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gift-553146_640When you grow up with a mom who has a shopping addiction and a mild case of hoarding you develop a skewed perception of stuff. My mom was one of the most generous people I knew. She definitely spoiled us, but at the same time, stuff started to take over our lives.

The Problem With Stuff

As a mom myself now, I want to get my children things they want, but at the same time I don’t want a massive amount of toys cluttering up the house. I’ve found that experience gifts are a perfect solution.

A Gift Worth Waiting For

My daughter has been asking to attend gymnastics classes for the last two years, but it just hasn’t been in our budget. So for her birthday I prepaid for six weeks of classes and presented her with a card explaining her gift. I also got her a leotard.

At first it felt weird not wrapping up a bunch of presents, but I knew I was getting her something that she really wanted. I had to focus on the quality of my gift rather than the quantity (or lack thereof). Just as I predicted, she was overjoyed. She had her first class last week and she kept telling me, “Mom, I love it!”

It also stirred up some nostalgia for me to see her up on that balance beam. That was my favorite when I was a gymnast. Watching her felt like I was passing my legacy on to her.

If you want an alternative to traditional gifts like toys, clothes, or books, here are five great reasons to give kids experience gifts.

1. Something To Look Forward To – After all the other gifts have been opened, played with a handful of times and pushed aside, an experience gift is still there, promising something fun and exciting is still waiting for them.

One of my favorite gifts my mother gave me when I was in high school was tickets to see Les Miserables in New York City. I had been listening to the soundtrack CD for months and when I finally got to see the play, it was amazing! I didn’t mind that I had to wait a few weeks for the play. If anything it felt like it extended my birthday.

2. Less Clutter – As I mentioned before, I really don’t like too many toys hanging around, especially when they aren’t being played with very often. Experience gifts like a special trip, art, dance or gymnastics classes won’t contribute to the clutter in your house.

3. Give Something That You Normally Couldn’t Afford– So many extracurricular activities are expensive. They certainly don’t fit into our tight budget, so we’ve had to be very selective about which activities my kids do. Since I would normally spend money on birthday presents, I was able to use that money to give my daughter something I normally couldn’t afford.

4. More Memories – How many of your toys do you really remember from your childhood? Maybe a handful if you’re lucky. No matter how much our children beg us for toys, they typically don’t occupy our children for long. Giving an experience gift gives children memories that will last them a lifetime.

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5. Quality Time – Experience gifts usually give parents or other family members quality time with the children. Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, an art class you take together or just watching them twirl around the floor at their dance class, what the giver receives is time. Time to watch your child really enjoying something, seeing them light up with excitement. Sure, maybe it’s hard to run them to classes on a weekly basis or to and from their favorite sport, but it’s also time that you get to spend with them.

Years from now, they’ll remember that you were there with them. Even if you were just in the background watching from the bleachers or sitting silently in the corner of the room, you’ll become part of those happy memories.

I can’t for the life of me tell you what badges I earned when I was in Girl Scouts, but I’ll never forget that my mom volunteered to be my troop leader. While it wasn’t a birthday or Christmas gift, her willingness to give me and the other girls her time every week is something I still think about proudly.

I would love to ditch a lot of my kids’ physical presents in favor of experience gifts. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get my husband on board for Christmas, but at least for birthdays it’s become a great alternative.

What experience gifts have you given your kids that they loved?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

Our homes may come in different shapes, sizes and price ranges, but one universal truth is that we all have clutter. That stuff that creeps up, hangs around and by some bizarre trick of nature seems to multiply. With a new baby coming in a few months, I’m realizing that with all the gear and things this new little person is bringing into my house I truly have to cut the clutter and make room for the people in my house.  Here are 4 tips to help kick clutter to the curb.

1. Separate The Sentimental – When I was younger we weren’t encouraged to get rid of our excess stuff because my mother believed everything was sentimental. Now I’m learning to figure out what is sentimental and what is just stuff. Yesterday I donated my wedding dress (GASP) to a photographer friend who is going to turn it into a new creation. I know what you’re thinking- “how is that not sentimental?” If I’ve learned anything in life, I’ve learned that memories do not live inside of things, but inside of us. My wedding day was one of the best of my life, but was it really necessary to keep a dress I wore once in the back of my closet for the rest of my life? Nope, especially since I have tons of great photos of it. At least now it’ll get a chance to see the light of day again and maybe make someone else happy in the process.

Honoring Lost Loved Ones

What is sentimental then? For me, it’s those few special items that really remind me of lost loved ones. Unfortunately I have a LOT of those items collecting in my closets right now. I hope to buy some shadow boxes and display them with some photos of those family members who have passed. If it doesn’t fit, I’ll take a photo of an item that meant a lot to that loved one. At least they would get looked at and not forgotten about.

Make Kids Part Of The Process

I’ve also taught my kids to make decisions when getting rid of their old toys. It took a good four hours, but every toy has been gone though, and put in it’s place – in a toy box, in a box for the new baby, consigned or thrown out. I think it’s important that they see value as something they use, not something they own – big difference. Before birthdays and major gift-giving holidays is a great time to do this. It also gives you some perspective on how much your kids already have before you embark on a shopping spree.
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Thanks to some decluttering I can actually close toy boxes now and keep the floor clear (most of the time anyway).

2. Value Is Relative – Another lesson I’ve learned is to forget about what an item cost me. The cold fact is that once you take something home from the store it’ll never be worth that purchase price to anyone else. This is also a good rule to remember when making those purchases in the first place. So when clearing out the clutter, price it fairly (start at half off retail) and be willing to donate it if it doesn’t sell.

One Woman’s Trash…

I had a glider with an arm that needed a screw and once my son wasn’t a baby anymore it was taking up much-needed real estate in my house. It would have cost me money to throw it out so I listed it on Freecycle.org. A lady came and picked it up at the end of my driveway within a day and wrote me the sweetest e-mail thanking me for something that would have ended up as trash, but which she was thrilled to have.

3. Use The One In Two Out Rule – You’ve probably heard this rule to taming clutter before, but it goes for every one item you bring into your house you should take two out. Since acquiring things is so much easier than getting rid of them it’s also a great rule to keep in mind when shopping. My husband recently asked to purchase some fishing gear that is not in the budget and he offered to sell his brand new power washer (still sitting unused in the box) in order to get it. It was given to him and he really wanted it, but he has come to see that he’ll most likely never use it and I’m proud of him for learning to let go of something he won’t use for something that he will. Now to list that along with at least a half-dozen other thing in my basement. Craigslist.org here I come.

4. Don’t Let It Live Forever – This baby is a blessing in more ways than one. I really need to renovate my finished basement into a master bedroom so I can’t afford to let the clutter live down there for too much longer. It’s a great idea to set a time limit like a year. If you haven’t touched something in a year it’s probably time to let it go. A cool trick with clothes is to hang all your hangers facing out and then when you’ve worn something rehang it with the hanger facing in. At the end of a year, any item still hanging on the out hangers can go.

Many towns hold spring clean up days so this could be a great deadline for your clutter. If you can’t donate it, sell it or give it to someone by that date then throw it out. Check with your town about times, locations and limits on what you can throw out.

How do you tame the clutter in your house?

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