Over the holidays, I did my annual Purge: cleaning out my drawers and closets so that life’s a little less cluttered. It reminds me that I’m still a work in progress when it comes to this important life lesson: collect experiences, not things. Because ultimately how you spend your money, is how you spend your life. My friend Jennifer’s parents understood that and parental love in a way mine never could. When we were 14, Jen’s parent’s used to drop her off at the mall every Saturday for 8 hours and $20 of personal freedom I could only dream about.
Jen immediately turned fifteen of her dollars into Aladdin’s Castle tokens – this was back when we
had to play our games in arcades instead of on our phones. Aladdin’s Castle was like a poorly lit Chuckie Cheese, where a kid can be a kid and still make out with high school stoners behind the Donkey Kong machine. Jen would spend most of the day gripping a Ms. Pac-Man joystick, emerging, squinty eyed and lobster clawed only long enough to gobble down $5 worth of Chicken McNuggets.
Since we didn’t yet know what Chicken McNuggets were doing to our bodies or all that screen time was doing to our minds, you can see how idyllic Jen childhood seemed to me. Utterly unlike my own Dickensian upbringing where I earned spending money the hard way: picking up pecans from the trees in our yard.
Anyway, because my money was hard earned, I thought spending it was completely at my discretion. My parents thought otherwise. Their biggest pet peeve was when I came back from the mall with no money and NOTHING TO SHOW FOR IT. Whereas Jen could come home with nothing more than high cholesterol and carpel tunnel, I had to justify my every purchase – with school supplies and tennis shoes getting high marks for practicality.
So imagine how vindicated I felt when I came across this article that says that you’re far happier spending your money on experiences rather than things. That the anticipation of going to a movie, taking a trip, or getting the high score at Ms. Pac-Man and then savoring the memories we make doing those activities last far longer than the happiness we get from buying things. Turns out, we get tired of our stuff very quickly. Pretty disconcerting for someone who grew up believing we are living in a material world, and that I was a material girl.
But now I totally get it. Our experiences make us who we are; they connect us to people we share them with. That shirt you thought you couldn’t live without? It’ll be crumpled on the floor on your closet in a few weeks, replaced in your affections by the boho dress you thought you’d die without. All those times Jen and I skipped tennis practice to ride around listening to mix tapes? I smile about those even thirty years later.
Yes, this is probably just a longwinded justification for why I want Emmi to hold off buying a new
iPhone when her old one is still perfectly good. But come on –no good ever comes out giving into temptation for a shiny new Apple. That’s Old Testament 101, people! And a little delayed gratification never hurt anyone.
So stop trying to keep up with the Jones. Or Phonezes. Collect experiences and live richly rather than look rich. Science says so.
Emmi and I tried this out this theory when we went to New York this summer. Instead of shopping at all the fancy boutiques or chasing down souvenirs (other than the obligatory “I HEART NY” shirt), we walked all over Central Park, visited museums, saw a Broadway show and rode the subway to Coney Island. Because we made a point to collect experiences, I hope it’s a trip that she remembers her whole life. That her horizons expanded and her imagination stretched to its limit. And that the connections we made on the trip are part of what defines her as a person.
Because it really was a great trip. And she has pics she got on her crappy old iPhone to prove it.
Do you agree that it’s better to collect experiences is better than things? Or is a new tech toy the secret to everlasting happiness? Did you see my post about 30 Things I’m Loving in January? Nice mix of experiences and things.