January 4, 2016

Experience Before Possession or More Adventures, Less Stuff

Not long ago, a friend and I had a conversation that shed a new light on a long-held conviction of mine: that living life is better than owning it, that the value of experience is higher than the value of possession. Or, as one of my sisters often puts it in motto form: More Adventures, Less Stuff. This friend pointed out a scientific study that indicated people who choose to invest in experiences rather than objects identify as being happier than their stuff-hoarding counterparts. Of course, at the time of this conversation I already knew that adventure was my preference. It is not in me to be satisfied with living a mundane, average, or tedious life. And I knew that the adventures (however small-scale or large) I have often plotted and planned and carried out for my children and I are our most valuable educational resource. I knew experiences of exposure to new people, new ideas, new places, arts, culture, nature, science, service, empathy...these are the makings of knowledge that shapes this life for us and leaves this life with us, unlike anything that can be bought. But I had never before really applied the thought that now seems so obvious: we are happier for the things we do. And, perhaps more importantly, can be made unhappy by the things we have, if they are too much, or not the right things, or more important to us than living life.

Four months ago, my children and I moved from a 3000 square foot house to a 900 square foot apartment. We reduced our possessions-- our stuff--by at least 60%. It was, at first, difficult to decide what would stay and what should go, but when we really thought about the ways we use our time, and the ways we would like to use our time, rather than the ways we were trying to make ourselves want to use our time, the task sorted itself out. Which toys did the children actually care about? Which books did they actually read? Which arts/ crafts projects was I actually going to do and which was I just hauling around from place to place, telling myself that the me who doesn't use her time that way is an unacceptable version of me? Even in the matter of my wardrobe (and you know I love me some clothes and accessories and shoes), I said goodbye to the things that were not bringing me joy. Small space living is intentional. It is systematic. It requires careful choice and thought. We have found our new home to not only be much more manageable and to bring us together more, but we have also found more freedom in the purposeful ways we choose what stays in our home and what goes.

I do not belittle the experiences of everyday when a life is well-lived. The human connections. The selfless service. The beauty to be found in the simplicity of home. But I also esteem travel, and have always, always loved to explore the world. In the last two years, with the financial decisions and priorities finally being my own, we've been able to make regular trips to see family, to meet friends, to explore new places like never before. Even when money is tight, you just decide what matters. Personally, I am willing to take risks and cut corners elsewhere for an unforgettable, adventure-filled life. Last year, with my theme of House in Order , part of my focus was to arrange our finances and time in a way that would make it possible for us to travel more in the future. And we got a good start. For Christmas our big family gifts were ASTC passes, and tickets to see Newsies in Spokane in May (experience +  experience). This year, staying on that trajectory, the kiddos and I spent New Year's Eve planning what is to be our most epic summer road trip yet. We talked about the sacrifices we'd have to make to make it happen. The lack of stuff. And I think we can do it, blogland. We'll go from our home in Missoula to my sister and bro-in-law's home in L.A., stopping all along the way to visit family, friends, historic sites, holy temples, national parks, ASTC museums, and whatever strikes our fancy. Then, after a few days in La-La-Land, (with maybe a little Wizarding World of Harry Potter thrown in there, if we can swing it), we'll come back home by way of the 101, driving all the way up the Pacific coastline. Again, stopping to see friends and have more beautiful adventures on the way.

It's a tall order, I know. It's a big dream. But it's the dreams, big or small, not the fancy things, that make life a happy adventure worth living.  

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