2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Object-Free Gifts

It's the week of Thanksgiving, buddies, which means that I'm knee-deep in gift buying. Like last year, I'm attempting to do all of the holiday (for me, Christmas) preparation required of December in November so that I can devote the actual month of Christmas to festivities rather than chores. This means that even though the Christmas shopping frenzy hasn't hit our malls, websites, or culture yet, it has taken our household by storm. So let me be your holiday shopping vanguard, friends. I'm doing it anyway, so why don't we all benefit. Consider it my early gift to you.

In our family we've been doing a huge clean-out of outgrown, unused, unloved, and unnecessary objects. It hasn't quite been Marie Kondo-level decluttering, but it has been significant. I've found that with more breathing room in the house, we tend to function better, and I'm loath to replace all of the objects we just rid ourselves of with fresh, new, shiny things. I think we've reached a good, logical object threshold, and so a lot of the gifts my Smartner and I are giving to our kids this year are object-free. Here are some examples of object-free giving if perhaps this particular style of gifting appeals to you.

Caveat 1: The examples that I present below are all local to the Pacific Northwest, because that's where I live. I encourage you to take these fundamental ideas and do some targeted searching of your own region to translate it into action for yourselves. No, perhaps you don't want a membership to a museum in Seattle, but, yes, perhaps you'd like to find a similar one in your town to join. See? Like that. GYOP (Google Your Own Presents). You can do it!

Caveat 2: These gift ideas are object-free, but they aren't necessarily non-consumer, ya dig? Some (not all) are as commercial as all get out, and some (not all) are expensive. Take from this list what you can, alter it how you need to, and only spend what you're willing to. Object-free ideas, like all gift ideas, are only good if you can afford them.

Caveat 3: If you tell my children what we got them for Christmas, I will cut you like a hot knife through butter. This I pledge to you.

I swear it will be done. (Image Source)

Clear? Good? Then, let's launch!

1. A family weekend away.

My Smartner and I have given up any pretension of being cool, intellectual, or highly cultured by loudly proclaiming our unabashed love of Great Wolf Lodge. Yes, it's basically paying a lot of money to go fake camping for a night in wolf-den- or campout-themed rooms. Yes, the chlorine will wreak havoc on your eyes, skin, and dye job. And, YES, you will all have a fantastic time while you're there. We took our kids there this summer for the littler Smartling's birthday, and I was all set to snobbishly disdain it and huff and pout my way through the motions. Once there, however, my kids' utter glee at being able to swim all day long and play MagiQuest, a series of computerized fantasy scavenger hunts that take place throughout the building, all night long was joyfully contagious.

So, rather than importing more things into our house via Santa and Amazon, my Smartner and I are going to wrap up the Great Wolf Lodge ears that the Smartlings already own and give them to the kids along with a note telling them that we're going back. It won't be cheap, but it will be a great, object-free time.

Now, maybe you don't live near a water park. Is there some other day-trip location you'd like to visit? Or scratch the long drive and just have a family sleepover in a hotel with a pool, big beds to bounce on, and a movie to watch? Any trip, even to the Holiday Inn near the freeway by your house, is more awesome than a new clutch of dustables to sort, store, maintain, and ultimately forget.

The location is as irrelevant as the indoor pool is non-negotiable.

2. Memberships.

Got a zoo near you? Give a membership. What about a children's museum? Ditto. Or, better yet, gift a membership to an all-ages museum that interests your kid and adult recipients alike. (For example, my Smartlings prefer the Museum of Flight and Experience Music Project/Museum of Pop Culture to our local children's museum.) Can't afford a membership? Give day passes. Recipients of experiences value those gifts more than gifts of objects, so consider giving those (minus a trip to the gift shop) instead.

3. Family classes or lessons.

My kids like new toys. Some of them they like forever and ever and will treasure for always. Some of them they like for about 10 minutes before moving on to other favorites. And it's a real crapshoot at which end of the spectrum any given new toy will fall.

But do you know what they enjoy regularly every single week? Their swimming lessons, ballet classes, and piano lessons. Do you know what they would love for its entire duration, learn from, and treasure as a memory? An art class, craft lesson, cooking tutorial, science workshop, or Lego-building-free-for-all. Luckily, we live in a region where our municipal community centers offer such opportunities, where cooking classes for kids are available through local grocery and kitchen stores, and where creative reuse centers in Tacoma and Seattle host afternoon workshops for aspiring artists and builders.

Feeling Googly (it's a word, dammit!)? See if your town has similar offerings. Feeling generous, frugal, and willing to spend some time being a good gifter? Host your own afternoon workshop for the intended recipients and maybe a few friends. The summer before last, my elder Smartling asked to make up her own Art Camp, and I ran with it. She invited 6 or so friends, came up with project ideas, made lists of needed supplies, created a snack time menu, and together we threw a kick-ass art camp. You can do this, too. Maybe it'll be a cooking lesson in your kitchen, a building tutorial in your garage, or a gardening class in your yard. Definitely it'll be loud and messy for a couple of hours. Certainly it'll be a gift fondly remembered forever.

A messy kitchen takes less than an hour to put right. Baking with your kids and kid-friends bonds you with happy memories forever. (Remember that as you're wiping dried dough splatters from your ceiling.) (Image Source)

4. Tickets

Got a children's theater? Gift some tickets. What about local ballet performances geared for kid audiences? (Check out the children's or youth corps affiliated with your local ballet company! They often have kid-oriented recitals and performances.) Gift some tickets. Monster truck rally coming to town? Ticket up. A good movie coming out soon, or a good movie moving to the cheap second run theater soon? Take the kids and spring for popcorn, too. Your nearby high school putting on an embarrassingly earnest production of, well, anything in the coming months? Go support those kids by taking your kids to see them.

And, hey, if you're gifting tickets or experiences or lessons or memberships to children other than yours, you earn serious bonus points and an extra cushion on your seat in heaven if you take the kids and let their parents spend some quality time together.

If you know what I mean.

These are just a few object-free gift ideas I came up with when shopping for my own kids and our kid-friends. And we all know what a sadly limited woman I am, so please offer your own suggestions in the comments section below. Because if I, if you, if we can get through the holidays with some kind of object equilibrium - having achieved some kind of object detente, if you will - we will all have won.