Financial gurus often talk about spending on experiences rather than stuff. The idea is that stuff will break, become obsolete, or never get used in the first place, whereas experiences will stay with you for a lifetime. Experiences are said to be more valuable than stuff. To hear some people talk, you should be able to fit all of your possessions in your car. Stuff is bad. But is it really? Should we all be aiming for a life where we can fit all of our stuff into a shed? Probably not.
Some of us cannot function without a lot of stuff. It provides comfort, helps us pursue our hobbies, nurtures fond memories or family activities, or is used in our daily lives (as is the case with the cook who has every kitchen gadget but uses most of them every week). We love our stuff and the thought of parting with it (or not acquiring more) is upsetting. Some people who fall into this category would rather have more stuff than any “experience.” Give them a new gadget over travel any day! Does this make them bad people or financial failures? No, just different from the crowd who believes in minimalism.
The distinction needs to be made between stuff that makes you happy and clutter. Clutter is the stuff you don’t use (or don’t even know that you have). It’s the stuff that never gets played with, worn, or even noticed. It’s the broken stuff you know you’ll never fix. It’s the stuff you look at and sigh over instead of thinking, “Wow. I really like this thing.” Clutter is bad. It contributes to dust problems, it stifles you, produces anxiety, and takes up valuable space in your home. Clutter needs to go.
Stuff that makes you happy isn’t bad. Even if you have a lot of it, as long as it isn’t jeopardizing your health, breaking laws, or creating some sort of hazard, it has a place in your life. If you frequently use the items or love them then they are valuable to you and getting rid of them will not liberate you, it will make you cry. If your stuff falls into this category minimalism will never suit you, no matter how many thrilling experiences you pack into your life. You need your stuff as much as the traveler needs a plane ticket.
Obviously if you can’t afford to buy your stuff, then you shouldn’t buy it. But neither should you go on wild experiences if you can’t afford them, even if you think they are “better” than stuff. And you should guard against becoming a hoarder, so attached to your stuff that you can’t let it go even when you know it’s hurting your health and your wallet. The point, as with so much in personal finance, is to do what you can reasonably afford (while meeting all of your obligations) and which makes you happy. If that’s a houseful of figurines, gadgets, games, or clothes, that’s fine as long as those things bring you joy and don’t become just things you have to dust and “deal with.”
(Photo courtesy of Jekkone)