Experiential Degrowth: Doing Less and Being More

The commodification of experience is destroying cultures & the environment.

Natalie Holmes
Dec 20, 2018 · 4 min read
Andrew Neel via Unsplash

It feels like people are finally coming around to the notion of overwork. For a while there, it seemed like the 100-hour work week was something to aspire to, a moral imperative with social, financial and even spiritual rewards. Burnout has become the norm. But lately, more and more articles are popping up about the perils of immersing yourself in work to the detriment life’s myriad opportunities for enjoyment, enrichment and meaning.

I never truly bought into the cult of work, and have actively tried to journey away from it. I’ve managed to get to a point where work, while fulfilling, takes up about a quarter of my time — down from around two-thirds a couple of years ago. My income has shrunk, too — though, thankfully, not proportionally — and in many ways that’s been a blessing: I’m more thoughtful about my spending and consume much less stuff, and I feel a whole lot better for it.

Experience has become commodified, and as an object of trade it is as socially and environmentally destructive as as any other type of product.

Every human on Earth must consume natural resources to live. If we are to survive and thrive into the future, we must together consume within natural boundaries and produce less waste than nature can absorb. Some of us are consuming far more than our fair share of resources and producing excessive waste, while the total population is growing. We need to address inequalities and find ways to maintain a better balance.


There’s a definite buzz to buying something beautiful. Wandering past shops, especially at this festive time of year, fills me with anticipation of that satisfying feeling. It’s possible to notice the urge, however, and wait for it to pass — in a similar way you might a cigarette craving. In any case, I have a small apartment and way too much stuff: It’s not that hard to not buy things.

Experiences, on the other hand, I consume greedily. Experiences, we are told, are more valuable than things: They help us grow, connect, create memories. I’ve followed this new narrative unquestioningly, enchanted by endless opportunities to go to new places and do unique things. Keen to fill my newfound non-work time with meaning, I use my credit card to give money to the fossil fuel men, purchasing flights to far flung destinations for my next experiential fix.

Social media makes it possible to turn fleeting experiences into tangible products. So not only do I go to the place and do the thing, I share photos of it on Instagram in exchange for virtual validation and the accompanying dopamine hit. Sometimes, I like to tell myself that being there is what’s important, but the thought of not sharing evidence of it with the Internet somehow devalues it in my mind. And I realise I’ve fallen into the trap.

Yes, travel broadens our horizons — but let’s not pretend it’s an equal exchange.

Yes, travel broadens our horizons and can help foster deeper understandings about other cultures, but let’s not pretend it’s an equal exchange. Most travel experiences are about the traveller taking from a destination, consuming a culture and leaving little in return. At worst, travel to the global south is a postcolonial endeavour that perpetuates power imbalances and negative stereotypes of a destination’s inhabitants.

If I win, who loses?

This coming year I’m going to look closer — literally; to engage with the places, people and things that are near me, or accessible in a more sustainable way. But mostly, I’m going to consider the hidden costs of my experiences: If I win, who loses? And if I have to ‘lose’ by paring down my consumption, surely, conceived differently, that’s actually a win-win.

Post Growth

Guiding the way to a full circle, #postgrowth economy…

Natalie Holmes

Written by

Humanitarian, writer, yoga teacher, budding urban farmer. Managing editor @ medium.com/post-growth-institute

Post Growth

Guiding the way to a full circle, #postgrowth economy beyond capitalism.

Natalie Holmes

Written by

Humanitarian, writer, yoga teacher, budding urban farmer. Managing editor @ medium.com/post-growth-institute

Post Growth

Guiding the way to a full circle, #postgrowth economy beyond capitalism.

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