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No more plastic! Christmas “Experience” Giving instead.

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#1 Kylie Orr

Posted 29 November 2012 - 02:17 PM

Have you ever felt the urge to pepper spray a fellow shopper so you could secure yourself a discounted Xbox? It’s happened. “Only in America” we love to say and have a cocky chuckle comforted by the knowledge that we are vastly more laid back and reasonable here in Australia.

But are we?

As Christmas fast approaches and my shopping list magically grows longer rather than shorter, as I add in all the people I’d forgotten such as childcare staff, swimming teachers and neighbours, I wonder if perhaps the accumulation of stuff is sending us mad. Elbowing people out of the way to save $30 on a dollhouse, or queuing for country miles to fight off the competition for a remote control Batmobile, is not really my thing. I’ve turned to online shopping to avoid the crowds but this has also made me less mindful of the senseless consumerism. At least walking around the shops at Christmas crazy time with arms full of bags and fed-up feet reminds me that perhaps I need to slow down, to cut down, to think of the environment, to think of others less fortunate. Not to mention, the state of my loungeroom floor after the Christmas morning present massacre is over in a spray of paper and annoying plastic wire bits in a total of fifteen minutes. That old chestnut: less is more and be kind to your feet.

Look, I love a gift as much as the next person. I also adore watching my children’s eye widen to ten times their natural size when they unwrap a much-longed-for present. I remember that anticipation as a child, as Christmas morning finally came and that bulging stocking beckoned.

What I don’t love is the packaging that requires commercial sized bolt cutters to open anything, the paper, the cost, the plastic, the “what next?” and the dirty feeling that overconsumption gives you, like when you gorge on fast food, later bemoaning the decision when your stomach is churning.

In recent years, my family has started the idea of “experience giving”. This is often combined with a physical gift that can be unwrapped – something small and token, because writing on a card doesn’t quite have the impact for a five year old that a box and toy do.

My children relish the idea of being taken, as a single entity with complete and full attention from someone other than their parents to a place they don’t visit often. The zoo, the aquarium, the museum, or simply fish and chips dinner on the beach; for children, a special day that is devoted to them is memory making. It will remain long after the plastic fantastic breaks.

It also teaches them the golden nugget of patience. A gift of experience is something to look forward to, a reason to cross days off the calendar as the excitement grows. For the parent, it is one less child for a few hours – now that is worth more to me than an award-winning prestige Barbie in a ball gown.

The problem is, experience giving is time consuming. We need to find a block in our schedules and give the gift of ourselves. It can be costly if you include food, entry fees and transport. But it doesn’t have to be. And given the cash we part with (or should I say credit that we can now wave over a screen to pay for things) surely the gift of experience is worth that same money?

Experience giving is thought provoking. It forces us to think about the person we are buying for in a way that tangible present giving does not. Naturally you can’t give everyone on your list an “experience” but even cutting down on what we buy if only to lessen the crap we need to then buy storage for, will make Christmas more meaningful.

We are a world of intelligent and creative people whom I’m certain can share our skills. A budding family photographer can help other family members learn how to take great photos by an outing to a forest or local landscape. Someone with an eye for gardening may come and help plan out your landscaping and take you to the nursery to choose some plants. A trip to the mineral springs, just you and your sister to soak away the year’s stresses? Bliss. A golf game with your brother, followed by lunch and a beer at a nearby watering hole – things we don’t get to do much as we become parents. A stint of babysitting while you send the parents off on a picnic with a basket full of goodies you’ve packed may be a gift long remembered after the food has been digested.

And for the kids, a grandmother who can knit can take a grandchild to a wool shop, buy some special rainbow wool and knitting needles and teach them to knit a scarf, perhaps baking some scones for afternoon tea. Granddad building a magnificent piece of woodwork with his grandson from some leftover wood scraps? Maybe his own little hammer to take home? Priceless. An aunt taking the niece/nephews to a make-your-own-pottery place followed by an ice cream may well have more impact than a ceramic cat from the $2 shop.

It’s not so much going organic as it is thinking laterally. What I want for my children is individuality – to build upon themselves. To therefore own what every second kid on the block owns is not really anything to aspire to. I concede that for children, fitting in and obtaining the ultimate gift that they’ve dreamt about is something we cannot ignore. Yet teaching and surprising our children and loved ones with adventures and experiences they didn’t even know they wanted feels significantly more fulfilling.

In the wise words of Dr Seuss: “Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more....”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Have you ever given an “experience” as a gift? How was it received?

This is my last column for 2012. Thank you again to all the wonderful EB & EK readers for your interest, support and involvement in the topics we’ve discussed and debated throughout the year. Stay safe and try and steal some time to relax over Christmas with your families. I look forward to chatting again in 2013.
Kylie Orr

#2 MsFeralPerthFembo

Posted 04 December 2012 - 03:57 PM

as I add in all the people I’d forgotten, such as childcare staff, swimming teachers and neighbours,

Do most people actually buy gifts for all these extras?

Edited by JBaby, 04 December 2012 - 04:13 PM.

#3 FeralLIfeHacker

Posted 04 December 2012 - 04:10 PM

Not a new concept here. We've always tried to avoid the trashy plastic crap, we try to live very minimally, we try to consider the environment and experience gifts and handmade gifts tick all the boxes.
There are quite a large number of Americans who have to live very frugally and are also moving away from buying, buying, buying.
The US show 'consumed' is fantastic, it shows families surrounded by "stuff" in their homes, they take everything away except beds, eating utensils and a few favourite things and the families live like that for 30 days then choose what they'd like to come back into the house, it's interesting that most of them choose to bring very little back in.

I received a token booklet from my kids one year for Mothers Day, they handmade it and it contained all sorts of vouchers eg we will make mums bed today or we will do all the washing for mum today.  So I could pull one out the book and hand it to them any day throughout the year.  

I know one family whose Mum loved egyptian things so on the morning of her birthday they covered her lawn in mummys, pharoahs heads, cats etc all made from paper mache and painted. So cool.

#4 Kylie Orr

Posted 04 December 2012 - 04:50 PM

Sounds like a really interesting show, Mummyone1. I love the voucher booklet - I just wonder if my kids would actually come through with the goods when I wanted to "redeem"!  The paper mache creation is impressive.

JBaby - yes, most people I know buy something token for the main teachers (childcare, school, sports) in their lives, even if it is just a box of chocolates. My neighbours are also my friends so I guess that may be more a friendship present. All the same, it does start to add up to a lot when you have four children! biggrin.gif

#5 courtney-b

Posted 07 December 2012 - 05:19 AM

My husband is getting an experience gift this year. Our children are still a bit young (nearly three and 15 months). He is going to climb Kilimanjaro. We live in Zambia, so it is not too far away. I know it is something he has always wanted to do but would never justify spending on himself. Especially now that we have children, I know he would always choose a family holiday.

I always feel like it is important not to lose yourself in having children and I am so excited for him to be able to do this for himself and have this experience.

As our children get older, I expect experience gifts will become the norm for them, too.

#6 firstbornbabyboy

Posted 14 December 2012 - 11:38 AM

I love the idea of experience giving. We used to make christmas cake offerings packaged for close friends as presents when we didn't have much money to go around.

These days life is so busy to do these things. Definitely will have to have a think about what we could do!

I find I always overspend buying presents, usually don't have enough when it comes to stocktake season. So last night I started to spreadsheet my gift spending. Pretty good to keep a list of names, add a budget then plan what to get / make.

This year, I'm using this new thing to tag the gifts I buy, way easier than spreadsheets. Have a look [link removed by Moderator]

Either way, I think generosity just needs to get financially smarter.

Edited by Chelli, 18 December 2012 - 07:15 PM.
excessive links to same site

#7 Bluemist

Posted 20 December 2012 - 11:28 AM

I totally agree with the whole thing of giving experiences as gifts.
However my MIL does not- and showers the kids with LOTS of plastic toys. It's useless talking to her about it - I tried once and it actually made matters worse :-0

My hubby and I were discussing when the kids are older we will just do experiences but we will decide what to do as a family  original.gif

#8 Bam1

Posted 20 December 2012 - 11:38 AM

My children only get toys for Christmas and their birthdays and we have family experiences throughout the year.  My kids love all the experiences we have together but they would be mighty disappointed if they never got any toys. They are still children after all.

With everything its all about moderation and doing things that suit your family (and budget)

Edited by Bam1, 20 December 2012 - 11:38 AM.

#9 kentishmaid

Posted 31 December 2012 - 09:08 PM

It's a lovely idea!  Consumerism has gone crazy and over the last few years.  I've had years of dreading Christmas and the costs it entails and spending hard-earned money on unwanted gifts.  I nor my two now adult children do not have bottom-less wallets with which to purchase Xmas gifts.  Three years ago, we all agreed on a £20 limit (approx Au$36).  Over the course of the year, we create a wishlist on Amazon and the aim is to acquire as much on the list as possible wihout going the £20 limit.  Impossible?  Actually, it's quite easy but you need time to plan.  We don't care if the item is 2nd-hand so we scour the charity shops (Op-shops), Amazon marketplace and Ebay.  This year I managed to buy 6 books (two were unread 2nd-hand) and 2x2nd-hand brand-new DVDs for my daughter with change to spare.  It's not quite the same thing as the "Experience" idea but it means we all appreciate much more the act of giving a bit more without breaking the bank.  Additionally, we are recycling, thus helping the planet. cool.gif

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