"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Experiences vs. Things"

This is one of the mantras of the full-timer. You'll often hear the guideline: For every item you buy, one item has to go.  For very real, practical reasons living in an RV limits the amount of stuff you can have. But once you've let go of all the stuff you used to have, you discover there are more existential reasons for not having stuff: You don't need it, and experiences are a lot more fun than your stuff ever was.

Now science has caught up with what we already knew. Experiences make you happier than things, and they last a lot longer. Strange but true. How can an experience stay with you longer than a material possession? Well, Dr. Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University claims that the happiness of an experience has a longer feeling life than the shelf-life of an object. It seems that we get used to our things, or adapt to them, and lose our feelings for them sooner than we forget the pleasant memories associated with our experiences.

I think there are some folks for whom this choice would be more difficult than for others: serious collectors and artists for instance, like Ross J. Ward who built Tinkertown in Sandia, New Mexico.  

Ross J. Ward in a photo from Tinkertown

They collect and create with stuff, so I don't have to. I can appreciate their's, and I do. Clearly, making art, creating, is an experience of the type that brings tremendous fulfillment. And it often requires and produces more stuff. What a dilemma.

Here's me enjoying someone else's stuff.

A great question we're often asked: "What did you do with all your stuff?" In our case, we gave away and sold everything that we couldn't digitize or fit in our 5th wheel. (Some folks retain some stuff and keep it in storage for when they might need it in the future.) The process took us about 18 months, and was at times difficult, but once we were done, we were grateful. 

Another question: "What about souvenirs of your travels?" Two things we do about that. Magnets on the fridge and photographs. Pictures really help me retain the memories, and I love looking back at them. And I write this blog to help me recall the experiences we have. Occasionally we also just happen to need something that ends up being a souvenir of sorts: the cowgirl hat I just bought in Santa Fe, the fur slippers from Alaska. 

And another: "What about books, and movies, and music?" Digital entertainment: I-tunes, Kindle, Amazon, Red Box and Netflix are the standard answers.  I have to confess that I don't like to read digitally. I do pick up paper books at book exchanges one often finds at RV parks, or at library book sales (really cheap good quality books). But I pass all those on. I have room for a rotating collection of about ten reading books, max. 

Now before you get the idea that we are impervious to the temptations of the material world, let me share a story. I was walking on a beach in Florida with my good friend Cindy, telling her all this bologna about not needing stuff and letting photography satisfy my craving to hold on to beauty, when I look down at my feet and see the most beautiful, perfect shell I'd ever seen. I passed it by . . . and then went back and picked it up. I now carry it around to remind myself to be humble and not get all preachy about this stuff vs. experiences idea, and to remind me of that day on the beach with Cindy.  

We have not taken holy orders. We do not live a completely ascetic life of material deprivation. But we are not prisoners of our stuff.  We do look for new or interesting experiences. Next week we are taking a glass-blowing class. Do we need the little baubles that will be the end products of our experiences? Absolutely not, and we'll probably give them away. But we'll keep the experiences for as long as our memories can hold on to them.


  1. Although I do occasionally read books on Kindle, there's nothing like the feel of a real book. I think adding a little trinket here or there can contribute to the adventure and add smiles :-)

    1. Yes, I agree, as long as they aren't rocks! Remember that old Lucy & Ricky movie where she collects rocks everywhere they go and tries to hide them in the trailer? I think of that so often. (Rocks are pretty tempting sometimes.)

  2. Good, thoughtful post. You sure look cold in that Tinkertown photo! We're headed that direction next...

    It is surprising how much room we really have in our traveling homes for "stuff", yet most of it is of the useful variety. There is freedom in that lack of stuff, and I so love the ability to look back through the blog to once again relive the many experiences we've had on the road. Too many possessions tend to hold us back I think.

    Looking forward to your glass blowing experinece!

  3. Thanks Lisa. Yes, there's often a cold wind around here. I hope you're heading for the Santa Fe area. It has so much to offer, and you're going to find some great hikes in Bandelier and Valles Caldera.


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