The Battle of Stuff vs. Experiences

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I’m not a true minimalist who needs bare shelves and just a handful of things hanging in my closet to feel at peace, but too much ‘stuff” stresses me the heck out, and while I am firmly one who often values experiences over things, the ‘things’ seem to keep multiplying. This ‘stuff’ problem wasn’t a real issue before kids came along, but now that I have an elementary aged daughter who brings home projects, papers, books, artwork, and more on a daily basis, as well as a toddler who has pretty much every colorful plastic toy that China has ever produced, we have quite the full house. Between the things we buy, the gifts from celebrations, the presents from family members, and even their own allowance money, our house is stuffed to the brink.

 

I’m truly grateful that we are in this position as I know there are far, far worse situations to be in, but I still really hate it at times. To try to get a hold on things, since Christmas, I can only think of one or two physical things I have bought for the girls other than bigger clothes and a few books. With her blessing, we even requested no gifts for C’s 7th birthday, and through all of this we have scaled back significantly on the ‘stuff’ that they have received in the last six months.

The toddler clearly doesn’t know the difference as she has plenty of her own toys and her sister’s hand-me-downs to keep her busy, but even my seven year old hasn’t complained either. In fact, I recently hit my limit with our over-stuffed toy room and went to war on it one weekend afternoon with C’s help. I talked to her first about how over-filled and unusable the room had become, and that there were children out there who could use some of the toys we don’t play with. After a brief moment of hesitation, she totally got on board with the project. We trashed the broken or low quality toys, but also made a pile to donate, and when all was said and done there were no tears shed and we were left with a room that was actually functional and didn’t incite panic attacks at a mere glance towards the shelves.

Stuff vs. Experiences

After all but ceasing ‘stuff’ purchases and clearing out some of the things that had over-cluttered our shelves, no joy was lost in this family. Instead, exactly the opposite has happened. As the experts all say would occur, the girls are now playing with the few toys that are out more than they ever did when 3x that number were scattered about. Not only that, but shifting the money and energy we could have spent from things into experiences has proven to absolutely be the wave of the future.

With the exception of a $10 stuffed fox I begrudgingly bought at the Salt Lake City Airport in February that has since gone EVERYWHERE with my oldest daughter, I can’t think of any item she has received in the last couple of years that has provided more than a few hours worth of pure delight. However, ever since I have mentioned that we might be going to Disney World this summer, she has been over the moon.

C + fox on school hat day

We have already logged many hours of excited discussions about what we would do, where we would stay, what we would eat, etc. and the trip isn’t even fully booked. I’m a 10/10 excited about everything surrounding this likely Disney adventure, but thankfully so is she. She even woke up one morning this weekend and the first thing she said to me at seven in the morning was DISNEY! I had already been researching Disney stuff on my phone that morning for at least half an hour, so my response to her was YES, ME TOO!

My girls may not have the absolutely newest line of Disney princesses and such on their shelves, but even if they did, I can guarantee a few more toys wouldn’t enhance their lives to any great degree…and trust me, we still have plenty. However, what they do have instead is a summer full of experiences to look forward to. Not all of the experiences require a road trip or plane ride as there are plenty of local camps, swimming, and play time on the agenda, but let’s not pretend that something like Disney doesn’t bubble to the top of the excitement list.

A small part of me did worry that since my daughters, and especially my oldest daughter, has had the gift of so many amazing travel experiences at such young ages that travel would start to be as exciting as yet another colorful plastic toy, but that is proving to be an unfounded concern. I won’t be shocked if she goes through a phase like that at some point, because, well, teenagers, but so far her investment and excitement in family travel experiences is just growing exponentially with each passing year.

That growing excitement and appreciation been true whether we are talking about Disney, Hawaii, New York City, Europe, or a much more local adventure. I think she is placing her value on experiences with us over things, just as much as we are. None of this is groundbreaking information, but I’m still thrilled to see it playing out in my own home. As she and her sister get older I hope the trend continues to be in investing in experiences and time together and away from the latest plastic spinny light-up toy, though I’m sure one or two of those will find their ways into the house along the way.

How does your family manage the battle of stuff vs. experiences?

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

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  1. I totally agree. Setting the example helps. Instead of stuff, I asked each of my kids to plan an activity with me for Mother’s Day. So I have a spa day planned with my 10yo daughter and a zip-lining date planned with my 8yo son. And they cleaned out my car the day of. Much nicer than overpriced grocery store flowers that die in 3 days.

    This does backfire a bit. My daughter is requesting to go to Atlantis or Hawaii for her birthday and my son is requesting a trip to Great Wolf Lodge or Costa Rica for his birthday.

  2. For our daughters 4th birthday we started donations for a charity of her choice instead of presents. This gets her to think about things she would like to help and it also makes her friends learn about the charity too. She’s 8 now and she has started loving the idea. She decides if it’s kids or animals or some project at school she wants to help and is always excited to deliver it. Best decision we ever made!

  3. We traveled a lot when our kids were little and up until they were grown. They are young adults now and each one loves to travel as much as we do. We still take trips with them, but now they can pay/use points for themselves.

  4. It gets easier as they get bigger: they toys (electronics) get smaller so there’s lots less clutter! Now (at 10 and 13) they save up their allowance and gift money to buy their own toys. I had a proud mama moment when they didn’t even ask us but saved up together for three months to get a Nintendo Switch. It’s great that you’ve got C thinking about it now.

  5. I have way too much stuff. I’d rather have more/better experiences from this point on in my life.

    For our kids’ birthdays, I ask people to donate to their 529 accounts rather than give them yet another toy. Fewer people are in shock with this idea than you might think… but then again, they also give me a hard time about having a coupon or knowing a deal on just about everything we buy. Whatever… each of my kids have $10K+ in their 529s thanks to our focus on saving and investing. Yet, we still have more toys than we know what to do with, so it’s not like they’re neglected. HAHA

    Kudos to you for valuing what truly matters. Keep it going.

  6. Good for you! I’ve realized that the types of toys my kids actually play with are pretty limited: building toys, arts & crafts, games (electronic & non), dress up clothes. And My Little Pony. There are a few things outside of those categories that they like and play with, but for the most part, that’s it. We’re in the process right now of purging what’s left of the toddler toys now that my youngest is 4 (and really only wants to play with the same toys as her 8-year-old sister anyway).

    I know there have been studies done about this but it holds true in my house that when they have less stuff, they play with their toys more instead of just asking to watch TV all the time. My kids also suffer from the syndrome that if something isn’t right in front of their faces, they don’t think to look for it. So with less stuff, everything can be organized on shelves and nothing is tucked away out of sight simply because there’s no other space for it, with the end result being that they actually use everything they have instead of just whatever happens to be in the middle of the floor.

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