It’s Not What You Own…

If you’re looking for happiness, fulfillment, growth, or perhaps more confidence in social situations, having all the latest and greatest toys isn’t the way to get it. While you might think that buying tangible possessions that could potentially last your lifetime is the best use of your hard earned money, and I know I have for most of my life, it just isn’t so. Let me explain my case using the example of my new iphone.

America is a very consumer driven society. We spend a lot of money on Stuff, because advertisements are all around us, telling us we’ll be thinner, stronger, more attractive, healthier, more likeable in the eyes of our neighbors, or have more time (to waste on doing things we don’t really need to do) if we buy their product, whether it’s a dietary supplement, a fast food sandwich, a pair of shoes, a car, a new coffee table, or a cell phone.

We don’t just buy a product, we buy the benefit we see behind the product, and how it’ll make us feel. I decided I wanted a smart phone because besides just taking calls they tend to have decent cameras (no optical zoom though, so don’t expect phone cameras to replace regular cameras anytime soon), can be used as a GPS, and I can access the internet on it. These are all useful features when I think about going full-timing, but there are any number of smart phones on the market that could fulfill these needs just as well. Out of all the possibilities, I went with the iphone because of the image associated with it.

Have you ever been inside an Apple store? It’s sleek, hip, upscale. The advertisements they put out show attractive and successful young people with winning grins using their iphones to take pictures of incredible scenery and messaging each other from fun, trendy locations. It’s the image Apple has built, and people (including me) who want that image for ourselves buy the product to get that feeling.

Coming around to the point, I bought that particular phone to feel happier about myself, and I think a lot of times people purchase things to feel better about themselves, but this isn’t the answer.

Once I bought the phone, low and behold, I was still me. There wasn’t some magical switch that got flipped that made me cooler, funnier, or more attractive to the opposite sex. The initial rush of excitement as I played with my brand new phone didn’t even last a full 24 hours. I realized that while having it may make full-timing easier by giving me quicker directions than if I had to find a WiFi signal and stop to power on my computer and check, it certainly wasn’t necessary. All of you out there who wrote in on the connectivity article saying you travel extensively and use cheap pay-as-you-go phone plans are a testament to that.

This realization, that a big purchase doesn’t make as big of a positive impact on our daily lives as we might hope is a significant component of buyer’s remorse I think. And yet, so many folks just plunge ahead to the next big expense, in the hope that this will be the thing that changes their life, proves that they’re just as good as the Jones’.

I have nothing against Apple. The fact that some companies can have a horrible product and still make good money is a testament to how powerful an image can be, but when you look beyond the clever advertising that Apple has done, they back it up with high quality craftsmanship and good customer service. I have enjoyed my iphone so far and do not regret my purchase, I’ve just come to accept that it falls under the category of wants instead of needs and having paid more money for it I’ll have less to spend elsewhere. It’s all about opportunity costs.

So if belongings and possessions aren’t the key to more happiness, fulfillment, growth, or confidence, what is? As current and future RVers, you guys probably already have a good idea what the answer is even if you haven’t put it into words before – it’s experiences. Stay tuned next week (I’ve always wanted to say that, hehe) when I’ll get the second half of this article up and go into detail.

Until then, have you ever made a big purchase that you later regretted? If so, did you end up doing anything about it? I’ll go first.

When I was in college I bought a X-box system just to be able to play one particular video game that several of my friends were into. All in all I spent a good $350 which is a lot when you’re a broke college student. I ended up not even liking the game that much and regretted the purchase, but hung onto it all anyway. Over time I collected a couple more games for it that I enjoyed better and it wasn’t a total waste. Last December when I was on a big downsizing kick in preparation for small RV living I put it all up on Craigslist priced to move (in fact I’m pretty sure I mentioned it briefly in a post) and it turns out the lady who bought it all from me was giving it to her daughter for Christmas. She was on a limited income and was so excited and grateful, it made me feel really good. I may not have gotten as much enjoyment out of it as I could have, but her daughter had been wanting one for a long time and definitely would.

Image courtesy of PT Money

For part 2, click here.

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Terri on August 31, 2014 at 10:49 am

    You have a great philosophy in not buying anything you can’t afford. I’m sad that it took me so many years to also get to that point. But now that i’m there, that’s my philosophy and I’m sticking to it!

    I found I wanted MUCH less in my life once I got rid of my TV. I don’t even like watching tv shows/full episodes on the channels’ websites because of all the ads they shove in there. It leaves me feeling like I want something. And I know it’s all manipulation. So no more!! By the way, I had an iphone 3 for quite a while – like three or four years, before i upgraded to the 4S. Now I’ve had that model for almost three years, and I see no reason to upgrade. 🙂
    Terri recently posted..Little Things for Which I am ThankfulMy Profile

  2. Dale on July 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Good topic, I”m a bad Dale though, I bought straight talks android phone as an upgrade just the other day. I’ve already tweaked it to be an uber pocket geek machine. I also love my desktop mean machine with dual monitors in my Oyster Can/camper. I love (and often need for jobs) the power of a desktop (I always build my own desktop mean machines though to save tons of dough). I regret any purchase that I don’t have the money to pay for. I hate borrowing money , credit cards or anything like that.
    Credit is re-branded slavery.
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    • Becky on July 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      Yeah I’ve never borrowed money to pay for anything. If I don’t have enough it doesn’t get bought. I’m enjoying my smart phone too, typing this from it actually.

      I had a friend make me a desktop once but had several issues with it so I just stuck to pre-built after that. Glad it works for you though!

  3. Ross Macintosh on July 24, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Living in an apartment you likely only accummulated a modest amount of stuff. When you own a home it can lead to an exponential increase in stuff. Of course the vast majority of it we never will need.

    There is something really appealing about lightening your load like you’ve done. It reinforces we really don’t need the stuff that clutters our lives. I still have all the computers (and software & manuals) I bought all the back to about 1990. Why? I don’t know.

    Regards, Ross
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  4. Ross Macintosh on July 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I’ve never been very materialistic but when when I look around the house and garage it is shocking to see how much stuff gets accumulated. I know I could purge tons of stuff but if you aren’t forced to it is so hard. That said, I know that it is liberating to get rid of all those bad buying decisions! My reluctance to get rid of stuff scares me a bit because we have a hoarder in my extended family and I’d never want to be so attached to the stuff that my identity is wrapped up in it as happens with hoarders.

    Regards, Ross
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    • Becky on July 22, 2012 at 5:46 pm

      Yeah Ross I know what you mean. I wouldn’t have bothered if it wasn’t for moving into the RV I’m sure even though I had some stuff I never used. It takes both physical and emotional effort.

  5. Dave on July 20, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Biggest purchase I regretted was a shiny new pickup truck. Very expensive to buy and feed. I felt much better once I switched to a tiny econobox sedan. However, losing the truck meant I was out of the travel-trailer-towing game for a while (sad face). I think I’ve struck a balance lately with a good used minivan and our little travel trailer. I tend to be happiest when I am doing something in a minimalist sort of way instead of going all out. For example, I sail for recreation. Do I sail an expensive racing or cruising boat? No way – I sail a home made plywood box boat with a tarp sail. It’s about the sailing, not the sailboat. Just as it’s about the camping, not the camper.

    • Becky on July 20, 2012 at 11:09 am

      Well said Dave, that it’s about the action, not what you’re using to accomplish it.

      I really do miss the fuel economy of my little Honda Civic, but that just wasn’t going to work for RVing since it wasn’t towable without a dolly (I did look into it).

      Originally I was looking at larger 20-23′ trailers and a 1/2 ton truck but I’m really glad that in the end I opted for a smaller rig, the mid-size Dakota is less of a gas hog, is easier to find parking for, and the Casita will still be plenty big enough for me on m own – heck, it’s working pretty well for me and a roommate right now.

      I’ve wanted a sailboat ever since I read Voyage of the Frog by Gary Paulson as a kid. Almost took lessons last summer using someone else’s boat but even that wasn’t going to be cheap so I decided against it. It’s on my Dream List though, some day…

  6. Dennis on July 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Remember when you die it’s the person with the most memories, not the most toys that win.

    • Becky on July 20, 2012 at 11:01 am

      I say something very similar to that in my About page Dennis, it rings of truth. 🙂

  7. Susan on July 20, 2012 at 9:01 am

    On my way in to work this morning I heard a commercial advertising TV’s and found myself thinking, “Boy, I could really use a new TV!” Then when the commercial was over I realized I didn’t need a new TV and had once again fallen for an advertisement. I’ve actually given up TV, now I think I should give up the radio, too:)

    My worst purchase was an Alienware desktop computer, that I too bought just so I could play one game. It’s embarrassing to admit that after taxes and shipping I paid over $1800(!) for this computer. I did use it for 4 1/2 years, but then I realized that all it was doing was keeping me from enjoying life because I spent so much time on it! I ended up selling it to my sister for $100. It’s really easy to feel remorse over spending so much money on something I didn’t really need, but I try to view as just another learning experience I needed!

    • Becky on July 20, 2012 at 10:59 am

      Funny you should mention that Susan!

      Two years ago I bougth an Alienware desktop as well, but I paid just over $2,000 for mine. I’ve always been a computer gamer more than a console gamer and have owned a succession of high quality desktops since I was old enough to earn money for them, I think everyone has something that they think is worth spending a premium on and for me computers was it (and really that was the only thing I’d spend that kind of money on).

      Just a month after that I had my wake up call and realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working 9 to 5 at a job I didn’t like until I was old enough to retire. I realized that the desktop was a mistake – I should have invested the money in a laptop that could travel with me instead. I still got a year and a half out of it and then sold it for $300 to Julie and put that money toward my alienware laptop that I bought in March. I spent just under $1,100 for the laptop since my priorities have changed and I need more money for other things now, it’s a big step down from the beastly desktop but will still play the games I want to play reasonably well and that’s what matters to me. It’s like a compromise. I still wish I’d had the foresight to have spent the $2,000 on the laptop back in 2010 then I’d still have it with me now and have that extra $1,100 for other things but what can you do.

      Now when I hit the road I’ll still be able to play games with Julie and my other gamer friends on occasion, but I’ll be able to play from all sorts of new and exciting locations.

  8. Cozygirl on July 20, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Way TOO much apparel. I was crazy in love with coats, sweaters and boots. Now what did I always end of wearing, that ONE fav coat, that ONE fav sweater, etc. I began to follow Becoming Minimalist and Be More with Less and I learned so much. I used to have a winter closet and a summer closet. I am almost down to just one rack and a few drawers. What a sense of relief…and to look back at all the money lost just hanging on a hanger. I try to stay as far away from a mall as I can anymore and just wear my “fav’s over and over! ~cozygirl @

    • Becky on July 20, 2012 at 10:29 am

      I count myself lucky that I never much cared about clothes. My parents would buy me some stuff at the beginning of the school year and that’s what I’d have until next year unless I wanted to spend my own money and I never had much desire too. Ten years later and I’m still wearing most of my clothes from back then, haha. As stuff wears out I replace it but I spend very little. I have a total of 8 days worth of clothes in the Casita right now (and that’s wearing some stuff 2 days each) and it has worked just fine for me the past couple months. I’ll need to move some of my warmer clothes into the Casita before I take off for full-timing but I’m now pretty sure even what little I had at the apartment won’t all be coming with me.

      The one exception would be my renaissance festival costume. My first year out of college when I had a real job I went out and spent a good $400-ish on a fancy costume. I’d been going to these festivals for a couple years at this point and had a good idea of what I wanted to buy so it wasn’t really an impulse purchase. I never regretted it and still wear that outfit when I go to festivals now so I’ve gotten good use out of it.

  9. Misty on July 19, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Hahaha, it’s weird how I was thinking this exact same thing earlier today…

    My most recent impulse buy was an iced tea maker. I’ve been really wanting one and I put it off for a long time, but I finally decided that it’s just not practical to make tea the way I usually make it in an RV, so an iced tea maker would end up getting used a lot….

    Well, that was a bust. The tea it makes is ridiculously weak for my tastes, even on the strongest setting, and you can’t add the sugar into the hot water before steeping the tea the way I’m accustomed to doing. 😛 Live and learn, I guess.
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    • Becky on July 20, 2012 at 10:20 am

      Yeah your post about cleaning stuff out of your RV was in a very similar vein, we must be on the same wavelength right now or something. 😉

      My mother use to make tea by putting a tea bag in a mug of water and microwaving it, she was more fond of hot tea than iced tea though and I don’t know if there is a significant difference in how they’re made.

      Hopefully the tea maker wasn’t too expensive at least?