17 Experiences to Give Kids Instead of Toys

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please see disclaimer page for details.*

B’s Birthday

Our youngest son, B, is about to turn four years old. He is pretty excited for his
“Blaze and the Monster Machines” themed birthday party, let me tell ya. But what is he really excited for? He hasn’t mentioned anything about getting toys or gifts. B is really excited to have all of his friends with him to celebrate and he is excited to run around and have some fun. Like most kids, I think he is really looking forward to the attention that comes with any birthday party.

Enough with the Toys Already!

My wife, Ashley and I have made a conscious effort to limit the number of toys that end up in our house over the years. We think our kids will get more value from experiences instead of toys. Some years have been more successful than others, but ultimately we have done a pretty good job of limiting the clutter brought on by an excessive amount of toys. But still, every birthday party becomes a bit of a struggle for us. What does he want? What does he really need? And most importantly, what gifts would make him the happiest?

The well-organized toy bins

He doesn’t need another Batman action figure, Paw Patrol playset or remote control truck.

So What Does He Really Need?

Nothing. B doesn’t need anything. We are incredibly lucky to live the life that we do and to have well beyond all of our basic needs covered. So, “What does he want?” might be the better question. B is turning four, he doesn’t really have a grasp on what he truly wants. It changes from day to day. In fact, it is kind of like his decisions on Halloween costumes for the last few years. He changes his mind every other day it seems.

We think the best things for our sons (and for ourselves for that matter) are experiences and activities instead of toys. And we’re not alone. Experiences allow us, as a family, to come together. We get to spend time with each other, and have fun!

The Golf Gift

My sister and brother-in-law have been incredibly generous over the last five years with both of my sons. They have gone above and beyond what anyone would have expected with some amazing gifts. However, with all the generous gifts they’ve given throughout the years, if I were to ask my oldest son, C, what his most memorable gift is, without hesitation he would say that it was his birthday gift last year.

My sister and brother-in-law got him a golf shirt and told him that they were going to take him to the driving range. C had been mini-golfing, but this would be his first time ever swinging a real golf club. He was very interested in golf and watches it more than I do. Every time golf is on television at someone’s house, he notices. He must get it from his grandfathers.

My son had such a great day and it felt so special to him that he was counting down the days until he could go with his aunt and uncle on their golf trip. They took him out to lunch then brought him over to the driving range and then they had ice cream after. He, of course, got to wear his new golf shirt. When we saw him that night he had a huge smile on his face. He was as happy that day as any day I can remember.


So, it got me thinking that there is really one thing that kids want.

There is one thing that kids need.

Our time.

Bringing up the topic of gift giving with other family members and friends can sometimes be a touchy subject. People love to give gifts because they want to see the child’s reaction to the toy or gift. It’s a bit of a misconception, but people think that a kid will always associate the toy with the person who bought it for them. This is simply not true. My kids have toys that they really enjoy and play with almost every day, but they don’t necessarily remember who gave it to them.

How to Be Memorable

So what will they remember? We encourage our family and friends to gift an experience instead of an item or toy. Their bedrooms and the playroom have enough toys. In fact, we already have more puzzles, games, action figures, and trucks than either of them really need. And while some toys are better than others, and sometimes our kids really do want something, we try to encourage others to gift them experiences as often as possible.

17 Experiences Kids Will Love More Than Toys

We have put together a list of experiences and activities that would help enhance a child’s life. These are all fun experiences that don’t involve objects or toys.

  • Movie tickets
  • Mini golf
  • Favorite restaurant gift card
  • Special day with a close family member
  • Bowling
  • Water park tickets
  • Movie rental gift cards and popcorn
  • Children’s museum pass
  • Aquarium pass
  • Zoo pass
  • Arcade
  • Indoor bounce places and gyms
  • Lessons for skiing, swimming, skating or anything else
  • Tickets to a sporting event
  • Concert ticket
  • Pass for a tour of your local city
  • Tickets to a show or musical

How about you? Do you have any great ideas to avoid the toy trap? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “17 Experiences to Give Kids Instead of Toys”

    1. minimalismandmoney

      Ah, a great question. You can always go the Goodwill or Salvation Army route, but Ashley and I have had a ton of luck on the Buy Nothing Facebook sites. I believe most towns have one, but it’s a great way to get rid of toys your children may have outgrown or just don’t use. As a bonus, we have found some good stuff on there that we needed.

  1. Enjoyed this article (as well as several others on your site)! I practice minimalism and have been buying my son and nephew experiences since they were born for birthdays and xmas. At this point it makes me kind of sad to see a xmas tree or kids bday party with tons and tons of material gifts. I can’t help but wonder about the values the kids learn from this practice. Do you stick to experiences on other holidays or just birthdays?

    1. minimalismandmoney

      Hi Angela,
      Thanks for taking a look. And always great to hear from someone else practicing minimalism! We do get the kids traditional gifts when we feel it’s worth it. When we do but gifts, we try to stick to board games, activities or sporting equipment. At least then they are playing with us or friends. What experiences have you gifted?

Leave a Reply