The Gift of Experience

Friday, November 20, 2015

The more minimalist we become, the harder birthdays and Christmas become.  Particularly because I love having beautiful presents under the tree with my name on them and the surprise of opening a gift on Christmas morning.  Adam and I have discussed this extensively, particularly of late, now that we have a baby.  With children comes more stuff, and, before you know it, your house fills up with things.  Particularly when your house is only 700 sq. ft to begin with.  Sometimes Christmas gifts end up just being more stuff.  That sounds so pessimistic, but I really think that experiences can be more valuable than more things to add to your collection of things.  
After much debate, we are trying to move to experience gifts.  This can be just as tricky as picking a physical gift, but the pay-off is a wonderful memory that can be cherished for a lifetime.  When I think back on my childhood, some of the best gifts my parents gave me were ones that came in the form of an experience.  The main one that comes to mind is the time we took a cruise as a family the day after Christmas.  I don't think we got any physical presents that year, but the cruise was amazing, and a great time together as a family.

Experience-based gifts can be hard to come up with, so I have a few examples to get you started if you think this is something you would want to try in your family and you're not ready to afford a cruise (it's okay, we're not either).

1.  Tickets to a show, movie, or game.  Maybe your child loves basketball, your husband loves theater, or your best friend loves cooking.  There are so many kinds of local (or not) events that would be a perfect gift for a loved one!  When we were dating, Adam got me tickets to go see Emerson Drive (a country band), even though he hadn't heard any of their music.  It was so fun to go together (it was the first and only concert that I have ever been to), and I loved spending the time doing something together!  I am not sure he loved it as much as I did, but it was the perfect gift for me!

2.  An outdoor experience like a day trip to a scenic hike in your area, a bike ride next to the river, canoeing on a local lake, zip lining, a trip to explore nearby caves (several of these may not be available in your area, but this could be a great gift for the outdoor enthusiast, particularly if you struggle to get out and do things in your area, like we do).

3.  A class.  I feel like I am a lifetime learner and am always looking for ways to hone my skills and learn new techniques.  Classes can be great gifts for adults and children!  I know in our area you can find adult art classes, dance classes, yoga classes, photography classes, cooking classes, and many more options!  Try asking your family what kinds of things they would be interested in learning and maybe buy them a month trail or a one-time class!

A few weeks ago, I went to a pie-making class at a nifty little cook's supply store in downtown Austin.  The teacher was incredible, and the class was nice and small which made for a really great learning environment.  Also, the pies that we made were delicious!  We each got to take home a tiny pie (Adam was a huge fan), and I felt like I learned a few things about pastry dough that will be extremely useful for many years to come!  I also got to meet a new blogging friend!  I have read Katie's blog for a while, and I was thrilled to be able to finally meet her!  She really makes the most gorgeous desserts!

This apple pie course came from a company called Underground Kitchen, based in Austin, TX, that offers incredible cooking classes for pretty much every kind of cook!  Pastry classes, pasta classes, cake decorating classes; they are all taught by tried and tested cooks who really know their stuff, and they are taught in interesting locations (some in shops like this, and some in people's homes).  I haven't seen any of the classes repeated yet, and I have checked several times.

It really was great to have a professional show me how to make my pastry even better with a few special tips and tricks for making the best pie possible.

Also, our teacher's husband is an incredible photographer and was taking photos of our class.  I took my camera along, but because I was also participating, it sat off to the side a bit.  Another participant volunteered to take a few photos of me, and he ended up helping her take some.  I never realized how self-conscious I am about my photography.  It is a little scary to have a professional pick up your camera and take pictures with it!  Suddenly you worry that you have been using all the wrong settings!

Bringing it all back, there is nothing like experience gifts!  They are meaningful, create incredible memories, and don't ever collect dust in your closet!  I hope that we will have many experience gifts to share in our future!

I would love to hear if you have ever given or received an experience gift, and what you thought about it.  



  1. I love this idea and have asked for classes. I've taken a photography course and an interior decorating class as gifts. I'm planning on getting my dad tickets to the symphony as a gift for Christmas this year.

  2. I also love these gifts! My mom and I go to the spa almost every year as a gift, usually after the occasion, the next time there is some sort of deal. One year when I was in high school, my dad bought us a day of ice climbing (the kind with ice axes!). That was a really excellent and memorable experience gift. I've often taken family members to special exhibits at museums and art galleries as gifts. In the country where I live now, 700 square feet is a normal sized home for a for a family with small children, so intangible gifts like memberships to the botanical gardens and the national museum pass are popular options :)

  3. Thank you for reading my mind! I was just thinking I should ask you what your minimalist Christmas might look like. We have two small children, 18 months and almost 4-years, and we have been doing experiences instead of gifts for the last few years. Our family loves to travel and so my husband has taken our oldest on "Boy Trips" where they go backpacking or fly up to Seattle for the day. Great memories and the only things that takes up space are the photographs! But it is still amazing how much STUFF you accumulate with children. Any tips for getting the Grandparents on board with this minimalist approach?

    1. Gosh, Jessica. This one is a toughie. I would say that for grandparents, maybe try explaining to them that you want to instill a love of experiences, particularly those that create memories with family, including them. You hope this will be more valuable to them then stuff that you will have to find a place to store (particularly if you have a lot of stuff already), and lovingly tell them that you would be so appreciative if they contributed to an experience gift (maybe you could even give them some suggestions?). On the other hand, if they are completely against this idea, maybe they could get a gift that could create experiences and memories, but is an actual gift (like a bicycle or camera). I don't know if this is helpful... I hope it is :)

  4. I am definitely a lifetime learner as well. The pie making class looks so fun! How cute are those mini pies. I love the idea of gifting experiences. Spending more quality time with family is way more rewarding than opening up a gift under the tree. (I love those beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree as well)


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