After finishing the entire book, I have decided that while he might not be a minimalist, James Wallman does indeed have a good message in Stuffocation: Why We’ve Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever. And I’m not just saying that because he used one of my comments in a blog post (I didn’t even know that until I visited his blog to verify the spelling of experientialism).
Wallman believes that experientialism is the way we can best escape materialism. He makes a good argument too. Minimalism, voluntary simplicity and downshifting are valuable lifestyle choices and can help the individual find more peace and happiness in their own life but none of these will ever be accepted as a societal norm; which is what it would take to supplant materialism as the “American Way”.
Wallman’s theory is that for our economy to survive, people still need to buy things. Experientialists place a higher value on experiences than they do on stuff. They still buy stuff but mainly things that correspond with an experience (think hikers buying backpacks, skiers buying skis, or knitters buying yarn). The majority of their time and money is spent doing things rather than amassing stuff for the sake of status. Oh but don’t think experientialists are exempt from keeping up with the Jones. The new status vehicle for experientialists is….you guessed it…social media.
I liked Stuffocation. I think it’s a book worth reading. It helped me to realize a few things about myself. First, I am an experientialist. Adventure is my middle name and when I’m not actively engaged in some kind of meaningful experience, I feel restless and bored. When I think about why I became a minimalist, it was primarily to free up my time and money for travel. Though we’re not able to travel as much now as we would like (due to caring for family), that goal is never far from my mind. Every day, every dollar, longs to be spent experiencing all that life has to offer me.
The Adventure of Melody & Angie
The second thing that Stuffocation taught me was a better way to budget. You won’t find anything about budgeting in the book and I’m sure James Wallman would scratch his head and wonder where I got such a notion if he read this. So let me explain…
When Angie and I chose our goal for this year – to live on half of our income – the idea was just to see if we could do it. We had no real end game. Sure, it would be nice to have half of our income saved at the end of the year or to take some nice trips (using cash) throughout the year but we really didn’t have a hard and fast “why” for our choice of goal. And we were a little shaky on the definition of 50% too. We were approaching the goal as if all of our expenses – including discretionary spending – had to be equal to or less than half our salary. Once we got to a month with no extra income, it was easy to see that this method of accounting wasn’t going to work.
One of our problems was that we were mislabeling some items as living expenses – like Netflix and our membership to the rec center. Reading Stuffocation gave me permission (if you will) to call those things what they are – experiences. We purchase them for no other purpose than to entertain ourselves. They are not necessary. Factoring out experiences and purchases we normally wouldn’t make (like buying a washer for my mom), I realized that our living expenses (rent, utilities, gas, food, insurance, and my student loan) were always going to be a constant 50-55% of our current income. We had worked to get those expenses as low as they would go (except for the student loan).
With that in mind, I started looking at our budget a little differently. The 45% of our income that previously had no specific purpose suddenly did. We either earmarked it for paying off the student loan, retirement, or experiences. The experiences category includes everything from e-books and online classes to date night and travel. You’ll see a better example of my accounting in action when I post our April expense report. We still want to live on 50% of our income. The only difference is that now we know why that makes sense to us as a goal.
One final note on Stuffocation: Wallman talks a lot about the “sharing economy”. I’ve long been a fan of this concept, having used airbnb, DogVacay, eGo Carshare, and most recently the CSA that we signed up for. The novel thing that he says is that apartment rentals are part of the sharing economy. That makes sense, though I’ve never thought of it that way. Now that I do, it helps me to realize the impermanence of our living situation and I can deal with its problems in a more laissez-faire manner. Good apartment or bad, I’m only sharing the use of it for a little while.