Toys have been an ongoing problem in our home. I tried all the tricks for containing them and nothing worked.
We banned toys from bedrooms and limited them to a single play room, in which we built a great big closet with shelves and organizers galore. That room quickly became a sea of knee-deep toys.
No amount of discipline, weekly cleaning sessions, pleading or fancy organization systems worked on that room. None of us — children included — ever wanted to open the door.
It was like a toy graveyard after a civil war and a nuclear bomb.
If I found a toy around the house, I’d take it to the play room, take a deep breath and close my eyes. You really had to prepare yourself, because you had to open the door, toss the toy in and close the door in a single, fluid motion in order to keep the waist-deep mess on the other side of the door from collapsing outward.
I know that makes me sound like a horrible housekeeper. I’m really not!
We really did wade into the mess and organize it periodically. It was a huge bone of contention.
I’d been telling my kids for years that if they couldn’t take care of their toys I would get rid of them. It was time to make good on that threat.
So one day I waded into the mess with a couple of plastic bins and some garbage sacks. My kids stood and watched with mouths agape as I organized their toys for the last time.
I organized those toys right into bins that I would give away to friends, bins I would donate, and trash sacks. When I came up for air three days later, I posted a gigantic list of all of my children’s stuff on Facebook.
My kids watched as their friends parents came and picked up their lego sets, K’nex sets, barbie paraphernalia, dollhouses, playmobil, Calico Critters, blocks, dolls and so much more. Everything that didn’t get claimed, we loaded up in the back of the Suburban and took to Goodwill.
It sounds more peaceful than it was. All of this happened amidst tears and anger and declarations of eternal hatred from my children towards me. But I had an epiphany that I will never, ever forget.
All of this happened around February/March, because I remember feeling sick that I was giving/throwing away Christmas gifts I’d spent hundreds of dollars on only a couple of months earlier. Talk about stupid!
Since then, I haven’t given my children toys for Christmases or birthdays, unless it was a developmental or educational toy. Even the educational toys are few and far between.
Instead, I give my children gifts of experiences, including athletic equipment (bicycles, roller blades, trampoline, skis), musical instruments, lessons, classes, vacations and such. These things don’t clutter up my house and they bless my children with sunshine, fresh air, knowledge and experiences.
Probably the very best benefit of these gifts of experience is that they provide our family laughter, fun memories and close relationships. Not once have I had to box up all of our experiences and throw them out.
My children still receive toys from grandparents, and they somehow bring home unfathomable amounts of junk, which I still round up and purge on occasion. But I feel like my money and efforts are being spent in a better direction, which I feel really good about.
Some people think of huge vacations, sky diving, and season tickets to sporting events when they hear, “experience gifts”. But, experience gifts don’t have to be expensive.
The very best thing about experience gifts is that there’s something for everyone and that they’re available at all price points! Gifts of experience are truly about presence and not about presents!
In case you are struggling with the same vicious cycle of “stuff in” and “stuff out” (i.e. you’re constantly dragging out the stuff your littles have dragged in), let me share with you a few of our favorite gifts of experience over the years, along with a bunch of other ideas that are on my bucket list.
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100+ Amazing Experience Gifts:
FREE Family Gift Experiences
- Picnic (you have to feed them anyway)
- Museum free days (just google your favorite museums to see if they offer them and when)
- Summer concerts in the park
- Camping trip (fun experience gift to give alongside camping gear or equipment)
- Family game night
- Teach your kiddos a skill you know (woodworking, coding, baking, knitting, etc.)
- Learn something new together
- Be a tourist in your hometown and try some new things (here is a whole list of staycation ideas)
- Volunteer together for something you all care about
- Plant a garden together
- Read aloud together (63 Family Favorites to Read Aloud)
Inexpensive Family Gift Experiences
- Ice skating
- Roller skating
- Comedy or improv show
- Theater tickets (sometimes season tickets are really affordable — buy one adult ticket and one child ticket and rotate through your kiddos taking them on “dates” all year)
- Trip to a local reptile center or zoo
- Swimming pool or water park
- Batting cages
- Driving range
- Laser tag or miniature golf
- Museum tickets
- Trampoline park
- Escape room
- Gym passes
- Sporting event
- Float trip (high adventure or low)
- Trip to the bookstore to pick out some books
Experience Gifts for Couples
It can be a challenge to find something interesting and different to do together once you’ve been together for awhile. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking!
- Take in a show at a local theater together
- Take a road trip together
- Plan a fun day trip to a new place
- Plan a weekend away in a new town
- Take a cooking class together at a local market or culinary school
- Hot air balloon ride
- Skydiving lesson
- Portrait Session
- Dinner and a move date, only you both make the dinner together
- Rock climbing
- Ballroom dance lessons
- Wine tasting
- Cheese and chocolate tasting
- Museum membership
- Airbnb gift card
- A cleaning service
- National Park pass
- Blue Apron subscription
- City food tours
Experience Gifts for Kids
- Educational subscription box
- Music lessons
- Musical instrument
- Art lessons
- Art supplies
- Sports equipment and lessons
- Eat 2 Explore box (explore the world through taste)
- Foreign language classes
- Monthly “date night” with mom or dad
- Acting classes or voice lessons
- Classes to explore any interest
- Outdoor play set
- Ninja obstacle course
Experience Gifts for the Adventurous
What better gift could you give the person that doesn’t want more stuff than a new, treasured memory?
- Racecar driving
- Helicopter skiing
- Surfing lessons
- Sports equipment (kayak, skis, surfboard, SUP, etc…)
- Helicopter tour
- Flight lessons
- Bike tour
- Scenic cruises
- Zipline tour
- Snowmobile, personal watercraft or ATV rental
- Hot Air Balloon ride
- Bungee jumping
- Glider Flight
- Trapeze class
Membership & Season Pass Ideas
If you’re considering giving experiences instead of gifts, you may want to consider season passes or memberships. They are truly a gift that keeps on giving all year! Here are some great ideas for you to think about!
- Local theater season passes
- Water park or swimming pool passes
- Local zoo passes
- Trampoline park
- National Park passes
- Zipline or Ropes Course passes
- Amusement park passes
- Art museum
- Science museum
- Children’s museum
- Subscription box
Experience Gifts for Dad
- Care Crate Man Box (a huge, monthly box full of all of his favorite snacks)
- Beer brewing class from a local brewery
- Foreign language classes
- Dirt bike or ATV rental
- Microbrewery tour
- Pub crawl
- Sailing lessons
- Fencing lessons
- Haunted house tours
- Photo safari
- Fishing trip
- Hunting trip
Experience Gifts for Mom
- Family portrait session (I want this every year, please!)
- Foreign language classes
- Cooking class
- Clothing subscription, like Stitch Fix
- Book or magazine subscription
- Audible Subscription (try it now and get two free books!)
- Spa day
- Chocolate subscription
- Whale watching
- Pottery classes
- Your time (regular lunch dates would be so appreciated)
Let me just end with a disclaimer. In case you think otherwise (as you visualize an entire room full of toys) I’ve never been one to spoil my kids. Dudley (from Harry Potter — he received something like 23 gifts for his birthday) makes me want to kick something!
We always tried to abide by the 4 gift rule: something to wear, something to read, something you want, something you need. But when you have eight kids and multiple gift-giving occasions each year, and lots of loving relatives — things just add up! You don’t even know how you end up looking like a “hoarders” contestant, but there you are.
Also, my children still have toys. Don’t report us for neglect, thanks! Things are just more balanced now. Giving experiences as gifts in lieu of toys has really made a positive difference in my family.
Hopefully, these unique gift experiences prove quality time is the best present you can give. The memories created from these gift ideas will be priceless!
If you need more gift ideas, be sure to read:
Pin these ideas for experience gifts for later!