Updated on 09.18.14

Experiences Trump Things

Trent Hamm

The Evolution of a Hobby

In a corner in my office on a single shelving unit rests a collection that I’ve been building for fifteen years, my board and card game collection.

board game collection

The collection has been built from a lot of sources: gifts, trades, thrift store finds, ding-and-dent sales, and contest winnings make up a significant portion of what you see, as do more than a few of my own purchases.

Here’s the thing with this collection, though: when I look at it, I don’t see a collection of stuff.

I see a set of experiences: games played in the past, games yet to be played, and often, the choice of what game to play right now.

I see a lot of time spent with friends and family around the table, talking about life, pondering the game a bit, and simply enjoying each other’s company.

I see the friendships I’ve built over the years because of this collection – people I’ve played games with and used that opportunity to get to know them better and allow them to get to know me better.

In January 2011 alone, I played 28 games off of this shelf. By the time you read this, I will have already logged a game or two in February as I’m planning on having lunch and playing a card game with a friend. This is a collection that gets used. This is a collection of experiences.

Here’s the truth, though: it wasn’t always like that.

Let’s take a look at that picture again.

board game collection

Do you see how there’s a second empty shelf on the right? Well, it’s nearly empty – there’s a single cardboard box on it that contains some stuff headed to Goodwill.

Once upon a time, that second shelf would have been loaded with gaming material, too.

You see, it wasn’t too long ago that I was more of a collector than anything. I would go into thrift stores and buy any board games I could find. I would receive a game, play it once, decide I didn’t like it, but then just add it to the growing mountain that was my collection. I was an avid collector of several types of trading cards, and I used to buy quite a few games, too.

At some point, it all became overwhelming. I had lots of games that sat around unplayed and instead of actually playing them, I would go hunting at thrift stores and other places for some great undiscovered item for my collection.

Why? I had completely lost touch with the reason why I had such a collection to begin with, which was to play with friends.

I finally begain to realize after a while that it had gone from a collection of great experiences to a collection of stuff. It had moved from a wonderful collection of shared experiences that I could indulge in quite frequently to being a self-absorbed chase for more accumulation that actually stood in the way of actually enjoying the games themselves.

Over the past few years, I’ve pared things down substantially, even as friends and family have gifted me new games. I’ve sold off quite a few games and traded many, many others for different games, ones that I picked up solely with the thought in mind of how likely they were to be played with the friends I have.

My reward, in the end, is a smaller volume of stuff, but what remains has value. I don’t have to dig through overstuffed shelves to find games – I can see everything I have at a glance. My focus is on playing the games rather than accumulating more. Perhaps best of all, it’s now quite accessible for everyone to just grab a game if they want to play rather than being crammed in with many of the games being trapped behind others.

It went from being a big pile of stuff to an easily-accessible grouping of experiences.

If I turn that type of perspective to everything in my home – the idea that something that isn’t accessible and isn’t being used with any regularity needs to go – I find myself quickly getting rid of things. In fact, this type of purging has become something of a routine around here. About every six months, I’ll purge a lot of things – clothes, the contents of closets, and so forth. I usually pick some specific type of item or specific area and go on a purging.

When I’m finished purging, I usually have a lot more space, a great pile of things to sell (or give away), and best of all, easy access (and less maintenace) of the stuff that I’m actually keeping. This gives me time to experience what I have instead of spending my time maintaining it or accumulating more.

What about your own collections and storage spaces? Can you easily retrieve any item of your collection that you wish? If you can’t, why do you still have that item if it’s difficult for you to reach? How are you gaining value from that item if you can’t utilize it and experience it?

Stuff gathers dust. Experiences live forever. Stuff costs money. Experiences just use what you already have.

Experiences trump stuff, every time.

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  1. The first title that stood out to in that whole “mess” was Acquire. :)

  2. krantcents says:

    I love games! I have enjoyed all my life. It isn’t the game but the social experience that goes with it. I wrote a article about “The Importance of Games” pointing out the benefits of playing games.

  3. maggie says:

    So who gets to decide when stuff becomes an experience? When you are listing the evil things people waste time on, you generally include tv, but when my teenager sits beside my husband for an afternoon and they interact and watch a football game, it does not seem so evil to me. So maybe “experience” is in the eye of the beholder.

  4. Lise says:

    It’s still so funny to me that you’re also a board gamer, Trent. Occasionally I’ll see you post over at BGG and it will be like, whoa, worlds collide!

    How are you liking 7 Wonders? I played it for the first time at UG this weekend, and it was a big hit.

    @maggie, I’d say that only the person themselves really gets to make that call. Unfortunately we’re not always honest with ourselves about it, but there’s no one better prepared to make it. I told myself for four years that playing WoW was a frugal hobby and a good way to bond with my husband–but I know now that was a lie. I think the point Trent makes, as always, is one of self-examination

  5. Mark says:

    I don’t see Catan or Carcassonne!

  6. carmen says:

    28 games in January; how do you find the time?

  7. Patty says:

    @Mark. Settlers of Catan is on the second to bottom shelf to the right one stack. Carcassone is third shelf up to the right one stack. I love that the Carcassone expansions we got as stocking stuffers fit in the box.
    Why 3 Ticket to Ride (I know one is Europe but still)? We have a few games that match yours and some diverge. Our ‘collection’ of experiences fits inside a storage coffee table. We just purged some duplicates like chess and puzzles we won’t play again. I like having the collection and boundaries for the collection. I’m currious the lists of what you kept vs what you got rid of.

  8. Sara A. says:

    @ #5: Yes, I totally can’t believe you don’t have Carcassone! I recommend the “Big Box” with the expansions included. You can find deals for it online.

    Also, if you look on the Fantasy Flight game site, they have a couple of seasons of scenarios for Arkham Horror. I think it is too late to play them competitively, but the setups are cool and they carry over from game to game. We have not played them all but we enjoy them.

    Last, I am interested what you think of the board game rental service (I think it is through BGG.) I looked it over and it really did not seem advantageous at the price they were offering, but I LOVE the idea of getting to try games before we buy.

  9. Wesley says:

    Very nice collection. I have been wanting to play Memoir 44 for about a year but don’t have the group of friends to do it.

    One thing we have been enjoying though is board games on my 360. We have Ticket to Ride and Carcasonne. It is actually really nice to be able to play and not have to fiddle with little pieces and deal with setup and take-down of stuff.

  10. Gretchen says:

    Aren’t you the same person who wanted to throw out your wife’s childhood dolls (or something similar) and 70 (ish, didn’t count) board games are ” easily-accessible grouping of experiences”?

  11. Michelle says:

    where’s Dominion??

  12. Wesley says:

    @Gretchen: Just for the record, it is more like 100 games (ish, I counted but can’t be sure).

  13. Caleb Wojcik says:

    @11: I second that! Dominion is awesome.

    I feel the same way that you do about collecting “things”. For me its about whether or not I will want to use it or lend it out ever again. For example, video games I just tend to play through once or while my friends are playing it and then I move on, so I always sell or trade them.

    Books or movies on the other hand are always nice to just hand to a friend and say, “Aw man, you gotta read this.” I just have one shelf of books and one shelf of movies/games. I am satisfied with that level of media possessions.

    Sadly I only have 4 good board games, but I don’t play them very regularly.

    Great article Trent.

  14. Mari says:

    I have to confess that there are few activities I find more satisfying than purging some belongings. It just puts me in a cheerful, relaxed place. And will allow me to downsize my house soon. But people with lots of stuff just don’t get it, so I’m sometimes a “secret” purger (which is just ridiculous when I think about it).

  15. Squirrelers says:

    That’s a nice collection of games!

    I agree that experience trumps stuff – at least the vast majority of time. Some sentimental things such as pictures are invaluable.

    But yes, it’s the experiences in general that represent the great times in life, not staring at some accumulated stuff.

  16. valleycat1 says:

    I’m with Mari #15. To the point that purging & reorganizing stuff is such a satisfaction my daughter shares with me that when we visit each other, we often spend some of the time together doing just that.

    I’m gradually paring down my book collection to a special shelf or two of favorites I’ll reread, either sharing them with my friends to pass along to theirs, or donating them to the library.

    Most satisfying to date was getting rid of an unwieldy collection of salvaged plastic containers for leftovers & replacing them with a couple of sets of glass ones with lids that fit, & getting them corraled so I can find what I’m looking for.

  17. I have very fond memories of playing Star Fleet Battles in college. Most games took only a hour or two, the shortest about 5 minutes, but once we played a massive scenario for 18 hours, with about 400 pieces on the board. That was a blast. That is a box I just can’t get rid of.

    If you want a blast of a game try Space Hulk, think Aliens where you play the space marines. It’s hard to “win” but a blast to play.

    If you like chess but want something a little different try Nightmare Chess, It adds cards that change the rules as you play it can really balance a couple of mismatched players.

  18. Matt says:

    Experiences always trump stuff! I would trade a trip to world cup soccer game for its equivalent in stuff any day. Why? Because would be able to say I was at the game I experienced it, heard the noise of the crowd and just took in the experience. Personally I would take that over buying a big screen TV to watch the game (probably better viewing). The experience is where it really matters because at the end of the day most of our stuff is either something we value or its just junk taking up space.

    Taking in something new or just reconnecting with a friend over as you put it a game is worth more than the cost of the item. But when you have so much stuff you can’t find what you’re looking for that stuff starts costing you more mentally than it was ever worth! Kudos to you for paring down your collection.

    Which reminds me I need to clean out the storage space… its overdue for a purge.

  19. jen says:

    3rd Dominion! Have you tried Trigon, it is Blokus for triangles.

    We kind of co-own games with an ex-housemate. So one copy of a game can float around 4-5 people. We live in the same area of the city and welcome anytime at each other’s house. So dropping by to pick up a game is easy. And bringing a game over to play is easy also. One library of games for two houses.

    Granted, the people we play these games most often w/ are each other.

  20. Brittany says:

    So very jealous of that gaming shelf.

  21. Kalle says:

    @9: As Memoir 44 is a two-player game, you only need one susceptible person. Highly recommended if you are at all familiar with WWII fiction.

    More game posts, Trent!

  22. PBM says:

    I LOVE board games, but my family just likes to watch sports on TV. So whats a person to do?

    I LOVE your collection.

  23. PBM says:

    #1 Stephen, All you do is come here to gripe and complain. Its not costing you anything so whats the problem? It won’t cost you if you want to unsubscribe either.

  24. We realized when we listed our house and had to start de-cluttering just how cluttered we were. We got rid of a ton of stuff, but we still have a ways to go. I’ve been trying to convince my wife that we should discard most things that we haven’t used in a year. So, this would remove the excuse for seasonal use or “we’ll use it someday”. Getting there, but there’s both an emotional attachment and the hassle of throwing stuff out constantly. But I just feel better walking in to a de-cluttered room.

  25. Des says:

    Isn’t this how everyone feels about their “stuff”?

    The person with the big new car doesn’t see 5 digit debt n their driveway, they see pleasant road trips with the fam, or maybe the feeling of wind in their hair if its convertible.

    The person with the McMansion doesn’t see it as “stuff”, but as a comfortable place to relax and bond with loved ones.

    The person who buys the new kitchen gaget doesn’t see it as more clutter, but sees the wonderful dishes that can be prepared and enjoyed at home.

    So, board games are your “stuff” and cars are another’s “stuff” and gadgets are yet another’s “stuff”. That doesn’t make it bad, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is still “stuff”.

  26. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    The difference between “stuff” and “experiences” is valued, focused time.

    If you spend every Sunday bonding with your kids by watching a couple of football games, then your television time is an experience. If you just use it to channel surf with no purpose or just let it gather dust, then it’s stuff.

    If you have a doll collection and you regularly groom them, make new clothes, and so on, then it’s an experience. If they just sit in the closet, then they’re stuff.

    Also, Carcassonne is on the third shelf from the bottom, Settlers of Catan is on the next shelf up from the bottom (it’s in an older edition box – remember, I’ve been collecting and gaming for going on 15 years now), and Dominion is in one of those white boxes on the next to bottom shelf so that I can keep all expansions in the same box and not have to carry three or four at once.

  27. Mary says:

    That is a sweet picture. All those board games. My friends do board games a lot as well and have a collection going like that. Settlers of Catan is my favorite to play with them. My boyfriend and I only have Risk, Monopoly and Life.

  28. Michelle says:

    Lol I can’t believe I doubted that Trent would have Dominion

  29. AJ says:

    He’s big enough on Ascension that I wouldn’t have put it past him. (Like him, though, I also have Dominion in the white cardboard boxes…unlike him, I have a different box for each expansion, so I can just bring the base set with me if I’m planning on introducing it to non-gamers or the whole shebang if I’m going to game night.)

    While I’m on the subject…I spy Puzzle Strike on the bottom shelf, which I guess shouldn’t be a surprise (it was created by the same David Sirlin he mentioned in a post just a few days ago). I bought the print-and-play but haven’t quite finished assembling it yet. What do you think about that game, Trent?

  30. Leah says:

    @ Maggie, you hit the nail on the head! You get to decide when something is stuff or an experience. For me, Trent has too many games. I love playing board games, but we have perhaps 10 that are well loved and lots of card games in our repertoire. So this is experience for him, and less of this would be experience for me. For some of my friends who hate board games, this would be a horrible chunk of stuff in their apartment.

    With TV, I’m not a huge fan. I have 2 shows I watch regularly (Top Chef and Grey’s Anatomy). Other than that, it’s stuff that I sometimes enjoy but could do without. But my boyfriend loves the TV — he watches the history channel, and Mythbusters, and HGTV and sports and . . . the list goes on :-)

    If you or your husband truly enjoy TV and like it, then it’s not stuff to you. Enjoy with reckless abandon. Columnists just use TV because it’s a simple example to bring up. But since you chose to spend time watching TV, maybe you sell the tennis rackets in the garage or the gardening supplies that clutter a corner of your garage.

    Basically, pick what you want to do. Enjoy that pursuit(s) without guilt. And then don’t let other stuff clutter your wallet or living space.

  31. Lisa Clarkson says:

    I came to Small World through the iPad. Love it!

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