Which lasts longer, a Thing or an Experience?


I used to try to avoid going out to eat. It’s not that I didn’t like restaurants, it’s just that I found it hard to rationalize them on a tight budget.

More than that, though, the idea of its transience bothered me.  I would go out, enjoy a nice meal, and then what?  That would be it.  It was a single event, and then it would pass.  I felt like it made a lot more sense to spend my money on things that would last instead of one-time experiences like restaurants.

This cost-benefit analysis is a good thing to think about when you have limited funds.  You can’t do everything, so you need to choose.  And my decision was to choose the option that provided the greatest benefit over the longest period of time.  My mantra effectively was: favor things over experiences.

But decisions we’ve made in the past are funny things, in that one year they seem rock solid, and then one day they just don’t seem to ring true anymore.  This things-over-experiences decision eventually started to turn this way for me.

Let’s talk about Things.  (I always liked Robert Kiyosaki’s term “doodads”, as I feel like it conveys the sentiment much better than “things”, but that’s his word, not mine.)  How long do Things really last?  If you buy a lot of electronics, you may find that the answer is “not very long”.  Cell phones “need” to be upgraded, the new e-reader has a nicer screen than yours, and your music player isn’t needed anymore because your phone does that just fine.  Tech has a very short shelf life these days, or at least seems to.

But your old music player certainly lasted longer than a meal, right?  True, but this is overlooking a crucial difference, and that is in mindset:  An Experience can last much longer than a Thing in your mind.

Take travels, for example.  Travel definitely counts as an Experience (souvenirs don’t count here!).  If I were to ask you about the trip you took three years ago, whether it was to an exotic locale or just a roadtrip to a different area, you’d probably be able to tell me all about it.  You would relive the experience in the telling, the endless highway, the train tracks leading off into the distance, the vistas, the exciting other-ness of it all, the release from the daily routine.  I bet you’re thinking about a similar experience right now as you read this.

Now, think about that same year, and I want you to recall to me Things you purchased that year.  Electronics, furniture, whatever.  I have a suspicion that those Things are not even in your mind.  Instead, the Experiences are much more vivid.

So now take the case of going out to eat.  While you may not remember what you ate last week, I bet you there are some restaurant experiences that you can recall clearly.  And I bet they involve your friends and loved ones.  I can recall a time at a chain restaurant where, over sodas, we connected about twenty straws together and drank from across the table.  This was more than fifteen years ago, and yet I still recall it to this day.  And then to my most recent birthday dinner, the experience of having so many wonderful people around me is something I know I’m going to revisit often.

My point is that Experiences, though transient, are often more valuable to you over the long term, in that they provide you with lasting pleasure and illumination, long after the Thing you bought has broken and been transferred to its final resting place in your drawer.

I mention this only because I feel like we often tend to focus on Things, what to buy, where to buy it, all of its minutiae, and then once acquired, it tends to recede in our consciousness.  And then the next Thing comes out, and the cycle repeats itself.  I believe this is actually intentional, as many forces place their continued existence on people purchasing effectively the same Thing over and over.  All the more reason to note well that Experiences can provide longer lasting benefit to you, and they don’t necessarily require any (or a lot of) money.

If you value Experiences over Things, you send a signal out to the world that you are rejecting the consumerist treadmill.  After all, just because something is for sale doesn’t mean it’s worth buying.

But enough about me. How do you value Things versus Experiences?

Note: Time’s running out for a free financial counseling session, so  sign up for the Ex-Velleitiers list on the right side of the page and send me a note introducing yourself.  Offer goes poof on on December 17th.

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