Bike on a Pannonian Road

Why You Should Neither Buy Experiences, Nor Things – Except Some

In a world seemingly hell-bent on consumerism, it has been good to see calls towards minimalism and ‘experientialism‘.

Less stuff, more sensuality.

In that, you can show your concern for the world, as well as your elite status, by not just mindlessly shopping, unlike “the masses”, but carefully selecting your experiences and curating what you show of them.
You can follow the psychological insight that has been showing that experiences make happier than possessions, spend differently, have a memorable life sampling the best the world has to offer, and keep the economy humming along.

You can have your cake and eat it, too.

There are just two typical oversights, two problems that are often deliberately glossed over: the necessity of (some) things and the fault of the bought experience.

The Necessity of (Some) Things

It takes things to do things.

Sure, if the things you spend your money on merely clutter up your living space, yes, then they are the mere possessions that the psychologists in pieces on “why you should spend your money on experiences and not things” are talking about. Then, you might have felt excited to get those things, probably loved them for the first few days, and then got used to them being around.

Happiness declined.

Also, if you spent all your money on stuff so that you don’t have any money to spend on doing anything, having all the things in the world would not make you happy.

Mountain Goat Tracks
You need nothing for running only if you are a mountain goat. And as a human, “all you need are running shoes” is not quite going to cut it, either…

Still, even with running, and as fond as runners are of saying that you need no (special) equipment to go out and run, there is a great market for gear.

As with so many a kitchen appliance and gadget, there is probably a lot of aspirational sales, of people buying running shoes and equipment in the hope that having invested the money in those things will make them do what they want to do, and be better at it.

Some people probably overdo it with their equipment, on the search for the perfect shoe or the perfect training watch (or kitchen knife or pan), too.

Yes, it does not take much, and in all the marketing pushes all around us, we would do well to remember that – but running shoes that suit you properly and proper running clothes rather than jeans and a cotton T-shirt are probably not the worst idea, either.

To Have or To Use…

As usual, the proper balance needs to be considered:
Is the gear good in various ways (such as value for the money, quality, opportunities it gives) or is it just tempting because the marketing is good?

(That is the very question that finally made me review the gear I have found to be good for the outdoors, to connect, and to make for a positively enclothed life.)

You have to strike a balance between the psychology that is at work when things are alluring and the actual value of these things later, when in use.

The latter is all the stronger an issue as the ultimate value of even the best of gear is only fulfilled if you actually have opportunities to use it, and if you make use of those opportunities.

Good gear that is constantly in use, even if it was expensive, costs little compared to cheap things (let alone expensive ones) that just use up space in a garage, if you consider the cost per (hour, mile, etc. of) use. And if you wouldn’t have the experiences that are memorable if you didn’t have those things, then you are right to spend money on these things.

Bike on a Pannonian Road
My bike is now some 20 years old and has been serving me well. Somehow I don’t think I should not have bought that thing.

The Fault of the Bought Experience

The second problem glossed over in the incessant call to spend your money on experiences, to buy experiences, is the consumerist frame to these suggestions.

Same as some gear is actually necessary for experiences; some money may be necessary to make more experiences possible, and some package trips may be good for learning new things or going to new places in safety – but there lies a point where we tend to go quite wrong in constantly thinking about the direct buying of those experiences.

It’s not about the spending of money.

Money Don’t Buy Memories

As you may, if you ever stop to think about it, regret ever having purchased things that just clutter up your life, you may regret ever having paid for experiences that were just superficial.

After all, the reason why you should “buy experiences, not things,” as that is always phrased, is that we have a longer and stronger memory of experiences. Also, we tend to remember good experiences as even better than they were, and we re-interpret not-so-good experiences as funny, or relevant, or at least great learning experiences that shaped us into who we are.

That is all true, but when money comes into play too much, it may color the memory.

The romantic dinner at the restaurant that is way above your pay grade may turn into a great memory if it was worth it or if something unexpected happened, but if it was just a meager disappointment with money badly spent, it might well be remembered most strongly in terms of the financial loss for nothing, if it is much of a memory at all.

The hole-in-the-wall street food place, in contrast, is memorable not just for not having cost much, but for having been found serendipitously.

If you just went on a bought and paid-for "experience," packaged for you (and thousands of others), to a "must-see" place, it is unlikely to end up more than an exercise in "been there, done that." Hence, the one thing you must do...
If you just go on a bought and paid-for “experience,” packaged for you (and thousands of others), to a “must-see” place, it is unlikely to end up more than an exercise in “been there, done that.”
Hence, the one thing you must do before you die …

For an odd, bad experience to be remembered in a positive light, it helps if it was something that you decided to risk, and that you mainly did of your own accord. (Not that a bungee or parachute jump wouldn’t cost you a bit of money, wouldn’t go down without some trepidation, but would then likely end up a positive memory…)

The same applies for experiences that turned out good, too: The important thing is that it was truly your experience, with as much input of you yourself as possible.

Put Yourself Into It

An experience is better when you actually experienced it in full, from the excitement of the initial idea through the anticipation in the nitty-gritty work of planning, to the excitement and anxiety of the first step into that adventure, all through it, and finally in the reporting (where social media can actually be good for you) and the memories afterwards.

A cruise may give you tons of innocuous (or not-so-innocuous) holiday snapshots and experiences, but like any packaged experience that is served up like a Disneyland ride, controlled and passively consumed, there is just too little input of you yourself to make it truly memorable and worthwhile.

On the other hand, if you create adventure, you can even stay “at home,” invest only very little to no money, require no (new) gear at all, but decide to do something exploratory and adventurous.

Approach it in that spirit, embark on that enterprise, and create a memorable experience – all from such simple “adventuring” as going out for a night run, a photo project, a little bit of foraging, an outdoors overnight stay, some lessons in the history or biology (or whatever strikes your fancy) of the place you are. Or from family time together. Or an entrepreneurial venture.

“The most powerful experiences come at no cost” (as Carl Maida of the UCLA‘s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability commented in this context).

So, don’t spend too much of your money on things, but don’t just buy experiences, either:

Do things, go out – or stay in, if you feel like that – get active, create experiences to remember.

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