Doing More, Buying Less, Enjoying Life

The New York Times had an interesting article about how with the economic changes, Americans are doing more and buying less. Previously people were in the frame of mind to purchase things when they felt like it. Now with less cash, people are tending to spend more of their attention on experiences rather than things.

One parent said, “I’m trying to teach the kids that you don’t need to have expensive toys to have fun. You can make it fun, from anything.”

I know from experience I get a lot more out of an event than a thing. An event feels more alive to me. Some of my favorites are hiking, walking, spending time with a friend, making art, playing guitar, traveling, making and eating a meal. They are satisfying to me in and of themselves. Things don't give me the same satisfaction.

I've learned from working with clients that we get tired of things pretty quickly. I've sat down on the floor with a lot of clients going through their piles of things, and a lot of their stuff turns out to be an obligation rather than a joy to them. I'm sure when they bought it they thought it would be great. But I think a lot of times we shop when we are feeling kind of down in some way, so the excitement comes in the purchase. I remember fifteen years ago when I was feeling down about a breakup and I bought the Led Zeppelin box set. I was sooooo happy. I had a great time for a couple of days, but then it became something that sat on my counter that cost me $110.00. Plus I was still sad about the breakup. "I Can't Quit You Baby".

The New York Times did a poll which showed that a larger proportion of people are spending additional time with family and friends, gardening, cooking, reading, watching television and engaging in other hobbies. "Compared with 2005, Americans spent less time in 2008 buying goods and services and more time cooking or taking part in “organizational, civic and religious activities.”

One woman in the article said “Now I am having fun working on projects around my house, even if it is just pulling weeds or taking my dog, Amos, for a long walk.”

We got worn out trying to get some kind of joy from the things advertising was promising us. There's a point where it just doesn't do it for us anymore. The drug wore off. Now it's just us and our lives. And it turns out that's a pretty good thing.

I got an email from someone who described the joy she felt when she got rid of bags of things she wasn't using. She said, "I'm now like a crazy person, going into the bathroom and opening drawers and just standing there looking at how everything has a place, and how pretty everything looks... and smiling. Feeling quite unburdened."