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The older I get, the more I value the gift of memories over more stuff. Over the past few years, I have started instilling this value into my children as well, so that they not only appreciate receiving, but also giving the gift of memories to the people they care about.
One of my best and favorite childhood memories is the trip my family took out west when I was 14. That trip sparked interests and passions I enjoy to this day (such as Anasazi Indians and the quest to find the elusive jackalope).
I still have a box filled with souvenirs and memorabilia and photos taken with my trusty Kodak 110. A few years ago my dad scanned all his slides from the trip and we spent a day going through them and reminiscing. One day last year I dragged the box out and shared the memories with my girls. They willingly spent hours sitting with me and listening to me!
From that trip I gained one of my best “bad mother stories,” when she suggested leaving me on the side of the road in Yellowstone to mark the place my sister thought she saw a bear, while the rest of the fam drove up the road to turn the camper around. It’s a family story that gets repeated often (because I just can’t let it go – really, Mom?), with much laughter and love, and of course gratitude that the bear did not get me.
So much joy.
Aside from that trip, I could probably only list a handful of gifts that I ever got: a JC Penny “stereo” complete with turntable and 8-track player (along with an ABBA 8-track cassette); a dollhouse my mom painstakingly decorated for me with wallpaper, furniture, and tiny working lamps; the guinea pig I named after my favorite cartoon character (Kimba the White Lion), my very first all-my-own pet; a Madam Alexander doll for which my mom made an entire wardrobe, including a wedding dress (still have her).
Over the course of my daughters’ lives I have given them more crap than I care to admit. As a single parent, I frequently fell victim to the faulty idea that I must do everything bigger and better to make up for their broken family. Most of those gifts (which none of us can remember) ended up at Goodwill or in the landfill.
You know what we didn’t do? Take family vacations. Because I was broke from all the gift giving.
So much guilt.
It was just a few years ago that I came across the saying “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Since then, I have drastically altered my gifting habits, as well as my kids’ growing expectations. Now we concentrate on experiences, whether things we do as a family or each independently. The pile of crap has stopped growing (well, slowed anyway), but our connections have deepened and the stories we have to tell have multiplied.
So much lightness!
Here are some reasons you should consider gifting experiences instead of “stuff”:
We already have too much stuff
Ever heard of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Fully half the people I know or follow on the internets have read this book. Decluttering and organizing and simplifying books are topping bestseller lists.
If you are like most of us, “get organized” has been one of your New Years Resolutions for the past 23 years.
But, like The Flylady says, you can’t organize clutter.
Here are some facts to ponder:
- There are 300,000 items in the average American home. Three. Hundred. Thousand. (LA Times)
2. The average size of the American home has tripled over the last 50 years. (NPR) Think of how much time it takes to dust all the stuff in those McMansions!
3. More space = room for more stuff, and yet still 1 in 10 Americans rents a storage unit to store stuff that won’t fit in their home. (New York Times Magazine)
4. The average child owns 238 toys but only plays with 12. (The Telegraph) I would venture a guess that the same statistic applies to a lot of adults!
6. We spend ten minutes per day looking for lost items. That’s more than 60 hours each year or 153 days over the course of a lifetime. (Daily Mail) I think I am above average in this category.
Stuff doesn’t even make us happier
Think about something you bought a year ago. Something you saved for, anticipated, couldn’t wait to get. For example, how about that fancy new iPhone? Now ask yourself honestly, does that item give you as much joy today as it did a year ago?
Now, think about an experience you had a year ago, maybe a spa day with a good friend, a play or a concert you were lucky enough to get tickets for, or a weekend spent camping with your family. You have “nothing” to show for it but a memory, but how much joy does that memory give you today?
According to Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying happiness for over two decades, we tend to get less happier with material purchases over time, and more happy with experiences.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences…We consume experiences directly with other people, and after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.” (source)
in fact, it makes us feel worse
How do you feel when you come home after a long day and there is stuff EVERYWHERE? I don’t know about you, but it makes me crazy. It immediately exhausts and overwhelms me. My brain shuts down. I just can’t even.
Mess causes stress.
From Psychology Today:
1. Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.
2. Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on.
3. Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
4. Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.
5. Clutter makes us anxious because we’re never sure what it’s going to take to get through to the bottom of the pile.
6. Clutter creates feelings of guilt (“I should be more organized”) and embarrassment, especially when others unexpectedly drop by our homes or work spaces.
7. Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brain storm, and problem solve.
8. Clutter frustrates us by preventing us from locating what we need quickly (e.g. files and paperwork lost in the “pile” or keys swallowed up by the clutter).
Is this really the gift you want to give?
The last time I cleaned out E’s room (which I do when she’s not home, like any good parent), I removed eight bags of trash. EIGHT BAGS. Eight bags filled with Halloween candy wrappers, empty soda cans, dried up nail polish, dried up markers, broken crayons, claw machine stuffed animals, Barbies tossed aside because their hair was tangled beyond repair, clothes not worthy of donating, old school papers, old school notebooks, old school backpacks, books gnawed on by the dog, McDonald’s happy meal toys, stuff I gave her, stuff she bought herself, stuff that magically appeared in our house that I had never seen before…
And with every bag I add to the landfill, I die a little inside, and vow anew to change my ways. Because I’m pretty sure those happy meal toys are still going to be in the landfill when my grandchildren are grandparents.
According to the Center for Sustainability & Commerce at Duke University, the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. That’s more than three tons per year for an family of four.
10 IDEAS FOR GIVING THE GIFT OF MEMORIES
1. Gift a family vacation: As my kids get older and go out into the world, it becomes harder and harder to come together as a family. A family vacation ensures we all get to spend quality time together once a year, and will become even more cherished as my family grows.
2. Gift a lesson: For years, I did this out of necessity because I just couldn’t afford lessons and classes as part of my regular budget. For Christmas, I gave the kids ice skating lessons, horseback riding lessons, art lessons, or whatever they were interested in at the time. This works for anyone though – help someone start or further a hobby like photography, knitting, or cooking, stand up paddleboarding, sailing, rock climbing…the possibilities are endless!
3. Gift an adventure: For J’s 16th birthday, I took her on a backpacking trip. Just the two of us (and the dog) for three days. It was amazing. One year for my sister’s birthday, her friends planned a “memory tour” and walked her through her childhood – our old house, our schools, the places she used to hang out. How cool is that?
4. Gift your time: Cook a meal for a friend, have a tea party with a grandchild, help someone plant a garden, volunteer, help clean and declutter the house, babysit one night a week for a month. Giving the gift of your time can cost little to nothing and yet is priceless.
5. Gift a legacy: There are some wonderful resources out there to help create a gift that can be passed down for generations to come, such as this one and this one, which help parents and grandparents tell their stories in keepsake journals. Create a photobook, scrapbook or journal of your own, or gift a year of letters to a loved one.
7. Gift an experience: There are so many things I would never spend money on for myself, but I sure would love to get as a gift. Think spa day, movie tickets, tickets to a play, a dinner at a fancy restaurant. If your giftee has children, consider throwing in the babysitting!
8. Gift a membership: To the museum, the zoo, the theater, a season of sports tickets, a state park, a gym, Netflix, Kindle Unlimited…these are gifts that keep giving all year long!
9. Gift a professional: What’s on a loved one’s to do list that they could use some professional help with? Decluttering? Organizing? Decorating? Often these are services we would not spend money on, even though they would certainly make life easier!
10. Gift the gift of giving: Whether you are trying to figure out what to get the person who “has it all” or you want to help a young person in your life learn the value of philanthropy, a charitable gift on behalf of a loved one benefits everyone. Heifer International is one of my favorites – you can donate a small share of an animal all the way up to an entire ark!
There are so many good reasons not to continue the tradition of gifting “stuff” year after year, and so many wonderful alternatives. What are some of the greatest gifts you have given or received that have added to the joy in your life without adding to the clutter?