The science is in and you will obtain more happiness by buying experiences over stuff!
But, I just don’t buy it (pun intended). I say, buy stuff, not experiences! Ok, maybe I’m not going that far.
I will, however, admit that I’m guilty of a love for shopping and a love for stuff, and stuff deserves a champion. The right stuff can make us happy. With many of us still under lockdown, we have had a lot of time to spend with our stuff and a lot less ability to experience anything. Those of us who invested in a comfortable home environment are really benefitting right now. Aside from lockdown though, here are some more reasons why stuff might be a good use of money, rather than a waste.
[Disclosure: this page contains affiliate links. I’ve linked to applicable books and resources on this topic you can buy (more stuff!) and if you purchase through my link, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you.]
Buy Stuff Not Experiences – It’s Not Binary
Stuff versus experiences is not a binary choice. Sometimes stuff – like souvenirs – can count as a reminder of your experiences. Or stuff, like gifts, reminds us of our loved ones. Furthermore, the search for stuff – also known as shopping – is an experience and can be pleasurable on its own. 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 make it a habit.
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. And after you become a great guitarist, you can perform in front of others – which is an experience!
Buy Stuff Instead of Forgettable Experiences
I’ve had lots of “unforgettable” experiences that I’ve forgotten. Your memory may be similarly foggy. The more experiences you have, the less any one experience sticks in your mind. If you have #FOMO or #YOLO thinking, each experience will have to vie with all the other great experiences for space in your mind.
You may also find that you have to keep one-upping your experiences so they don’t meld together into old ones. It can quickly ramp up to very expensive journeys and one-upmanship. I see SO MANY people talk about their goals of visiting as many countries as possible and I think, do you care about the experience or the bragging rights? I’m guessing the latter. To me, these people seem aimless and shallow. The beauty of traveling is being present. You can tell these people are just thinking about their next trip while on the present trip.
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 truly “unforgettable” experiences may be enough.
Many Experiences Aren’t Worth It
If you buy a new suit and later realize that you work in a casual office, 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 often 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 (unrealistically) wiped clean because she has tangible objects of worth to barter for money.
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.
Experiences Can Fall Through
I fostered a dog at the beginning of the lockdown in March. The woman who ultimately adopted my foster dog told me that she had just quit her job planning to travel the world. Her timing could not have been worse. She couldn’t travel anywhere so she decided to get a dog instead.
And obviously these are unprecedented times. A lot of people lost a lot of money planning for experiences that couldn’t happen. And I feel bad about them and hope they bought insurance.
The fun of experiences is that they’re unpredictable. But that’s also their downfall – they’re risky. That’s why I think there’s nothing wrong with having something in the bag – whether a comfortable home, a safe car, products to keep you safe and comfortable at home.
Your Daily Life > 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 two hours every day going to fancy restaurants, movies and sold-out concerts, you still have another 22 hours every day for 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 the time in your life.
It may make more sense to invest in a nice mattress that you sleep on 8 hours a day than to splurge on a vacation for 4 days. Buying the handbag you enjoy lugging around may be more beneficial than going to a concert. It may make sense to build the deck that you can sit out on every day and invite people over to, than to go skydiving.
Sometimes you have to live for today, and today might be better with nicer stuff.
Stuff Can Bring you Joy
Marie Kondo, international renowned uncluttererand author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, asks her clients if an object brings joy in order to help them declutter. If it doesn’t, it goes away.
Of course, she uses this language to suggest that certain objects don’t bring us joy. Still it highlights the fact that certain objects do bring us joy. Buying tons of stuff willy-nilly will not lead to happiness but buying 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.
I Love Experiences
So despite everything I’ve said here, I’m so excited that I went on a bunch of trips last year. I think traveling is critical for learning about others and to learn about oneself. I am so grateful for all the classes I took, meals I ate out, and all the other in-person experiences I experienced before lockdown.
Still, stuff has been my savior during this lockdown. I am extremely grateful I spent the time to make a livable home because I’ve had to spend a lot of time here. A car has become a necessity for many of us as personal protective equipment. Gym equipment is critical when gyms are closed. People are less likely to want to rent everything right now because of the fear of contamination.
The stuff that keeps us rooted in our homes is important, even critical, to our safety and happiness.
Be Careful Buying Stuff AND Experiences
So if I love experiences, why am I pro-buying stuff? My point here isn’t that people should never buy experiences but it has to be balanced. The lockdown has shown us that we can’t delay wonderful experiences assuming they’ll always be there. But we also need to be prepared to be in one place and call it home.
As I mentioned before, I meet a lot of people who competitively travel (that’s what happens in uber-competitive cities). I wonder how you can build your life solely on the foreign. There’s value in trying new things, but there’s also value in building roots at home. This pandemic has shown the importance of both strategies.
Conclusion – Buy Stuff Not Experiences
So next time you’re choosing between a concert or a new coat, give it a fair fight. Yes the party 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. Buy stuff, not experiences should not be as controversial a rallying call as it is.
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 your life easier or better every day, rather than saving for a lifetime experience, that seems like a great use of your money.
Readers, what things bring you joy?