• Aimee Spencer Tiemann


Why are parents asking loved one’s to cut back on gifts and trading them in for experiences?

My pride and joy, my nephew, Parker was born seven years ago.

Every year at the holidays, I would shop and shop and shop. Then I would wrap presents for days. I couldn’t wait to watch Parker feverishly tear through the wrapping paper to see what surprise was awaiting him.

It was so exciting to see him tear through the sparkly paper and perfectly constructed bows and watch him get excited to see what coveted gift would be waiting in the box.

Mind you, he’s the only grandchild on our side. He’s my only nephew. He’s the only child in all of our lives. What does that mean? It means, subconsciously or consciously, all of us adults were in competition to see who can wow him the most. Lucky kid, right?


Last year there was a shift. He would open the gift, look at it, and have his crazy excitement for a second, then look at me asking where the next gift was?

Picture this: Parker sat there in a heap of shredded wrapping paper, complete with a thousand Lego pieces in a small living room. He looked around as he was surrounded by toys that needed assembling with mountains and mountains of gadgets that had a shelf life of a month, if he was lucky.

He looked so overwhelmed. In that moment, I realized the holiday was all about quantity of things, not the quality of people surrounding him.


We have programmed kids to believe the hype.

The hype of Santa, the elves, the reindeer and the workshop.

The hype of marketing and advertising at its best.

The hype of the anticipation and mystery of an unwrapped gift, the motion of ripping through the wrapping paper, and the unveil of the mystery being solved.

We didn’t prep children for what comes next. And what comes next is they continue to expect these grandeur gifts that really don’t provide a great deal of personal satisfaction the initial reveal.


I left our Christmas gathering feeling defeated.

There was nothing special about the holiday. There wasn’t a memory made. There wasn’t any tradition in the making. It was an explosion of sparkly paper and, well, a million little pieces manufactured in China that probably would never be put together.


Because to kids, life goes on. The next best toy is in sight. Another holiday is coming.


The week after Christmas I went to lunch with a friend. I told him about my great disappointment. My friend, a father of two under the age of five, looked at me and laughed.

He quickly said, “That’s why I asked our family to give our kids experiences rather than JUST gifts.”

I fired back, “What is your two-year-old going to remember by having her aunts and uncles take her out?”

He said in great confidence, “The same thing she will remember about opening a toy, nothing, she’s two. We made this request this five years ago when my son was born. And, well, he loves it. He loves spending time with his aunts and uncles, and he has opportunities to go and see new places with the people he loves the most.”


I started thinking about the best gift I ever got as a kid on Christmas morning.

You know what I remembered? Oh that’s right, nothing.

The only thing I remember is the time I spent with my family. I remember attending Christmas Eve service, caroling with my cousin in the freezing cold, eating my aunt’s famous angel food cake, being in the basement and hearing Santa on the roof with his reindeer every year, never understanding why I always missed him.

Was my friend right? Are experiences with the kids in my life making a bigger impact than buying the hottest gift of the year?


Well, not really Mrs. Claus, but I did go to my friend’s wife to ask her about this “experience giving” philosophy.

Catherine Tuczek of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, is a mom to Walter, who is five, and Carmen who is almost 3. She’s also works in the Detroit public school system.

“Our baby showers showed us our families are very generous,” Tuczek recollected. “The first and second Christmas’s, we knew we would have to limit the toys because we only have so much room in our small house.

“More importantly, we wanted our kids to develop meaningful relationships with their aunts, uncles and grandparents. We thought this could be one way.”

Walter and Carmen Tuczek

Tuczek was quick to tell me that it’s not just experiences over gifts or vice versa, it’s a healthy balance of both.

“Some families still really enjoy giving physical gifts,” Tuczek said. “Or, if they live far away or aren’t in a position to manage a young child on an outing, a physical gift makes more sense. And some family don’t buy into one or the other. Some holidays it’s an experience and other year’s it’s a gift.”


From the outside looking in as an aunt, this sounded incredible. However, my nephew is only with my brother two days a week. So, he loves his precious time with Parker. I also have a godson who’s only one and a half. I can tell you with great certainty, my cousin and her husband aren’t comfortable just letting their son go off with relatives on an outing at this point. They want to be there making the memories as well.

So, how can you give them an experience if the time isn’t available or the child is just young? Include the parents in the experience.

Although my husband and I have never given Parker an experience as a holiday gift, we have taken him to Lions and Red Wings games, as well as a show at the Fox Theatre. Each time, my brother joined us. It was a blast. In fact, it was so fun, Parker always asks where we’re going next when we see him.

Tuczek weighed in on this, saying she and her husband participate sometimes.

“Last Christmas we did an outing with my husband’s sister’s family, whose kids are the same

age as ours,” Tuczek said. “But for my brother and sister, who don’t have kids, we try to send the kids to spend some one-on-one time with them. It allows a different kind of bonding opportunity – and gives my husband and I a little break!”


Figure out what the child is excited about right now in their life, and don’t guess at this.

“One year, my sister took my son to Cranbrook, just to see their dinosaur exhibits and activities,” Tuczek shared. “He loved it. The adults need to create and organize the outing. As an educator, I really want to expose my children to new things so they can develop new interests.

“I know our relatives are not interested in going to Chuck E. Cheese and would rather take them to an experience that involves some learning. Talk to the parents and find out what the child is really into and start the research from there.”


Tuczek and her extended family decided to skip giving each other gifts this year and instead put money towards adopting a family. They chose this family based on the fact that the family had a son the same age as their own.

“Walter enjoyed helping to choose gifts for the other little boy,” Tuczek said proudly. “And like we do with other non-Santa gifts, we wrapped the gifts and put them under the tree, labeling them as ‘family’ until it became time to deliver them. By doing this it allowed our kids to ask more questions about our adopted family and help them process the fact these people were in fact real and just like us.”

A week before Christmas, the Tuczek family made their own memories with their adopted family.

“We brought pizza and delivered the wrapped gifts,” Tuczek said. “It was so great to watch Walter and their son play for hours. And we had the chance to meet the mom and get to know each other a bit.”


This weighed on my mind since last year, I’ve started planting the idea in all of my friends and family’s ears. Some are super excited about this new plan, and well, some are nervous to hand their kid over for the day. I am absolutely fine with that.

My husband and I have already started looking at family passes to the zoo and museums in the area for the parents that don’t want this to be a solo outing. We’ve realized GROUPON has some most excellent adventures a great discounted rate. Our goal this year is to figure out how we can start making our own memories and traditions for the children we’re so grateful to have in our lives.

What about you? Will the Hatchimals Wow Re-Hatchable Egg top your list, or is a trip to the local museum starting to sound like more of a plan?


  1. If you have a teenager in your life, see if a “G” rated concert may be in their stocking – a ton of bands and artists are touring in 2020.

  2. Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum has a family pass that is affordable and an excellent opportunity for the family to go throughout the year and see the new exhibits.

  3. A day pass to Detroit. Bundle the experiences and give children the gift of science, art and history through the Detroit Science Center, the Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Historical Museum. Make sure the children are a little older for this outing because there’s no place for nap time in the “D.”

  4. Kalahari Resorts runs great promotional specials during the holidays on GROUPON. There is a promotion right now for a family of four complete with a kitchenette in the room for $119. Add a gas card and you’re good to go.

  5. The Ann Arbor Hands on Museum always tops every parent’s list. Add a train ride on Amtrak to the present and kids will nominate you for Aunt and Uncle or Grandparent of the year.

  6. One place I’m dying to see is the Magic Museum in Marshall, Michigan. It may be a trek, but from what’s I’ve read, worth the adventure.

  7. A forgotten fave is Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad in Flint, Michigan. What boy doesn’t love a good train ride?

  8. Find an arts and crafts place like AR Workshop. There is one in Ferndale, Michigan, that has kid-friendly workshops.

  9. Do you have a mini Martha Stewart in the making? Great, because Feast Cooking School in Fenton, Michigan, hosts select cooking classes just for kids.

  10. Take the little ladies in your world for a small day at the spa, complete with a manicure and pedicure. Make sure you budget for a little more and let them pick their favorite art to put on their nails.

Before you make the purchase, make sure any experience is parent approved. You may have the best of intentions, but parents are the responsible adults in this equation.

Can’t wait to hear from you. Let me know at aimee@aimeespencertiemann.com.

Keep me accountable, join me on my journey here, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aimeespencertiemann, or on Instagram @aimeespencerttiemann111 as my husband and I decide what experiential gifts and memories we are hopeful to create with our nieces and nephews this Christmas. I’d love to see and hear what you come up with.

Use the hashtag #memoriesovermaterial

Until next time-