12 April 2012

Focus on Experiences, Not Things

This post is written by contributing author Vanessa Williams. 
Every day we are bombarded with advertising messages to make us buy more under the premise that newer, bigger, and faster is necessary. But perhaps there’s never a more prominent time that consumer culture rears its ugly head as when we have major life events. From getting married, to buying a new home getting stuff seems to come with the territory. Sometimes this is a good thing - you do need different things for different phases of your life, but it’s easy to go overboard. 

I just announced my pregnancy over at my blog, and I’ve come to realize I don’t think there’s any other time that you are more subjected to this consumer overload than when you have your first child. Under the premise of safety and what’s best for baby we are sold on a variety of items to keep our children safe, keep them healthy, and make them smarter. We are made to feel like terrible parents if we don’t have the latest and greatest things. We’re essentially guilt-tripped into buying. My goodness, how did the human race survive without these things? 

Photo via Babyinthehat
But I had an inkling that many of the “must haves” for baby, really weren’t must haves at all. So I consulted my small army of new mommy friends about what gear they really liked and guess what? It wasn’t anything crazily expensive, or complex, but rather a few simple items that kept their babies happy, and conserved mom’s sanity. 

As I prepare for a new member of our family, I try to think of some of the things I’d like to do with my child that I did growing up. From going to the beach or the fish hatchery, to spending time in the backyard, nearly none of my favorite past times involved specific gifts. Sure, the activity of hunting for Easter eggs and baskets, or the sheer sight of presents under the Christmas tree are memories that I will treasure forever, but the specifics are foggy. I don’t remember very much what gifts I got (except for a few toy highlights); what I recall more clearly are the activity of discovery and being with family. 

This helped crystallize for me something I had apparently known for a long time - when it comes to true value it has less to do with material things, and more to do with memories made. 

jump for joy
Photo: Abraham Wallin

You can take this literally and apply it to your spending habits. What is the happiness quotient for any given spend? For example, would you prefer to do one big, expensive dinner out, or several less expensive dinners with friends? Would you be happier if you were earning less but doing what you love, or earning more at a job you hate? 

For many, experiences pay off more than objects. This may explain why industries like travel, restaurants and salons are doing just fine coming out of this recession while retail continues to slump. Younger generations are leading the way by spending more on noncredit cooking classes instead of say, a fancy car. 

What do you think? Are you happier focusing on experiences, not things? 

Vanessa Williams is the author of A simply good life where she explores how lower standard of living doesn’t mean lower quality of life. After her decision to  get off the beaten track and forge new paths she has found that living with less actually means living with more. Vanessa explores the luring and dangerous grounds of the consumerism trap and offers a solemn and wise account of her real life experiences on the quest to finding what truly matters in life. Connect to Vanessa via twitter and facebook.