Materials vs. Memories

It’s a glorious time to be alive. As I sit in front of my computer I can order the newest LOL Doll for my youngest daughter, a Pop It set for my older daughter she’s been asking for and nearly a million other items that will arrive at my doorstep in two days or less. Do we necessarily need these items? I suppose that’s a matter of perspective… 

I really do cherish the excitement in their eyes as they open a gift. At the same time, I know the amount of time they will play with it (whatever the new trendy toy) will be limited and inevitably end up in my trunk on its way to the Salvation Army in less than a year as their rooms filled with clutter. Those two new toys will somehow accompany 100 others filling the back of my SUV and then for some reason, we’d start the process all over again.  

A few years ago my wife and I began to ask ourselves “why”?  

There have been a lot of studies lately which found gifts that create memories are valued far more than toys. I’ll skip the science behind this because I think the thought process is easy enough to follow. When I recall my fondest childhood memories, none of them center around a toy – even the ones I was probably certain as a child that I absolutely had to have. In fact, while I know my parents gave me hundreds or maybe even thousands of gifts, I can recall very few. I do remember summers in Colorado, bike riding, rollerblading, visiting family in New England, baseball games, learning to wakeboard, the beach, boat trips, amusement parks, and camping. Every single one of my fondest memories relates directly to my family, friends, and activities rather than ‘things’.  

While we aren’t going to stop buying our children gifts altogether, we have made an effort to balance our choices a little.  

Christmas two years ago consisted of the announcement of a family ski trip to Park City, Utah via airplane tickets, photos, and videos of snow skiing. We discussed and showed the kids where we’d be visiting in the coming month or so and they were over the moon! There were of course a few toys sprinkled in, but the majority of gifts were items of a necessity for our trip that our Florida native girls didn’t possess – snow goggles, beanies, ski pants, jackets, gloves, etc. After one full day of lessons my just barely 6 year old was speeding down the mountain and begging to get off the bunny slopes. She’ll remember how to ski for the rest of her life after that trip, something no one can ever take away.  

Recent birthdays have consisted of one gift and then something more experiential like a visit to Top Golf, iFLY (an indoor simulated skydive), or a camping trip.  

Our most recent Christmas was an announcement of a family safari trip to South Africa. We’re still guilty of a few toys, but gifts were more geared towards the trip they were looking forward to with binoculars, photographic equipment, and hiking boots.  

Our girls’ grandparents can’t help spoil them a little but have also begun to focus less on ‘stuff. Perhaps one gift instead of 5 and the remaining funds are instead used to purchase bonds, set up bank accounts, and college funds. Foregoing a few toys each year will help them purchase the first car or pay for part of college.  

The idea is ultimately to reconsider how we are spending and investing in our children. Outings, experiences & vacations are “valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterward in their memory,” psychologist and best-selling author Oliver James explained to The Telegraph. “It’s all about talking nonsense with your parents, sharing ice cream, and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense.” 

This weekend we are heading to Hunsader Farms together, a popular local Pumpkin Festival. I hope you are able to do something fun together as a family as well. Plan a vacation, pick up a new hobby or just take a trip to the beach; the memories will far outweigh and outlast a shiny new toy!