Time Gifts

Ms Amy at My Friend Amy put up a wonderful little meme yesterday where she is looking for people's ideas for meaningful christmas gifts. This has been a little struggle at our house over the years, that we've worked around, so I wanted to put in my ideas, and hopefully read better ideas from other people.

So let me tell you where I come from on this. Here we have the very definition of a first world problem:

"My kids get so much stuff every year at Christmas that they don't know where to put it."

Its true. I don't understand this - the whole idea of it is mysterious. I don't remember this problem as a kid. We had nice Christmases, I always got a number of presents. But never THAT many. Perhaps the difference is that we never lived close to our relatives.

I'm a horrible person to deal with this in the first place, because I actually really don't like traditional presents (not that anyone who has a spare iPad laying around isn't welcome to send it along wtih a bow on top, or anything...).But what this all added up to was, a few years ago, Amanda coming with the best ever idea for gifts: The Time Gift.

The basic idea of the time gift is simple anyway, and I don't think we're particularly original in coming up with it: basically instead of getting a thing, the recipient gets the promise of an experience. For example, my youngest son one year got, for one of his gifts, to cook a whole dinner of his choosing with me. 

The nice things about this is that it allows for flexibility. There are those who think, on the one hand, that they should be spending money on a gift. They can give movie tickets, or ice skating, or what-not. There are those who don't have any money to give things. They can give relatively less expensive things: cooking or making something together, going out to split a banana split, etc. The boys can anticipate and get excited about these gifts too - actually because of previously mentioned too-many-christmas-gifts, the boys have a MUCH easier time coming up with their time gifts lists each year than they do with their physical gifts. One of my boys this year in fact asked if he could JUST get time gifts.

On the other hand, there's a few things to be careful of with the time gift, we've learned over the last few years:

1) Some people don't like to give them. Sometimes this is because they want to give something the other person can hold in their hand, I think, and sometimes for that reason, time gifts are sometimes paired with small physical gifts (one year one of my sons got a camping trip, so he received a flashlight as a physical gift with it,for example). Othertimes, though, its simply that they don't want to devote the time to it - it is a lot of work giving a time gift. Which brings us to the second pitfall:
2) It is a lot of work giving a time gift. In a sense, I actually like this about time gifts. I like that you have to put in a great deal of effort and sacrifice a big chunk of a Saturday afternoon to give it. But it does mean that you don't want to give 20 of them out. I have three boys, and if between Christmas and birthdays I gave them each, lets say, four gifts, then out of the 52 weeks in a year, I'd be taking a kid out on 12 of them. That can add up as a time commitment very quickly, especially if you have lots of people you're giving to. So, don't make all 12 of them overnight weekend affairs, or you'll drive yourself crazy.
3) Its easy to forget to do them. Way too easy. We actually have learned to keep a list of all the gifts anyone gave to our kids of this sort - because they will come back and ask what it was that they promised to do with the boys. And this year I actually ended up taking Laurence out for one of his gifts a few weeks after his birthday - and the gift had been for the birthday before. Yeah.

But the WONDERFUL thing about a time gift is that it means that the recipient gets a person, instead of just an item - they get to spend time with someone they love, and you get to spend time with them. Even if its someone you know very well, even with my own kids, taking them out somewhere unfamiliar, you learn a great deal about them. 


Trapunto said...

Time gifts are a wonderful idea!

I was thinking about this very issue this very week while shopping for my nieces! My sister lives in a small house with a postgrad husband, a six year old, a four year old, a one year old, two cats, and a revolving population of foster kittens farmed out by the veterinary college's shelter. She does NOT need more kid stuff to corral back into the girls' one bedroom five times a day. And they live too far away from me for time gifts.

At the same time, sister and student husband are very poor, and my sister's and my own childhood Christmases were fairly spartan. For some reason this results in the impulse to buy my nieces Really Great Stuff. There's this feeling that if I don't do it, no one will--a phantom Christmas limb of a feeling. (Of course who I'm really thinking of is my sister that age, not her kids.) Inaccurate, because whereas the grownups surrounding my sister and me were all very bad at keeping Christmas in the Dickensian sense, my sisters kids are surrounded by a lot of much better grownups, if I do say so.

Anyway, I decided this year it's going to be all picture books! They are compact, biodegradable, and are easy to give away if you don't want them anymore.

Lu @ Regular Rumination said...

I also love Time Gifts! Michael and I do them for each other all the time and my best friend and I have bought concert events for each other. Plus, you get a gift too, you know? If Michael and I go out for a really nice meal, we both get to eat! It's a winner all around.

Laurie C said...

My mother has been asking only for time gifts for the last several years for birthdays and Christmas, partly because, like you, she doesn't really like the "traditional" gifts she gets ;) and also because she is at the stage where she wants to shed possessions, not add more. The time gifts are easy to give but not so easy to follow through on, as you point out, but they are a great idea. Although if someone could just figure out how to literally give someone "time", he/she would be sitting on a gold mine.

Amy said...

aw I love this so much! I would love to receive a time gift at any time, you know? Thanks so much for this post.

Jason Gignac said...

Trapunto - I do believe that's part of the impetus in my wife's side of the family, as well. Ours were big, but, we were never close to family, so at least it was only one Christmas. Even so, I remember as a kid leaving a note under my parents door tleling that I really didn't want any presents taht year.

Ms Lu - I should get one for Amanda! I've never done that!

Ms Laurie - I can see that - the older I grow, the less I want things I can touch.

Ms Amy - I'm glad I could write a post, I'm sorry I was late!