Turning 16 was a Big Deal where I came from–it was the age where you were able to get a driver’s license and, in my case, the age where I was allowed to start dating. Basically, I counted it as one of the first milestones in that long and elusive journey known as “becoming an adult.”
Yet, if you asked me what I got for my 16th birthday, I would only be able to tell you two things (because they are the only two things I remember)—
A trip to the circus with my best friend Kayla, and my first “date” ever (accompanied by my dad, who took me out first so that I could know from thereon and forever how I should be treated on dates).
I don’t remember a single other gift.
Now, that’s not to say that those other gifts weren’t appreciated—I’m sure if I looked back at pictures of the occasion, I would exclaim in delight over the presents I’d received and reminisce fondly on the music tastes I had back then, the fashion trends that were in style, and the material possessions I wanted more than anything else.
But the gifts I ALWAYS remember the best are the experiences that people gave me.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially as I’ve been working much more mindfully to live a more simplistic lifestyle. I’ve realized that for the most part, I have all the “stuff” I could ever need or even want, and that the most treasured gifts I’m being given lately are the happy memories created with those I love.
It was with all this in mind that we’ve started moving more towards giving out these experiential gifts rather than the traditional ones that can be wrapped up with a bow, and that’s why, on the day before Mother’s Day this year, you would have found us at Salt Lake City’s Hogle Zoo with my mother-in-law, enjoying an early Mother’s Day gift for her. (It’s also why you’ll find us at Antelope Island at the end of this week, enjoying the Mother’s Day gift we gave to my own mother.)
We started this experiences-as-gifts idea a few years back, when I literally could not think of a single physical item I wanted for my birthday that year (especially since I’d just spent most of the year trying to get rid of stuff!). So for our birthdays that year (since our birthdays both fall within the same week in September), we went to a new aquarium that had just opened up and enjoyed the sights. Then, in the birthday that followed, we used the money we would have spent on gifts for each other (and then some) to take an overnight trip to Park City while Raven stayed with my mom. We continued with the tradition at my mom’s 60th birthday party, where we treated her with tickets to go see the Midway Ice Castles with us. And we plan to continue on as much as we can, building our bank of memories up, one gift at a time.
There are times when traditional material gifts are better, however—had everyone given us experience gifts when we got married, for example, we would have had one heck of a year to look forward to but had absolutely nothing to furnish our new life together (and very little money with which to try).
Or, when I was pregnant with Raven, I didn’t have the energy, strength, or time by the end of the pregnancy to be going out on crazy adventures, but I sure appreciated all the gifts of diapers, onesies, and baby toys that saved us from having to go to a store for the first two months of her life for baby necessities.
So I’m not trying to say that experiences ALWAYS trump presents—
I’m just saying that they’re a fabulous option for a memorable gift, especially when the person you’re trying to give to basically has everything already.
Some Tips for Giving Experiences as Gifts:
1. Have a specific experience in mind.
If you just give a very general, “We want to take you out to dinner sometime,” the vagueness of the invitation might not lead to the gift actually ever being redeemed, and the specificity of the gift also helps to add to the fun of the anticipation on the part of the recipient. In other words, part of the fun of an experience gift is the anticipation leading up to it, so make sure you’re specific in what you’ll be doing.
2. Have a few different weekends or nights/days as options for when to go, just in case the receiver of your gift already has a conflict with the day you had in mind.
If you want your gift to be a total surprise, you could get a hold of someone really close to the recipient and see if their calendar is open for that day, but it’s a bit of a risky move. Surprises can be delightful when they work out, but when they don’t, then both of you just end up feeling bad. Make sure you do your homework REALLY thoroughly if you’re going to surprise someone with an experience gift that’s tied to a very specific date.
3. Once the gift is given, try to set the date of your adventure then and there (or within 24 hours) so that you make sure it actually happens (and so that you can get tickets early, if you’re going to an event that could quickly sell out).
The key with experience gifts is making sure that they really happen, so it’s crucial not to let too much time pass before definite plans are made. After all, nothing would be worse than thinking that you’re going to enjoy this fabulous trip out to that new show that’s opening and then never get to go.
(It would be akin to that ex-boyfriend of mine who promised that he’d take me to my favorite band when they came in concert, but who changed his mind at the last minute and took my friend instead. Lame! And sadly, a totally true story…)
4. Take pictures of your adventure together!
I love that we have pictures of almost every one of our “experience gifts,” and they help to further generate even more positive moments as you reminisce over them. (***Tip: Be smarter than we were at the zoo, though—we didn’t realize until after our adventure was over that we never got a picture with all four of us together. Bummer!)
***Little side note on our adventure last month–since it was also our anniversary when we all went to the zoo, we just HAD to follow it up with a trip to Leatherby’s in Salt Lake (which is “our” place to eat together—it’s not only who catered our wedding, but it’s also where Matt proposed to me. For more details on that particular story, see the post here.)
And, as it was Raven’s inaugural trip to Leatherby’s herself, we made sure she got some nice goopy spoonfuls of their out-of-this-world homemade caramel sauce over old-fashioned ice cream. A great day for all!