What to Give the Kid Who Has Everything (or doesn't need anything)

In my last post, I talked about why toys might not be the best choice for holiday gifts. I've been accused of attempting to "steal [someone's] joy" because I've requested no toys for my children for birthdays and holidays, which is not my goal at all. We do our best to keep material gifts at a minimum in our house for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that our home already has everything we need. Anything brought in means we should get rid of something else...and that creates upset and drama, because the kids love the toys and play items that we already have.

I want to be clear: there is always the option to give nothing for a birthday or holiday. I have never and would never demand that my children (or I) get a gift of any kind. We are lucky enough to want for nothing we need. I understand that lots of people feel that the holidays are a time for giving, however, and want to find a way to do that for the ones they love.

So, the number one way to give something for the holidays without bringing more stuff into a person's house is simple: give an experience. What does that look like, though? Here is a (not at all exhaustive) list of experiences you could give a child or teen in lieu of a toy for a holiday or birthday:

  • trip or membership to a local science center or children's museum
  • membership to a children's garden
  • trip/membership to the aquarium or zoo
  • trip (or ticket book) to the movies
  • one-on-one visit to a child's favorite restaurant
  • train ride (think "meet Thomas the Tank Engine" or a Polar Express Experience)
  • tea party at a local tea shop (dress up and make it a fancy affair for extra fun)
  • annual passes to an amusement park (this one is our family go-to, since we live within driving distance to Universal Studios and Disney)
  • trip to a salon for a hair wash/style or mani/pedi (I'm not talking about a needed haircut, by the way. I'm talking about pampering)
  • passes to an airsoft or paintball park
  • tickets to a concert or show 
  • trip/passes to a local trampoline park or bouncy castle park
  • sports/dance/gymnastics/swim/music lessons (if the child has expressed interest in the activity)
  • one-on-one date to do a child's favorite thing (just the time together is really special)
  • family staycation at a local hotel (get one with a pool)
  • family vacation to a beach or ski resort
  • one-on-one trip to a nearby city for a weekend away (I'm counting down the days to a trip to NYC with my oldest to take her to see a show on Broadway)
  • spa day (for an older young person--I'm thinking teenagers with this one. a full spa day is lost on a 7-year-old)
  • making fake snow (mix baking soda + shaving cream) and having a snowball fight (this works best if you live somewhere warm, like FL)
Remember: experiences can be small- or big-ticket items! You make the choice of how much you spend...just remember to set and stay within a reasonable budget. I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is no reason to overspend or put yourself in debt in an attempt to manufacture holiday/birthday joy. Everyone, but especially young people, find joy in small and large things alike. Some of our favorite experiences and traditions have cost less than $10 (that "snowball" fight, for example), but my eldest still talks about it...while she has no recollection of what she received under the tree last year. Experiences last in the mind long after they're over, and they shape who we are as individuals. This year, give someone the gift of a memory with you!


Lindsay Sweeting was in the world of Marketing and Publicity in her previous life. These days you're more likely to see her running after her toddler than running a meeting, but she does her best to find time to create new recipes, come up with fun activities for her daughter, and write about the craziness that is life in the Sweeting house.

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