It’s the third week of January and I literally already can’t remember what Blake got me for Christmas. My hair girl asked me today what I got for Christmas, and I literally sat there, drawing absolute blanks. What DID I get for Christmas???
This has been our experience with not just our memory as middle aged adults regarding gifts during the holiday season, but also with our kids. Sure, maybe their youthful minds are sharper and allow them to still remember into the third week of January their loot from under the tree, but it won’t be long before that brand new super awesome WHATEVER goes stale, and their hearts move on to desiring something else new and shiny. And I’d be willing to bet by next Christmas, if you ask them what they got this last Christmas, they will stare back at you with the same blank look I had today.
In fairness, this year we made a real intentional choice to go light on the Christmas loot. We wanted less entitlement, and more joy (ourselves included). After years and years of honestly just feeling gluttonous and gross after watching the ugliest parts of ourselves and our kids come out at Christmas, we made a concerted effort this year to prioritize experiences. So yes, there were still a few small things under the tree for the kids (we’re not monsters), but I’m telling you (and not lightly) this was literally our best Christmas ever.
Buck the System: Nix the Gifts, and Give Experiences
Advertisers tried to get the best of us, but we knew better. Each kid got to open up one individual experience. We really made a conscious choice to go all in on experiences. We made individual certificates (in fact, I bought these from Etsy) for each kid that laid out a one-on-one “date” that was something totally in their lane. For the 5 year old, she got an overnighter with her bestie (girls night!) and she squealed with delight! The 7 year old got tickets to a night out with Mom & Dad guaranteed to entertain at the local Cirque de Soleil that will be traveling to town.
And then as a sibling unit, their big/primary gift they opened simultaneously: an overnight to Great Wolf Lodge for Christmas Day! Their reaction was seriously priceless as it was obviously a total surprise, and I had already pre-packed their bags. I mean, literally, we might as well have just told them we were going to Disneyland. Their joy and excitement was PALPABLE.
We did a full 24 hours of madness, I mean fun, at Great Wolf (thanks in part to the help and attendance of Grandma and Grandpa too!), and our kids were in HEAVEN. Don’t get me wrong, us adults, were FREAKING EXHAUSTED. But we drove away exactly 24 hours later, so anxious for our own bed, but so happy with every dollar that we spent on an experience instead of a gift.
Experiences Over Things
Don’t just take my word for it, scientists and social scientists have been talking about this for years. They are researching and discovering that experiences will bring you more long-lasting happiness than things. This is fact! And we know this to be true when we experience it ourselves, but those advertisers spend A LOT of money working to get you to (at least momentarily) SWIPE UP, or BUY NOW, under the guise that their product they’re selling will solve your problems and fill that hole in your heart, that we all know won’t. The shiny new thing will lose it’s luster and eventually it’ll be in the donate pile (if not the trash, which is a whole other topic).
Ultimately, our experiences, and our memories are what will last and what we will take with us. Sure, worldly possessions are oftentimes good (generational wealth, land ownership, real estate, etc.) and can provide for serious privilege and ample opportunities to enjoy many of these experiences (for generations to come as well). I’m not discounting that. But, your memories are not what you buy, but rather what you experience.
Obviously Christmas is gone and done at this point, so you can hope and pray (or Pin!) this post for future reference come holiday season next year…or you can start right now, small, in your everyday life.
Sit down as a family and dream up some experiences you want to enjoy together. Start local – art museums, parks, bodies of water, hikes, – many of which are free! And then stretch your dreaming – go big.
- Who would you like to go with?
- What would you like to see?
- Is there an experience you’d like to have, or can work toward?
Oftentimes, when you involve your kids and dream up these things as a family, explaining that we only have a finite amount of money, they begin to understand prioritizing experiences over things. They can begin to take ownership over the cost of various experiences, and think more critically about whether we really need another new [insert WHATEVER].
When we choose to parent in this intentional way regarding our money, we teach them to become active consumers, not passive consumers.
There are friends’ birthdays that you will be invited to this year, and family birthdays, anniversaries, milestone celebrations. What if you decided to gift them an experience? Maybe it’s one you do together? The gift of time is always a well-received present in our household – and comes in many different forms!
Ultimately, as people, we crave connection. And the accumulation of possessions won’t ever give us that connection. We also crave joy, and things may provide momentary happiness but not long-lasting joy.
I’m not anti-thing, or materialistic possessions. Nope, not at all. I just want to teach my kids that we’ve been entrusted with a finite amount of money and it’s important to prioritize how we use that money as a family when it comes to extras – do you want another toy that will just break or would you rather put that $20 in the pot toward going out to that restaurant you’ve been wanting to try? It’s all a matter of choice, and sometimes, our kids need us to show them how to prioritize.