Is it Time for a Gift-Giving Overhaul?

Many years ago when my nieces and nephews were little (and there weren’t so many of them!), all of the aunts and uncles would buy gifts for each and every one of them (that’s six gifts for each of the 14 kids, and that’s not including their gifts from Santa or their parents!).

Christmas Eve was a madhouse of shredded wrapping paper, toys piled up in pursuit of the next one, and sporadic screeches and yelps of excitement. As I watched the mayhem unfold, it became clear to me that the heart of the season was getting lost among the “things.”

So Melissa and I decided to do something different.

Instead of buying them a toy (of which they already had too many), we gave each of them money to pick something out for a child who otherwise wouldn’t have anything under the tree. We all piled into two cars and headed to the local toy store for everyone to choose his or her gift.

It was such a joy to watch them hold their money and peruse the aisles for something a little boy or girl whom they’d never met might enjoy. Some picked things that they would have liked for themselves while others picked things they owned and loved and thought this other child would, too. I loved watching their little faces as they contemplated their selection. I could almost see the wheels turning in their heads.

Once the choices were made, each child paid for their own toy one-by-one (bless the toy store clerks!), and then we headed off to the local Toys for Tots drop-off center. Once that was done, we continued on to a fun activity. One year, we went rollerskating. Another year, we went to a nearby, large Christmas light display and walked around the property with our hot chocolates in hand.

In the car rides, we’d sing Christmas carols and talk about nothing and everything. These times were likely more of a gift for Melissa and me, but I sure hope they hold the memories in their hearts, too: Time with their cousins, giving to those in need, and having lots of laughs along the way.

Dr. Thomas Gilovich conducted a 20-year study on the difference in happiness levels from material possessions versus experiential purchases. In his report, he wrote, “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed, but only for a while. But we remember experiences long afterward.”

You see, something new is exciting, but then it quickly becomes “not new” anymore. We get used to it, it becomes a regular part of our world, and then we get bored with it. And off we go looking for the next “new” thing.

So this year, when brainstorming gift ideas, consider things like:

  • A cooking class,
  • Guitar lessons,
  • Museum or movie theater passes,
  • A fun outing you can all do together, or
  • A strategy coaching session to support their dreams.

Some of the greatest gifts you can give cost no money at all. Things like:

  • Babysitting services
  • An afternoon of yard cleanup
  • Technology help for the luddite in your life

Is the newest gadget exciting? Sure, it can be, but the joy from things is fleeting. It’s the experiences that stick.

That create life-long memories.

That change who you are.

So skip that sweater and instead head to a paint nite with your bestie. Your gift will be appreciated for a long time and the memory you create, cherished!

Now I’d love to hear from you. Are you mixing up your gift giving this year? What are some of your favorite things to give? Share in the comments below.

4 replies
  1. Arlene Shields
    Arlene Shields says:

    One year our family each decided to take $350 instead of buying gifts. We could raise more money or use the $350 to give to a charity close to our hearts. We raised $1000 by telling people what we were doing. Parents started a fund to send young people with cancer to a performance, football game, hockey game, etc. This is where we chose to give. A few weeks later neighbours told us their nephew who had cancer went to the Grey Cup from thus charity. He died shortly after. Then Christmas Day our gift to each other was to tell what we did and why. It felt so good but I missed giving until my sister told me no I like shopping. Sadly she was right at that time.

  2. Monique
    Monique says:

    Love this Kerri!

    I love to shop for gifts but I also love balancing the physical with the heart felt connection experiential gifts that sure do hold more value❤️

    Tell me more about the ‘blessings bags’ you mentioned in a different post-I’m curious!

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      I’m with you, Monique. There are some physical gifts that are lovely and much appreciated. And then there are experiences — the holy grail!:-) The Blessing Bags are small bundles we put together every year to help with those struggling with homelessness. In them, we include a comb, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, hand warmers, a restaurant gift card, toothpaste, toothbrush, tissues, washcloths, and more. A family friend who goes into the city weekly to serve this population takes the bags in to hand out. We have a great time assembling them with holiday music playing so we’re infusing them with good energy, too! 🙂


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