Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Green Living Column Dec 2016: A Basic Guide To Experience Gifts

By Wong Ee Lynn
‘Experience gifts’ are non-physical, non-material gifts that can include a charitable contribution (e.g. wildlife ‘adoption’ programme through a donation to a registered organisation), a form of service (e.g. an offer to do dreaded chores), a special trip or outing, registration for courses and workshops, tickets to performances  and special meals and parties, among others.
Research by the Olin Business School, Washington University, revealed something interesting: People continue buying and giving material gifts because they believe that opening and keeping a gift will make their friends and family happier, although material gifts consistently lose out to experiences as sources of positive feelings. Remembering the details of a trip, surprise birthday party or concert brings recipients more pleasure over the years than the memory of unwrapping an electronic gadget or trinket.
Advantages of giving experience gifts:
1.      You help to create wonderful memories for the recipient.
2.      Executing the experience gift with the recipient (e.g. taking your father out to watch his favourite sports team play in a match) often means quality time.
3.      Experience gifts will not end up in the back of a closet or charity pile.
4.      Experiences give you more social and emotional connection with others.
5.      Fewer physical gifts means less clutter, less waste, less extraction of natural resources and less packaging. Hence experience gifts are usually better for the environment (except for those that involve long distance travel and the burning of fossil fuels).
1.      Experience gifts can often be very costly.
2.      It takes time to execute an experience gift. (E.g. meeting up with the recipient to take them out for a museum outing and then taking them home)
(A picnic party in the Lake Gardens)
Below are some basic tried-and-tested guidelines to affordable and environmentally-responsible experience gift-giving.
Experience gifts Dos and Don’ts:
1.      Avoid passive-aggressive gift-giving. Is the gift more important to you than to the recipient? Who will appreciate it more – you or the recipient? For example, offers to clean house for someone, do gardening and yard work, babysit or petsit will only be appreciated by someone who has expressed willingness to accept help in those areas. It could otherwise be seen as a criticism of their housekeeping or parenting skills. Someone who is less bothered by the untidiness of their house or garden than you are will not appreciate it as much as you will. Giving gifts of gym memberships or health food store vouchers may also be seen as passive-aggressive criticisms of someone’s weight and is best to be avoided unless specifically requested. Also, someone might be very particular about the way they clean house or care for their children and pets and may not appreciate strangers doing it.
2.      Don’t make the gift about you, for example, tickets to watch you perform, unless the recipient has specifically asked you for it. Also, the intended recipient might not really care about learning to cook or to play the piano as much as you do, so before giving the gift, think carefully about whether it is you or the intended recipient that the gift is really for.
3.      Avoid gifts that will still end up becoming ‘clutter gifts’, for example, studio portrait sessions where the recipient receives framed professionally-taken photographs of himself/herself, pottery / painting classes where recipient returns with half-used tubes of paint and semi-dry half-used tubs of clay (unless you know they will continue using the art materials for future projects), and magazine and club subscriptions where they end up with more clutter even if educational and well-intentioned.
4.      Understand your intended recipient’s financial situation and plans before giving a gift for which they will have to pay for extras, e.g. sports equipment and sportswear in order to attend sports coaching workshops or musical instruments in order to attend music lessons. Give these gifts (i.e. where they will have to invest in tools, uniforms or equipment) only if they have expressed an intention to take up the said sport or hobby. For example, one set of grandparents paid for their grandchildren’s guitar and hip hop dance lessons for the rest of the year. The grandchildren were already taking those classes and were interested in continuing with advanced classes. The grandparents’ gift was thus deeply appreciated and lifted a financial burden from the parents.
5.      Know and understand your recipient. Pay attention to what they like and what their interests are. Ask their family members and closest friends if you are unsure. Ensure that you are aware of their food allergies, phobias, idiosyncrasies and financial means before you choose an experience gift for them. Someone with a fear of heights will be unlikely to jump with joy at the idea of a helicopter ride or bungee jumping outing.
6.      Do not fall into the consumerist crafter’s habit of making elaborate cards, boxes and gift card holders in order to present the experience gift. The point of the experience gift is that there should be nothing physical that the recipient would have to find space and storage for. In our age of camera phones and social media, the recipient will not need to keep your ticket/card holders, boxes and packaging in order to remember your gifts -- They would have had enough memories and taken enough photos to last a lifetime.
7.      Handmade gifts may have more ‘character’ than experience gifts, but be forewarned that handmade gifts do not fall into the category of clutter-free or experience gifts. A lovely painting may not fit into the recipient’s décor scheme, and crochet doilies may be hard to wash and keep clean and a quilted tea cosy might not be practical for our tropical weather.
Ideas for Inexpensive Experience Gifts:
1.      For the overwhelmed family member or friend, parents of young children, someone who has been unwell or injured, elderly parents and grandparents: Housecleaning services, gardening services,  babysitting services and pet-sitting services. You can perform these services yourself or together with other family members or friends, or hire professionals to carry them out.
2.      For the animal lover: Visit an animal shelter with treats and homemade toys for the shelter animals. The recipient gets to present the toys and treats to the shelter. Volunteer together for a few hours. If you can find a wildlife sanctuary with a good reputation, visit it together and make a donation for its upkeep. Examples: SPCA and PAWS animal shelters, Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Langkawi LASSIE, KL Pooch Rescue shelter and boarding centre, or the Cherating and Pantai Padang Kemunting Turtle Sanctuaries.   
3.      For the nature lover: A hiking / trekking / birdwatching outing. Bring rubbish bags, gardening gloves and rubbish claws for cleaning up the trails with. Pack a picnic in your rucksack consisting of juice, water, fruit, firm buns and food items that won’t get squashed or crushed easily. Take lots of photos. If you can afford it: Go camping, kayaking, rock climbing, caving or paddleboarding. Examples: Bukit Gasing, Bukit Nanas KL Forest Eco Park, Kota Damansara Community Forest, paddleboarding at Kundang Lake, kayaking down the Perak River, doing the Dark Caves Adventure Tour in Batu Caves and exploring Gua Tempurung.

(A paddleboarding outing for a friend’s birthday.)
4.      For the college student / struggling family member or friend: Grocery store / supermarket vouchers, restaurant vouchers, gift baskets of good quality groceries and movie tickets.
5.      For the Instagram / selfie addict: Street art in interesting locations, followed up with coffee and desserts in a trendy café or dessert bar. Examples: Street art walkabout in Section 52 PJ, Laman Seni Shah Alam, SS2 PJ, Ipoh or George Town.

(Go street art hunting in SS2, Petaling Jaya)

6.      For the young and young-at-heart: Visit to an old-fashioned fun fair or a games arcade (for instance, those often situated in shopping malls near the cinemas and that open late) and a pocketful of tokens for games.
7.       For the art enthusiast: Visit an art gallery, art museum or open-air art installation that he/she has not been to before. Follow up with coffee and cake in trendy café. Examples: Shalini Ganendra Fine Art Gallery, Galeri Petronas, Art Square in Bangsar, the ASEAN Sculpture Garden at the Lake Gardens, Galeri Taksu and Galeri Chandan.
8.      A workshop or class. Examples: Bushcraft and outdoor survival camps, vehicle maintenance workshops at The School @ Jaya One, and watercolour painting or calligraphy classes at Stickeriffic.
9.      For the gardening enthusiast / urban farmer: Visit and volunteer at a community garden or farm. Bring plants to share, buy seeds as a gift for the recipient and help to plant trees and do garden maintenance. Examples: MNS Urban Community Forest, Eats Shoots and Roots edible garden in PJ, Free Tree Society of Kuala Lumpur and the TTDI Edible Garden Project.
10.  Throw a treasure hunt to make even the most inexpensive gift feel special: E.g. a scavenger hunt in an art gallery (E.g. “Find artwork by Bayu Utomo Radjikin.” “Find a pre-Merdeka work of art produced by a female artist”) or in a forest reserve (E.g. “Find an introduced species”, “Find all the letters that make up your name spelled out in objects found in nature, e.g. “Y” in the fork of a branch.) It is good to have some hunt sheets ready if you are taking a child or young person on an excursion and you fear he/she might grow bored halfway. If you have a gift prepared, e.g. a card stating that you will be going to his/her favourite restaurant for dinner, hide it somewhere and have the recipient look for clues leading him / her to the gift.
11.  Special outings, for example, to the theatre, orchestra, museum, science centre, urban forest, or sports stadium.
12.  Go on a scavenger hunt, for example, to visit and photograph 20 major landmarks in the city, taking only public transport. This will be especially fun for someone who is not a local.
13.  For the sports enthusiast: Try a new sport: Bowling, archery, ice skating, roller blading, trampoline park or going to an indoor extreme sport park or water park. Examples: Tandem cycling around Titiwangsa lake at night on bikes lit up with LED lights, going indoor rock-climbing at Camp 5 One Utama, having a day out at the District 21 indoor adventure park or at the Jumpstreet trampoline park.
14.  For the foodie: Cooking and baking workshops. Check out major bakeries and ‘like’ their FB pages for access to class schedules. If you are a skilled cook or baker, you can offer to teach. Supply the ingredients and let them bring their edible creations home.
15.  For the athlete: Participate in a road race / marathon / fun run together. Bonus points if it is to raise funds and awareness for a charitable cause. For beginners, you might want to sign up for novelty runs, for example, Colour Run, Bubble Dash, Music Run, Night Run, Glow Run or some other themed run.
16.  For the life of the party: Organise a karaoke party or picnic in the park with other friends. Parks you can utilise include Central Park Bandar Utama, Desa Parkcity, Lake Gardens, and KLCC Park. Make it a potluck to share the costs and keep things interesting.
17.  Look up online magazines e.g. Time Out KL and SAYS.com to find out the best and latest attractions in your city. Inexpensive local experience gifts can include visits to theme parks, 3D movies, laser tag, escape room, board games cafes, stand-up comedy shows, live performances, Dining In The Dark, visiting new concept restaurants and cafes, staycations in interesting and quaint chalets and boutique hotels and local historical walks and factory tours.