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When experiences become things
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When experiences become things

This week Katherine explores experience purchases and explores the difference between an amazing experience versus an over-priced setting.

In this era of new minimalism, “experiences not things” is the mantra. Don’t buy stuff, buy intangible memories. As a result, travel, wellness, and dining are surging in popularity and the traditional tchotchke, knickknack, and antiques culture of the past struggles to survive.

Rewind to the holiday: this year as a gift to my ever-patient husband, I carefully decided on a pair of  tickets to see one of his favorite artists on Broadway. I reasoned that this was a special gift, and if I was going to deliver an experience it should be memorable. I gleefully booked tickets. The show was absolutely perfect: Thought-provoking. Emotional. Intelligent. Entertaining. We both absorbed the energy of the performance and spent our time at dinner reflecting on what we saw. An example of money well-spent for my husband to witness one of his music idols doing what they did best. Good job, I mentally awarded myself the MVP best wife ever gift-giver award.

My idea of the ultimate dining experience is a meal so good that you crave it a few weeks later. Looking back, I struggled a bit to remember what I even ordered.

Several weeks later, my husband made a confession. “You know,” he said hesitantly, “I loved that show. It will live with me for a long time. But...”

“What?” I was surprised.

“Dinner afterwards was...excellent. But I don’t think it really added anything more.”

Right. Dinner. I had made a reservation after the show at a nearby restaurant, because “theater and dinner,” right? PB&J; popcorn and a movie; the two activities go hand-in-hand.

Not wanting to sound ungrateful, he quickly added, “Frankly, I would have been just as happy grabbing a cocktail somewhere quiet. We would have had the same conversation about the show which was what I was most interested in.”

Tough as it was to admit, he was right. The dinner was practically flawless; food was tasty, the staff knowledgeable, but it wasn’t particularly memorable. My idea of the ultimate dining experience is a meal so good that you crave it a few weeks later. Looking back, I struggled a bit to remember what I even ordered.

Right then it hit me. What was I paying for? An experience or a setting?
An experience is fueled from within.
A setting - much like a movie set - is merely a backdrop to an experience

I placed “experience” over a “thing” and assumed the experience had more value; not realizing I sleepwalked my way into spending money that didn’t really enrich our lives. Perhaps an absurdly horrendous experience at the restaurant would have been worth it; if nothing else for a good story (“Remember the time there was a cockroach floating in the soup?”)

Ultimately the restaurant ended up as an expensive setting for the real experience which was spending time with my husband, blissfully lost in a conversation. A break from the everyday.

Since then, I’ve started taking inventory of autopilot experiences and asking myself what the real experience is. Am I constructing a set to have an experience? Is this going to add anything more? Is it worth it? What will I remember from this experience?

Looking back I can think of autopilot experiences that I could have just as easily gone without. And more importantly I can point to experiences I had been well worth the spend, as mundane as they may seem.

I’ve had incredible experiences in rural Indiana, sitting on the back patio with my father, watching the sun set. My father is the one of the only people in the world with whom I can discuss politics . Paying for the flight to Indiana is worth just watching the sun set with him, knowing there are a limited number of sunsets we have left together.

It’s a lesson that the company makes the experience. Not just the location.

Update: This year, I opted to make Valentine’s Day dinner reservations with my husband...at White Castle. Cheap AND an experience!


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