Exchanging Presents for Memories

Exchanging Presents for Memories

My oldest daughters’ first and second birthdays were wonderful, but I was really looking forward to her third birthday. This was the first birthday that she was really aware, able to anticipate and realize that her birthday was a special day. That morning when she woke up, we brought her into the kitchen where all her presents were laid out on the table. As she opened them one by one with a blank look, I thought, “She’s not having fun. Why are we doing this?”

After that birthday, we decided to wean ourselves off birthday presents.

The reality is that you don’t remember the stuff you get unless it’s really special. So as parents, we have two choices when it comes to making birthdays memorable: Spend a ton of money and time searching for the best stuff, or doing something amazing and make memories we will never forget. After all, what are we saying by buying things on our children’s special day? Things make you feel special? I love you, so I bought this for you?

Exchanging Presents for MemoriesPresents are a huge part of American culture, but after looking deeper at it, that just wasn’t the message I wanted to send. Giving a gift only lasts a moment—once the gift is unwrapped, the moment has passed. So we decided to give experiences instead.

The next year it was hard not to buy this or that toy for Maisie’s birthday, even though I knew family members would more than fill the gap. Instead of giving her a physical present, we bought her an hour of horseback riding lessons. This year we spent a day in Vermont to celebrate Maisie’s sixth birthday. We ran a 5k together, picked apples, and toured the Vermont Teddy Bear factory.

If you want to get away from collecting stuff at birthdays and holidays, here are a few ideas:

  • Start small by giving non-toy gifts
  • Look for day trips you can do in your area
  • Plan a weekend trip for a birthday
  • Try something new or something you have always wanted to do as a family
  • Buy a small something to remind you of the trip that will last, like a Christmas ornament, charm, or small collectible
  • Purchase a museum or park membership as a birthday gift
  • Buy a year of music, dance or tumbling lessons

We have only been doing it for two years now, but so far our experiment is a success. We are celebrating birthdays now by spending time together focused on each other and doing something new. The kids don’t miss the presents, and I hope we are teaching our girls that special times are made special with people, not things. The memories we make can never be lost, won’t ever need to be returned, and we will have them forever.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three girls who is trying to simplify, declutter and downsize. She loves and writes in Queensbury, New York.

Tags: birthday, celebrations, consumer culture, travel

2 Responses to “Exchanging Presents for Memories”

  1. Brigitta says:

    Since DD#1 was very young, since other friends/family always provided sufficient toys and “stuff” for holiday gifts, we started the tradition of taking a “birthday trip” instead. We also include non-stuff suggestions on the wish lists such as lessons, memberships, magazine subscriptions (so they get a “gift” all year long.

    For Christmas, each family member gets an ornament that recognizes something significant about the past year- could be a graduation cap for the yr my hubby finished his degree, a karate uniform for the yr DD#1 started self defense class, it could be an ornament involving crayons because that’s all that child did that year. This way we have something to talk about as the kids grow- AND they will have their own ornament stash when they move out on their own.

    The easter bunny brings books, fruit/nuts/non-candy items, and something involving the outdoors since spring is right around the corner/encourage them to get outside- one year it was a kite, one year it was a scooter, one year it was this contraption that you attach to the back of the bike and insert giant chalk sticks so you can draw while you ride.

  2. Cathy says:

    Love, love, love this idea! Spending time together is priceless!