|Because this beautiful feline looks way better than a pile of invoices (oddly) // Personal picture 2015|
As I went to the family home during the summer, I sorted boxes of things left behind during my latest move, including one full of papers. As I sifted through old contracts and grade summaries and student subscription forms (and realized how far away student life suddenly felt), I unearthed a pile of old invoices and warranty documents. Here is what I learned from these.
Most of them were over 10 years old, the latest ones dated from 2010. And you know what? Over 90% of all these things are no longer in my life. Oven, cathodic TV, iPod mini, golden earrings, an online order of 100 blank CDs...
Not as durable and crucial as we think...That made me think of the actual importance of all the objects we surround ourselves with, and the importance we give to acquiring new items to perfect our homes and lives. This pile of invoices and warranty documents represents my biggest purchases of the 2000's, the ones that mattered to me. The ones I saved for, the ones that seemed significant.
I remember, when I saved for them, chose them and bought them, I thought of them as the items that crafted my living standard, my home, little pieces to the bigger, life-long edifice of my interior and life. Would I have spent to much, had I known that 5 years later, over 90% of them would be replaced or discarded?
That makes sense though. Between planned obsolescence, recent purchases, moves across the country and as a couple, life and tastes evolving, seeing these invoices brought me nothing but a bit of nostalgia: I didn't actually miss any of these long lost items. I did see the amount of money spent at the bottom of each invoice though.
Shifting valuesI remember a time when I thought I preferred to spend 20€ on a DVD rather than a night out because DVDs stay as an investment, and nights out are lost to me after they're gone. But when I see just how much money was spent in these long gone "investments", and how great memories of travels and time spent with friends linger, I see even more clearly now that experiences are probably a much better investment than any high tech gadget or video game collection might be.
Imagine the memories I could have gathered if I had bought a cheaper TV or renounced to that iPod (which battery broke after a year, by the way), or if I had worked less during summers to pay for all these things, and gone backpack travelling instead. We can't change the past of course, but we can learn from it.
Of course, none of this is black and white. I used the iPod every day for a year, and the cathodic TV hosted some of my best PS1 and PS2 memories (Final Fantasy VII summers...) Some of these items, of which only the invoice remains, have served me well. Others, not so much.
On change and the fleeting nature of thingsI'd like to see this pile of invoices as a reminder that in life, everything changes: the tastes and needs, the life circumstances and priorities, the values and ethics. If an object has been useful for years, enabled many great memories, enchanted the everyday life, then it was money well spent. But let's not forget we will change in the future more than we think we will, as Dan Gilbert explains.
"Shouldn't we understand our future selves well enough to shape their lives - to find careers and lovers whom they will cherish, to buy slipcovers for the sofa that they will treasure for years to come? So why do they end up with attics and lives that are full of stuff that we considered indispensable and that they consider painful, embarrassing, or useless?"
-- Daniel Gilbert, in Stumbling Upon Happiness
When I hear across some of the minimalist circles about buying investment pieces such as 3000€ bags "for a lifetime", I remember this pile of invoices. Of course luxury brands want us to think we are spending that much money for a "long term investment", but life is fleeting, and by the end of it our taste will change, our lifestyle may not include a designer handbag any longer (you know, when you'll need to carry diapers and bibs for example), or we may end up smitten by a better one next year. The real question is: what will really remain in 10 years time? How much of it will really matter?
Also, no object is as important to our life, well-being and happiness as we think it will when we are about to acquire it. In the end, it might end up in a storage box or landfill, with only an old invoice left in your life.
So, when I'm about to make a purchase significant enough to keep the invoice for future reference, I ask myself: what is this object going to bring me in five years' time, or ten? Does it really deserve the sacrifice of time, energy, hard-spent money I'm about to give away? As far as I'm concerned, the answer is often "no". Sometimes, it's yes. And perhaps in ten years, I'll laugh at myself.