I’ve been working on this post for a while now, and it has evolved. At first, I tried making a list of all the great things in food (more personal gardens, better school lunches, increased attendance at farmers markets …) that I think might happen in 2010. I intended to cite harbingers to those things that occurred in 2009. In the end, I looked at the list and wondered if those things were bringing me a sense of optimism. Were they making me feel as if things are looking up after a fairly crummy year? A little bit, but not enough for me to write a sincere post.

Then yesterday, while waiting around at church to see if the person who mistook my coat for her own would return it to the rack, I was passing the time on Twitter on my iPhone. Someone linked to a New York Times piece called In Recession, Americans are Doing More, Buying Less. While reading, it hit me. The recession has me optimistic.

I’m sure you think I’m crazy, but let me explain. The article cites what we already know. People are spending less money on material possessions. The article also says, “Americans have rejiggered their lives to elevate experiences over things.” They call it “experience consumption.”

This is something for me to be optimistic about. I’ve been preaching this concept to my boys as “experience, not stuff” for years. Now, according to the NYT, I’ve got half the country behind me.

What is experience consumption? It’s spending time, and perhaps some money, on experiences instead of material possessions. It’s taking a vacation in America and coming home with memories, not souvenirs made in China. It’s staying home and playing a board game with your family instead of going to the movies. Or, it’s going to the movies with your family, but not buying all the movie tie-in toys for your children. It’s putting on your old sneakers and taking a hike in the woods instead of buying new expensive athletic shoes before you take the hike.

Experience consumption probably looks a little different for each individual, each family. Cooking meals at home, camping, taking pictures, watching our favorite TV shows together, and throwing ourselves into the boys’ baseball seasons were experiences that my family consumed this year. We had one big splurge — a weekend in New York City when the boys experienced their first Broadway show, the top of the Empire State Building at night, and a bike ride through Central Park.

On my own, I consumed experiences by reading many travel memoirs, going to the art museum, and attending wine festivals. I had one big personal splurge. I bought tickets for my husband and I to see U2. If you want to consume an experience, I can highly recommend singing I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For with 60,000 other people while Bono conducts.

I’m optimistic about the experiences that I’m going to consume in 2010. I’m optimistic for you, too. I believe that as the economy begins to slowly improve, we are going to remember the experiences that we’ve had while tightening our belts and continue to consume experiences instead of material goods.

I’m optimistic because I’m going to remind you, each month about experience consumption. My first post each month (except this month — it will be my second post) will be a list of ideas for experience consumption. Come back later today for January’s experience consumption ideas. 

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