Minimalism: Why experiences, not stuff, are more likely to make you happy

Kate Hall

Minimalism is the talk of the town.

We are praising those who are decluttering their homes, and paying hundreds of dollars to listen to The Minimalists tell us how to reduce our ‘stuff’ as they tour the world.

Why? Because stuff doesn’t make us happy.

We’re slowly catching on to the fact that experiences and spending time with people are the happy makers.

stuff won't make you happy

"We’re slowly catching on to the fact that experiences and spending time with people are the happy makers."

We are trying with all our power to rid ourselves of ties to our possessions, but oh, man, it’s hard.

Stuff gives us instant gratification, status points, and perceived personal value. It’s hard to shake the want to feel these feelings.

As Aristotle said:

“Men fancy that external goods are the cause of happiness, but leisure itself gives pleasure and happiness and enjoyment in life.”

But Aristotle, why does leisure give us happiness?

I may not be Aristotle, but I’ll try my best…

Stuff makes us happy:

  1. For a short burst of time
  2. Because we feel ownership over something
  3. We can show our value to our peers

Why stuff doesn’t sustain happiness:

  1. The happiness lasts a short time, meaning we need to buy more stuff shortly afterwards
  2. If we own something, we must maintain it. This takes time, money, and focus; ultimately increasing our stress
  3. Our pairs feel alienated if they don’t own the same thing. Jealousy can lead to loss of friendship

"Experiences make us happy because we share them with other people. Studies show that even if the experience is negative, in the long run, they are more valued than possessions."

Think about this scenario:

You laugh with a friend whilst getting stuck outside in a hail storm. In a few weeks’ time, you’ll discuss it with your friend, and giggle as you reflect on how awful it was. You’ll share it with other friends, and find happiness in storytelling and the response it invokes in your listeners. This will be a timeless memory to share for years to come. You paid nothing for it, it wasn’t an ideal situation, but it still bought you sustained happiness at several moments.

To some extent, stuff does make us happy, because it can result in an experience.

If kayaking makes you happy, you need a kayak to do this. If you enjoy hiking, you’ll require hiking boots for your adventures. But there’s a fine line between stuff, and useful tools that allow for experiences.

In his book ‘Stuffocation’, James Wallman argues that if kayaking makes you happy, but you never get to do it, the kayak only reminds you of how busy you are and stresses you out even more. Get rid of it. Stuff doesn’t only lack sustained happiness, but it creates stress. Stress means less time for happiness and enjoying experiences with friends.

As you can see… the relationship between stuff, experiences, and happiness, is far more complex than we ever thought.

The idea that stuff makes us happy is pressed on us so often, that we’ve become caught up in a slippery void of buying stuff. We buy stuff to impress our pairs, but really, they aren’t paying attention. They are too focused on doing the exact same thing.

The next time you go to buy something, consider its true worth, and I’m not talking about its monetary value. Ponder how many times you will use the item, if you’ll enjoy it with your friends, and if you could use your money for something else with more value.

Kate Hall

I live and breathe sustainable living and ethical fashion. This alternative way of consuming and existing dominates my every waking moment- and sometimes more. Ethical fashion and living are no longer my hobbies, it has become my mission... to change the future of fast fashion and the way we consume. My husband and I strive to live a zero-waste lifestyle, live at thrift stores, and always look to 'up-cycle' rather than throw out. Eco-living is not a choice for me, it's in my blood, and I am trying with all my power for it to be the new 'norm'.