Cut the Crap This Christmas

Let's swap gift giving for memory making

Last Friday, I stood in my basement, hands on hips, surveying the amount of stuff my boyfriend and I have accumulated over years of cohabitation. Homeless stuff that doesn’t have a place to “live” in our house, so it just hangs out, leaning against walls or buried in the closet. We have too much crap, I thought before chuckling to myself. The only reason I was in the basement was to search for a string of twinkle lights to hang in our front window for Christmas. And Christmas is, after all, the culmination of our addiction to crap.

In fact, as I was digging through cardboard boxes, hunting for holiday decorations, thousands of Americans were pushing, shoving, cursing, and pepper-spraying their way through malls in search of the best deals on crap to give to family and friends.

Quick survey: How many gifts do you give each Christmas (or Hannukah or whatever winter gift-giving holiday you prefer) without knowing for sure that the recipient will truly like it? Ugly sweaters. Tacky jewelry. Body lotion that makes you break out in hives. Cologne that smells terrible. Gift cards to stores you don’t even shop at. I suspect there are very few among us who haven’t received and given gifts just for the sake of package-opening.

So, let’s just stop that. Let’s forget the crap. This Christmas, don’t give things. Give experiences.

It sounds a little hokey—but the practice is legit. A study by a researcher at San Francisco State University shows that “in the long run, experiences make people happier than possessions.” Long story short: The joy that comes from owning a thing doesn’t last nearly as long as the happiness that comes from a positive memory.

Philly is brimming with memory-making experiences. A day at the spa. Theater tickets. Better yet—orchestra tickets. (They sure could use the support these days.) A helicopter ride over Boathouse Row! My favorite thing to give families with kids: A family membership for the Philadelphia Zoo. It costs about a hundred bucks—the price of one and a half visits for a family of four—and includes unlimited, year-round admission and parking. The best thing about all these suggestions? In addition to creating a fun experience, not one of them requires anyone to own more stuff.

Before you jump down my throat: I’m not suggesting a Franciscan, possession-free existence. Surely children should have a few packages to open on Christmas morning. But wouldn’t we all like to cut some crap out of our lives? Or some cases, our basements.