Consumer Spending On Material Happiness

Too much stuff.

People come to think what they must think when they must think it. With stagnant incomes, towering debts, and no real hope of increasing their purchasing power, they’re beginning to think that they don’t need so much stuff.

“Rethinking the pursuit of happiness in a recession,” is a headline from The New York Times. The article talks about people who live quite happily and comfortably with little stuff and little income. One couple has an income of $24,000 per year – and no debt. They make a point of having 100 personal items – or less. They could earn more money, but they don’t need to. Because they are no longer supporting so much stuff.

“The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false,” says the woman in question.

“Studies of consumption and happiness show that people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather than material objects,” says the Times.

And when people downsize their lives intentionally they end up with more time and money to spend on experiences – such as vacations. Or tennis lessons. Or reading a good book.

You take a vacation. Even if it isn’t perfect, you tend to remember the good parts for a long time. An object, on the other hand, gives its satisfaction very quickly…and then becomes a source of expense and nuisance.

We spent the last week cleaning out the garage and the workshop.

“I just can’t believe it. I mean, how fast things fill up. We bought this place 15 years ago. It was huge. It was empty. I thought we could fill it with junk for the rest of our lives. But now it’s so full, we have to throw things out. Besides, I’ve had enough of this. I want to get rid of all this. From now on, I want to lead a simpler, more organized life.”

Elizabeth seemed ready to take up the “less is more” chant herself.

“No, I don’t necessarily want less… I want better. And that means being more choosy and getting rid of junk. We keep things for years and years thinking we’ll need them. Then, we don’t need them at all and have to throw them out.”

Damien (our gardener) backed up a big wagon in front of the garage. Old paint cans. Bicycles with broken wheels. Pieces of steel. Cardboard boxes. A rusty barbecue. Everything went into the wagon.

“Wait…Damien…what’s that you’re throwing away…?”

Once he gets started, Damien is hard to stop. In his hands was an antique – a hoe-like metal object used for raking the coals out of a brick bread oven.

“Wait a minute…let’s save that.”

“Why, what good is it?”

“I don’t know…it’s an antique…”

“Well, if we wait long enough, everything will be an antique…”

“Good point.” The hoe went into the wagon too.


Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning