Give Experiences Instead of Stuff: 10 Ideas to Try


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Give Experiences Instead of Stuff: 10 Ideas to Try | Kid-Friendly DiY | Life with Kids | Marriage & Parenting

Let’s face it–keeping clutter at bay can often feel like a losing battle. No matter how hard we work at getting “unstuffed,” there are always more things coming back through the door–especially when it comes to kids!

The reality is that we can get rid of things all day long, but without a  solid plan for the next holiday or birthday, we’ll be soon faced with another pile of STUFF.


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The worst part is that there are often so many gifts and toys and trinkets that our kids become overwhelmed, eventually even forgetting about some of the most awesome new toys they received. All in all, you’re left with more clutter. After just one holiday, gifts are filling up your closets, taking over the toy room, and clogging up the space under your bed.

Discussing the gift situation with relatives and loved ones can be particularly delicate. After all, 99% of the time, their heart is in the right place. They took the time to think of your child, plus, they spent time and money at the store picking out something they feel is special. It’s truly an act of love, one none of us wants to take for granted.

So is there some way to strike a balance? A way to keep the thought without adding more STUFF?

I’d like to think so.

Because in the end, what really matters are the memories—those special things you did with your loved ones. Maybe it was making gingerbread houses with Grandma every Christmas and getting your fingers sticky from licking so much of the candy. Maybe you remember building something with your Dad or helping your Mom work in the garden. Perhaps you can recall a memory of sightseeing with cousins or siblings and being amazed by dinosaurs in a museum or giant roadside attractions on a car trip.

Our memories are made up of experiences and people. They’re rarely made up of “stuff.” Yet we hold on to stuff hoping it will bring us back to our happy memories.

That’s exactly why giving experiences rather than gifts can be so much more meaningful. Take photos and share the photos with the gift-giver after the activity, along with a card letting them know how meaningful and enriching their gift was to your kids and family. And as you shift your philosophy from “stuff” to activities, you might be surprised by how many of your loved ones truly enjoy the switch.

If you’re scratching your head wondering what sorts of special activities you can give (especially those that don’t cost a ton of money), here are a few ideas to get you started:

Grab your popcorn and give two tickets to a special movie night!

1. Plan a Special Movie Night

Going to the movies can be a lot of fun—and even with the price of movie tickets these days, it’s still cheaper than another videogame or Lego set. Think outside the box and beyond the theater to make your movie night experience even more fun and less expensive.

You can have an outdoor movie night, which can be as elaborate or as minimal as you like. Set up blankets in the backyard and rent a projector, or try a DIY projector hack. Offer treats and enjoy a movie under the stars.

Another easy idea is to simply host your special movie night at a relative’s or friend’s house. Make it a “movie-a-thon” and show a double feature. Have everyone bring a blanket or sleeping bag. Serve milkshakes and popcorn. How much fun would your kids have watching a favorite movie with their aunt and uncle or their grandparents? It’s all about making it a special and unique event rather than just “popping in a DVD.”

2. Hold Game Day at the Park

Grab a football, Frisbee, beanbag toss or croquet set and head to your local park where everyone can play! Bring your own fixings for subs, chips, veggies and fruit and set up a blanket or picnic table. In the winter, game day can turn into building a snowman, ice skating or sledding together as a family or with friends. Follow it up with a warm treat like hot chocolate or cider.

Most city parks are free and accessible to all. Maybe you’re even fortunate enough to live close to one of our beautiful National Parks. Perhaps Grandpa has some kite flying skills he’d like to share or your cousin loves geocaching. Encourage them to share their knowledge with your kids and add another layer of discovery to the experience.

For younger kids, simply swinging, digging together in the sand, or playing a game of catch can be more meaningful than any number of toys. Bring a game of checkers, Jenga, or another board game you can enjoy on the picnic table together as a family!

Become a local tourist or take your kids for a safari in your own backyard.

3. Become a Local Tourist

Try some urban exploring and find out what your town is really all about. We’ve seen all these fans of Pokémon Go searching out the corners of their town for different creatures. Go old school and mark up a map with various landmarks and sites. Arm your kids with cameras and send them on a hunt to find the features around town.

Check your local paper and visitors’ bureau to see what sort of free activities are offered in your town. You may be surprised by the number of free concerts, local museum and zoo discounts, and other activities offered to residents. If there’s a festival, a fair or a band playing, head out to get involved!

So often we explore new towns when we go on vacations, but when it comes to our home city, we overlook many of the cool features. Find out what your town is truly famous for and spend a day or two making the most of it! Relatives and friends can go along and treat the kids to local cuisine, show them their favorite feature in town, or enjoy a festival together!

4. Get to the Beach

Even if you don’t live on a coast, chances are there’s a river, lake or pond in your area. Time to hit the beach! Grab your flip-flops, sunscreen and water gear and jump (or wade) in!

Spending time at the beach is often refreshing and restful. It offers friends and relatives a chance to really spend quality time with your kiddos and do something together you can all enjoy. Bring along some snacks and stroll along the boardwalk. Ride a Ferris wheel or build a sandcastle. If there’s a tour of a local lighthouse or ship, take it!

Bring a camera along and see if you can take some fun beach pictures of your family. Play with perspective with your kids. See if they can “hold up” the sun or point out a tiny boat in the distance. If you have a fisherman or woman in your family, they can teach your kids how to cast and bait a hook. Your kids will have a memorable day that everyone will enjoy. There’s just something about a beach no one can resist.

Camping is inexpensive but fun for the whole family. Get your tent and hit the wilderness!

5. Go Camping

If your friends and family members are outdoorsy types, why not take everyone on a camping trip for a day or two or plan some outdoor activities? Campgrounds are often very inexpensive to rent and there’s nothing like cooking over a fire, hanging out in a tent, and exploring the wilderness to really bond with your loved ones.

Even if your family isn’t big on roughing it, ask relatives if they’d spend a day with you at a local nature preserve, watching the changing leaves in a nearby forest or even simply taking your kids on a nature walk or scenic drive.

Renting a kayak or canoe can be relatively inexpensive and a lot of family fun. Hike local trails and learn to use a map and compass (the original GPS). Turn off technology and spend time visiting and enjoying the beautiful earth we’re so blessed to live on.

6. Volunteer

Particularly during the holidays, volunteer opportunities abound. Relatives can accompany your family to a local soup kitchen or food pantry to serve those who need some extra help, especially if the weather is cold.

Does your aunt know how to sew or can your friend knit? Have them walk your kids through some simple projects. Make cage comforters for the local humane society, sew dresses from pillowcases for girls in Africa, or create knit hats to donate to a NICU or children’s hospital. Not only will your friend be passing on a talent and skill to your kids, but you’ll also be helping make the world a brighter and better place.

Consider adopting a project as a family. Can you play Secret Santa to a military family or host a coat drive through the Salvation Army? Is there a 5K you’d like to run (or train for) together? In lieu of gifts, ask family members and friends to contribute to your cause and see how much money you can raise. It can be truly heartwarming to see kids get excited about gifts for others rather than wanting more things for themselves.

Try planting a garden together as a great alternative to giving a gift.

7. Grow Some Flowers

Know someone with a green thumb? Ask him or her to share their skills with your kids. Instead of a gift, say, “You know, Olivia has been asking me if she could plant a garden. Would you help show her how to get started?” If your child loves butterflies, ask for help selecting the best plants to attract pollinators.

If your kids have an interest in building and you have a pal who’s good with construction, ask him or her to show them how to build a birdhouse, a shelter for mason bees, or a planter box for their yard.

Even in the winter, you can grow a gourmet herb garden, lettuce, or cute succulents in a window. Set up a fairy village from found and handmade items or create a terrarium together—one for your house and one for your friend. They can compare their growth, swap pictures, and keep up on their gardens throughout the year.

8. Throw an Art Party

I don’t know about your kids but mine LOVE those paint-your-own pottery shops. They’re always begging to visit, but the items there can be quite pricy. Host your own “Art Party” or have a friend give an art session as a gift and share their talent with your kids.

Use a Sharpie marker to “paint” mugs from Goodwill or other recycled ceramics. Try a simple canvas with watercolor, chalk or tempera paints. Try some felting and create cute creatures together or use clay to make jewelry and figurines.

Keep it simple but be sure everyone gets to leave with a creation and goes home feeling accomplished. It’s all about letting your artistic side shine!

Spending time with kids or grand kids (like a fancy tea party) often means more than another gift .

9. Get Theatrical

Kids love to imagine and act out. Quite honestly, most children would be thrilled to have an afternoon playmate—if Grandpa, Grandma, Auntie or Uncle would just have a tea party or act out a story with them.

To make it truly special, consider letting your kids host a circus, talent show or play. Ask each person to contribute a talent, rather than give a gift for the event. For Halloween, Christmas or Easter, you can try a seasonally appropriate story or theme. For other times of the year, anything goes. You can find scripts online or suggest your kids perform scenes from their favorite movie. (Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz, or Peter Pan can be great!)

Give out tickets and ask family members to help with costumes, makeup or programs (if they aren’t so into acting). In lieu of gifts, they could also host a refreshment stand and share a favorite treat with the audience. Even an enthusiastic reading of some favorite stories can be a great theatrical treat that almost anyone can get behind.

10. Show Off Your Chef Skills

Host your own version of “Chopped” or fire up a cooking challenge! Use a mystery ingredient and make a meal together or come up with a creative recipe. If your friend or relative loves baking, ask them to decorate some cookies with your kids.

Try a seasonal recipe or favorite dish. Host a potluck party or let family members know that instead of giving gifts, we’d love to have a DIY pizza and game night together. Have everyone bring their favorite toppings and a game.

Food is something almost everyone can enjoy and get behind. If you have a relative who says they’d really like to give a gift, ask them to make a birthday cake or teach a cooking lesson.

When giving experiences rather than gifts, consider your own area of interest, expertise and enjoyment, as well as who you are giving to. Think of a talent you’d love to share, or one they would, or something you really enjoy doing together. Or if, you’re asking other family members to give experiences to your kids, try to think of something they’d enjoy. The idea is to do something special together and share in memories rather than things!

Give Experiences Instead of Stuff: 10 Ways to Make it Happen.


  1. November 14 at 12:10PM

    Ruth, These are great ideas. Not everyone is willing to do this, but one of my kids favorite memories was choosing the color and helping paint their bedrooms when we moved into a new house. The only limit was no black. Making wrapping paper with painted hands and feet was another hit.

  2. Cheri Young
    November 14 at 12:51PM

    I wanted to order 3 Living Well Planners but when ordering I don’t get that option. Do I have to order them singly?

    • Ruth Soukup
      November 14 at 08:25PM

      Once you add the planner to your cart, then select view cart and you can add the amount of planners you would like to order in the quantity box. Then select update cart button. Please email us at if you should continue to have issues ordering.

  3. November 14 at 09:10PM

    Ruth! I’m so excited you included volunteering on this list. It may seem scary for some people who haven’t done it before at first, but I swear it’s addicting once you start volunteering. Especially during the holidays!

    I absolutely love taking my nephews to volunteer as their present and you would be surprised how much they love it too. It’s such a great way to do a free gift and spend quality time together with your family.

    Thank you for the awesome post.

  4. November 15 at 08:16AM

    The idea of having my own Chopped show is SUCH a great idea! I love that show – especially Chopped Junior.
    – Charmaine

  5. November 15 at 04:20PM

    These are really great ideas. Any suggestions for my sister and her daughter and husband? They live about 12 hours away so it’s hard to gift experiences when they’re not close by.

    • Ruth Soukup
      November 15 at 08:42PM

      You could always gift them tickets to a local zoo, museum or movie tickets that they could do together in their town. Or provide a restaurant gift card to your sister and her husband and then offer to babysit your niece the next time your in town.

      • November 16 at 09:09AM

        Those are awesome ideas! Thanks so much!

  6. Diane Courtney Bush
    November 18 at 05:01PM

    I must say, this is one of the most uplifting and delightful posts I have read from any blog in a while! You were specific and intentional in your goals and methods of accomplishment. So many great suggestions that are rather inexpensive, with no great strength or effort and I love that you included volunteering as a family. This is something that have really struggled with in my family. Not every family feels that it’s a blessing to help someone or some organization with the gift of your time and care, without monetary compensation. They simply can’t see how much it pays off in ways beyond finance. happiness can’t be bought! Bless you for your positive living!

  7. Amanda Sifford
    November 19 at 03:54AM

    Ruth I am so glad I saw this in my inbox today! As a family we have been struggling financially. Not only our family but my parents and my mother in law going through a tough divorce as we come into the holiday season. The Grandparents feel obligated to of course purchase gifts when deep down we know they can’t afford the newest hot toy of the season but this article has given me hope. It has sparked my imagination as to how to solve this dilemma for all our families! Thank you so much! Our boys love seeing the drive thru Christmas lights and Groupon has a deal every season, I’m going to suggest a night of holy lights with my parents as a gift this year! Their Grandmother going through the divorce has been feeling very isolated and lonely so I am going to suggest a Movie night a Grammie’s as a gift for our kids! They love making blanket palates in the living room and watching movies they can now do it with her! Not only that it would be something she and our kids would enjoy but also allow my husband and I some much needed couple time which is a gift in itself! The thought of eating my dinner on my plate when it is still warm and not having two boys pick food off my plate! Wow! I also work so much that I think I am going to give the gift of a day with Mommy & Daddy at the Zoo! They would love that adventure over a toy any day! The thoughts are pouring over me!!! Hopefully my boys will be receptive to this type of concept versus “traditional” gifts of “stuff” under the tree. Any suggestions to help with that aspect by chance? I definitely don’t want to take away the joy of Opening gifts Christmas morning from our boys either… Many thanks!

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