What is an Experiential Minimalist?

An experiential minimalist is someone who considers experiences more valuable than possessions. A classic example is someone who saves their money to travel instead of spending it on clothes or housing. I will give more examples below, and also talk about how to incorporate some aspects of this type of minimalism into your life.

This post is the second in a series about the different types of minimalism. To see the first post, visit: What is an Aesthetic Minimalist? Before we get started, I want to say that you don’t have to be one type of minimalist, nor do you have to follow all the tenets of a minimalist lifestyle to consider yourself minimalist. Heck, don’t even use the word “minimalist” if you don’t want to. This is a guide to help you pick and choose ideas that work for you. Don’t worry about whether you’re “doing it right” or not. We are humans, not archetypes.

Features of an Experiential Minimalist

Travel is often a key motivator of well-known experiential minimalists. These are the people who sold everything they own so they can travel. They might move into an RV like we did, or maybe they travel the world with most of their possessions in a single suitcase or backpack. A lot of them have found a way to work online as they travel, which is often referred to as being a “digital nomad.”

Since most people aren’t independently wealthy, having the time and money to travel means having to take it away from other areas of their life. This means they do a massive purge of their possessions to both raise some money and also have fewer long-term expenses. If you’re never going to be home, it doesn’t make sense to pay for rent or mortgage on a place that will sit empty most of the time.

There are many people who don’t understand this type of behavior. Before we started traveling, my former boss asked me whether I would keep paying for a space in the RV park where we used to live. I guess she thought I needed a placeholder in case things didn’t work out. We’ve also had a young person ask us, “Don’t you ever just want to go home?” I responded, “We’re always home.” The idea that a particular location is “home” just doesn’t feel applicable to us any longer.

Related post: Minimalist Home: What Does Home Mean To You?

There are other ways to be an experiential minimalist besides being nomadic. It simply means you choose experiences over having other things, because that’s what makes you happiest in life. Here are some examples:

  • Using money to take art classes instead of buying clothes

  • Going out to eat with friends frequently instead of getting a new phone every year

  • Living in a cheap apartment so you can work less and have more time for volunteering, being more involved in your place of worship, or taking a more active role in your community

  • Giving up your home and most of your stuff to move in with a sick relative—or clearing space in your home so a loved one can move in with you

  • Cutting down on expenses so you can afford to stay home with your kids

  • Buying books or music instead of furniture or clothing

In short, having stuff is valued less than having experiences. For most people, one must take priority over the other if you want something with any sort of abundance. Most of us have to work to pay bills and have to make the choice about what is most important. I would say in general, having a home full of stuff and also spending money on experiences does not make you an experiential minimalist, because you have not made a choice to eschew one for the other.

Behind the Scenes of an Experiential Minimalist

I’d say for nomadic experientialists, exploring is what makes them feel the most alive. Going to a new place is not scary, it’s exciting. For me, even when I try something different and it doesn’t work out the way I thought it would, I still consider the experience interesting and valuable.

For stationary experiential minimalists, they may also like to try new things more often than your average person. Variety is the spice of life, and experientialists like their lives full of flavor. This doesn’t mean they’re always doing new things; there are sure to be plenty of old favorites in the mix. Either way, it’s all about having the most of what they love, and as little as possible of the things they don’t.

I think an experientialist is also more likely to be a risk taker. They feel that status quo life is not enough for them. They hunger for change. Some might be adrenaline junkies, but many are just curious about what’s out there.

I’ve also come across many experientialists who realized life is too short to defer enjoyment to the future. Like me, they’ve had a wake-up call in the form of a health scare of their own or a loved one. They were reminded how short life is, and that waiting for some uncertain future date to enjoy themselves was a bad bet. Most of us don’t like to think about how long we have on this earth. But sometimes reality slaps us in the face. We realize all those long work hours to pay for things we don’t need, in homes we can’t afford, takes us away from what we really want to do.

Ways to Incorporate Experiential Minimalism into your life

You don’t have to love travel or sell all your possessions to enjoy the benefits of experiential minimalism. It’s simply about making choices that are more aligned with having the time, space, freedom, and finances to funnel toward the things you really want in life.

For example, say you want to quit your job so you can do something else; maybe you want to start a business or be a stay-at-home parent. It’s unlikely you can decide to do that today and implement it tomorrow; there will be several steps you have to take. You will probably need to make some changes to how you live now. There will be planning involved, and for a while you may have to make your life more difficult to reach your goal.

You have to be willing to take actions outside of your comfort zone and expect some disruption in your life now to create a better future. But most people don’t feel like they are sacrificing, because they care more about what they are working toward than what they already have. Change is welcomed.

I’m not saying you have to be a reckless daredevil to live a more experience-oriented life. But you do have to be willing to change, and that probably means some discomfort on your part. If that feels like a deterrent to you, consider this: permanence is an illusion. The nature of life is change; everything about you and around you is fleeting. You can try to resist. But it is impossible to keep everything exactly the same, because there are too many things outside your control. Accepting this doesn’t just help you be more minimalist, it also makes life easier in general.

If you think experiential minimalism is a good fit for you, here are some small, easy steps to make it a bigger part of your life:

  • Choose going out to eat over buying a pair of shoes

  • Save up money for a weekend away instead of using it on decor for your home

  • Take the kids to Disneyland instead of buying them gifts for Christmas

  • Hire someone to clean your house so you can sit at the beach all day

  • Cut your cable bill and use the money on a spa day each month

  • Pay for a healthy meal service so you have time to meditate or exercise instead of grocery shopping and cooking.

  • For your next birthday, ask people to volunteer with you at your favorite charity instead of giving you presents.

  • There are more ideas in my blog post, Spending Money Where It Matters Most.

  • In general, choose to focus on things that have a more lasting positive effect on your life. Most studies show that the euphoria from shopping quickly fades, but remembering events creates more sustainable happiness.

In other words, physical objects can get broken, lost, or worn out. But the memories from a great experience can last you a lifetime.

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