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Too much Stuff? Eleven Great Ideas for Experiential Holiday Gifts

Recently, I was feeling frustrated by the clutter in my home and how it made me feel overwhelmed, suffocated, frustrated, and messy. I’m not super organized and one of the main reasons is because we have too much stuff. I knew the answer and it wasn’t cute storage boxes or new closet organization systems. It’s the stuff—all of it, the kitchen gadgets, the plastic toys from gift bags, the clothes, the decorative boxes and statues, the souvenirs from our travels. Why do we have so much stuff? And why is it so hard to get rid of? How can we keep it from coming back?

A few months ago I stumbled on "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. It’s a short book and a quick read. You’ve probably heard of it. The author is Japanese and she has a very quirky style and a very strict system. But here’s the thing: it really works. She tells you how to let go of things: practically (first get rid of clothes, then books etc) and also emotionally (how to know when an item has served its purpose, how to manage sentimental items, what to do with clothes that aren’t quite right). So we started, we got rid of a lot of stuff and then we stopped. It’s a lot like a diet. We know what we need to do, but actually doing it and sticking with it can be tough. I still haven’t sorted through all of my soap making equipment and supplies. I have tons of different oils (olive, avocado, coconut, apricot, rice bran, and on and on) and a gazillion fragrance and essential oils. And micas. Sheesh. As soon as Christmas is over I’m going to be back to the grindstone with all of this.

But, Christmas. What about stuff and Christmas? I don’t want more stuff. Plus my kids are older. Four are in high school and the youngest is nearly a teenager. Gone are the days when Legos and art supplies made everyone happy. I want to give gifts that are appreciated, thoughtful, and fun but I don’t want more junk. So I set out to find gifts that are mostly experiences, with only a few things. Below is a list of the best ones I have found.

  1. Museum memberships--art museum, children’s museum, natural science museum, you name it. This is where you can personalize your gift—by choosing a membership that suits the recipient.
  2. Zoo, aquarium or botanical garden memberships--these are great family gifts and like many museums they sometimes partner with other museums so if the recipient visits another city they may be able to use their membership there too.
  3. Subscriptions--if you know of a magazine someone likes, get them a subscription. They’ll keep getting their gift all year. Bonus points: you can usually order then through a local school and they’ll get some extra funding. In our town, we have an amazing children’s bookstore called the Little Shop of Stories. They offer a yearlong book subscription service. Each month they’ll select a new book suited to your child’s age, gender, interests, etc. How great is that? Other stores might have this too so it’s worth it to ask. And when it’s all said and done: donate that book or magazine so someone else can love it.
  4. Classes-there is so much to learn! Dance classes, cooking classes, art classes, etc. My 11-year-old is a truly talented cook so last year she got a class in making French macarons. Boy was that a hit! If you’re in the Atlanta metro area, check out the Cooks Warehouse. Their cooking class options are huge! This year I am thinking of glass blowing classes. There are ones where you can make and take an ornament or paperweight.
  5. Season tickets--it doesn’t necessarily have to be major league football or baseball (though that might make some folks incredibly happy). Minor league teams are often just as much fun or more because the venues are small and family oriented. And the price is better too. If you can’t do season tickets, how about an individual game? This would be a great family gift because they can enjoy the memories forever. And this list isn’t limited to sports-there’s the theater, symphony, opera, whatever…again, this is how you personalize your gift.
  6. Restaurant gift certificates-perhaps to a new or fancy restaurant, someplace the recipient could go to on a special occasion.
  7. Movie tickets or a movie subscription service--I love going to movies both as a date and with the whole family. Or Netflix, Hulu, etc. Not having to pay for it?? Yay!
  8. Warehouse club subscriptions—hey, it may not be all that romantic but Costco or Sam’s Club can be pretty thoughtful really. You just have to sell it right. ;-)
  9. Investments--Last year, I bought my son a share of IBM stock, where his father worked for many years. You can get this through a discount brokerage or other services such as One Share (watch out for extra fees though).
  10. A trip or vacation—it could be Disney, a weekend at a cabin, even camping at a state park. Tailor it to your family. We took a family vacation over the summer to Mexico--all seven of us. We are getting pretty good at figuring out ways to save money with a big family. (I’ll try to remember to write about that someday). Anyway, our kids are older so we saw this as potentially our last full family trip. We drove all over Mexico and it was exhausting, but I am so glad we went. Every one of us got something different out of that experience, but we’ll all remember it forever.
  11. Experiences—race car driving, sky diving (no thank you), biplane rides, laser tag, etc. There are often good deals in Groupon or Living Social so check them out.

Do you have a suggestion for a “non-stuff” holiday gift? Please share it in the comments!

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