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The Real Stuff- Learning to give experiences in place of things.

Everybody loves getting gifts, right? We're conditioned from a very young age to believe receiving the perfect object will bring us a lifetime of joy, and that receiving a mountain of gifts on a special occasion somehow proves that we are dearly loved. Well, actually... research shows that people who receive experiences rather than material items were happier in the long run. The thrill of stuff quickly fades as we covet the next best thing, the newest toy, or electronic device but the joy derived from experiences, big and small, can last a lifetime. So how do we shift the paradigm? I propose a shift in the way we gift, starting with our kids. Let's teach them to love doing things instead of teaching them to love getting things. Think about this: The average child in the developed world owns over 200 toys but only plays with 12 of them and 3% of the world’s children live in the US, but own 40+% of the world’s toys!

I am not suggesting you never give your children toys, but I do think we can significantly reduce the number of toys we give without creating a feeling of deprivation in our children or ourselves. When my niece and nephew were very young I gave them toys that helped them be creative, were made from non-plastic material, and were educational in nature. I was especially fond of this outlet for children's gifts and often got them items they could share. Now that they are no longer little I exclusively give them experiences. In my own household my husband, his two children and I have always had very specific guidelines for gifts. You may give something you have made, something you own and want to share, or a charitable donation in the recipients name. As these kids have aged, here too we have moved toward giving experiences, and I can tell you first hand, they have valued this so much more than the usual mountain of toys and stuff. So in addition to the gifting rules above I have a list of suggestions for providing your children with presence presents-The Real Stuff.

1) When purchasing toys, look for items that are educational, made from natural materials and promote creativity. For every toy that comes in, pack one up to gift to someone in need by way of donation. In doing so you give your child three gifts in one. A thing, encouragement of creativity, and the lesson of charity.

2) Choose experiences:

You can make gift certificates or gift certificate books with multiple visits for various activities including :


Skating/ Ice skating


Pottery classes

Rock Climbing gym


Botanical Gardens

You can give tickets to:

Live Theater- The Bushnell , or in Boston

Outdoor concert events like Tanglewood

Puppet shows ( for younger kids)

Live events at colleges UMass FAC

Art Galleries


3) Make it a family affair-

Turn gifting into family vacation planning and add your gift budget to your vacation allocation. You may go places you never dreamed of before... Some thoughts on this are:

National Park Adventures- Visit Yellowstone in winter, Camp in Arches, have an adventure of a lifetime in Alaska....

Or put those dollars toward a different kind of "splurge"

Season tickets to Major League Baseball

Seasons Tickets to a local Basketball or Hockey team

US Open tickets

Family camping equipment.

Use your creativity. We live with so much excess stuff. By teaching our kids that there is more to life than things we are giving them so much more in the long run. Consider this too, by limiting toys and expanding experience we are teaching our children to think more critically about advertising and entitlement. By having fewer toys, more value is perceived in what they have and teaches them to care better for the items they own. Moreover, by offering experiences we are spending more quality time with our kids, developing bonds to one another that not only shape young minds and last a lifetime but make the difficult parenting moments, less difficult. Most importantly however the love you give is not material, it is in giving presence.

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