Are You a Stuff Junkie or an Experience Junkie?

But if less is more, how you keeping score?

— Eddie Vedder, from the song Society

Lady in Red - Prague, Czech Republic
Freedom.

What is worth more? A dollar of stuff or a dollar of experience?

Technically, they are worth the same. But do both really deliver the same satisfaction?

Let’s say this world were split into two camps, the Stuff Junkies and the Experience Junkies, and you were forced to choose only one camp with which to align yourself. In which camp are you currently? In which camp would you prefer to be?

Stuff and the Stuff Junkie

Stuff — you know, objects. The things that take up space. Some stuff helps us accomplish tasks, making life easier, faster, and in some cases, more comfortable. Stuff is easy to quantify, easy to express its value in concrete terms like price. Everyone seems to understand stuff: physical objects are easily seen and touched.

Stuff is an easy way to demonstrate accomplishment, and our stuff can be an expression of who we are — or who we want to be. In this way, stuff has the advantage physical longevity (unless, of course, we’re talking electronics).

The Stuff Junkie wants: more stuff and more space to hold the stuff.

Experience and the Experience Junkie

Experience – all the rest that is intangible. You can’t touch or hold experiences no matter how hard you try. Not all experiences require an outlay of cash, but some do. In the wake of the experience itself, one is left with memories and their corresponding emotions and lessons. In this way, experience has emotional longevity.

The Experience Junkie wants: more experiences — new, deeper, unknown, and unusual experiences.

Our Choice

Fortunately, the world is not black and white. It is possible to be a hybrid junkie, planting one foot in each camp.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always cooperate this way. Most of us are faced with limited resources (e.g., money and time) that can force us to make a choice. It follows that junkies make exchanges to keep their habit going. And once you’ve chosen, it’s hard to switch.

For much of our lives together, we have chosen to eschew stuff. For example, here’s a choice we faced years ago, repeatedly: invest in a new car or save the money to travel.

So why did we choose travel over purchasing a new car? The cars we owned got us from point A to point B just fine. More importantly, our needs and wants began to evolve. We wished our lives to be filled with more experiences rather than more stuff.

But if I were to die tomorrow and take stock of my life in those final moments, I would recognize this: I have few physical assets to my name, but I am rich in experiences.

More recently, we’ve noted subtle reminders that, regardless of our calculations, life can run unexpectedly short. Stories of friends falling ill and dying young underscore this.

We also acknowledge that stuff has its place. For example, we couldn’t do what we are doing without our laptops and camera. We also admit to deriving great satisfaction from moments in well-stocked kitchens and in the comfort of something that feels like a home. And there are those times when I wish my clothes — they’ve taken a beating recently — were just a bit spiffier.

But if I were to die tomorrow and take stock of my life in those final moments, I would recognize this: I have few physical assets to my name, but I am rich in experiences.

I am aware of and thankful for the choices we have both made to reach this place in our lives.

So I admit it: I’m an Experience Junkie.

What about you?

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Comments

  1. says

    Experience, experience, experience! I like my camera so I can capture a few memories of my experiences, but if I had to choose? I’d give up all my “stuff” to have more experiences.

  2. says

    You’ve got that right! We’re a whole family of experience junkies & we started our open ended world tour because I want to “imprint” , value & pass on for generations that the value of experience trumps “stuff” any day.

  3. says

    Ack, sorry about my typos above, it’s late here in Spain & I guess I got too excited over this post to take the time to reread. LOL.

    I also wanted to add that my brother did die at 40 and he had few possessions, but he had lived such a rich life because he valued experience and service over stuff. He lived more in his 40 years than most do in several life times.

    Life is short…live it fully! You are definitely on the right track! ;)

  4. says

    Well, I’ve been perusing your excellent site for some time but this is the first time I have commented. Your piece above is particularly relevant for me as I am in the process of saving up to head off travelling myself later this year; I have been taking stock of all the “stuff” I have accumulated, almost by accident. Three days ago I made my final decision to forget about a storage locker for all my furniture and the many boxes I would need and instead sell or give away everything I own (bar my collection of books, journals and letters, I can’t part with those). So I would say I am a recovering-accidental-stuff-junkie at present, soon to be cured of this and move to a new habit. Roll on June and my Journey (with a capital J). Although I already feel that the planning is lending an experience of its own.
    Keep up the great work with this site, it is a pleasure to delve into your experiences and daydream about my own to come. Thanks.

  5. Kristina says

    Great Question/article! The last paragraph is a saving grace because I thought I would have to choose between the two! I am a stuff junkie only to the extent that it will give me my experience fix! Ie a car for Road trips, Cute clothing, hiking boots for my varying adventures. My Iphone and labtop to live vicariously through others experiences that goes for books too! I like to make my apartment homey but I think I am happier doing new things, taking classes, meeting new people etc….Though I envy your experiences, I am proud of mine, I am just looking for a new experiences all the time! I get excited about the newest adventure whether its having the opportunity to travel to a new place or learning a new skill related to my career or hanging out with new and old friends from simple gettogethers or competing in swimming after 15 + yeats, raising money for a meaningful cause (like Haiti or the local youth center LAYC)

  6. says

    It sounds like Alex and I are living parallel stories. I’m taking off in March and currently in the middle of a stuff purge. Alex, I absolutely recommend getting rid of as much as you can stand. I’m looking forward to enjoying a more experience based lifestyle in the near future.

  7. says

    I am probably in the realm of 80% experience / 20% stuff. I love my nice camera and good laptop cos it lets me share my travels, but I reside in a crappy apartment with a crappy car, cos it let’s me be exactly where I want to be and travel when I want.

  8. says

    I agree with most.. EXPERIENCE. We are at a point where we can reduce our STUFF even more, so that we can have even LESS and EXPERIENCE MORE.

    Yeah we need our cameras and laptops during our travels and probably a few other gadgets to capture these experiences and memories for our family and have a record for our daughter.

    If we have an entire house full of STUFF, in the final moments of our lives, we really have NOTHING with one another. I relish every day the times we spend together as a family. Fond memories, that I can take with me to the grave.

  9. says

    I am definitely an experience junkie. In fact, my lack of interest in stuff often leaves me with ancient technology that can make it difficult to share my experiences with others. :) I’ll take experiences over stuff any day, but for the stuff people in my life, my choice is difficult to comprehend when the holidays come around and I have to open yet one more box filled with something I don’t really need or want.

  10. Pete De Ritter says

    One of the happiest days of my life was the day I was driving down the road in an old beater with all my belongings in the trunk. As Janis Joplin said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
    It seems that possessions tend to attach themselves to me.
    I think you set up a false dichotomy. One type of junkie you left out is the relationship junkie. I love to meet people and develop relationships or hook up with old friends and catch up.

  11. says

    Definitely a lover of the experience! I’m in a constant battle with my husband who is more about the stuff. He’d fill our place to the rafters with stuff if I didn’t object! Me, I just like to enjoy the moment, perhaps take some notes and pics to remember it by. And purchase the odd piece of folk art to bring the memories to life.

  12. says

    Doreen, I can relate! This is a topic I think about a lot, specifically because I’m more of an experience junkie…and while my husband likes the idea of being an experience junkie, his decisions suggest that he’s more of a stuff junkie. Many of our money conversations go along the lines of, “well, if we buy that, then we might not be able to do this…” I think we manage to maintain a reasonable balance…but the need to negotiate that balance is a very real dynamic in our relationship.

    By the way…this is my first time visiting your site…I LOVE your channel buttons! Very clever. =)

  13. Rebekah Rabinowitz says

    Love your article. I am an experience junkie and meet few who are or who even understand my love for it. I live in extremes and love the journey. But of course, I love my gadgets that make it possible to travel and to explore the world from home.

  14. says

    Definitely experience is where it’s at but oh that “stuff” is so tempting sometimes! In the end though I would chuck the stuff if I had to choose and take the experience every time. We’re 18 months into our trip of a lifetime and now I look back to all that stuff in the storage unit that we just had to keep and can barely remember what we put in there. But I’ll never forget the memories from our trip. So yeah, I’m an experience junkie as well!

  15. says

    I can definitely say that I am an experience junkie, although, I may be too far in that camp. I quite often balk at buying even the cheapest of non-necessary items on principle alone, which drives my wife nuts. So, while I’m far on the experience side, I think it helps to be somewhere in the middle, or at least understand both sides.

  16. says

    Experience junkie too. :) I am really happy myself and my husband have bought our own house, but also realise how unattached to ‘stuff’ I am generally (which I am happy about) … we can’t take it with us! :)

  17. says

    I’ve never put much stock into inanimate objects. They don’t offer conversation or genuine interaction. That nails me at experience junkie. On the other hand, I really appreciate artisan products, when unique expertise was put into producing an inlaid pearl box, for instance. Haha, not sure what you’d call that. A Thousand Villages junkie? :)

  18. says

    This is a really pretty piece Audrey, very well written :-) I am definitely on the side of experience – but I will say that it’s really hard to fully eschew possessions and stuff. I actually kept my car for the year I traveled (let family members use it) because I had this huge attachment and need to have at least something (I fully owned it). But I’m proud to say that I sold it last week so that I could set out on this next adventure w/out that material pull back. :-) For the next while, I am all about the experience! :-)

  19. says

    Ahhhh, the invaluable nature of experiences! “Stuff” just doesn’t even begin to compare. Our family thrives on traveling and sharing new experiences together. A few years ago, we decided to prioritize travel, so that is where a huge chunk of our budget goes each year. We believe that the experiences we have connect us to other people, allow for personal growth, and make us richer individuals.

  20. says

    Solid post!

    In our travel community, you’ll definitely find a lot more experience junkies than stuff junkies, and I bet most of the commenters would be experience junkies too.

    But then again, there are travelers who are all about ultimate luxury digs, amenities, and nothing less.

    Never owned a blackberry. Not even considering an iPhone at the moment. If I could successfully operate without those before, I can certainly operate without them. There’s nothing worse than tweeting one’s entire day away on an iPhone about an experience one is supposed to be…well…experiencing fully.

    Did I say lovely post?!

    Lola (aka Experience Junkie)

  21. says

    Nice blog, you’re so right. In the end of the day, what you remember isn’t what clothes you were wearing or what kind of tv you had, but your experiences.

    Sadly though some people overdo that too into something of status or a satisfiction of finally being able to “tick it off the bucket list”.

    I remember in New Zealand we met a guy who had been there for 5 weeks, and when we talked about it he counted on his fingers all that they had managed to squeeze in on that short time. “We did the dolphins, we saw the wales, we walked the track…” and so on. Did he ever mention what it was like? Not once! He just counted all they had done on his fingers as a tick off the list. Did he really experience it? Did he really see New Zealand, or just through the camera lense and the tourist pamflets?
    I doubt it very seriously.

    So all in all, experiences are amazing, as long as you remember to treasure them and really experience what you’re experiencing..

    thanks for a great blog!

  22. says

    Definitely an experience junkie. Have come home from months of travel with much smaller bags than when left. Wasn’t a conscious decision, but something of a reflection that I don’t want to live a life spending time taking care of things, cleaning things, lugging them around, selling them when I have too much… Being happy is a priority.

  23. says

    It’s taking a while, but my partner in crime and I are shedding our stuff. You’re totally right, it can take effort and at times it’s not easy at all, but it’s worth it. Many of our friends and family think we’re crazy but we honestly don’t care. Now that we’ve made some concrete progress we’re well on our way to becoming experience junkies!! We’re finally starting to travel and experience this amazing planet of ours! Gauging our life in what we’ve seen with our own eyes rather than what’s on a screen. Downsizing instead of consuming more. It’s a win-win on so many levels! Great article! Thanks!

  24. says

    Wow, great comments here. It seems like most of our readers – or at least those who comment – find themselves aligned with the experience junkies. Whether you have a preference for stuff or a preference for experiences, the important thing is for people to be aware that they have choices and can make deliberate decisions to support those preferences.

    Now to your comments. They got me thinking, so apologies for the book I wrote in response…

    @Rachel: We would have a hard time going without our camera and laptops – we look at them as accessories in sharing our experiences. But, if we were forced to choose….

    @soultravelers3: It’s still hard for kids when they don’t have all the gadgets that their friends have, but when you are exposed early to experiences it helps to provide perspective. It’s wonderful you’ve been able to travel with your daughter from such an early age.

    @Alex: Thanks for commenting and saying hi! The process of selling things off and getting rid of clutter is such a freeing feeling. We felt so great when we sold everything in San Francisco and moved to Prague with six suitcases and when, five years later, we sold everything in Prague and donned backpacks for this journey. We still have a few things in storage in Prague and in my parent’s closets, but the longer we’re away the more we forget about them and wonder why we kept them in the first place.

    @Kristina: Sounds like you’ve found the right balance between having the right type of stuff so that you can enjoy the experiences more. I love that you use adventure almost as a synonym for experience and that you bring up non-travel related experiences.

    @Caleb: Good luck with your process of shedding more stuff and congrats on making the decision to live an experience based life!

    @Dark Nomad: I completely get what you’re saying. We also love our gadgets, but when we lived in Prague we purposely lived in a less expensive apartment and didn’t buy a car so that we could save for this trip.

    @GotPassport: It’s fantastic you will be able to travel soon with your daughter and expose her to different cultures and experiences. It seems like more and more people are downsizing and simplifying their life so that they have more flexibility to travel, work less, go to school, or whatever it is that they want to do. Understanding your priorities and making decisions to realize those dreams is a wonderful thing.

    @JoAnna: When I read your comment about people around you not really understanding your disinterest in stuff, a childhood memory came to me of my grandmother screaming, “I don’t need any more STUFF.” She would always tell this to her kids and grandkids when holidays came around and everyone felt the need to buy her something. I completely understand her now. Holidays and birthdays are difficult for us as well – our family falls in both camps. We don’t want to come off as being “bah humbug” but we also don’t want to buy something just for the sake of buying something because it’s what people do.

    @Pete: That Joplin song is one of my favorites. And, I remember the great feeling of freedom when I fit my possessions in the back of my old VW GTI and drove across country.

    Thanks for bringing up relationships in this discussion. Dan and I actually talked about this before publishing. In our minds, the time spent with people or developing new relationships fall under experiences but we perhaps should have included that in the description.

    @Doreen and Shelley: Although the both of you have husbands who perhaps prefer stuff more than you do, it’s great that you have an open discussion about it and can compromise. I also enjoy picking up a piece of folk art or tapestry that represents a place or culture where we’ve traveled. I always joke that we’ll have beautifully decorated walls one day when we settle down, but no furniture.

    @Rebekah: It’s sometimes hard to be an experience junkie when friends are family are not. Kudos to sticking to what makes you happy!

    @Tracy: I completely agree that all that stuff is tempting, especially if on lives in a society where it’s just EVERYWHERE. But, when you get away from that for a while you realize how little you need to really live.

    @Kyle: Neither extreme is good. I have friends who are stuff people. It makes them happy and they would never want the life that I have. It’s important to recognize and respect the other side – not everything that works for you works for other people (and vice versa).

    @Jen: Thanks for stopping by! Your husband’s post the other day on your blog resonated with me. It’s great you both can find happiness in the little things!

    @NomadicChick: Laughing at Thousand Villages Junkie. Sometimes buying handicrafts can be an experience in and of itself – you talk with the artisan, learn about the technique and history, perhaps learn something about his/her family and help support that family through your purchase. Perhaps the perfect hybrid activity.

    @Shannon: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed this piece! I completely agree that it’s hard to eschew stuff and get rid of the things that make life familiar and comfortable. However, when one travels for a long time like you did, it seems like it becomes a bit easier since you realize how little you need to live happily. Congrats on selling your car and your upcoming trip!

    @Kathy: That’s great that you’ve prioritized experiences and travel in your family’s budget. Your children will grow so much from this.

    @Lola: It’s always so nice to hear that you’ve written a “lovely post” – thank you! And you bring up a good point – even with all the gadgets out there to capture and convey the “experience”, it’s important to just enjoy the moment and turn all of that off. I do confess that I am thinking about an iPhone at the moment since our other cell phone got stolen in Bolivia and the 6-year old phone I’m carrying is starting to fail. But, the decision is based on how many other gadgets and books we can get rid of by carrying this one device. We’ll see…

    @Sofia: You bring up an excellent point regarding collecting “experiences” to check things off a list instead of actually experiencing them. Some companies in the tourism industry thrive on this and make people feel like if they pay a ton of money and cram in a million things into two weeks then you will come out enlightened or have some sort of traveled status.

    @BM: There’s nothing like carrying everything on your back and taking care of it day in and day out to make you realize that you don’t need very much to live well. Congrats on coming home with less stuff than when you left! We haven’t quite accomplished that yet…

    @Tad: When people ask why we decided to leave our jobs and travel, we tell them that a big reason is that we were tired of reading about the world from afar. We wanted to see and experience it ourselves. I completely get what you’re saying. Congrats on making this decision and enjoy your upcoming adventures!

  25. Anne Parsons says

    Loved this piece – so true: have never regretted a choice to forgo the “goods” for traveling experience. Just read a great piece in a similar vein from Ben Bressler, founder of Natural Habitat Adventures, on their “Good Nature” blog, titled “The Happiest Man in the World”: http://goodnature.nathab.com/bensblog/2010/01/the-happiest-man-in-the-world/. I think the vote for experience over stuff is pretty common with those who travel.

  26. says

    There are two other camps: The competence camp and the enlightenment camp. I’m in the competence camp and so I do not really care that much about stuff or experiences. In terms of satisfaction who is to say? As long as you’re in the right camp and not being pushed into the wrong one, you will be the most satisfied.

  27. says

    Thanks for posting this perspective, I’m a fan of the concept…but appreciate you making the call out. We talk about this as a family, “Do you want a new toy for Christmas…or go on an adventure?!”

    Giving credit, saw this in a tweet from @chrisguillebeau, and I’m retweeting it to my folks.

  28. Snufkin says

    There’s more space to respond here versus Twitter!

    It’s actually a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately since it’s the start of a new decade and I spent the last year of it looking after a parent who passed away too young. My natural inclination is to always go for experience (esp. because “life is too short”), but I sometimes wonder if that’s my way of avoiding any kind of commitment or responsibility. The big example I can think of is that now that I probably have the means to buy a place (after years of feeling like I was “left out”), I’m ambivalent about taking on the commitment/responsibility.

  29. says

    Wow……..I can’t even stress how timely this post is for me. This time last year: stuff junkie. But it wasn’t the real me. It was due to choices I’d made to make others happy. And I was unhappy as a result. The real me is, and always will be, an experience junkie. Like you both, I do realize the value of some stuff: like a camera and a laptop. And my pop pops cowboy boots. But if at pain of death I had to choose experience or stuff, it wouldn’t be a choice. Experience. Over stuff, for sure.

    I’m days from being officially divorced. And it’s so very much for the best. Because after we filed I was able to leave behind, get rid of or sell 90% of my stuff. And I’ve never felt more free than I do know. More at peace. More in love w/ life. More happy.

    And I’m definitely looking forward to the experiences I will have as someone less tethered to stuff I don’t care about. I’ve already had some incredible experiences I wouldn’t have been able to have before this huge turning point!! The thrill that fills me at the anticipation of what’s still to come – is pretty crazy great!!

  30. says

    Stuff only has value when it enables (or makes significantly easier) an experience.

    In my opinion, pursuing stuff for stuff’s sake is predicated that it magically holds the key to happiness, so the advertisers on Madison Avenue tell us. This is where problems begin, and it is only magnified by the maintenance costs of said stuff!

  31. says

    I’m decided to become an experience junkie in March 2002. And I haven’t regretted it since!

    “I have few physical assets to my name, but I am rich in experiences.”

    so true

  32. says

    Another experience junkie here! It’s about finding the perfect balance that works best for each person. I’m perfectly content having all of my ‘stuff’ fit into my own relatively small backpack. I do need most of this stuff in order to continue having many of the experiences I’m having, but in the end, my stuff is mainly for ‘survival’ and I look for little value from it beyond that. $1 worth of experience is more important to me than $100 worth of stuff…

  33. says

    @Anne: Thanks for passing on the link to the article on the “Happiest Man in the World.” While I don’t think I could live as simply as that, it’s inspiring to see people who are able to live life so connected with nature.

    @Jacob: Satisfaction is in the eye of the beholder, it’s a completely personal reaction. What brings satisfaction to some disgusts others. But being comfortable and comfortable with who you are – and your preferences – is most important.

    @Kevin: I think that’s fantastic that you ask your kids which they would prefer – a toy or an adventure. Just curious, what do they respond?

    @Snufkin: I’m sorry to hear about your parent passing away young and can completely understand this affecting your actions. The irony is perhaps that now that we’ve been “homeless by choice” for the last three years, I wish we had a place of our own more than ever. But, I know if I were faced with the decision to buy a place I’d be ambivalent on that responsibility as well.

    @Kristen: Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and reflecting on some of this in your own post. Congratulations on beginning the process to return to your “real” self and priorities. Good luck in continuing your journey of being happy and free!

    @unbjames: It’s interesting that you’re the first one to mention Madison Avenue and corporations in this conversation on stuff. Each time we return to the States, we are overwhelmed by the advertisements and commercials EVERYWHERE. It feels like every physical and mental space is taken up by promoting some product or service that’s going to give you instant happiness. It’s really kind of wild when you think of it.

    @Dave: I have yet to meet a traveler who has regretted his/her trip. There may be financial or emotional difficulties returning home, but no one has told me they wish that had never traveled.

    @Walter: Nicely said. So true.

    @Earl: Some people look at us and think we’re crazy for living with so little, while others look at our equipment packs and think we’re crazy for carrying so much equipment. Each person needs to find his/her own balance.

  34. says

    I’m a double junkie who has spent most of his time collecting stuff. I’m on a mission to fully transition from stuff junkie to experience junkie. I realize the transitory nature of “stuff” and yet I still want to collect it when I can’t travel. It’s like something has to fill the void. Experiences are the true currency of life.

  35. says

    What a wonderful, thoughtful post. You’ve put a name to something I’ve been mulling over for a long time. Sure, I like my stuff, but you’ve just helped me to realize that the stuff I prize most is the stuff that helps enrich my experiences! (computer, camera, books)

  36. says

    Back again to thank you for inspiring me with this post. I’ve been thinking about it for hours and it led to “Books, Computers, and Cameras: Tools & Tickets” (http://ow.ly/ZIs9)
    Thanks again for helping me put another piece of my puzzle in place!

  37. says

    @Keith: I think stuff sometimes fills the void when not traveling. It’s easy to get a quick hit from it between journeys, but perhaps the goal is to fill your life with experiences when not traveling so as to not miss the stuff. Easier said than done…

    @Margaret: I really enjoyed the post you wrote after reading this. I am the same way – I like the stuff (laptop, camera, internet connection) that helps me “experience” more, meaning that I have some tangible memory of the experience (like you mention in your post) and can more easily share those experiences with other people. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this here and on your own website. Perhaps our paths will cross in Chile this year.

  38. says

    Us travelers are totally experiences junkies. I find, though, when I haven’t been on the road for awhile, I slowly start to fall into the cycle of accumulating stuff, wasting money on the material things that don’t really make me happy. That’s when I need to check myself (going on a quick overnight helps) and remind myself what I really care about, and how I really want to spend my money.

    Thanks for this post. It was a great way to check back in with what’s really important to me: experience.

  39. says

    I think we’re all a little of both. That’s because we can be. We label ourselves as one or the other based on interests and what life experience has given us. I would say I’m more of an experience myself. I like to understand and know things and have deep intimacy with life in different shapes and forms.

  40. says

    @Lauren: I’m glad this post helped remind you of your priorities and what’s important to you. When you’re traveling you realize how little you need, but when you’re in one place it’s quite easy to fall into accumulating stuff. It’s great that you get away each time you feel your behaviors changing towards this.

    @Eric: I agree that we usually are a bit of both, but one’s priorities shape whether you choose to spend your money and time on one thing more than the other. One preference is not inherently better than the other – it’s more the idea that you are consciously making a decision.

  41. says

    with no doubt experience! as you said you never know what might happen tomorrow and that’s why we decided to take the big loop too, although i start to get worried what to do once back from our rtw as we weren’t much of a stuff junkie before either so will have to adapt and work hard once again

  42. Philippe says

    I’m definitely an experience junkie, I love good music, tea, delicious food, walking, meditating, relaxing, and just about anything that provides with a good experience. But at this point in my life I crave to experience love, I’d like to have a girlfriend and friends that are present, people who share interests like mine. I feel like I am alone in this world, I don’t feel lonely just that I know I am missing on something great, on which that I’ve wanted all my life.

  43. Bill M says

    My answer to your question is “no.” “Stuff” can represent experience: a pebble, rug, or whatever, might symbolize vast expanses of the heart or mind. And some people pile up experience as a form of status, to display as they might an award or possession. So, “experiences” are every bit as much “stuff” as “stuff” is–at most, both are after the fact “proof” of having been (or imagining having been) alive in some previous moment–and the more one focuses on accumulating proof, the more one is detached from–and less alive in–that moment.

    Maybe it’s more a matter of whether one focuses on quantity or quality. If I were quantity-oriented, then maybe I’d try to hoard and display experiences and “stuff” as wealth–but would that of itself make me wiser or in any way “better”? I doubt it. What matters I think, isn’t quantity of proof, but quality as expressed in how one has lived and lives–not how many of “what” one has accumulated.

    Does one define oneself as lists or catalogs of things had or done or seen or climbed or collected or traversed? Or is one, in the present, fully and intimately oneself, absorbing and digesting what one can? Ask: am I a bystander, or a participant? Am I defined by the “experiences” and “stuff” I display; or do they barely hint at who I am? In short and long, am I a quantity of past, or a quality of present? The answers sure affect how one “travels”–whether that’s measured in physical displacement or not.

    My life isn’t about the next “fix,” so “junkie” doesn’t apply. Rather, I think, it’s all about *preventing* “stuff” and “experience” from becoming devices or addictions. But junkies: if your stuff and journals disappear and You are all that’s left, are you enough?

    Thanks.

  44. says

    @Martha: You both will likely have changed from your round-the-world journey so going home may feel odd at first. But, you can keep the values you picked up in your travels and try to incorporate them in your “regular” life. Good luck!

    @Philippe: I know this sounds cliche, but love seems to strike when you least expect it or are looking for it (Dan had sworn off dating the week before he met me!). Continue to do what you enjoy and you’re more likely to find a like-minded soul to share it with.

    @Bill: You are right that there are some people who look at experiences as stuff – a checklist of mountains they’ve climbed, countries they’ve visited, etc. The goal there is more to accumulate than experience. However, I was trying to get at a different type of experience in this piece – the one that leaves you with something learned, a memory, something you can’t perhaps describe but instead feel.

    Although I understand that junkie has a negative connotation because of its association with addicts and people who are looking for the next fix, I decided to use the term anyway to spur people to think about their own actions and start a discussion. In the end, the goal is to make decisions and act in a way in line with our values and priorities.

    @Hy: Thanks for your comment!

  45. Imelda says

    I really like your writing (esp. this one) Audrey.. thanks for your sharing it with us. This one is like a revelation.

  46. says

    @Imelda: Great to see your name pop up! I’m so glad you found this post helpful and that it helped put some things in perspective. I hope all is going well with you and your little one.

  47. says

    Audrey, what an inspiring post! The comments on your articles are always thought-provoking too. Yours has to be my absolute favorite travel blog! I don’t read it often enough (lack of technological stuff? lol) but when i do, i binge! I agree with everyone who said that after a long trip, you don’t even remember why you kept all those boxes of STUFF, and wish they’d just disappear… And traveling with a small (40 liter) backpack for 9 months sure cured me of my shopping addiction! All that inexpensive and beautiful stuff in those markets and souks… But i didn’t want to carry them for months, and didn’t have room anyway. And carrying less stuff meant my backpack was small enough to be kept as carry-on on all 12 flights of the trip – and not too heavy or cumbersome for the train, rickshaws, walks, etc. By the way, i recommend the iPhone: I absolutely love mine! It’s old, second-hand, and jail-broken, and it means I don’t need to carry a camera (Dan has a nice one anyway) and I can easily check my email and talk on Skype, providing there’s free wifi (and put in a local sim card, of course). An iPod Touch with a headset would do too, i guess… But it’s so nice to be able to quickly take out my phone to catch a fleeting moment! (not in people’s face, but that’s another story…) Cheers! :)

  48. says

    @Helene: Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I understand that sometimes it can be difficult to have access to technology to read it regularly, but we’re glad you enjoy it when you are online.

    I’m impressed with the size of your backpack – mine isn’t that small yet, but I have hopes to downsize a bit more before we go to Africa. There is something freeing to be able to go anywhere with all the stuff you need on your back.

    We did end up getting a used iPhone recently and I’m still amazed by its mapping functionality. Really amazing. I’m still not using it to its full potential, but it’s so nice to be able to use it for checking email or skype like you mentioned. Safe travels!

  49. Kate says

    I remember being asked something similar a few years ago. Then the question was “do you like stuff or do you like things?”
    The rules were that the person asking the question was not allowed to explain the meaning until after you had answered the question.
    So I thought about this for a few moments and answered ‘things’. Stuff to me was akin to junk. Stuff is what we own but don’t treasure. My reasoning was if I was going out to spend money on a new purchase, a ‘thing’ would bring me more joy then new ‘stuff’ as I would take the stuff for granted. This drew an interesting response as everyone else decided that they were most definitely a ‘stuff’ person.
    The most telling difference between me and the stuff people was that I had spent every single spare dollar and spare money travelling or planning trips overseas. Where as they all owned their own cars, homes, flat screen TVs (which I didn’t and still don’t!).
    So in answer to your question, I am 100% an experience person.
    The stuff ends up needing to be replaced, upgraded, renewed or repaired over time.
    The experiences grow richer and more rewarding with time.

  50. Veneta says

    Discovered this site today and I love it. I don’t know how I ended up in this post exactly, but it resonated. My boyfriend is all about more travel and less stuff, and in general I agree. At the same time the stuff that he thinks we don’t have enough space for, for me it is all about experience: hiking backpacks, tent, garden/picnic/camping chairs, my sports and dance gear; or it is all about memories of experience: shells form that camping trip a few summers back when we stuffed three girls in a small glacier tent, present from my sister when she went to Spain, mementos from my friend’s bachelorette party in Vegas where we walked our feet off and turned heads all around, etc. I love keeping something from each place I traveled so as I use it I would remember the place, the people I was with, the crazy things we did. Due to space limitations I tend to do earrings since they are small and easy to transport, but that doesn’t always work out or a different item resonates. I try to get objects that I would use vs. ones that I would only display. So am I a stuff junky or an experience junky?

  51. says

    @Veneta: Welcome! And glad you’re enjoying our site. Like us, you’re a hybrid. The experiences are super important to you, but you also want a physical memory from that experience so you can easily be reminded of it. The trick for all of us is finding the right balance.

  52. says

    Interesting post! I think we definitely need a mix of both in order to remain healthy. I’ve been through both extremes of owning nothing and owning lots of things – generally owning nothing has felt just as comfortable.

    I’m firmly in the experience camp but with a few things to support us along the way.

  53. says

    @Will: It’s interesting to hear of your experiences going from one extreme to another. I do believe that when you get used to something, it feels comfortable…even if it is less than what you had before. Like you, we also need some stuff and equipment that help us enjoy and share our experiences. It’s all a balance…

  54. says

    I am new to your site. Great question.
    I am only a stuff junkie when it comes to books but otherwise I like to hoard unique experiences.

    The Wanderfull Traveler

  55. says

    I’ll admit I’m a big outdoor gear junkie. Gear is just stuff, but it’s oh so cool, and the right gear in the right situation makes for a better life in the wilderness.

    On the other hand, my wife and I own one car between us. And we live in Southern California, the Car Capital of the world! People here either look at us like we’re crazy, or they offer their pity. Thing is, we actually enjoy sharing a car. It can be a pain in the butt sometimes, but we save money (which ultimately means more experiences), and we spend more time together when we have to do car things.

    Great post!

  56. says

    @Murissa: Although I do a lot of reading these days on the Kindle app on my iPhone, I definitely understand the personal connection to books. There’s something really satisfying in developing a good personal library.

    @Eric: I’ve been in situations where I’ve been freezing my butt and wish I had invested in better outdoor gear! I definitely understand how good quality gear can enable better experiences.

    I have to admit that I’m smiling as I read your description of sharing a car. When people ask us how we can afford to travel we used to joke with them that we don’t own any cars – that savings alone can allow a trip or two. And, you’re enjoying the extra time you spend together so it’s a win-win situation.

  57. Aleksandra says

    Well I always rather try some exotic food then buy a new pair of shoes.
    But two years ago I got rid of everything that I could spare, let my flat and moved to Rome, Italy. That was refreshing, and now I am thinking of moving again. Anyway sometimes I need a something beautiful to have around, I am a libra after all. I try to make those things small.
    Tough to be a nomad with stuff :)

  58. says

    @Aleksandra: We’ve sold everything several times in our relationship together and while it is a royal pain to go through at the time, it is so freeing afterwards! I agree that having a few beautiful things around that inspire and put a smile on one’s face is a wonderful thing. But these things don’t need to be big, so perhaps there is a way to balance this with a nomadic lifestyle. Good luck with your upcoming move, wherever it takes you!

  59. says

    Hi, nice article. Good job you guys are doing here. I’ll definitely share this post. I’m an experience junkie and loving it. I can relate to your analogies. Presently, I’ve been able to do 14 countries. Read ‘my law of attraction.’

  60. Chasing the Donkey says

    What a great question to ask myself – I’m a hybrid!

    Althought I’ll admit I do REALLY live my stuff…especially anything that makes life easier or is a shottcut!

  61. says

    @Chasing the Donkey: I think we’re all a bit of a hybrid, but the question is when pushed to choose which comes out on top? And yes, stuff that makes one’s life easier & a short cut is pretty great.

  62. says

    I love this post. There was an article in the NY Times a few years ago that I distinctly remember that basically said experiences in the end give people longer-lasting happiness. I have so many friends that say they won’t travel alone, that they don’t have the money, but then go shopping with money that could have been used to travel. We all make a choice. I live in NYC, it’s an expensive city, but I try my hardest to save as much as I can so I can travel for a few weeks a year by myself (I travel constantly for work). It’s not ideal, but such is life. I have a dog, significant law school debt, and I can’t seem to find a way to completely break away from that right now, but I do what I can and am inspired by those who have been able to. And you’re so right about people thinking you are spending time on a beach or living a jetset lifestyle. When I travel alone, it’s a growing experience for me. Despite living a nice life in NY, I travel cheap, stay in places where I can meet others and immerse myself in the culture. I come back a different person than when I left. Still trying to figure out a way to balance it all…

  63. says

    @KLC: I think I remember reading that same NY Times article! We all have choices we can make based on our values and priorities, but we also need to balance that with obligations and jobs. Sounds like you’re living a life in line with your values – saving money where you can, traveling in a simple and solo manner, but not neglecting your obligations. And I so connect with the idea that you come back a different person than whey you left – travel and getting outside that comfort zone can do that. The difficulty is staying that different person…

  64. Patricia says

    Just found your site today. Nice article! I love to travel (I am a travel agent) so I will say experience. I would sell all of our belongings and travel much more, but it makes my husband nervous:) It is not so much the stuff he is worried about but the health insurance that comes with a steady job. What do the two of you do about that? We are both healthy and pretty young- but anything can happen! I hate to feel like he is working in a job he does not even like just for insurance. I am a US and an Irish citizen (than you grandma) so I guess I could get treated in the EU if anything happened. What about other areas though?!

  65. says

    @Patricia: So glad you found our site! Thanks for commenting. Health insurance is a big concern for many people and we know many people who are committed to their jobs just because of the health insurance coverage. For our travels we use World Nomads travel insurance that includes health insurance coverage for emergencies and basic care. It has a $100 deductible which is much better than many comprehensive health insurance policies in the States. You could find more comprehensive expat health insurance that would be a bit more expensive, but that might suit your needs. When we go back to the States we usually get short term insurance so that we are covered if there is an emergency. We usually tell people that if we get sick or need ongoing treatment we’d probably go to Thailand. The care there is advanced and it’s still reasonably priced (for most things).

  66. says

    @Katrina: Thanks for contributing an enneagram look at this discussion. I’ve read a bit about enneagram but don’t yet know all the types yet. Now I’m curious about what #7 is…

  67. says

    I’ve been to your site before, but only found this post today. Just gave away, threw away, or packed away all of my stuff (it wasn’t much) and took to the road indefinitely. Turns out, the less I have the better I feel. It’s all just molecules anyway. Thank you for all of the terrific chatter and this still-timely post.

  68. says

    @mspinrad: It’s not an easy process to give or throw things away, but it is a great feeling to get to the other side and feel lighter without much stuff. Good luck with your travels and just having a little to keep track of.

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