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Buy less stuff, have more experiences

There is a movement of minimalist’s who are living with less, in less space and rejecting materialism in their pursuit to embrace a simple life. Instead of investing in things, they are investing in time spent doing what they love and spending time with the people they love. Some of these folks are young, active and want to travel extensively and be able to pick up and move on a whim. Some minimalists have lived in one place for a long time but are aging now and giving the majority of their furnishings and other big items to family and friends and settling into smaller accommodations or letting the travel bug bite them. No matter the age, these people have decided exactly how they want to spend their money and on what and it’s not on stuff!

Friends and I were talking about a mutual acquaintance recently, someone whose partner had suddenly come into money. The couple both bought much needed vehicle upgrades and some home goods to make their apartment more comfortable. When I heard that they had bought a boat, my initial response was negative as the windfall wasn’t very large, less than six figures. Thankfully they had paid off some debt but a boat, what the heck were they thinking? After coming up with this week’s column idea, it struck me. They were buying something that would allow them to enjoy experiences, not just an inanimate object that would sit in a corner or hang on a wall. I judged the situation too quickly. The young couple may have more fun on that boat than they’ve had in years, they might create memories to last a lifetime for not just them, but for friends and family who join them in their love of the water.

Always a pragmatist, I’ve been one to think that it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to spending. I worried about my elderly father when he was retired, living on social security but still buying lots of orchids and other plants that he so loved. I warned him that he would be eating orchids for dinner if he wasn’t careful with his budget. Looking back, I realize now that those beautiful, temperamental flowers were something that he looked forward to taking care of, they were something that got him up and out of his chair, got him moving and thinking and most importantly, they gave him joy. Plant life wasn’t stuff to him, it was an experience.

Not only has there been a shift in spending, but there has been a shift in gift giving. Instead of stuff, I love seeing people trying to gift experiences such as spa treatments, massages, lessons, tours, and concert or theatre tickets. The kids and teens who forego birthday party presents in exchange for food/toy/bedding and cash donations for animals in need is absolutely one of my favorites! Kudos to those who have come to agreement with their loved ones that instead of material possessions for birthdays or holidays, they would enjoy exchanging donations to each other’s favorite charities.

We may need some stuff to accompany experiences. You can’t have a BBQ without a grill, you can’t fly a kite without a kite, and you can’t go rock climbing without the proper equipment. I think one of the tricks is to start off small when considering a new hobby or adventure. If you’ve always wanted to go kayaking maybe it’s a good idea to rent or borrow one before buying. It’s not just the kayak that you’ll need but a rack on your vehicle to transport it, safety equipment and of course you have to consider how it’s going to be stored when it’s out of the water. The most important thing is having the time to engage in a hobby. If you don’t carve out the space and make the commitment on the calendar, it might end up more of a fleeting whim. All too often I’ve heard a client tell me that they plan on using something “someday” and I then ask them to show me “someday” on a calendar.

You may have heard of an organizing rule that if you haven’t used something in a year’s time, you probably don’t need it. I think that’s a little too rash. Instead I prefer to make decisions based on individual items and encourage you to ask yourself four quick questions: Do you need it? Do you use it? Do you want it? Do you love it? It’s also ok to be undecided for a while. Revisit the issue a few months later and you may come to realize that you truly don’t need, use, want or love that belonging and you can send it on to its next life. Remember, a fire or flood could take all of your personal possessions but you’ll have the memories of experiences your entire life.