A guide to non-material gift-giving (AKA how to make your holidays happier, stress-free and memorable)

You might hate me for saying this.



I want to talk about a sensitive topic around this time of year – gifts.  



Truthfully, gift-giving is not easy for me.  During the holidays, my inner perfectionist comes out and I struggle to find the “perfect” gift for everyone (because anything less would be un-Santa-like?!).



This leads to a lot of anxiety for me around gifts and the holidays in general – and ultimately leads to me procrastinating, overspending and overstressing.



Can you relate to getting anxious to find the perfect gift?



On top of the gift-giving anxiety, I’ve also found myself increasingly drowning in “stuff” at my house.



The fact is, most of us are.



Think about the home you live in compared to the size your grandparents lived in.  Chances are, it’s bigger, with more closets and “organizers” – and yet you still feel lost in your things.



Take a moment and reflect on how much time do you spend searching for things (keys, sunglasses, important papers).



Do you ever feel overwhelmed with how much stuff you have?



You’re not alone.



And the reality is, that study after study shows that we get less joy and satisfaction from material purchases than we do from experiences.




When we create experiences – and memories – we get joy before, during, and even after the event is over (it’s like three for the price of one!)



Bottom line? If you want to spend your money and live happier, spend it on experiences and memories, instead of stuff.



Over the last few years, my husband and I decided we no longer needed “stuff”.  We are financially secure, and tend to buy things that we need throughout the year, when we need it. And really, we don’t need much.



At the risk of eliciting a Mariah Carey classic, all we need is each other (especially for Christmas).



So, instead of gifts, we’ve treated ourselves to a day together, often at the spa, at the holidays.  And we’ve taken this tradition and applied it to birthdays and anniversaries where we focus on spending time together and having an experience together, rather than a piece of jewelry or any of the traditional anniversary gifts like paper, cotton or silk.



For me, the holidays used to be a stressful time of year.



Are the holidays stressful for you?



Maybe the thought of dealing with malls, packages, wrapping paper and bows just takes the fa-la-la-la-la fun out of the season all-together (it does for me!).



Maybe you’re already dreading running around the mall on December 23rd and 24th, frantically looking for the right gifts.  




If this is you, I can help because I’ve found that simplifying gift-giving has lead to truly happy holidays for me and those around me.




The first step?




Have this conversation with those you love.



For most people, gift-giving is anxiety-producing and isn’t as meaningful as we intend it to be.  Simply bringing up that you’d love to spend time with that person or focus on experiences together will likely be received well.



Over the years, I’ve expanded this conversation from just my husband and I, to my immediate family, and even friends.



Don’t be shybe open about why you’d like to focus less on material gifts and want to spend more quality time together instead. (Uh, because they’re awesome, of course!). 



And from there, the two (or three or more!) of you can decide on what would be fun for you to do as a couple, group of friends, or family.  Or choose to surprise each other by planning an evening or day for each other.



Once everyone’s on board to make memories, the fun begins.



So, what will you do with your time together?



Here are some non-material gifts you can give that will allow you to create life-long memories with your loved ones during the holidays and beyond:



·      Tickets to a comedy night


·      A Thai cooking class


·      Museum membership


·      Magazine subscription (bonus points if it’s a digital version that won’t clutter the coffee table)


·      Tickets to a local sports game or season’s tickets for big fans


·      Bartending lessons (bonus if you get to come sample)


·      A gift card and reservations for their favourite restaurant


·      Donation to their favourite charity in their name


·      Yoga studio membership


·      Dance classes/lessons


·      Rock climbing passes


·      Membership to a local science center


·      Language lessons (Spanish anyone?)



I guarantee, no matter where you live, there are other opportunities you could explore to give non-material gifts this season.




What about the situations where you’re too far apart to get together over the holidays? 



Or maybe you are committed to not spending moneyConsider giving this:  your time.



You can give your time in the form of a hand-written (or home-printed) gift certificate or “coupon” to give YOUR time towards:



·      A massage


·      A dinner cooked by yours truly


·      Babysitting hours (as a soon-to-be new parent, this sounds ah-mazing!)


·      Coupon for a favourite cake baked-fresh


·      A foot rub after a long day


·      Volunteer for a charity of their choice


·      A geocaching adventure


·      A day off (especially great for parents) – no cooking, cleaning or errands




At this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle.



I challenge you to ditch the stress and focus on the beautiful, incredible moments this holiday season.



The truth is, if you’re reading this, you’re more fortunate than many others around the world.  Take a moment to be grateful for all that you have – and open up to the idea of non-material gifts.



I have a feeling you will love the joyful memories you create with those you love – and cherish them dearly – for years to come.



Happy Memory Making!


Love Lisa




PS.  While there are lots of incredible benefits associated with choosing to gift experiences over material items, be aware that for some people, giving gifts is a true pleasure and joy (see the 5 Love Languages book here for more on that).  



And if you are – or are in a relationship, friendship or family - with one of those rare people who love giving and receiving gifts, this will be something you’ll need to work on together.  That’s because your loved one may truly give and receive love through meaningful gifts – which may be material.



Be open to communicating and working with your partner, friend or family member to ensure they feel loved – and you feel like you’re giving love in a way that is beautiful and joyful for all of you.