Overstuffed and Under-experienced


Experiences make people much happier than material items because we become bored with our purchases rather quickly, while the memories of experiences are ingrained forever. Never have I felt this more than when I recently came across some autographed framed photos and baseballs hidden away in my closet. I probably enjoyed them for a week or two about 20 years ago. It got me thinking hard about the things I buy and the stuff I hold on to for too long. Beyond the happiness factor, are there any other benefits that might come from downsizing our stuff?

A Story of Less Stuff

One couple wrote an article about their move from the U.S. to Central America. Every summer they would return to the U.S. and visit their storage locker. With each annual visit they sold stuff until there was almost nothing left. The only items from their old life that are with them now are two coffee mugs and a set of silverware. They wrote, “The things that now provide the most comfort, meaning, and sanity in our lives are the people we meet, the things we do, the places we go, and the adventures we encounter.”

Freeloading Tenant

Imagine if your things had to pay you rent for the space they consume. At, say, $500 per square foot, 200 square feet of home would be worth $100,000. Whether it’s to store your holiday decorations or to house guests a few times per year, you might want to know the opportunity cost of having space that’s not getting its highest and best use. For example, if you expect your home to appreciate at around 3% annually, and you think you could earn about 6%, on the money you didn’t spend on that extra room, the difference (cost to you) would be $3,000 per year.

Environmental Cost

If the extra money in your pocket isn’t motivation enough, perhaps the planet can talk you into it. The “Story of Stuff” has a nifty video that might just be the Blackfish of the materials economy. To summarize, about 80% of the planet’s original trees are gone; we mix chemicals with natural resources to make more stuff and then release billions of pounds of chemicals back into the air; and 99% of the stuff we consume is trashed within about six months. We are all victims of “planned obsolescence,” which basically means companies design products with an artificially limited useful life (just good enough to keep us loyal and just bad enough to make us need more again soon). Ugh!

By the way, I’ve finally mustered up the courage to ask my dad about getting rid of the sports paraphernalia. We can give some of it to a young sports fanatic (who will likely appreciate it more) and sell the rest to buy tickets for the next San Francisco Giants playoff game. It’s one less bin for me to store, I get another experience, and a little kid has more stuff to enjoy … until he grows up and reads my blog.

Happy planning,