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Presence, not presents, for Valentine's Day

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FARGO — Flowers, jewelry or chocolates may have been expected in the past, but this Valentine's Day more and more couples are opting for an experience together rather than purchasing traditional tokens of love.

"There's a depth to non-material gifts. It's more thoughtful, it's more intentional and it's not something you can discard," says Randi Kay Olsen Heinold, a bodyworker, registered yoga teacher and self-care mentor. "It's a memory that can stay with you forever."

Heinold says technology creates ongoing distractions in our modern world.

"It's really important to choose the gift of presence over presents," she says.

In addition, Heinold says the commercialization of holidays such a Valentine's Day has turned off people to the idea of buying gifts.

"People are realizing there isn't a lot of depth to physical gifts," Heinold says. "Sometimes people are getting you something that is meaningful or thoughtful. It's just kind of like 'here ya go.' It may be something you like, but you might just get rid of it someday as well."

Experiences turn into cherished memories, Heinold says, and it's easier to figure out what would interest your partner than you would think.

"Often you just need to get out of your own head and just pay attention to the person that you are giving to," she says. "Especially around Valentine's day, there is such huge pressure to give certain types of gifts — like flowers, chocolates or jewelry."

As Heinold points out, sometimes we think "that's what I want!" when reality our partners usually don't need another material item.

Observe, notice and ask

When it comes to Valentine's gifting, Heinold instructs others to first observe their friend, family member or significant other.

"Ideas for gifts come when I tune into my husband or friends and ask myself, 'What do they truly need and how can I bring value to their life?'" she says.

Heinold says she works to constantly cultivate her relationship with her husband, Nate. Through presence and connection, they are able to mark special occasions like their anniversaries instead of just observing one specific day a year.

"Instead of leaving love notes for each other, we use the notebook," she says. "After we write a letter, we will leave it somewhere for the other person to find and it's become a

storage for our love over the years."

This "love notebook" is effective, Heinold says, because it speaks to her love language — a theory on how different personalities crave certain types of affection from their significant other. (It was first described in Gary Chapman's book, "The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.")

"When deciding on a gift or a tradition, you have to think what will be meaningful to the receiver instead of what is meaningful to you as the giver," she says.

In fact, Heinold says that material gifts can be worthwhile if they are purchased with purpose.

For example, if he or she has been saving for something, then you can surprise them with that as a gift.

"If you notice that they tore up their laces on their favorite shoes, then you can gift them something as simple as shoelaces," she says. "It's just an observation."

Henoid says it's all about noticing your partner's needs.

"Keep it really simple and don't be afraid to find a way to just connect with one another," she says. "Get to know what would be meaningful to them."

April Knutson

April Knutson is lifestyle-focused journalist producing stories for the Forum News Service about people, health, community issues, and services. She earned her degree in both English Literature and Mass Communications. After working as a digital marketing specialist and web design consultant for a few years, she joined Forum Communications in 2015. She grew up on a farm near Volga, S.D. Follow her on Twitter @april_knutson.

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