Replacing stuff with experiences

I’m a big fan of ‘stuff’. To the regular exasperation of my girlfriend, my life seems to involve a litany of new toys, gadgets and stuff in general.

Personally, I blame the advertisers. Don Draper and his ilk are just too damn good at what they do. If Nikon, GoPro, Apple, Garmin, BMW or Salomon launch a new product, I’m all over it like a fat kid on a birthday cake. It’s no secret that Uncrate is the first (and most regularly visited) page on my iPad Flipboard app. The stuff they tout there makes me drool on a daily basis.

It probably also didn’t help that my former father-in-law drilled into me the ethos “He who dies with the most toys, wins”. I want to be a winner.

But I’ve watched The Story of Stuff. I’m acutely aware of the finite resources in this world and the environmental impact of unrestrained consumerism. The consequences of this relentless buying will probably include my kids or their kids living on some desolate wasteland, a la WALL•E. As hard as I might find it to make that connection, my buying decisions today will ultimately decide the fate of mankind, which is both scary and kind of cool.

All of this got me thinking, as I started drawing up the list of incentives to accompany my movie’s Kickstarter campaign, where does our obsession with stuff end and what replaces it?

As Financial Planners, a lot of what we do revolves around the ability or inability to accumulate stuff. Most of this stuff is necessary; the stuff we need to live a healthy, secure life. Once existence is secured, we move on to securing the stuff our clients need to live a happy, fulfilled life. For some clients, we then move on to securing what they need to live an exuberant, extravagant life. Horses for courses.

I’m a big believer that nature abhors a vacuum. Aristotle was definitely on to something there. We can all make a conscious effort to reduce the ‘stuff’ in our lives, but we probably need to replace that stuff with something else.

In my mind at least, the ideal replacement for stuff are experiences. Despite remaining a sales victim when it comes to the shiniest new toy, I’m making a conscious effort to lead a fulfilled life through the accumulation of experiences, rather than stuff. If I can pass one thing on to our kids, it will be to embrace experiences and reject the need for consumerism. Setting a good example is harder than it should be, but gradually I’m making progress.

Since becoming a runner a couple of years ago, I’ve taken part in 20 official races ranging from 10km to 50km. Some came with a medal or a t-shirt at the end (more stuff!) but all were run solely for the experience. I’m broadening my experience horizons now, aiming to participate in other things outside of running, including open-water swimming and horse riding. Signing up to scary events and then working out a plan to complete them seems to be working well, so far.

Perhaps we have a duty to our clients to encourage the same, or at least engage them in a debate where this sort of thing is considered.  As Financial Planners, we might even need to be the inspiration to our clients to reject stuff and embrace experiences.

Back in the bad old days, it was all about the financial salesman who inspired clients with the calibre of his car or cut of his suit. Today in the new world of professional Financial Planning, there is a big role for inspiration through experiences. What do you think?