30 years ago, it would take a house fire around 28 minutes to ‘flashover’, or spontaneously combust. Today, it takes three. Our faith in the power of objects to make us happy is filling our homes with so much stuff they’ve become unsafe.
We now own twice as many cars, eat out twice as often and are generally more affluent than we were 60 years ago, but our sense of contentment has decreased. It seems that all our wonderful belongings are making us less happy.
Studies have linked childhood parental divorce, poverty, and a lack of nurture to higher materialism in adulthood. And the effects? People who organise their lives around external goals such as possessions, status, and praise, report fewer positive emotions, greater unhappiness in relationships and more psychological problems.
There’s also the environmental impact to consider. The Australian Conservation Foundation’s 2007 Consuming Australia report found that only 10% of our eco-footprint is taken up with water and electricity use, while the remaining 90% is attributed to products and services.
Collect experiences, not things
James Wallmanm, author of Stuffocation, recommends swapping the pursuit of possessions for experiences – an approach he calls Experientialism. His advice is backed by science, which has found that spending money on social experiences rather than material objects makes people significantly happier.
Here are six ways to embrace Experientialism and reduce the hold possessions have over you.
Reducing your possessions makes you value the things you choose to keep more highly. The Marie Kondo method says to keep only the items that bring you joy, and say goodbye to anything that doesn’t. You can donate unwanted goods to local charities, or organise monthly swap days with friends, which will allow you to acquire ‘new’ things in an ecological way.
2. Practice mindfulness
If the prospect of not buying anything new fills you with dread, practicing mindfulness can help you deal with any negative feelings that were previously reduced by shopping. By focusing awareness on the present moment, either through meditation or simply as you go about your day, you’ll be better equipped to accept life as it is. You’ll also develop more appreciation for the stuff you already own.
3. Explore your city
We often forget that what seems commonplace to us, may be a tourist or day-tripper destination for others. Museums, botanical gardens or camping trips are all low-cost, high-gain experiences if you view them as an adventure. You could even visit a local second-hand market with a $10 note and hunt for the most interesting thing within your budget.
The psychological benefits of helping others are numerous, and many charity organisations would welcome a helping hand. You could spend an hour a week sharing stories with an elderly person, help out at an animal shelter, read to at-risk children, or help recently arrived refugees settle into their new community.
Often we pay for products because we don’t know how to make them ourselves, or fix them when they break. Spending some time on YouTube to help you build a chook pen, fix your own stereo, or make a children’s toy will build skills you can use time and again, as well as leave you with tangible proof of your hard work. You can also visit online repair sites like ifixit.com or fixitclub.com for guides and community advice.
Sticking to the same routines can make your days blur together and leave you wondering where all the time has gone. Travel within your own state, country or overseas, will not only expose you to new people but also leave you with a virtual suitcase full of experiences to share with friends and family when you return.