Experience Gifts: The Key to a Simpler Christmas?


I long for a simpler Christmas. The days of opening a few gifts and spending time together. My husband, on the other hand, derives great joy from giving lots of presents. He squirrels everything away in a secret spot until he starts wrapping a week before Christmas. The pile under the tree grows and g-r-o-w-s and GROWS.

Experience Gifts

How Much is Too Much?

For me, the expanding collection of parcels ties knots in my stomach. We’re not overextending our bank account — in fact, we are bargain-finding wizards. It’s simply the idea of more “stuff” stacking up in our house.

We need a one-in, one-out policy.

I know this. My husband knows this. But sorting and purging doesn’t rank high on either of our “To Do” lists. I read recently that the best way to sidestep the accumulation of things is to NOT let them into the house in the first place. Brilliant! And easier said than done.

I feel like Scrooge, asking our family elf to curtail the gifts. But I stand firm upon the idea that they don’t need (or even want) everything they ask for. Nor do our other family members want a bunch of stuff – we recently discovered a virtual graveyard of unopened gifts at my in-laws’ house.

Experience Gifts to the Rescue?

My husband is a tough sell when it comes to the idea of paring down our gift list. So, I’m peddling the idea that we’re not necessarily spending less – we’re simply shifting our spending.

Experience Gifts


  • Magazine Subscriptions: Last year, we abandoned traditional gifts for my father-in-law. Instead, we ordered him two large-print magazines we knew he would enjoy: Smithsonian and National Geographic. Huge hit! At 86 years old, he’s learning new things. He’s engaging his brain. He’s traveling the world again, even if only in his mind.
  • Wall Calendars: Each year, I make three customized wall calendars – one for each set of parents. Each contains dozens of photos of the extended family. Cute grandkid photos? Win!
  • DIY Workshop Gift Cards: Have a set of crafty parents? We’re getting our second set of parents a gift card to a local wood and textile workshop that offers sign painting and other classes. They’ll spend an evening together, creating something personal and special for their home.
  • Restaurant Gift Cards: Our final set of parents is the “let’s find a fun new place for lunch” type. We’re ordering them a couple of gift certificates to their favorite restaurants and a lovingly crafted family photo album of the last decade.
  • Wi-Fi Photo Frames: These are the single best gift we have ever given to our parents. We send photos directly from our phones to the frames in their living rooms in real time. So, they’re right there with us when we’re ziplining in Alaska or hopping on the newest ride at Disneyland. They can invite others to send to the frames, as well.


This is tougher. Kids like toys. But they open one, set it aside, open another, set it aside. By the time they’re done, they have a tall stack of toys that will live in our family room for a few days, then move downstairs. We have toys that have never been opened.

Experience Gifts - Swim Lessons

I would much rather spend money on experiences for our kids. Drop your ideas in the comments. Below is a list of mine:

  • Classes: Does your child like music? How about some lessons? Add an instrument, if you’d like. Or swim lessons. Or gymnastics, lacrosse, painting or cooking. The options are endless.
  • Tickets: Does your town have a local stage? They probably have programming for kids. What’s more fun than a matinee with real actors entertaining you and your child? Local colleges and high schools put on great performances, too! Tickets to sporting events are fun and need not break the bank — tape $5 to the ticket for snacks.
  • Memberships: These can range from local children’s museums and science centers to waterslides or state parks.
  • Gift certificates: Is there a climbing wall near you? How about a go-kart track? A penny arcade? Gift your kiddo with an afternoon of fun.
  • Online Money: My kids like Roblox. Other kids like other games. We don’t often let them spend money to upgrade their characters and options, but Christmas and birthdays are a perfect time to wrap up $10 for frivolous spending.


I know, I know. There’s jewelry and watches. Car cleaning stuff. All the standards. But what if instead, we spent our money on time together (or apart)?

Experience Gifts - Beer Tasting

  • Trips: This doesn’t have to be a trip to Italy (although, if it’s possible, why not?). It could be a weekend in a quaint town an hour away. Or dinner at your favorite local restaurant, followed by a night at a nearby hotel. Tough to find overnight care for the kids? How about a night for the whole family at a waterpark hotel?
  • Classes: Book a class for you to take together — cooking, painting, dancing. Or enroll your spouse in a class you know he might like — beer tasting, woodworking or race car driving, perhaps?
  • Concert tickets: Does your spouse love Depeche Mode? Chris Stapleton? Yo-Yo Ma? Grab some tickets and spend an unforgettable evening watching your favorite guy smile.
  • Sports tickets: If he bought NFL or NBA tickets for himself, you might raise an eyebrow at the price, right? But if you buy them for him, well, that just makes you the coolest wife around.
  • Gift certificates: Is he a car guy? There are some pretty cool go-kart tracks for adults. How about indoor or outdoor skydiving? Glider flight? Hang gliding?

Experience Gifts… You’re Creating Memories

The possibilities are infinite for experience gifts. Worry that your kids might not appreciate three white envelopes for Christmas? Wrap them up with a little something tangible that’s related — a $5 boxed science experiment to go with the science center membership, for instance.

Looking for ideas near you? Did you know that City Mom Collective has about 100 sister sites across the country? They are your best source for the low-down on all things local!


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