The Experience Economy: Why Aussies Want Less Stuff, More Living

21/08/2015 6:06 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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How many dresses or suits are hanging in your closet pleading with you to wear them? How much food do you throw out of your fridge every week?

We live in a disposable culture where ubiquity of items means that we derive less meaning from stuff.

Living in a materially-rich culture like Australia means many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we’ve accumulated -- from multiple pairs of shoes and books, to more surfboards and sunglasses than one person will ever feasibly need.

Rule: if you feel guilty about your shopping habits or shudder with familiarity when you watch British Hoarders, then this probably applies to you.

According to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) Australians spent a whopping $642 billion on general living costs at the end of 2012. This includes food, beauty products, gadgets, clothing, household appliances and so on.

Charity Ozharvest, which collects food from businesses which would otherwise be thrown away believes we discard more than $7 billion worth of food every year.

Yet there is hope. An idea that’s growing global credibility is the concept that all this stuff does not make us any happier.

This becomes evident when we look at all the new ‘happiness indexes’ on the rise; Bhutan’s GNH Gross National Happiness index, OECD’s Better Life index and the UK Happy Planet Index which all provide new measurements on the value of life.

Director of Cultural Forecasting at strategy and research company GALKAL Australia (Galileo Kaleidoscope) Michelle Newton told The Huffington Post Australia that most of us simply have too much.

“Owning too much is not a normal state for humans to thrive physically or mentally,” said Newton.

“We have to self-impose scarcity with diets like the 5/2, and shop at vintage stores to get any sense of what our ancestors’ primal human needs might have felt like, to scavenge and hunt.

“The idea of feeling hungry or any sense of scarcity of any sort is being wiped from our memory banks.”

Thankfully there are clear signs that things are changing. Aussies have always been perceived by the rest of the world as explorers; you might say it is in our DNA.

More and more of us are trading the stuff for experience. Thanks in part to social media, people want the bragging rights of the experience so they can share with their network of friends.

“Participation rates in marathon running, Tough Mudder and the colour run have increased for this very reason,” said Newton.

“Crowd recognition for posting about a great experience on Facebook or Twitter will be more rewarding than buying another pair of sneakers.”

“We are trading the stuff for experience. The Experience Economy was first coined in 1998 by Pine and Gilmore. They argue that ‘business must orchestrate memories for customers and that memory then becomes the product, the experience’.

“So while we’re a long way from 1998 they could not have been more spot on, as the experience economy races ahead thanks to the greatest enabler of our time technology.”

Microadventure community We Are Explorers is seeing a huge rise in popularity.

Founder Henry Brydon said people love to talk about the fabulous things they achieved at the weekend – rather than talk about the fabulous thing they purchased.

“When you look back at your life, you’ll look back at the weekend you spent out with friends, exploring the wilderness, going on adventures, connecting to the great outdoors.

“Those are the things people will hold true to their hearts and create a talking point,” said Brydon.

“Recently I put a Facebook post up asking for five people to join me on a Secret Adventure trip and within hours more than 300 people responded. If that doesn't prove a trend towards a desire for experiences over things I don't know what will!”

The badge on your car, the label on your handbag and the soles of your shoes will always speak volumes about you. But Michelle Newton believes the tide is turning – stuff is losing its role in defining status.

“It is far more interesting to say you participated in that extreme experience than to say I am wearing a Rolex. Status is achieved in what you do, not what you have,” she said.

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