiences instead of gifts for your adult family or friends is almost easier! Assuming you enjoy hanging out with them, it’s a fun challenge to find something interesting and different to do together. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking!

  • Take in a show at a local theater together
  • An author talk/signing – go see a favorite author
  • Travel for the weekend together
  • Create a spa day together
  • Plan a fun day trip to a new town
  • Plan a weekend away in a new place
  • Gift card for a favorite restaurant
  • Hot air balloon ride
  • Skydiving lesson

Christmas Gift Experiences for Friends

If you’d like to start a new tradition with your friends and try giving experiences instead of traditional gifts, here are a few ideas to get you going.

  • Host a cookie decorating day (with family or friends).  Make sure to choose who you want to spend time with. But, make sure you don’t stress yourself out over the details.  This is supposed to be fun, quality time together. If you spend it stressed out – it’s NOT working!
  • Bowling! – have a fun bowl-a-thon with friends
  • Paint and wine night – These are always fun, this kit includes everything except the wine!

Family Christmas Ideas Instead of Gifts

If you’re interested in giving experiences instead of gifts for a family, then you’ll be interested in checking out these ideas.

  • Change up a family get-together and make it a Murder Mystery Party!  We did this on Christmas Eve one year, and it was hysterical! We still talk about it, and it was 20 years ago!!
  • Be a tourist in your hometown and try some new things
  • Volunteer together for something you all care about
  • Plan out & plant a garden together
  • Family YMCA membership

Membership & Season Pass Ideas

Talk about the gift that keeps on giving! If you’re considering giving experiences instead of gifts or presents, then you may want to consider season passes or memberships. Here are some great ideas for you to think about!

  • Local theater season passes
  • Local zoo passes
  • Trampoline park
  • Zipline/Ropes Course passes
  • State Park Passes
  • National Park Passes
  • Art/Science Museum
  • Children’s Museum
  • Theme park annual pass (Disney, Universal, etc.)

Other Articles You Might Enjoy

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5 Tips on Traveling with Teens

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  1. Hello,

    Gift an experience is always better than gift something material. The experiences will be remembered forever.

  2. I love this idea, my family are not that close (in the sense that we spend one on one time with each other), this gifting experiences is a great way to spend quality time together.

  3. Honestly, I think it’s an amazing idea! No material gift can ever replace experiences or memories! That’s the best gift ever, especially for kids!

  4. These is great post but i think this thing wont work in my family. But these is wonderful ideas.

  5. this sounds like such a great idea! gifts can get messy, I think as I grow older I prefer more experiences instead of things!

  6. Yes! My family has done this every year for the past 4 and it has made us all so much closer. Last year we went on the Polar Express in Flagstaff, AZ instead of buying presents and it was so worth it! I wrote a post about giving too, I’m glad this is picking up steam. 🙂


  7. OhMyGoodness, I love this idea – especially because our big family get-together Christmas has turned into such a gift mess this year. It feels like we have an entry fee for Christmas! Pinned!

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