The science has come in and you will obtain more happiness by buying experiences over stuff. However, I just don’t buy it (pun intended). I will admit that I’m guilty of a love for shopping and a love for stuff, but stuff needs a champion. The right stuff can make us happy. Consider the following:
Stuff comes with experiences
It’s not quite a binary choice. Sometimes stuff – like souvenirs – can count as a reminder of your experiences. Or the stuff, like gifts, reminds us of our loved ones or cherished experiences. Furthermore, the search for stuff – also known as shopping – can be pleasurable and an experience in its own rights. Some of my favorite memories of growing up are shopping with my mom and my stuff serves as a reminder of our relationship and those memories. And if shopping can count as an experience, then every “thing” is a souvenir.
Furthermore, sometimes you need the stuff to take the experience. You likely would need to buy a guitar if you’re going to learn to play the guitar. I mean, there are ways to get around it, but if you’re serious about a hobby or an activity, you will need to buy the stuff that helps you partake in it. One shouldn’t go overboard and buy all the stuff one possibly can for a new hobby. But buying a few things here or there can make the experience easier and better and might help you stick with the hobby. So there you have more great experiences, brought to you by having stuff.
You don’t need that many experiences.
I’ve had lots of “unforgettable” experiences. Turns out, I’ve forgotten many of them. Your memory might also not be that great. The more experiences you have, the less any one experience sticks in your mind. If you have #fearofmissingout or #youonlyliveonce thinking, each experience will have to vie with all the other great experiences for space in your mind. Souvenirs, photographs and Instagram can remind you of the good times but it’s not necessary to have a ton of great experiences in your memory; just a few may be enough. This is not to say that you can’t also have too much stuff (tons of books have been devoted to getting rid of your excess stuff), but you can also have too many experiences to think about. And having more experiences can crowd out other experiences in your life.
Some experiences aren’t worth it.
If you bought a new suit and later realize that you work in a casual office or you buy a wildly expensive widget and have a change in circumstances, you can return it to the store for money or credit. Even if you’ve opened or used an item, you can sell the item to recoup part of the cost.
If you’re unhappy with your experience – too bad. I don’t want to scare you from going on that dream vacation – but sometimes that dream experiences aren’t worth it. Worse, you can’t return it to the store.
I noticed this dichotomy when watching that seminal coming-of-personal-finance-age movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic. Sure, the protagonist gets into massive debt, but she pays it down by selling her stuff. Her bad decisions are (somewhat unrealistically) wiped clean because she has tangible objects of worth to barter for money. But it stands to reason that if you buy stuff, you can sell it to recoup some of your money and some of it could possibly have increased in value.
On the other hand, if you tried to trade your experiences for …anything, you wouldn’t necessarily get a dollar for it. You can’t trade back the vacation, the concert tickets, the gym classes. Yes, buying stuff can get you into financial trouble but because it is tangible, it can also be part of the solution to get you out of trouble. Experiences are priceless but only to you.
Your daily life is more important than your vacations
Two weeks is an average number of vacation days for an average American. But there are 52 weeks in a year. What are you doing with the other 50 weeks? Even if you spend one hour every day going to fancy restaurants, movies and sold-out concerts, you still have another 23 hours in the rest of your 50 weeks.
Experiences will never take up most of your day (unless you’re very liberal with the definition of “experience”). It’s your stuff that’s with you hour after hour, day by day. Upgrading your stuff can cause a real improvement in your life because it affects the majority of your life. It just makes sense to spend your money somewhat proportionally to how you use your time. So it seems to be a better investment to buy a nicer mattress that you sleep on 8 hours a day than to splurge on a vacation for 4 days. It may make more sense to buy the handbag that has all the bells and whistles that you enjoy to make your lugging it around all day easier and more enjoyable than to go to a concert.
Sometimes you have to live for today, and today might be better with nicer stuff.
Stuff can bring you joy.
Marie Kondo, international renowned unclutterer and author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, asks her clients if an object brings joy. If it doesn’t, it goes away. Of course, she uses this language to suggest that certain objects don’t bring us joy but it serves to highlight the fact that certain objects do bring us joy. Buying tons of stuff will-nilly will not lead to happiness but buying the right stuff that you love can lead to joy.
Having and loving stuff has needlessly gotten a bad rap. People who love their stuff can be stereotyped as selfish or materialistic. However, studies have found that having strong attachments to our stuff is an indicator that we have strong ties to people. It’s our stuff that reminds us of our most important relationships and milestones. It’s our stuff that reminds us of the people we once were and the people we want to become. Our stuff is our tie to our community, our past, our present and our future. Seen in this light, stuff can certainly be a good thing in our lives.
So next time you’re choosing between a concert or a new coat, give it a fair fight. Yes the concert will be fun for a night but if the coat will make you smile every morning in the winter, then that’s not necessarily a waste. Stuff is important. I’m not giving you license to spend all your money hoarding objects in your apartment. But if you want to buy a few things that make you smile every day, that seems like a great use of your money.
Readers, what things bring you joy?