They say that money can’t buy happiness. Indeed, financial journalist and motivational speaker Jean Chatzky breaks down the science of happiness, pointing out that since “there’s little difference in the overall happiness of millionaires and the middle class, “we’re better off buying experiences rather than things.”
The idea is that because novelty is so stimulating, the more new experiences you have, the happier you’ll be.
I’ve always tended to agree with that sentiment. I’ve never been a blow my paycheck at the mall kinda girl, though I did have those times once a season when I would drop a few hundred bones on the latest fashions. In general, I’d much rather save up for a trip to Jamaica than pay $300 for a pair of shoes. But even so, a few months ago, I began noticing a disturbing pattern. No matter how much I washed, my two laundry baskets were always full. How could it be that I always have dirty clothes? I finally admitted to myself that I have way too many clothes.
Apparently, I’m not the only one rethinking my approach to consumerism. A recent New York Times article sheds light on the fact that Americans are spending less overall, or at least thinking more carefully about their purchases.
“We’re moving from a conspicuous consumption — which is ‘buy without regard’ — to a calculated consumption,” says Marshal Cohen, an analyst at the NPD Group, the retailing research and consulting firm.
While calculated consumption might be bad news for retailers, it’s nothing but good news for consumers like you and me. You see, buying less stuff can actually make us happier.
New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses.
The Lifestyle Experiment
In this particular lifestyle experiment, I knew that most of the effects would be permanent. I mean, once you get rid of stuff, it’s gone for good. My original goal was to eliminate at least 75% of my clothing. I’ve actually always wanted to see if I could exist with only a few items of clothing – good quality items that I could wear over and over. Mainly because it used to take me forever to figure out what to wear. Too many damn choices. As of right now, I’ve gotten rid of 50% of my clothes and already my tiny apartment feels so much lighter. And I’ll be ditching some more stuff once I finally do my fall wardrobe changover. It has to go if:
- I haven’t worn it all summer.
- I haven’t worn it in six months.
- I have never worn it.
- I don’t really like it.
- I shoulda never bought it.
People will say, oh no, you’re wasting money! No, actually I’m not. As Zen Habits points out:
You bought these items with hard-earned money, and you don’t want that money to go to waste, so you’ve been holding onto them. It’s a burden that keeps you from freeing yourself of these unneeded possessions — it forces to you keep the space they occupy, to maintain these possessions, to constantly see them every day even if you don’t want them, to walk around them or trip over them or live in a cramped, cluttered space. This is a burden, paying penance for your initial wasted expenditure of cash. But: the waste was when you bought it, not when you get rid of it. You bought something you didn’t really need — and the real waste would be to ignore this and not learn from it.
Enough said. I’m not about to waste this opportunity to release myself from the burden of keeping a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t need.
Results So Far
As I mentioned, I’ve gotten rid of 50% of my clothes so far, in addition to about the same reduction in my shoe collection. I even purged my kitchen of most of the dishes I had…like I really need 20 plates for a studio apartment with one person living in it. I also haven’t bought any new clothes since March and I’ve been just fine in the fashion department. Now I actually get to wear the awesome clothes I have! I only kept the items I really liked, so getting dressed is more of no-brainer these days. I curb my desire for more stuff by staying away from the mall and not reading magazines like Lucky Mag, whose express purpose is to get you to spend too much money on clothing, accessories and body products. I’m finding that I am spending more of my money on experiences – going out to brunch with my family, happy hours with friends, trips out of town – experiences that I will remember over the course of my life.
Not surprisingly, I already feel a lot happier.
Are you drowning in stuff, clothes or otherwise? Can you imagine a life with less stuff?