I’ve been thinking for some time now about the value we place on experiences versus stuff. Over the past year, I’ve tried to take an honest look at my life in an attempt to figure out exactly what the parts are that make me happy, and what’s just extra that really doesn’t add much to an otherwise wonderful existence.I suppose it’s a question of experiences versus stuff, and how much value we place on each. I talked about this a little bit when I first started the blog back in December. If there’s anything I’ve learned since leaving home to go to Oxford and coming back again for law school, it’s that the people in my life, both family and friends, and the ability to enjoy things like reading, running, and cooking, are much more important to me than the “stuff” that money buys. My recent trip to England brought me much more clarity than I’ve had in awhile.
Growing up and while at Oxford and in law school, I was trying to live up to external expectations, without taking the time to ask myself what I really wanted or needed. Earlier this summer I went to dinner with my friend Kaitlin and we were talking about why we picked our colleges. We just met this year, so she hadn’t heard a lot about Oxford! She commented that my family and friends must have been so amazed and proud when I got in and decided to go. It struck me that, although they were happy, they were not amazed. That’s how most of my life events have been – I was objectively intelligent and tended to do things when I took a mind to them, so from the time I was very young everyone just expected that I would achieve this and go there and do that. When the bar is set that high, you start to lose sight of the enormity and greatness of the things you do and experience.
At Oxford I found friends who were extremely bright and quite willing to sit around talking about lots of semi-academic, cultural, or personal topics from dawn til dusk. But outside of that, many of them were perplexed as to why I would say I “had” to work at a certain job, or live in a specific place, or lead a certain kind of life. I didn’t break out of that mindset, but they did make me think about what I “had” to do. When I got to law school I finally asked myself why I “had” to – and realized I didn’t. I could decide for myself what was important. For the first time I envisioned a blank slate on which I wrote at the top what would make me feel fulfilled and like I was leading a good life. To absolutely none of my friends’ surprise, the top of the list was not a mansion or private jet or fancy car or job where I wielded lots of power over other people. At the top was – and is – having a family of my own and lots of good friends, and being able to experience life’s adventures with them.
It comes down to the question of experiences versus stuff, or money versus time. More of one may mean less of the other. Figuring out the right balance for me is an ongoing process, and I expect it will continue to evolve. Yet I’ve already changed a lot. When I was little I always wanted to buy a tangible souvenir from every country I went to. I’m glad to have them now, all on a little shelf – an Italian painted fan, a Russian nesting doll, a Scandinavian husky stuffed animal. On my recent trip to England, I tracked everything I spent (more on that in a future post) and out of the roughly £715 pounds I spent for the two weeks, exactly 90 pence was on something other than food, transport, or lodging. Two postcards, to be exact. One for my dad with a dog on it (our family has a tradition of dogs on cards and mugs and pretty much everything) and one I thought was too perfect to pass up, summing up mine and Elli’s adventures in the Lake District.
What I brought back was far greater than the “stuff” I could have bought. I have memories of hiking, of seeing my other friends again, of eating delicious food, and of going on pretty awesome run-sploring expeditions. I got to sit across from my friend Lauren and have her tell me firmly that she didn’t believe I was cooking all the recipes on this blog, that someone else must be making them and letting me take photos (she had to teach me how to boil an egg our first year at Oxford) and to answer that nope, it is indeed me, and now I enjoy cooking and would love to make her treats if she comes to visit me stateside! I’ll carry these experiences with me wherever I go.
To sum all of this up – back in January, I decided to set myself a challenge. I would not buy any new “stuff” for a month, so I’d spend money only on food and transportation. At the start of April, I had gone about nine weeks, when I needed to buy some new hairties. I wrote then about shopping mindfully in future, because the prior couple of months had shown me just how little I need and in fact, how much stuff I could stand to get rid of, mostly in the clothes department. Now it’s the beginning of September. After buying those hairties in April, the only clothes or shoes I bought until the beginning of August were a few pairs of running socks. More than seven months showed me just how much more I value experiences over stuff.
Right before my hiking trip, I went on what I considered a “buying spree” and got a good pair of boots on sale. I would recommend my Hi Tec Sierra Lites to anyone doing up to moderate-intensity hikes, and I got them for about $32 on sale on Amazon! I also got a new pair of Tretorn tennis shoes because my old ones were worn to pieces, a pair of running shorts because I needed a change from the trusty Nike ones I always wear, and a few pairs of good warm socks. Altogether I spent well under $200, and everything has already been used heavily (except the really long striped socks, because it did not end up being that cold in the Lakes!) Now, I feel again like I don’t need any more “stuff” for a long time. As I live life and different things happen, I may need to acquire odds and ends, and certainly as I get older the trappings of my own home will become essential. But on the whole, I’m going to try to save as much as I can and to prioritize experiences, because they’re what really matter to me.
What’s your take on experiences versus stuff?
How have your priorities changed over time?
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