Avoid Packaging, Shipping, and Clutter with Gifts of Experience for Adults and Kids Alike

I know that part of the fun is receiving a package, wondering what’s inside, and opening it with abandon.  But here’s a green idea: what about giving the gift of experiences this holiday season?

Experience Gifts for Adults

Gift certificates to favorite local restaurants.  My mother-in-law pays attention to the restaurants we frequent or mention wanting to try when she visits us–then we’re surprised with gift certificates to them months later!

Gift certificates to local grocery stores.  This might not seem like much of a present, considering people spend money at the grocery store all the time.  I personally love to get gift certificates to places like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, and I make sure to buy something special for myself with them, because it’s a present–not a coupon!

Memberships to museums or theaters, movie theater tickets–anything to give parents a night on the town.  These combined with some free babysitting would surely be appreciated!

A good old homemade coupon book.  You know the kind: you scrawl out promises to take your loved one to a movie, on a walk, or to a favorite restaurant.

Experience Gifts for Babies and Kids

Children’s Museum or Zoo Memberships.  A little friend of Audrey’s gets treated to a zoo/children’s museum membership by her grandparents.  They live close to both locations and make good use of it.

Parents could make their kids homemade coupons promising trips to the park, bike rides, or other favorite activities.  If you’re not the child’s parent, a coupon promising to take the lucky recipient on some sort of adventure would be great gift–and it doubles as a gift of babysitting for the parents!

Is anyone giving “experience gifts” this year?  Do you have any other brilliant ideas for babies, kids, and adults?  This post is a part of Works for Me Wednesday, a blog carnival hosted by Rocks in My Dryer.

Don’t forget to enter our wool changing pad giveaway!


  1. Great ideas. Instead of struggling on what to buy someone these make a great gift. Also love the cloth bag idea to wrap stuff in. They can always use it later instead of tossing it in the landfill like all of that wrapping paper

  2. I love “experience” gifts – both giving and receiving them. I do have trouble getting relatives to buy into this idea. Many people believe they have to give a “thing” (object) as a gift and anything else isn’t personal or meaningful enough, and some of my family believe that kids won’t understand the idea of a gift that will come in the future (such as tickets to a play that is two months away). Try as I might to convince them that little junior would appreciate a few hours dedicated just to him much more than he would appreciate one more toy, I can’t seem to get the message through. Any tips on convincing friends and family to go this route? Especially difficult are those that live far away and therefore can’t give a gift of their own time. In that case, a museum membership or some such thing would be great, but that seems like an even more difficult sell.

  3. Fortunately, my mom is very much into giving experience gifts for my son (who’s now 2 1/2)–especially after she visited us and saw how much stuff he already has! She gave us memberships to the local children’s museum and science museum for his birthday, and I’ve just asked her to fund a Kindermusik class for him as a Christmas gift. I feel that especially right now, when he is too young to understand all the gift-giving hype anyway, it is the perfect time for experience gifts (next year, we may not be so lucky!).

    Also for those relatives who feel compelled to give things–ask for a t-shirt or small toy associated with the place where the membership is for. My husband last year bought us an Aquarium membership and our son got a cute little t-shirt wrapped around the membership cards.

    Another suggestion for convincing the reluctant: ask them for some favorite memories from their own childhood. Do they involve objects or experiences? Sure, I had my favorite toys when growing up, but I also remember fondly how exciting it was when my aunt an uncle took me out to a movie and fast food (fast food being a rare treat in my childhood), or when my parents would take me and a friend to a theme park for a day.

    Finally, some green wrapping suggestions: fun flannel pillowcases (they sell them separately at Sears and probably other places) or reusable bags that people can take to the grocery store (it’s a gift bag and gift all in one).

  4. My parents are giving us a membership to the children’s museum. I’m very excited about this gift since it’ll keep on giving all year long. I also sorta mentioned on the side that “wouldn’t a gift certificate to Trader Joe’s be fun…” to my mom. I would love that. I could actually buy that fun looking treat and not feel guilty about it.

  5. This is SUCH a good idea. We buy theater tickets for my in-laws every year. The only downside is that we have to confirm they’re available for the date we choose, so there’s little element of surprise. I wish performing arts organizations would consider starting a gift certificate program or offer some sort of voucher program.

    We received a Whole Foods gift certificate last year. At first I thought “groceries as a gift!?” But we did exactly what you mentioned – we bought some crazy cheeses and grains and such. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in a grocery store!

  6. I’m going to take my kids on a train trip! We’re going to leave the afternoon of Christmas Day. Their only other gift will be handheld games from me and grandma and grandpa are pitching in for the hotel and new suitcases. I’m hoping that the excitement of the trip will detract from the lack of presents, but I’m goign to try and make it special with a scavenger hunt to find the tickets. I’m still brain-storming what to do for family, but I’m going to try and buy nothing this year…

  7. Thanks for all the replies, everyone! Lori, I like all of Larisa’s suggestions for convincing the reluctant. If there is a small, tangible gift to associate with the experience (such as a t-shirt for a play, a stuffed animal for the zoo, etc.), that might make people feel like they’re giving a “real” present. I remember one year my grandma took us to the Nutcracker, and my sister and I both got little ballet shoe ornaments. We still have those ornaments and remember the experience of going to the ballet when we were young.

    Eileen also makes a good point about building up the excitement of the experience. This wouldn’t work with really little kids, but once kids are closer to three, they seem to understand that something special is going to happen in the future.

  8. Larisa, thanks for the great suggestions!

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