The two birthday gifts you should be asking for above all others

My birthday is approaching.

My wife often asks me for possible gift ideas, as I can be a difficult person when it comes to presents. I am much more interested in eliminating things from my life than adding to it. The accumulation of stuff does not interest me. In fact, if someone would just agree to clean out the the extra furniture from my basement and remove the bins of clothing on the second floor of my home, that might be the best birthday gift of all.

But if cleaning out my basement doesn't strike you as a reasonable gift, there are two things that I want more than anything else, and I humbly suggest that you consider them as gift ideas for yourself as well. 

I promise you that they are far superior to any cashmere sweater, shiny trinket, or electronic gadget that you think you may want. 


Truthfully, the best gift of all is the gift of time, and it's not a terribly difficult or expensive gift to give. In the past, my wife has hired people to cut the grass, rake the leaves, and shovel the driveway, thus returning this precious time to me.

Other options for the giving of time include babysitting my children, digitizing my photo albums, walking my dog, mulching my flower beds, bringing my car to the shop to get that light on the dashboard checked out, renewing my passport, determining the contents of the boxes in my attic, correcting all my spelling tests for a month, or offering to complete any task or chore that I would otherwise have to do myself. 

Your list would be different, of course Hopefully it doesn't include a warning light on your dashboard or mystery boxes in your attic. But I'm sure you can think of things that you would rather not do that a friend or family member is more than capable of accomplishing on your behalf.

I know what you're thinking:

"Matt, I'd rather mow my own grass and receive that cashmere sweater instead." 

"I'd rather complete the mountain of paperwork required to renew my passport myself and open a brand new iPad on my birthday."

"I'm more than happy to shovel my driveway. Give me that new Fitbit/star finder/water purification device that I have wanted for months."

No. I'm sorry, but you're wrong. I know it may seem presumptuous to tell you what you want, but trust me. I know. I know the difference between what you want and what you think you want, and the two could not be more different.

Studies repeatedly show that money spent on experiences generates far greater happiness than money spent on things. The gift of time is the gift of an experience otherwise lost to a mindless or meddlesome chore. It's the opportunity to play with your kids or enjoy dinner with a friend or read a book or watch a movie.  

I promise you that when you are lying on your death bed, surrounded by all of your material possessions - your stuff - your greatest regret will be the time you could've spent with friends and family. At that moment, the gift of time will mean more to you than anything else. 

It should mean that much today. Don't wait until it's too late to appreciate it.

Honestly, you don't need any more clothing or jewelry or electronics. 

You could do without the device that clips to your belt or fastens to your handlebars or makes imaginary things explode when you click the right combination of buttons. 

The thing you should crave - more than anything else - is time.  


Coming in a close second to time (and in many ways its first cousin) is the gift of knowledge. Find a way to teach me to do something that I’ve always wanted to do but never could or haven’t had time yet to learn. 

Either teach me yourself or find someone who can do it for you.

We all go through life wishing that we could do more. Accomplish more. Achieve more. This is a gift that would allow a person to take one small step closer to those dreams. 

For me, it's meant sending my wife to a cooking or an art class. 

For my wife, it's meant buying me an hour with a professional poker player or an afternoon with a golf instructor. 

In these instances, we walk away with nothing material but something far more valuable: The gift of knowledge. The acquisition of a skill. A slight improvement in an area that means a great deal to us. 

Far more valuable than a pretty scarf or a new sweater. 

In case you're thinking of giving me a birthday gift this year, here is the list of things I want to currently learn:

  • Change the oil in my car 
  • Hit my driver longer and more consistently
  • Install replacement windows in my home
  • Manage my photo library on my Mac
  • Wire my television for the best combination of sound and on-demand and/or cable programming
  • Strike-through lines of text in SquareSpace without having to learn how to code
  • Remove the occasional burst of static and background hum during the recording of my podcast