Things vs. Experiences

by Katy on October 20, 2010 · 15 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!


Last Sunday’s Parade Magazine included an article titled, “Why Shopping is Good Again” by Lee Eisenberg. I set the insert magazine aside, thinking the information included in such an ad based publication would certainly be an interesting read.

It turns out that Eisenberg has a book to be published next week called, “Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep On Buying No Matter What,” so the article actually was more than the that silly recession is behind us, please buy our advertiser’s products that I had expected.

One part of the article that struck me as quite insightful was the subject of how experiences differ from things:

“Over the past decade, social psychologists have conducted numerous studies that find we’re happiest when, instead of shelling out for stuff, we spend money on things that provide social and personal engagement.

Shared experiences, researchers find over and over again, offer greater value than material buys.Pleasant memories don’t fade in the wash or go out of fashion. Just think back on that family trip out West. Sure, everyone returned home with assorted souvenirs that proved you were actually there. But now, what do you remember as the most meaningful part of the trip? Maybe it was the look you saw on your kids’ faces, their eyes wide as saucers, as they peered into infinite chasms that offered up a spectacle beyond anything they’d experienced before—including, even, the first time they fired up their PlayStation.”

My mother’s birthday was last week, and instead of buying her more stuff, I took her out on the town to see a play with dessert afterwards. We started this tradition a few years back when a showing of Sing-Along Sound of Music was in town and I decided that I had found the perfect gift for her. Not only would we get to spend a child-free evening together, (a rarity at the time, as my kids were still small) but the combination of singing and making smart-ass remarks at the screen was right up her alley.  My instinct was right on the money, and we still laugh about how fun that night was.

My mother already owns a lifetime of possessions and there’s nothing I can buy her that she doesn’t already have. Nothing.

I would suggest that you consider the things vs. experiences issue when making your gift giving choices for this year’s holiday season. Not only are you providing an experiential gift, but are not contributing to the excessive clutter that so many of us struggle with. Plus there’s none of that pesky packaging!

Have you received or given experience gifts such as theater or movie tickets; massages or homemade gift certificates in the past? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie October 20, 2010 at 5:38 am

We have started this tradition with our grandchildren. The other set of grandparents buy enough presents for four sets of grandparents. Focusing on experience-based presents rather than “stuff” reduces the pile and the competition to buy bigger and better presents. Also, since we live some distance from our grandchildren, experience presents give us great quality time together. And when we give them something like a membership to their favorite museum, every time they go whether it’s with us or with other family or friends, they create more great memories, which will last longer than any toys we could buy.


Ann October 20, 2010 at 6:23 am

We are big sports fans around my house…and I would MUCH rather spend my money to buy my son REALLY REALLY good tickets to a Dodger or Laker game than buy him a jersey that he may or may not wear.


grandma October 20, 2010 at 6:24 am

I agree! This year instead of stuff I am giving the grandchildren experiences. For my granddaughter who is always at the top of the tallest set of monkey bars (much to my fear) I am giving trapeze lessons. To my grandson who loves all animals I am giving a gift of pony rides at a local stable. The gifts will last much longer than Christmas morning in their memories – and I get to share the moments with them and take pictures!!!!


Allison October 20, 2010 at 6:59 am

Massage and pedicure certificates are my all time favorite gift to receive! I ask every year. For my parents we donate money in their name. This was their idea a few years ago, and has worked out great. We always give to the humane society and it feels great. Our dog came from there 8 years ago and it the best! Who needs more junk.


April October 20, 2010 at 7:57 am

I tried that last year and it didnt work out for me.

I bought my parents tickets to see Elton John and Billy Joel in Buffalo on July of 2009. The concert was postponed until March of 2010 because Billy Joel had the flu. They had to wait for it to be rescheduled and I felt bad because it took so long!

Overall it is a good idea to give gift expereinces but sometimes things just dont work out like you plan.


rePete October 20, 2010 at 8:35 am

Neat post. I would be really interested in a follow up post compiling all the experience-gift ideas.

I gave my parents a massage last year. It was a fun surprise to have them call me in February after they used it to thank me, for a second time.


Heidi October 20, 2010 at 9:02 am

Our family had been sharing a beach-house weekend over NY each year for several years as our Christmas celebration. Rather than exchange gifts, the time together (including everyone chipping in on special food, gourmet treats and one nice dinner out) would be our gift to ourselves and each other.


Lindsay Hall October 20, 2010 at 3:57 pm

My husband and I always create “dinner on us” certificates where we come and cook at the recipents house for an evening. My grandparents especially love it!


Ivy October 20, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Awesome. I’ve taken to saving to have more experiences to give, rather than things. My mom was so touched when I told her I had tickets to go see her favorite ballet. My boys had tons of fun at their favorite park. I got my best friend a certificate for a massage. Hubby loved it that I arranged for a quiet dinner (babysitting included of course!) out rather than the usual shirt/shoes/ties/electronic gadget junk. You are right. Experiences are much more appreciated than just plain stuff. And in the end, a well thought ‘experience gift’ is much more cost effective that something randomly taken off a shelf. It is more appreciated too. 🙂


Barb October 20, 2010 at 5:53 pm

My husband gave me symphony tickets. We love going together.
We gave our son and his wife gift certificates to keep their kids while they celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.
We give our grandkids subscriptions to magazines. Highlights now, but maybe when they are older, something like Nat Geo for kids.

This Christmas we are getting the grandkids small gifts but the main thing will be buying a goat or other livestock for families in underdeveloped countries through World Vision. Our son and his wife are excited to get their kids involved in making a difference rather than stuffing their toy room.

Great post. I’m eager to see others’ ideas.


Domestic Kate October 21, 2010 at 7:14 am

Yes, yes, yes! Last week, I posted about experiences v. things in regards to Christmas as well! There’s no research to suggest that the accumulation of stuff leads to happiness or fond memories. I think that gift-giving can be a special thing, but I also think that we use gifts in place of actually spending quality time with the people we’re buying gifts for. Great post.


Deb October 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm

My mother and I agreed that we both have everything that we could possibly need and then some.

Instead of exchanging Christmas gifts, we now go in together to donate to the Heifer Fund. This is an amazing charity that makes a difference in 3rd world countries by the gift of an animal, perhaps chickens or a milking cow or goat to a family in need. The family can then breed the animal, and they donate the first female to another family so they can do the same. The animals provide a small business via sold milk, chicken eggs, etc, while nourishing the family.

I didn’t mean to plug this charity. But mom and I love it, and this annual donation is much more satisfying than any other gift that we could give eachother.


Tracy Balazy October 25, 2010 at 7:55 am

I just received their catalog. Fantastic organization!!!


Tracy Balazy October 25, 2010 at 7:54 am

The Sound of Music Sing-along you mentioned is going to be in the city where I live tomorrow! I’d go if I didn’t have a scheduling conflict.

I, too have decided to give experiences instead of things. Just yesterday, my sister told me she’d love a membership to The Henry Ford, billed as America’s Greatest History Attraction, It’s a fantastic place to visit and is within walking distance of my home in Dearborn, Michigan. My husband and I use our membership all the time; it’s a great place even just to walk and enjoy the seasons, eat a good lunch or dinner made of locally sourced food, and socialize. Now my sister can share that experience with us.

Last Friday, we took my dad to my city’s performing arts theater for a presentation by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. We all enjoyed it greatly. My sister does a good job every year of finding a show my dad would like to see for his birthday. And for Christmas, I bought my dad and his wife a Groupon three days ago for an elegant Italian restaurant they love. I’m finding experience-giving to be SO much more gratifying than giving STUFF!!!


Erin October 26, 2010 at 7:11 am

I usually give experience gifts to my family. Last year I took my mom to a Canada/USA women’s hockey game before the olympics, my daughter Taylor Swift tickets, my inlaws a steam train/dinner ride and our family went away for Christmas so no gifts exchanged between my husband and I.
This year, my husband and I went for a date night at the Casino for dinner…I had 20 to play roulette and won 200. Instead of cashing in the chips I brought them home to give 100 each for my parent’s and his for Christmas this year. They can use them to gamble and/or go out for dinner there.

We also give magazine subscriptions to the neices and nephews so it keeps coming every month.


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