The Gift of Not Giving A Thing

Because it's time to put things to rest.

Creativity 6 min read Sep 25, 2019

Close your eyes and try to recall your favourite Christmas. What do you see? What do you remember?

When I think about holidays past, my mind goes to wandering the streets at night as I admired the magical glow of Christmas lights. Memories of family dinners come back to me, and that warm, happy feeling you get from being with your loved ones - exchanging stories, laughter, and presents. I may even call to mind a particularly special gift or two, but no more than that.

Isn’t it funny how a simple evening stroll or a beautiful family meal can bring such joy and make a strong impression, whilst the material things we receive give only fleeting memories at best? Only on hindsight have I realised that my most meaningful and treasured memories come from things I’ve experienced, with people that I love and care about.

Is there something wrong with wanting stuff?

The best car, the latest gadgets, the trendiest clothes - they’re great. Shopping can be such a thrill. But from time to time, I find myself back in the same place, looking for the next best thing to spend my money on, to keep me excited.

Maybe, because tangible things last longer, we think they can keep us satisfied for longer. New stuff can be simply delightful! But then eventually you get used to this shiny, new thing or move on to something else, and then it just fades into the background and becomes part of your normal.

I guess I like getting stuff because there’s some level of satisfaction from buying things - not just for myself but often also for other people. I remember a few years ago, I was looking to buy a Christmas gift for my Grandma. I walked through David Jones and Myer’s, combing through their displays of homeware, woollen socks, and fluffy slippers - but I couldn’t make up my mind! I found nothing that I was truly excited about and came home disappointed from my shopping trip.

The next day, I was passing by the local bakery and noticed that they were running a bread and pizza making class. I went in and snagged a spot for myself and Gran. It turned out to be the perfect Christmas gift for her! Not only did she take over the class, but she also took it upon herself to boss everyone around, sharing her own secrets to making bread. The baker was quiet the entire time, and when he tried to talk about pizza, she almost chased him out of the kitchen! We had a ball.

This experience is seared into my memory because of how happy we both were. And you couldn’t place a dollar value to that. I saw my Grandmother in a new light: She was at her best, she felt completely engaged and valued. I remember how Grandma would brag and brag about how, that one day, she taught that baker a thing or two. Judging by how the day went, I realise that no socks or slippers could have made Grandma happy quite like the experience we had just shared.

Christmas that year was unfortunately Grandma’s last; she passed away peacefully 10 months later. I often reflect on whether I was able to tell her how much she meant to me and about the impact she had on my life. At least, I know that in that moment, I was able to give her an experience that not only connected us, but also created a joyous memory that she carried with her during her last months.

Maybe experiences are better than material things.

What I’m trying to say is that, rather than mere shared consumptions, experiences connect us more with other people. Would you more likely feel a connection with someone you went to a cooking class with or with someone who bought you a 55-inch smart TV?

Even the science agrees that money is better spent on experiences, rather than on material possessions. And if the experience can be shared, that’s even better. Certainly, the joy I get as I recall my memories with Grandma has forever become a part of me.

In the end, what really matters are the memories.

Experiences, especially ones where you learn something new, make better and more meaningful gifts. They allow us to explore avenues of life we wouldn’t have known otherwise. The thrill of exploration can come from learning how to paint or speak a new language - it doesn’t need to be from skydiving! Opening up ourselves to something new will expand the ways in which we can experience joy; there is no downside.

Things break, clutter our space, and over time, end up collecting dust. Experiences, on the other hand, are stored in our hearts and minds. And it is these memories that ultimately enrich our lives.

How do you plan to experience Christmas this year? Have a look at all the beautiful experiences you can gift and share with your special someone this holiday season.