As the holidays draw near, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we can do to opt out of all the frenzy of buying and consuming that inevitably crops up at this time of year, and instead slow down and put our loving focus on connecting and savoring time together with family and friends.
After all, do we really need more stuff? Statistics show that we consume twice as many material goods than the average American did 50 years ago, and wow, does that all add up! The average U.S. home contains nearly 300,000 items, and 54% of Americans are feeling absolutely overwhelmed by all their clutter. Researchers have even found connections between clutter in the home and stress, depression, and the breakdown of precious family traditions.
And toys from well-meaning gift givers, so ubiquitous during the holidays, are no exception. Although kids usually only play with a select few favorites, they often have hundreds of toys at their disposal—leading to the same stress, overwhelm, and distraction that we as adults also feel when we’re around all that clutter. Thankfully, research now shows that it’s more about quality than quantity, and that fewer toys—preferably ones that are simple, natural, non-toxic, and open-ended—are far better for kids’ development and creativity.
What children really want and need, though, is our undivided time and attention, not more stuff. And it’s a very good thing, because shared family time has been linked to many benefits, including an increased sense of security and identity, improved self-confidence, stronger family bonds, less behavioral issues, and better communication skills. It’s clear that spending time together truly is the best gift we can give our kids (not to mention ourselves).
So, where do we go from here? The more I reflect on how we want to spend the holidays this year, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s quality time, not things, that our souls crave. As complex and wondrous beings, we’re wired for community, meaningful connection, and presence...not presents. And as fun as it can be to get a mound of new things, we’ve decided that since it doesn’t satisfy the depths of who we are, can distract us from what matters most, and it isn’t typically an earth-friendly event, we will instead mindfully prioritize experiences with those we love this season.
Fortunately, the opportunities are endless when it comes to finding experiences to enjoy with those who matter most, and it doesn’t even have to cost money. We'll be spending this coming Black Friday weekend on nature walks, snuggling up close by the fire, putting up our tree, and making homemade goodies for those we love. And we won't spend a dime!
Even more, if you want to give gifts, you can gift time together doing something special to those you’d usually give “stuff” to instead—you’ll not only be saving them from more clutter, but research says that experiences make people happier than material possessions, so you’ll be spreading joy and helping to create memories that can last a lifetime.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of my favorite giftable experiences:
- Museum memberships
- Wildlife center visits
- Travel adventures
- National park visits
- Camping trips
- Theater, orchestra, or sporting event tickets
- Art classes
- Train rides
- Homemade coupons (i.e. “one-on-one day alone with mommy”)
- Concert tickets
- Cooking classes
- Guided hikes or tours
- Horseback riding lessons
- Hot air balloon rides
- Movie passes
- Dance lessons
We’ve taken it a step further at our house, and also asked our friends and family members if they would consider joining us on our journey toward more meaningful living and choose to gift our children with memorable moments together that will truly be treasured for a lifetime as opposed to things they do not need.
One thing is for sure, we are very much looking forward to waking up on Christmas day with our focus on one another this year, not what’s under the tree.
What are your favorite non-conventional gifts? Share with us on Instagram!