For the next milestone in your life, create a registry that reflects what’s important to you.

By Sarah Baird
Updated March 16, 2020
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Whether it's a wedding, graduation or new baby, many celebrations today tend to center around one thing: receiving a bunch of stuff. And while, yes, it’s nice to get that fancy Smeg toaster you’ve always wanted after finishing your graduate degree, or a Vitamix to kick off years of healthy living together as a married couple, at some point, the scale tips toward, well, too much stuff. Soon, you discover you’ve been gifted enough baby blankets for one baby to swaddle up septuplets or have three different pairs of the same gardening clogs from your registry. (And no one needs that many gardening clogs—trust me.)

Fortunately, there’s another way. For your next life milestone—a birthday, say, or an engagement—push back against the "only things as gifts" mindset and instead ask for gifts that are more experiential.

Experiential gifts can take a lot of different forms, and are infinitely customizable to be something you really want or need. Instead of filling up a registry with silverware and china, ask for folks to pitch in toward tickets for a big event or trip you’ve been dying to take, or give the gift of memberships to local museums, state parks or the aquarium. You can ask for gifts that directly support local independent businesses, like a gift card to a local yoga studio or a voucher for the farmer’s market. By thinking outside the box when it comes to non-material gifts, anything is possible (and more sustainable).

Moving away from a physical-gifts-only mentality also lessens the burden on friends and family members who might have limited financial resources but still have plenty to offer. Ask your Uncle Joe for the gift of woodworking lessons, or your great-aunt for the gift of her blackberry cobbler recipe. And you can ask the artistically-inclined people in your circles to show off their skills for you instead of buying something—a personalized poem to celebrate an adoption, or a one-of-a-kind sketch to hang on the wall in your new home—that will end up far more treasured than any vegetable spiralizer.

There are several online options to help create more activity-focused registries for celebrating life’s milestones. If you’d like donations for your honeymoon, there’s Honeyfund for that. Thankful lets you register for anything and everything, while SoKind Registry focuses specifically on non-traditional gift giving—from gifts of time and skill to handmade goods. And there’s even the option of telling guests that you’d like donations made to a favorite charity in lieu of any gifts for yourself—an easy option that’s likely doable completely online.

When I started this practice a few years ago, it left some folks scratching their heads at first, but now plenty of my friends and relatives have embraced it as they’ve celebrated anniversaries, holidays and even retirements sans new stuff. Because, ultimately, people would probably rather ask loved ones for the gift of an activity they can enjoy together—not a blender.