Replacing stuff with experiences

I’m a big fan of ‘stuff’. To the regular exasperation of my girlfriend, my life seems to involve a litany of new toys, gadgets and stuff in general.

Personally, I blame the advertisers. Don Draper and his ilk are just too damn good at what they do. If Nikon, GoPro, Apple, Garmin, BMW or Salomon launch a new product, I’m all over it like a fat kid on a birthday cake. It’s no secret that Uncrate is the first (and most regularly visited) page on my iPad Flipboard app. The stuff they tout there makes me drool on a daily basis.

It probably also didn’t help that my former father-in-law drilled into me the ethos “He who dies with the most toys, wins”. I want to be a winner.

But I’ve watched The Story of Stuff. I’m acutely aware of the finite resources in this world and the environmental impact of unrestrained consumerism. The consequences of this relentless buying will probably include my kids or their kids living on some desolate wasteland, a la WALL•E. As hard as I might find it to make that connection, my buying decisions today will ultimately decide the fate of mankind, which is both scary and kind of cool.

All of this got me thinking, as I started drawing up the list of incentives to accompany my movie’s Kickstarter campaign, where does our obsession with stuff end and what replaces it?

As Financial Planners, a lot of what we do revolves around the ability or inability to accumulate stuff. Most of this stuff is necessary; the stuff we need to live a healthy, secure life. Once existence is secured, we move on to securing the stuff our clients need to live a happy, fulfilled life. For some clients, we then move on to securing what they need to live an exuberant, extravagant life. Horses for courses.

I’m a big believer that nature abhors a vacuum. Aristotle was definitely on to something there. We can all make a conscious effort to reduce the ‘stuff’ in our lives, but we probably need to replace that stuff with something else.

In my mind at least, the ideal replacement for stuff are experiences. Despite remaining a sales victim when it comes to the shiniest new toy, I’m making a conscious effort to lead a fulfilled life through the accumulation of experiences, rather than stuff. If I can pass one thing on to our kids, it will be to embrace experiences and reject the need for consumerism. Setting a good example is harder than it should be, but gradually I’m making progress.

Since becoming a runner a couple of years ago, I’ve taken part in 20 official races ranging from 10km to 50km. Some came with a medal or a t-shirt at the end (more stuff!) but all were run solely for the experience. I’m broadening my experience horizons now, aiming to participate in other things outside of running, including open-water swimming and horse riding. Signing up to scary events and then working out a plan to complete them seems to be working well, so far.

Perhaps we have a duty to our clients to encourage the same, or at least engage them in a debate where this sort of thing is considered.  As Financial Planners, we might even need to be the inspiration to our clients to reject stuff and embrace experiences.

Back in the bad old days, it was all about the financial salesman who inspired clients with the calibre of his car or cut of his suit. Today in the new world of professional Financial Planning, there is a big role for inspiration through experiences. What do you think?


8 thoughts on “Replacing stuff with experiences

  • A good friend once told me; pay now or pay later. As a good Italian family man, he wasn’t talking about finance terms.

    I for one, don’t mind going the other way. I’ve still got my high school textbook called ‘Living in a consumer society’. Still relevant today beyond my HSC. Lots of insight from a book written in the late 70s, way before easy credit.

    I have only one car, as schools, family, shopping is all in walking distance. Oh sure, I can afford all the comforts if I want. I too can compete, impress you, but when they throw the switch, I want to know I’ve been out, bbq’ing somewhere remote, with just a box of damp matches and a dozen snags.

    I’ve done stuff; just not ‘had’ stuff. There is a world of difference.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dan.

      “but when they throw the switch, I want to know I’ve been out, bbq’ing somewhere remote, with just a box of damp matches and a dozen snags.”


  • Great article Martin.

    I’ve been thinking about a similar subject to this relatively recently but from a slightly different perspective…

    I’m more interested in the connections between happiness and money.

    Interestingly the amount of study into this subject is still in it’s infancy when compared to other financially related subjects however the book which interests me the most was “Happy Money” by Michael Norton and Liz Dunn.

    Their studies show that (among other things) making purchases a treat as opposed to a regular occurrence and giving money away contributes to overall happiness.

    However the interesting part was when they examined the happiness received from a tangible purchase vs an experience.

    Whilst the tangible purchase made someone happy for a short period the study found that new experiences gave a far better financial “bang for buck” than new “shiny stuff” did.

    Weirdly they also found that this also applies to experiences which aren’t superficially pleasure but present a challenge (and an achievement once completed)….think “Tough mudder” or your runs or the fact I’m slinging myself off a London tower block later in the year (dont ask!)

    Although it seems counter intuitive….intangible memories, if the research is correct, are more likely to make us happy than tangible ‘stuff’.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    • Thanks for the comment, Chris.

      I’ve come across a few unhappy people before who became a bit obsessed with the concept of happiness and it was interesting (but also quite depressing) to see some of the conclusions they reached about what it means to be happy.

      I can perfectly understand why intangible memories are more likely to result in happiness than accumulating tangible ‘stuff’. Can’t imagine for one minute I will be giving any thought whatsoever on my death bed to any of the gadgets I’ve owned during my lifetime!

  • We used to make and own all the objects in the world. Now the objects own us. Weird, eh.

    • Thanks for the comment, Phil.

      I wonder when this happened? When was the crossover point and what caused it?

      • If you want the ‘wanky pretentious’ answer, it’s when the primacy of production was replaced by the primacy of consumption. Most notably during the 1960s I think. Most successful business now are marketing/fulfilment machines for our desires, not those that manufacture goods (or control the means of production in Marxist terms).

  • Interesting post Martin! I have never collected “stuff” but can appreciate the benefit of it at times..Does my ipad (only recently purchased!) or whatever make me happy? Not really- but spending time with my husband & dog does.

    I refuse to have a SatNav, and rarely get lost..I still have a CD player in my car (which is on its last legs).

    I couldn’t care less if I don’t have the latest handbag (or whatever), and I don’t wear expensive clothes.

    I do love my camera, but I only have two (reasonably priced) lenses for it. The pictures I take with it are more important.

    Like Dan, I have been lucky to “do stuff”, and have done some amazing things. Some of them have cost nothing. It’s those memories that keep me happy, and which spur me on when my in tray is overflowing.

    When clients ask me if they should spend money, I always say “YES- Absolutely- get out there and DO something!!” (so long as it’s affordable of course). Life is just too short not to.

    We enter this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing.. How much we choose to leave behind, whether in terms of discarded “stuff” or fulfilment in other ways is down to individual choice I guess!


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