Happy Birthday Baby Boy! Experiences as Gifts for Kids

It happened. I crossed my legs and sucked in, trying with all my might to save our anniversary, but our tiny one came barreling into the world ON our first wedding anniversary. Sayonara whimsical weekend celebratory getaways and hello Chuck E. Cheese’s (and other gifts for kids).

In part, stud muffin and I are both closet introverts, in part, we live in small places, and in (larger) part we have too much stuff and don’t particularly like it. It makes for messy rooms, pieces break and disappoint and if we’re being honest, keeping up with the Jones’s toys next door is priceeeey.

Gifts for Kids

When my baby (who the airlines now officially refer to as a my child) turned 2 yesterday, we had already decided that his “gift opening” ceremony would be a short one. I’ve heard the formula:

  1. Something you want
  2. Something you need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

…and until I had kids that sounded reasonable to me. Now I can’t imagine even buying that many things for each kid once they outnumber their parents.

First of all, he’s 2… we still have a free pass on his (non) memory and since he doesn’t understand the whole birthday deal, we have zero pressure to perform. So we’re changing things up in our home. Since husband and I have birthdays that are just over 2 weeks apart, we made it a tradition from the get-go to go somewhere together instead of buying gifts for each other. Year 1 we did a weekend in Niagara (with our 2 month old little screamer), year 2 a weekend at a resort in Ras Al Khaima and this year, my 30th, I’m expecting big things!

For munchkin’s first birthday (and our anniversary) we hit up the local zoo (dude LOVES animals), this year we did a Scandinavian adventure.

Experiences Vs. Stuff
“I wanna touch birdie” – frolicking around the Copenhagen streets

Experiences Vs. Stuff

Experiences Vs. Stuff
I’m on a boat!

Extravagance is definitely not the order the day. If we had a whole gaggle in tow I reckon we’d make a day at the pool and a barbeque just as much fun as a tri-country odyssey (but we wanted to sneak in one more flight before he became a full fare).

The Value of Experiences

Here’s our rationale:

  • All I remember from my childhood are the things we did together, the adventures, the traditions, the time together
  • My family has always been super close and very open about everything because we have spent so many nights in tiny hotel rooms with nowhere to hide and insanely expensive internet that we refused to pay for. We also always read a book together on vacation and have nightly dinner “topics”
  • The more we get gifts for kids, the more stuff we have and the more places and boxes we also need to store it
  • Stuff doesn’t make people happy.

An article published in the Journal of Psychological Science following more than a decade of research into the topic found that over time, people tend to become less happy with material purchases and more happy with experiences. I love the rationale. No matter how wonderful a thing (new car, house, phone) – we adapt to them over time as they become ordinary – memories in retrospect however tend to become fonder (even negative ones turn into hilarious anecdotes). Just the anticipation of an experience can engender happiness. SO if you read that carefully, there is delight in anticipation, delight in the experience, and a delightful memory post-hoc.

Going on adventures are so valuable because they also become opportunities for learning. Growing up wherever we went on holiday (all over Canada the US) we had the obligatory Parliamentary and University tour. We learned all about governments and higher education, and are better for it today. When we go on vacation we like to rent cars, get a good “feel” for a city, and use apps to learn all about the places we visit.

Plans I have for future birthdays:

  • Give a kid (or maybe their siblings) $100 for the day and allow them to pick a special adventure they would like to use it for
  • Enroll them in a class/camp they are into (sports/dance/pottery/basket weaving)
  • Subscription to a great magazine (national geographic/monthly mass readings & reflections)
  • Memberships or seasons tickets to museums, rec centers etc…
  • A “day-your-way” where the whole family is at their service
  • Finding ways to use “their” day to make someone else’s (volunteering)
  • If a bunch of their birthday’s are close together – a bigger gift (a ping pong table or the like) that the whole family can enjoy
  • Always share what we love about the birthday girl/boy over dinner

I think these options will result in sweeter dreams, fonder memories, more learning, greater joy in our home and fewer sprained ankles (tripping over toy cars) and storage bins.

But, if you’re wondering – we had a little party and bought him a kid-sized blackboard/whiteboard for his birthday so that there was something to unwrap and he can practice his letters!

Experiences Vs. Stuff

Experiences vs. stuff


What are some ideas you have for making birthdays special?

45 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Baby Boy! Experiences as Gifts for Kids”

  1. Great ideas Vanessa! Only suggestion i have is people can also make contributions to kids RESPs for birthday gifts. This will certainly help them out in the long run. Thanks.

    1. That’s a GREAT idea 🙂 it would structure our contributions if we did it regularly on their birthday! Love it!

  2. Love!! Love!! L0ve!! Such creative ideas that make lasting birthday memories… Happy birthday to the little munchkin (he looks soo much different now) and Happy anniversary to you guys… feels like just yesterday we were at ur wedding

  3. I LOVE this post! My son just turned 2 recently as well, and one thing I do not need is another clunky plastic toy. Plus – they play with it for all of 5 minutes. Instead, we enrolled him in soccer practice (a tradition for my husband and him to start), and season tickets to the local zoo (because my kid LOVES the zoo too!!). The memories are what is important to me, and soon to my children as well! So – this post really hit home! Thanks for sharing!

    1. That’s wonderful – great ideas! We’re all about starting traditions and making memories in our family 🙂 Zoo’s for the win! Thanks for sharing Jaclyn!

  4. Thanks for sharing on Let’s Get Real Friday Party. I love, love, love the idea of experiences. That is what my husband and I do. I love to always find a little surprise for my boys besides the experience because I personally love to watch someone unwrap a present.

    1. Couldn’t agree more 🙂 Now that he *can* unwrap presents – it’s so much fun to watch the delight! Thanks for hosting Karen!

  5. Why didn’t my parents think of that… I always got a bunch of toys that I didn’t even like and we always had a huge party at home with all the kids from the neighborhood… It’s not that I didn’t enjoy them, but after an hour or two, I just wanted to hide away from the chaos…

  6. What an amazing approach! It’s about experiences, indeed. You seem to be a great mom, and I will have to bookmark this post, because if I ever become a parent, I hope I will have the same approach. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jessie!! Thanks so much :). I really appreciate the kind words! Every mom just does their best!

  7. I totally agree. My fondest memories are trips, dinners together, all experiences. And seriously, I bought my niece a semi-expensive toy and all she wants to play with is the box lol!

    1. Hahaha! We actually keep boxes now knowing that they will be more exciting. Hilarious. Kids are so funny!

    1. thanks Crystal! Makes for good times that they have a shot at remembering 🙂 educational to boot!

  8. I do like the idea of giving them gifts that create experiences. I think you end up giving more thoughtful gifts when you think in terms of experiences.

    1. Exactly… It’s so much easier to grab something off the shelf at a top store…. But I think as they get older – the planning that goes into it really makes them feel loved and valued.

    1. Thanks so much! These adventures have been such a great adventure and bonding experience for us 🙂

  9. I agree, an experience is so much better than a gift! I started to actually gift my friends experiences for their birthdays and myself too. This year I experienced a wine tasting at a small winery for my birthday, and I couldn’t have wished for more. Objects don’t last forever but our good memories do.

    1. YES!!! That sounds so so lovely :). And we get to see really different sides of people in different situations!

  10. It’s important to invest in experiences rather than toys, I would have to agree. Aside from the additional knowledge, it’s also perfect for making their birthdays or their childhood in general more memorable. I love these ideas, keep it up!

    1. Thanks so much Elizabeth :). You’re right! memories are what we are left with at the end of the day – and they’ve gotten many people through many a tough time!

    1. Thank you so much Anna-Maria 🙂 🙂 it has been a great ride so far! Kids are so precious!

  11. I love the idea of experiences as gifts instead of actual presents. It will be something the child may not cherish in the earlier years but in the end they will look back and love them.

    1. Yes yes yes! Exactly 🙂 and I think it might help to quell the “must have more” mentality!

    1. SO glad this can be helpful for you! I initially started it because I too thought that clothes were the most boring gift for a kid… they don’t appreciate them at all!

  12. I love the idea of doing an activity and creating a memory, instead of buying things. Nowadays kids have too many toys, clothes etc. I don’t have children, but I will definitely recommend this to my brothers. My nieces would love this, I think. Thank you!

    1. Rodanthi – thanks so much :). I agree! We have way more than we need already…. Why add to the clutter! My next plan is to include blessing someone else on their birthdays too by giving some of it away! let’s see how that goes… Thanks for stopping by!

  13. I love this. As I’ve gotten older, that’s something my husband and I have focused on as well – experiences over things. You can’t take everything with you, but memories last a lifetime!

    1. So true. Thanks Krista – love that you’re focusing on that already… It just makes so much sense in today’s world of “stuff”!

    1. YES! They definitely do last longer 🙂 And even the bad ones become funny with time – so win-win!

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