Let’s Give Experiences in 2020, Not Just Things

Stuff and things, the excitement always wears off and then the clutter begins. An experience opens new doors and makes memories.

The start of your 2020 might have begun with this question: “When are we taking it down?” The “it” is the holiday tree or bush (your preference!), of course. The joy and excitement of putting up a tree – and often getting it from a tree farm – is now met with the tiresome task of taking it down. If you had a live tree, then it’s a real mess with falling needles most everywhere.

Another January ritual is exchanging gifts received during the holidays. This has changed somewhat in recent years. It used to require spending time in the returns line at a department store, which also meant dealing with customer service representatives who might be short on customer patience. But today, it’s about shipping back to Amazon or wherever it was ordered from. No long department store lines, but maybe long post office ones!

We are a consumer-oriented society where it’s all about acquiring merchandise – “things” or “stuff” to be more precise Advertisements inundate us to buy this and that – cars, electronic devices, clothing – you name it. I’ve found buying the right gift for my wife or children is a time consuming and risky endeavor. Being somewhat sensible about it, I tend to consider their likes and whether it will actually be used. The chance the receiver will love the gift I purchased is no better than winning the lottery. (When shopping for my wife, I try to take along a shopping consultant: my 20 something daughter. That tends to improve my odds).

Increasingly science and behavioral studies are telling us gifts are not nearly as meaningful for a person as experiences. While there might be a rush of excitement that comes with receiving a gift, it soon fades, and the glow is gone. Having experiences are more powerful.

In a society where giving a physical item is expected, offering an experience can be more lasting and allow for more meaning. It also requires more thought on behalf of the giver. (But putting a couple of baseball tickets with a card in an envelope is easier for us who have never mastered the art of gift wrapping). The experience of putting up the tree, which in some families is a tradition accompanied by eggnog, reminiscing about past holidays, and searching for favorite ornaments offers more meaning than receiving “stuff.”

I’m trying to change my gift-giving habits. Happily, my wife would prefer an experience – particularly one we can share – over a material gift. We have strived to deemphasize materialism and consider travel, nights out, and learning opportunities as a better way of showing our generosity to and love for others. We’ve tried to make this point with our adult children and think we have been successful to some extent. My son, in particular, is not into gifts. He’d rather travel or have a night out with friends or family.

Gifting something recycled vs. brand new is increasingly a choice we can make to help not only the environment but take the edge off of materialism (particularly if the re-gifted item is something the giver has and no longer needs). At one time, it would have been seen as an insult to give a previously owned gift. That might be changing. My wife pointed out to me a study that shows a renewed interest with Millenniums in antiques (which might include some of their grandparents’ furniture).

Then there is the “Marie Kondo Effect.” Decluttering our homes is a major goal especially as we age and are downsizing. It seems that when we are discarding items, we are parting with a lot of non-sentimental gifts (the sentimental ones we can keep and pass on to our children). Could they be re-gifted? Another idea: if you feel compel give an item, is it something you could make or create? My wife is great at coming up with ideas (but she is much handier than I am). I miss the days when my kids would make cards for us during special days like Mother’s and Father’s Day (though, I often got short-changed because Dad’s Day is after the end of the school year.)

In 2020, I’m going to be more conscious about gift-giving. I will ask myself whenever possible is there an experience I can “gift” someone. Rarely do we learn much from a physical gift (Ok, books might be a major exception). But an experience that is gifted can provide not only important learning but memories that will last well beyond the usefulness or an updated version of an electronic device.

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