Experiences Vs. Junk: Non-Traditional Ideas for Holiday Shopping


It’s the day after Thanksgiving. You still have gravy on your shirt and you’re recovering from your turkey coma. But guess what? No time to snooze, Black Friday deals are happening!  You rush out of the house with your hair in a messy bun, throw on black leggings, and a sweatshirt to fight the crowds to get the newest baby doll for your 5-year that not only pees and poops but speaks 5 different languages while doing the cha-cha slide. Christmas morning is here, and she plays with it non-stop for the first 3 days, and then it gets thrown in the toy pile, while she is off coloring on a box instead of playing with the doll that you [literally] threw punches to get for her. 

You ask yourself…was it worth it? 

I am guessing you’re shaking your head “no” and feeling defeated. What if I told you that you could have a gift that would last years? Yep, let me say it again…YEARS! Instead of getting a gift that a loved one might use for the next few weeks or even months, get them a gift that will give them memories. My challenge is this: Give your family members experiences rather than junk.  

A few of you may know we aren’t overly known for our traditional gift-giving or even celebration style, hints my latest post about how we did an “open style” birthday party for my 1-year old.  We like to think of meaningful gifts that are based on a comment a family member made months ago. We want to be creative and original, so our gifts mean more. That’s why we started giving experiences rather than physical gifts.  

Now it wasn’t an easy transition at first. It felt weird coming to a celebration with only a card and not a large package. I felt a little insecure like my gift wasn’t worthy because of the size. It all started when I bought my dad a 5K race entry to a race downtown, near our house. He loves to run, and so do I, so I thought this would give us the perfect opportunity to have some 1-1 time while doing something we both love in an area that I run almost daily.  And it was awesome! We were able to chat during the race (in between gasps for air), and we made a big breakfast afterward to continue the fun. We still talk about the first race we did years ago, and now I get him a race every year for his birthday, Christmas, or Father’s Day.  He knows it is coming, but it is always a fun new race to try!

Seeing how much joy it brought him and how much fun we both had, I decided to start thinking of creative ways to give other family members experiences rather than junk they use for a few months , collects dust, and then is put in the “pile” that you’ll get to one of these days. One of the ideas I had was to get my mom an afternoon tea experience. This is something we did together when I lived in England, so I wanted to recreate the memory here in Indianapolis. We reminisced over our tea experience abroad and compared it to our local experience, all while supporting local small businesses.  Bonus!

The cool thing is that now we have friends and family members that give us these types of gifts because they loved receiving them from us. We appreciate it, as we try to live more of a minimalist type lifestyle. But we also love experiencing new things, especially what Indianapolis has to offer us. My parents renew our zoo membership each year, and we make sure to take them along with us so they can experience the magic in our son’s eyes as he skips through the park with excitement.  

And let’s not forget the benefit of choosing experiences over materials and what it can do for our environment. Getting a piece of paper for your membership each year is a lot better than the mounds of wrapping paper and plastic you accumulate over the holiday season and years to come. Added bonus!

Want to try this route out for your holiday gift-giving? Take a look at the list below to get some ideas of how you can make the switch!

  • $25 or less. 
    • Ice cream coupons
    • Indians tickets/Knot Hole Club
    • Indiana Pacers tickets
    • Indiana Repertory Theatre tickets
    • Laser tag
    • Miniature golf
    • Bowling
    • Ice skating 
    • Movie tickets
    • Coffee date/gift card
    • Museum tickets (i.e Indiana State Museum)
  • $26-$49
    • Eagle Creek Park Annual Pass
    • SkyZone Elite+ Pass
    • Pedicure/manicure
    • 5K Race
    • Pottery painting
    • Gym membership (for a month)
    • Wine delivery (for a month)
  • $50-$99
    • Plane ticket voucher
    • Indianapolis Colts tickets
    • Little Village Playroom Membership/5-day pass
    • Meal services
    • Clowes Memorial Hall tickets (variety of shows, plays, musicals, etc.)
    • Music concert tickets
    • Rock climbing monthly membership
    • New Years Eve party ticket
    • Massage
    • Cooking class
    • Theme park
    • Mini-Marathon entry
    • Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (3 for $99 deal!)
  • Over $100 
    • Indianapolis Zoo Membership
    • Conner Prairie Membership
    • Children’s Museum Membership
    • Indianapolis Museum of Art (only $90 if you go paperless)
    • Kid City Pass at Greenwood Community Center (only $50 for residents)
    • Go Ape! Membership/Frequent Flyer Pass (at Eagle Creek Park)
    • Hot air balloon ride
    • 1-2 night stay in a hotel
    • Skydiving
    • Tattoo

*Final price may vary, depending on the type of membership, quantity of tickets, or even specific date/seating type of event.

The list of gifting through experiences is honestly endless. If none of these ideas worked for a loved one, think about what they are interested in and try to find a way to give them an experience targeted to their hobbies. What have they hinted that they would love to do, but have never spent the money on it? Do they love sports? Musicals? Cooking? Think of something you might enjoy doing together and make a list.  

Now go on now…start making memories with your loved ones.