At the start of the financial year I set myself a challenging goal.
Not to buy anything NEW for a whole year. There are a few caveats around the goal:
- It does not include consumables such as food and cleaning products.
- If something essential breaks or wears out I can replace it, preferably with something second hand.
- It does not include experiences.
After six months in I am doing OK, I have not brought anything new into my home.
I tried to argue with my accountability partner that magazines and books were experiences and not stuff, but she said they were stuff because I could borrow them from the library or read them online, so I cancelled the subscriptions I had.
Have I missed buying stuff? So far – no. I have made do with what I have. The hardest thing so far was what to do about gifts. With the holiday season looming I was not sure what to do. For the most part I bought experiences or perishables or gave second hand stuff. As a last resort, I decided that since it was not coming into my home, a new book and essentials like socks were OK. (This may be cheating a little bit I think!)
Over these last six months people have asked me why? Why would I set out not to buy anything new for a year? “That’s crazy” they’d say.
It wasn’t about saving money – although I have. It’s not because I am a hoarder, although I do sometimes feel crowded in my little home. The real why emerges out of several interlocking events and ideas that have been with me for a few years and which all came together in a flash of realisation.
The interlocking events included
- Growth coaching
- Some workshops on mental health first aid and positive psychology
- My discovery of the Minimalist podcast
- My only daughter’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism
- The ABC TV show War on Waste.
- The Story of Stuff.
- Having lots of time to think and reflect
The interlocking events led to my quest for a richer, more meaningful life. In this post, I will only elaborate on one aspect of the jigsaw. Positive mental health.
I previously talked about the foundations for wellbeing. These being
- to give,
- to connect,
- to be active,
- to take notice and
- to keep learning.
I discovered these foundations when I attended some workshops about student and teacher wellbeing as part of my day job and much of it began to resonate with me personally.
Some other workshops suggested that there was a very strong connection between positive mental health, diet and exercise. While I initially began the research to help students and teachers at my school, I was able to apply what I found out to myself.
I started investigating my diet and the link between gut microflora and mental health. I had already read some books about positive psychology such as Flourish by Martin Seligman. I disappeared down the google-search-vortex as one thing led to another. I eventually found a paper called A Wonderful Life: Experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness.
The abstract to this article states:
This research indicates that experiential purchases provide greater satisfaction and happiness because:
(1) Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods;
(2) Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person’s identity; and
(3) Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases.
It all boils down to the fact that money can buy happiness, as long as you buy experiences and not things (material goods) . Things give you short-lived happiness. You quickly tire of them and want something else. Something bigger. Something brighter. Something that needs to be stored when you grow tired of it. Experiences, on the other hand, give you memories. You can reflect back on them. They give you something to talk about. They put you in a social space with social beings that you can form connections with. They help you learn about yourself and other people. They help you learn about the world. They hit on at least four of the five pillars of positive mental health. If you choose to experience the world by helping others you can hit on all five.
If you are waking up from a “stuff-hangover” now that Christmas is over maybe next year you can think of buying the things that make memories. The only place you need to store them, is in your (digital) photo album and your brain.
 July 1 in Australia
 A proper peer reviewed one! Gilovich T, Kumar A and Jampol L Journal of Consumer Psychology 2014) available at: https://www.scribd.com/document/280715372/Gilovich-Kumar-Jampol-in-press-A-Wonderful-Life-JCP