Giving more by buying less

This Black Friday I was nowhere near a mall. I didn’t want to spend my time circling the parking lot looking for a spot to shoe-horn my car into. I had no interest in door-buster sales, Black Friday deals, or even the lowest prices of the year. I especially didn’t want to stand in long lines for dressing rooms or queue up to wait for the next available cash register.

I also won’t be sitting in front of my computer on Cyber Monday looking for online deals. There is nothing that could entice me to give up hours in my day searching the interwebs, entering my credit card information, and clicking on the PURCHASE NOW button.

Although the newspapers are stuffed with holiday shopping ads, my email inbox is full of the come hither siren calls of money-saving deals, and the shows on television have become mostly holiday consumption delivery vehicles, I choose not to participate.

Like many people in our stage of life, my husband and I are less focused in the in-come and more in the out-go. We are culling our closets, emptying drawers and cabinets, and donating, selling, and discarding our excess, unused stuff. Many of the items I at one time thought I must have are now just uncomfortable reminders of how easy it is to get wrapped up in our consumer-driven society.

With the rise of digital shopping and because brick-and-mortar retailers are offering deep discounts for an extended period of time, some say that Black Friday is slowly morphing into “Black November.” And, since retailers have trained shoppers to wait until the last minute for even deeper discounts, in reality, Black Friday may now be becoming “Black Mid-November through Christmas Eve.” Yay! More time to shop!

This year, I’ve been heartened to read stories about an increase in spending on gifts of experiences rather than things. I don’t know if this is a real trend or not, but I hope it is. Of course it wouldn’t bode well for most retailers, but I think it would be a plus if our focus as a society was less on acquiring stuff and more on enjoying our time here on Earth.

This holiday season, when you think about a buying a present for a friend or a family member, consider gifting them an experience. Perhaps they’d appreciate going out for a wonderful meal, taking a hike with you in the back country, seeing a play or attending a concert, going to a lecture, or taking a class on a subject of interest.

Sailing or kayak lessons may be the perfect gift for a friend who enjoys the water.
Sailing or kayak lessons may be the perfect gift for a friend who enjoys the water.

If not an experience, maybe a gift of kindness would be more appropriate. If someone is house-bound, you could offer to run errands or have their house cleaned. If they are care-taking, tell them that you’ll sit with their loved-one while they enjoy a much-needed afternoon off.

Although gifts like this may require a little more thought and planning by the giver, they will be much appreciated. Thoughtful, well-chosen gifts of experiences or special acts of kindness will never be forgotten back in the recipient’s closet, taking up room in a crowded drawer, or folded in a pile of stuff waiting to be donated to a resale store.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

35 thoughts on “Giving more by buying less”

  1. I’m with you on this! I did buy a few things on-line that I was going to buy anyway but not much. Back when I was married to my ex, everyone in his family exchanged gifts. There were 6 siblings-spouses, 13 kids and his parents. It was exhausting. One year I suggested just getting just the kids gifts and making a donation to homeless shelters in the town where each family lived. I almost got run out of town so we exchange engraved glasses and hand sweepers and such. My own family has not exchanged since I was a teenager. We preferred to do things together to celebrate. My husband has adult children and he gives them $$. They are pushing 50. If they still depend on getting $$ from their Dad for Christmas they are in big trouble but it continues. I love to make it about activities and charities. I don’t need stuff. Most comes in the front door and goes out the back door.

    1. Gifts make sense for some people (kids, young adults just starting out, new parents, etc.) but I’m well beyond that point. My family is pretty much on board as well as are my friends. My book club has a gift exchange so I’m hoping for wine or something edible to bring home. Not having to purchase a bunch of gifts really makes this season a lot more enjoyable!

  2. Right on! As we said in our youth. My sentiments exactly. I spent Black Friday at a state park with my daughter and my dog on a long, cold winter hike. We enjoyed the quiet and the natural sights of the woods and a lake. Bravo to you for recommending experience gifts. At our age, they are much appreciated.

    1. Your Black Friday sounds lovely! I think experience gifts can be appreciated at just about any age (except maybe the very young who love to open presents) but you are right that as we get older, they are especially valued. Give me fond memories over things any day.

    1. Yes! Those stores that decided to close made me want to support them more! I really hope that their decision to stay closed was a positive one financially (or, at least, didn’t hurt them) so more will be encouraged to do so also.

  3. I agree that time together and experiences make the best gifts. We’ve dialed down physical gifts and increased focus on gifts that build relationships. My son and I did go out on Thanksgiving to Target to check out the mayhem, but I only bought yogurt and shoelaces. It was entertaining to see probably a thousand people waiting outside in the cold at 6pm on Thanksgiving night.

  4. Janis, nicely done. I am weary of the buy everything routine. I saw a stat that said about 40% of Black Friday were for the buyer. Thanks, Keith

    1. Based on my past pre-holiday shopping adventures, I’d have to agree with that 40%! In fact, you bring up a really good point, not only does not participating in Black Friday and Cyber Monday save me from buying a lot of “stuff” for others, it helps me avoid buying more unneeded things for myself.

  5. Wonderful post. I have more ‘stuff’ than I need. Much is antique porcelain and glassware and just a pain to have to dispose of it since my sons have no interest. eBay, estate sale, auctioneer? I’ve told my family if a gift is not gone in a year, I don’t want it. Food, spa visits, OK. More ‘stuff’ is not. As for Friday, I did go to a small strip mall to pickup some items. No crowds at all.

    1. I had a whole set of dishes and serving ware that I inherited from my grandmother. I had no interest so I looked into selling it on eBay. Unfortunately, I was told that if it can’t go in the dishwasher (it couldn’t) most people don’t want it. Funny thing (actually, not so funny, I guess), it was eventually stolen out of my late parent’s home so I never had to deal with it. I love the “One Year Rule” you have about gifts!

  6. Well said! Our family spent Black Friday in the Blue Ridge Mountains enjoying sweeping vistas instead of standing in lines to buy more stuff. While consumerism is what drives our economy, I think there is a trend toward buying less stuff as well as living in smaller houses. More and more people are getting off the hamster wheel of consumerism in favor of a richer mindful life.

    1. The closest I’ve been to the Blue Ridge Mountains is when a girlfriend and I stayed in Asheville, NC while on a cross-country trip. Unfortunately, the weather (in March) didn’t permit us to take the famous highway. I vowed to go back at a better time of the year and it’s still on my bucket list.

      I’ve also heard that people are buying less and I hope it’s true. I am always amazed when I read the percentage of our economy that is fuel by shopping. Somehow that just seems so shallow and unsustainable.

  7. You got some excellent suggestions here, Janis! I’ve been the recipient of an “experience” gift ~ dinner and a play ~ and it was wonderful. Great post!

    1. A dinner and a play is a perfect experience gift! My husband and I don’t exchange Christmas gifts but my birthday is in early January so I may start looking for a play and a dinner spot I’d like to go to and start dropping hints.

      1. Oops! Correction: “You HAVE some excellent suggestions … ”
        Janis, with an early January birthday, I don’t think it’s too early to start dropping those hints now. Good luck and enjoy!

  8. I love this, Janis, such wise words! Experiences are much more meaningful…I just talked to my class today on this very subject! Instead of me buying my nieces more stuff, I help my brother buy them swim lessons, or one week of day camp, which have gotten more expensive each year. All of the adults have opted out of gift-giving/buying for each other. Just coming to SD and hanging with the family is much more important. My sis-in-law just lost her sister today to MS, so we all know how precious and fleeting life can be!

  9. I completely agree! Well said. You inspired me to go online and plan a weekend in NYC for my two sisters, sister-in-law and me!

  10. Love the idea of shared experiences for gifts. I wish I had started earlier in getting less for the kids too. Saw a meme on facebook the other day that I wish I had subscribed to, but would like to share. “A gift they want. A gift they need. A gift to wear. A gift to read.” If started early enough, that’s what the kids will expect. No more. (at least from you!) Helps to curb the unbridled greed that sometimes occurs. Also, if you have a large family, considerably cheaper.

    1. I imagine that ramping down gifts for kids would be hard. On one hand, you want to make them happy and love to see them get excited. On the other, it can get way out of hand. It isn’t until we are older that we realize that it’s all just “stuff” and there are other things that are more important.

  11. Well said. As one who has liquidated her possessions to a.large suitcase, 7 boxes (which I haven’t opened since 2011) a dive bag and a computer bag, I can definitely attest to less is more and the benefit of consuming experiences over stuff. In addition to experiences, I give a lot of ‘gifts that give back’ because really, who needs more stuff?

    Happy Holidays

    1. That is scary and inspiring at the same time! If I could have an adventure of a lifetime sailing around the world like you are, I think it would probably be easier to let stuff go. Right now, it would be a big adventure for me to be able to walk into my office and see most of the floor.

  12. Hi Janis, thank you for your comment over at SmartLiving365 today. I’m having trouble leaving a reply over there due to technical difficulties, so I thought I’d pop over here. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 🙂

    I love your thoughts about changing how we approach gift giving. We continue to make changes in our family each year, in search of new traditions that will be more meaningful and less stressful. It’s an ongoing process.

    Your idea of gifting experiences is great!

    1. It seems that more and more people are embracing the “less is more” concept of gift giving (or, maybe I just hang out with my older peers who realize that having a bunch of stuff is not desirable anymore). Thank you for your comment and, again, the reminder to breathe!

  13. Hi Janis! I just read this entry and though I do like the mall experience, I avoid it during the holidays…really, there are sales all year long if that’s what one is looking for. But what caught my eye was your suggestion for an experience vs. a material object.
    Several years ago a friend gave me and his family members Groupon coupons for kayaking. What a great idea!!!! However they were only good for a few months and the weather never really warmed up enough to entice us into the cold water. I may still have the coupon as a reminder of a thoughtful gift – never used. Sigh.

    1. That’s a shame the Groupon couldn’t be used. I thought that you could at least use them for their face value after they expire (so you’d get $X off your kayak rental), but maybe not. Too bad… it was a great idea!

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