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Give Experiences this Christmas, Not Clutter

Family hiking on a vacation that was a family gift to experience the outdoors more.
Luca Santilli/Shutterstock

Christmas is a wonderful time for gift giving. Instead of adding more clutter to someone’s life, why not gift a fulfilling experience instead? Here are some popular non-material gifts to add to your “shopping list” this holiday season.

People often worry that gifting “experiences” and “memberships” isn’t quite the same as receiving a real gift. Yes, little kids might indeed be disappointed when they rip open an envelope, only to find a small gift card inside. Free dance classes? They might be too young to appreciate the meaning of such a gift.

The solution: Try pairing a “non-material” gift with a small toy, allowing a child to enjoy the excitement in the moment. Or trust that once a child starts experiencing the gift (saying, taking the dance lessons), she’ll appreciate it.

As far as adults, you can include a small treat with their non-material gift, such as a bar of chocolate, a bottle of wine, or a new pair of fluffy socks. But usually, adults are pretty receptive to non-material gifts, especially if it’s something that’ll help cut down the bills!

Classes & Lessons

Think of activities that your family and friends will realistically do. For example, you wouldn’t gift scuba diving lessons to someone who hates water, right? Or horseback riding lessons to someone who lives in the city and has no way to get to a horse.

But it’s okay to push someone a little out of their comfort zone. Perhaps they’ve always wanted to try ice skating but have been nervous about doing so. A gift certificate for a free lesson might be just the incentive they need to get started!

Here are some fun class ideas and experiences to consider, for both children and adults:

  • Dance
  • Yoga 
  • Music 
  • Art 
  • Comedy
  • Swimming
  • Pottery
  • Skiing
  • Karate
  • Ice Skating
  • Summer Camp

Annual Passes

This is a great gift for a family, allowing them to drop in at their favorite places for shorter visits without having to worry about purchasing individual tickets. You’d be surprised—sometimes an annual pass isn’t that much more than buying a one-day pass!

Here are some popular places that usually offer annual passes:

  • Museums
  • Aquariums
  • Zoos
  • Indoor play centers
  • Rock climbing facilities
  • Local jump gyms
  • Amusement parks
  • Skifields
  • Swimming pools

Memberships & Subscriptions

Think about which types of membership will make someone’s life easier. For example, gifting a year of roadside assistance is brilliant (it’s something everyone needs, but let’s face it, nobody likes paying for it).

Also, consider things like gifting a Costco membership, as well as paying for someone to have Amazon Prime. You might think that everyone has Prime, but nope. A lot of older generations use Amazon but don’t splurge to upgrade to Prime. So go ahead and treat them to it (who doesn’t like 2-day shipping?).

Streaming services are another great option, such as Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube Premium. If you don’t want to pay for the entire year, just get a gift card to cover the subscription fees for a few months. It’s something the whole family can enjoy, especially with the ability to download videos for on-the-go entertainment.

Have some music lovers in the family? Pay for Spotify Premium or Pandora—they’ll appreciate all that ad-free music.

Book lovers? You can pay for a subscription to audiobooks, or upload credit to their favorite online account.

Little Passports is an educational subscription geared towards curious, inquisitive kids. They’ll receive a new package every month, focusing on a different country every time. It’s the gift that keeps giving!

And don’t forget about the food! Everyone needs to eat, right? Here are some awesome food subscription options:

  • A weekly produce box: Check for local options.
  • Amazon Subscribe & Save item: You can go ahead and pay for something that’s needed, such as 6-months of baby food or gummy vitamins for the kids (it’s like candy, but healthy!).
  • Meal-prep subscriptions: There are plenty of options out there, such as HelloFresh, Blue Apron, and more.


By paying for much-needed services, you’re really gifting extra time. Who doesn’t need more time in their life?

We suggest paying for these services in advance, or getting a gift card, as opposed to handing over cash. A “cash” gift can quickly disappear, with no special meaning tied to it. At least with a “service” gift, someone will remember, “You paid for my house to get cleaned!” Now that’s an A+ gift, in our opinion.

Here are some service ideas that are perfect for gifting:

  • Babysitting: You can buy a gift card from Care.com.
  • House cleaning: Check out Amazon’s house cleaning service.
  • Meal delivery: Uber eats is a popular choice.
  • Massage: Find someone local and buy a gift certificate.
  • Car-washing: Most places have gift cards available.

Family Experiences

Finding experiences the entire family can enjoy together is the ultimate gift! You can gift these to your own family, or family and friends.

Here are some fun ideas to think about:

  • Movie tickets: Or buy gift cards to local movie theaters.
  • Concert tickets: Who’s coming to town? Go ahead and get the tickets in advance!
  • Travel: Book a family trip, purchase airline gift cards, or gift a stay at a popular hotel.
  • Gift cards to favorite restaurants: Eating out can be a wonderful family experience (because who doesn’t love a break from cooking and dishes?).

Gifting experiences is a great way to avoid the usual clutter and over-consumerism that’s associated with Christmas. Don’t worry about your kids missing out on concrete “gifts” since they usually end up with too many toys as it is. Go ahead and build some lifelong memories by enjoying a fun, exciting experience.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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