I have 5 children, and a house that can’t handle 20 new presents every year for Christmas. Between the presents they receive from my husband and I, Santa (obviously also my husband and I), grandparents on both sides, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, it can be overwhelming for the household to get “stuff.”

Last year I decided that any tangible items they asked for would be doled out to family members, and the more expensive ones would come from Santa. (We still had two believers last year, so we do ALL still go see Santa for pictures, where even my 17 year old plays along with asking for what he wants.) Instead of stuff, we would try to get the kids “experiences.”

I grew up in a house with five children. Some of us felt lost in the mix, not getting individual attention from both parents. I didn’t want my kids to feel that way. So I started to brainstorm what we could take the kids to do that would become a date night with my husband and I.

What I ended up with was a great amount of memories, a ton of pictures, and scrapbook pages for their books! Instead of wasting money of things they didn’t really want just to fill the amount of presents for each child, I created individual certificates to wrap and put under the tree for each child’s experience. The other presents the kids received were tied into these date nights, as much as they could be.

My daughter went to the Signature room, an upscale restaurant in the John Hancock building downtown Chicago, and a new dress to match. Plus a trip to the salon to get her hair done.

My oldest got a ticket for not just him, but also his girlfriend, to see Phantom of the Oprah in downtown Chicago. He couldn’t wear his typical jeans and hoodie, so I bought him a brand new suit, one he’ll have for years. He also got a fancy dinner in an upscale restaurant before hand.

My youngest got a day at the Legoland Discovery Center for him and a friend of his choice. He also got a dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. He was five at the time, so yes, he did have toys he wanted, but this year I’ve been asking for what he wants and his reply was to go back to Legoland!

During the summer, Great America was handing out coupon sheets for Medieval Times. I thought this would be perfect for my then 11 year old. It was! He enjoyed himself very much, and ended up with a sword and a sheild that hang on his bedroom door.

The present for my then 13 year old is actually what created this idea. He didn’t want to go to his 8th grade Washington D.C. trip with his class. Instead, he wanted to go with us. So, I planned for him to take a friend (my nephew) and go over the same weekend as his school. It cost us the same amount of money for all 4 of us as it would have for just him to go because we drove. This single child excursion is what created the new Sanneman family Christmas tradition!

This year, I’ve been asking the kids what they want for Christmas, as the requests from family have now started, and I am at a loss. Aside from a few items (literally like 2 or 3 each), I am finding myself once again racking my brains to find ideas to give out. I just don’t know!

What I DO know is they are all getting experiences again. Why? Because when I asked my youngest what he wanted, his gave that answer, “to go back to Legoland!” I guarantee he doesn’t recall ANY of the things he opened last year, but he remembers that. Memories. Isn’t that what’s most important after all?

If this is something you want to try, and you aren’t sure what to do for these experiences, I suggest starting to look on apps like Groupon. They have a great number of things to do that I wouldn’t do on my own (horseback riding, music lessons, glass blowing classes, etc.). I also found one of the kids night out on Facebook this year. Be creative with this, it can be so much fun. It is pretty easy to make it age appropriate. Even if it’s a movie night with just you, or bowling, or a day downtown. Try going ice skating, or to Dave and Buster’s. It creates a great bond between you and your children, and nothing is better than hearing “remember when we went to….” come out of their mouths. After all, that is what it’s all about.

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