How a Tangible Gift Can Make a Special Experience

Here's a minimalist mantra you've probably heard:  Choose experiences over things.  Multiple studies show that spending money on experiences makes people happier than buying yet another tchotchke. 

snowy daffodils

Experiences don't need to be impressive.

"Experiences over things" isn't news.  I've written about it myself in posts that talked about making holidays more about experiences and less about gifts and expressing love in more ways than simply buying a gift.

How many times have you relived fun and funny (or even not so fun and funny at the time) experiences with family or friends?  Experiences are the gifts that keep on giving – wonderful to look forward to, participate in, remember, and share.

Experiences have the added bonus of keeping clutter out of your home.  Nothing additional to store, nothing to dust, nothing to fix or care for.  Perfect for a minimalist.

Of course, instead of keeping up with the Joneses by buying a new car or the latest iPhone, you might be tempted to keep up by purchasing the most exotic trip or the most exciting adventure.  There's plenty of competition in the experience category as well.

Experiences are meaningful.  But for adding value to your life, they aren't a magic bullet.  You could spend thousands of dollars on a 7-day cruise, and it might not create as many happy memories or family closeness than a camping trip in your local state or national park.

Experiences don't need to be impressive to be memorable:

  • Early in our marriage, Jon and I often got together with my sister and her husband to play Pictionary.*  My sister Jenny and I usually teamed up and almost always beat the guys.  We still remember and laugh about the ridiculously bad drawings we made that allowed us to correctly guess answers like "cockpit" and "peanut butter."  (Jon is ruefully shaking his head as I write this, because he remembers too!)
  • One day in late February 1996, while plum trees and daffodils bloomed in our yard, it snowed!  It made an unforgettable experience for my kids, who scooped up most of the snow in the front yard to build a 2-foot-tall snowman.
  • In 2007, my husband, our children, and I were cast in the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors.  Jon and the kids were in the shepherds' chorus while I sang the role of Amahl's mother.  It was great fun to learn, practice, and perform together, and it's an experience we all treasure.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

How to create memorable experiences

When I was growing up, I spent hours playing Monopoly and Clue with my brother and sister.  We spent entire afternoons on the swing set and slide in our backyard.  We rode our bikes together on a trail near our house.  We listened over and over to recordings of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle."  (I can still remember the narrator's voice, and the songs that went with the stories.)

The board games, bicycles, swings, and story LP (and our little record player) are things we owned that created experiences we shared.  My parents or other family members purchased these toys and games, but they didn't become clutter in our home.

Those tangible items provided great experiences that helped build our relationships.  My siblings and I spent a lot of time together using those things – more time than we spent on vacations or trips to museums, zoos, carnivals, or other experiences.

So for Valentine's Day, you might not want the clutter of yet another cute stuffed animal, balloons, or candy.  Wearing a new pair of diamond earrings might not add to your store of unforgettable experiences.  But how about a rewatchable romantic comedy you can enjoy together?  We quote from The Princess Bride and Much Ado About Nothing all the time, and also enjoy Groundhog Day, The Philadelphia Story, and Moonstruck.

Maybe your beloved has a soft spot for roses.  You can enjoy the scent and color of a fresh bouquet, but why not give a rose bush that will produce beautiful blooms over and over for many years?  Bare root bushes are available in many areas now, or will be soon (you could give a gift certificate).  Many grocery stores have miniature rose bushes in their floral departments, and I've grown them successfully in pots on a sunny porch.  A candlelit dinner or afternoon tea in your own rose garden is a very special experience.

Alternatively, you could buy seeds or starts for a veggie or herb garden, or even a "pizza garden" for kids.  A build-your-own bird feeder is another gift that turns into an experience for your child.

A bicycle tune up, a cushy new bike seat, or a new helmet and set of lamps and reflectors could make a great gift in anticipation of spring outings.  Or maybe a new pair of hiking boots would be more appropriate.  All are tangible gifts that make special experiences possible.

A photo memory book or a gratitude journal are ways to preserve past experiences.  Or a bottle of Champagne mixed with fresh-squeezed orange juice can enhance the delicious brunch you'll cook and savor together.

Some physical items facilitate good experiences.  Those tangible gifts never become clutter if they result in closer relationships and shared happy memories.


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