Investing in Experiences Is Better Than Buying Stuff


In this post, I talk about why investing in experiences is better than buying stuff. I also share some of the rules I practice to avoid overloading my home with clothes and gadgets I don’t use.

Experiences Make Us Happy.  Stuff Doesn’t.

Research has consistently shown that we’re happier when we put our dollars toward having amazing life experiences as opposed to using them to accumulate more stuff. For some people, this can seem counter-intuitive. Why spend your money on an experience that doesn’t leave you with a tangible thing you can keep? It turns out that we’re fueled by happy memories. Rarely does someone get to the end of their life with regrets about the time they spent with their family and friends, or the incredible adventures had as they traveled and explored the world. You will, however, find people with regrets about the big boat they bought for their cabin, which they only made time to drive to twice last summer.

It has often been the tendency of American families to buy a bigger home once they start to have children. Those larger houses have more rooms, which many people then fill with toys, gadgets, and other things that bring temporary joy, but soon get demoted to the basement storage room. Many people even pay for extra space in storage units over a period of years, just to store things that they are likely never to use again.

My Rules for Keeping Stuff to a Minimum

Having too many things only adds complication to our lives. This is one of the main reasons why I doubt I ever want to buy a large house. Having less space encourages me to practice discipline about what I buy. Since I live in a smaller space now, I try to follow a few rules that help hold me accountable for not collecting and keeping too many things:

1. When I acquire a new item of clothing, I get rid of an older one. One of my college roommates introduced me to this practice. It’s brilliant. And hard sometimes. Occasionally I lack the discipine to follow through on this and fail. But I honestly find that when I keep a more minimalist closet, I’m happier. Having too many options makes getting dressed a stressful ordeal each morning. Recently, I worked to identify which colors look good on me and which fits of clothing best compliment my figure. If an item that I’m eyeing at the store doesn’t fit my primary color scheme or have a fit that I know I look good in, I generally tend to talk myself out of buying it.

2. If I haven’t worn an item of clothing, or used something in my apartment in more than a year, I get rid of it. After so many days of not using something, it’s hard to argue that it’s serving an important function in my life. And if I am reluctant to get rid of something, say some camping gear that’s been in a closet without use for more than a year, it encourages me to evaluate whether I’m devoting enough time to the things I really care about. Do I care deeply about camping? Then why haven’t I gone recently? Do I need to re-evaluate my work habits and make time to get outdoors more often? If so, then do it!

Overall, buying fewer things frees up more of my money for accomplishing big financial goals, like paying off debt, increasing my investments, and funding an amazing life experience.

Investing in An Amazing Life Experience

This next week, I am investing in an ultimate amazing life experience. Tomorrow I leave to spend a week exploring and backpacking with my dad and sister in Yosemite National Park! I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months. I’ve never been backpacking before, so I actually had to buy a lot of things to prepare. If I’m being honest, it was actually a lot more things than I initially anticipated.

This would seemingly be against my rule of collecting more stuff. But for me, this trip is about the experience much more than it is about the items I bought to enable it. I am able to justify the costs of this trip because it aligns deeply with several of my core values:

1. I currently live 2,500 miles away from my family and don’t get to see them often. Family is deeply important to be, so this time with my dad and sister is priceless.

2. I love open space. For this reason, living in LA has been hard on me. The opportunity to get out of the city and into the the clear air of the wilderness will make me deeply happy. I am eagerly anticipating that moment when my stress melts away as I leave the city (and pollution) behind.

3. Yosemite National Park has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful places on earth. I currently live within driving distance of the park, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of that opportunity when I have the chance to do it without the added cost of a plane ticket.

4. By purchasing the gear required for backpacking, I am making the commitment to invest in exploring the world.  It’s my way of saying, “Spending time in nature is important to me, and I promise to do it more often.” My dad and I are already brainstorming where our next trip will be…

Now I have a bag to pack and some granola bars to make. See you next week!