Devaluing the Material in Favor of Experiences

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.—Eleanor Roosevelt

Vermont Experiences

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our world is shifting from a society that focuses on and applauds material things—the white picket fence, that designer purse, amassing more, more, more—to one that favors experiences—the joy of sharing a home-cooked meal with good friends, road tripping without a destination in mind, the scents and sounds of traveling to a new city, the ocean, abroad. Fewer McMansions. More adventure.

Vermont has been ahead of the trend of devaluing the material in favor of experiences for many years. Experiences are part and parcel of the Vermont brand after all (check out my Vermont bucket list for must-have Vermont experiences). The people who call Vermont home and those who make it a travel destination come here to experience its essence, its spirit… and, of course, the natural beauty, distinct seasons, locally grown flavors, and genuine, community-minded people. Whether a foliage drive on scenic Route 100, hiking up (or sledding down) a 4,000 foot mountain, standing in line for craft beer, or cooling down in a swimming hole followed by a massive maple creemee, Vermont is all about the experiences it offers and emphasizes.

Vessels for Experiences and Adventure
This spring, I bought a bow rider on a whim. I had never driven a boat other than maybe a dinghy as a kid. I didn’t have a boater’s license. I hadn’t spent any time on Lake Champlain. I joked that it might have been an early mid-life crisis, since I’ve never been one to splurge on material things. I drive a five-year old SUV, live in a modest ranch and would choose flannel and jeans over anything remotely stylish any day of the week. Without pause, I would rather experience a new restaurant, escape for a weekend at a quaint inn in a tiny town, try my hand at making a new meal, or spend time in the mountains or on the water than amass material things. The water has always been my happy place, so my boat purchase was a means for living more where I feel most at home.

What I quickly realized through a season on the water was that the boat is so much more than a material possession… it’s a vessel to have richer life experiences. It reconnected me with childhood friends. It helped me suck up my fear and hop on a tube for the first time since I was a kiddo. It made me laugh like a giddy kid when we plowed through waves and wake. And more, importantly, it allowed me to spend every weekend outside, under copious sun, without having an ounce of guilt over what I should be doing. I relaxed. I thought. I reevaluated.

New Experiences
Just this week, I put my Middlebury home of nearly seven years on the market after I accepted a new career opportunity with an expansion team within Keller Williams: Hergenrother Realty Group. For years, I’ve joked that in another life, I’d like to be a real estate agent. Maybe it’s my formal education in the history of art and architecture that instilled in me a love for homes, but, I think more so, it’s the strong memories I have tied to places, to homes. As a marketer through and through, I was thrilled to find a role for me—in this lifetime—within an organization with the mission of “transforming lives through home ownership.”

For me, selling my house is a big step. Home ownership has been transformational for me, as I bought my secluded, country ranch at 23… (how I qualified for a mortgage I’ll never know.) I am grateful for taking the plunge into home ownership at a young age, as I learned about budgeting, how to make home improvements on the cheap through trusty YouTube videos, and how much pride you feel in coming home to something you’ve made your own. After all, a house really isn’t about the material possession—the framing, the sheetrock, the shingles—but rather the experiences that make a house a home.

How to Live More With Less
Last weekend, I had my annual yard sale. Every summer since I was a kid, I’ve been having a sale to purge things that no longer have a place, or space, in my world. Having inherited a lot in the past few years, it was time for a major clean out. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo and vowed for each of my possessions to have a purpose and a place. With an eventual move on the horizon, I took this sale even more seriously and whittled down my possessions to the bare minimum. The clean-out was more than just physical for me… It was a cleanse. It’s really quite amazing how much space removing the material can create in your life, how much stress it can lift, how much it can help you refocus and re-prioritize.

How do we live more with less in a world where success and attainment have been tied to what we own? I would encourage you to try it out, even if just for a month. Only buy what’s necessary to live. Plan an activity that’s out of your comfort zone. Reach out to a long-lost friend. Make a meal you’ve never had. After a month of living more and having less, what changed? How did you live a richer life through having less?

Share your plans for how to live more with less in the comments below to keep the conversation going.

1 reply »

  1. Erin I really connected with what you said about removing the material can create space, relieve stress, and help us refocus. Valuing experience over consumption and amassing stuff. We’re going through a similar shift (down here in Virginia). It’s delightful (and honestly, relieving) to know you’re experiencing something similar at the same time. I hear all the time from friends and strangers alike how they wish they’d learned these things earlier in life – yet I feel like I’m constantly trying to minimize and simplify. I’ve begun to realize that it’s an evolving process, a series of changes and purges, a set of cumulative mindset shifts and never-ending learning curves. As we’re growing mildly older (and hopefully wiser), year by year, I believe this shift is helping to keep me young. Thanks for sharing this article, miss you and hope to get together in the very near future.