Fill Lists, Not Your Shopping Cart

Over the last few years, I’ve been recording every tabletop game I play and often adding a few notes about that play afterwards so that I can remember something about the game and whether I enjoyed the play or not. I do this for long strategic board games and quick card games and storytelling games and everything in between.

What I’ve come to realize lately is that I am much more interested in adding another entry to that little database of plays than I am in acquiring a new game for my game shelf. I would far rather add another “play” to my collection of “games played” than another board game or card game to my collection of games. In fact, I’m finding it enjoyable to accumulate lots of plays of individual games, too.

It doesn’t take too much self-analysis to realize that this is much the same phenomenon I went through several years ago during my financial turnaround, when I realized that I had replaced the pleasure of reading books with the much costlier and less fulfilling pleasure of buying books. Rather than actually reading lots of books, I had fallen into a rut of filling my shelves with more and more and more books, which was a constant ongoing expense.

So, I stopped. I decided to stop buying new books entirely unless I was sure that the book would be read several times or used as a reference. Instead, I started hitting the library, and I decided that my goal for that following year was to read at least one book a week and keep a list of them. I’ve been keeping such a list since then, more than ten years. I haven’t made it to “one book a week” every year, but other years I’ve been well above that pace.

The thing is, I’m far more proud of those lists – and more fulfilled by all of the books I’ve read – than I ever was by the practice of just buying more books.

So, why did I fall into this practice of buying and collecting to begin with? Why did I start devoting more time to buying games instead of playing them? Why did I start to devote more time to buying books instead of playing them?

It’s simple. I had cut devoted leisure time out of my life, and I desperately missed it. My response to that was to try to find a way to keep in touch with the things I did with my leisure time, even though I had cut out that leisure time. That turned into buying.

When I entered professional life, I made the choice along the way to devote less of my time to reading. I didn’t cut out other things in life that I could have cut to make room for the demands of a career – reading was the one that I semi-consciously cut back on.

And I missed it. I would still read a few pages before bed, but I missed spending a few hours on a lazy afternoon just getting lost in a book, being carried along by an adventure or getting absorbed into new ideas. It was an experiences that was really important to me, a type of leisure that really refreshed and renewed me.

Rather than seeing this for what it was – misplaced priorities in terms of time use – I just paid attention to the symptoms. I loved books, but I thought I didn’t have time for them right now, so I kept that connection alive the only way I felt I could, by buying books and filling up my shelves for that mythical “someday” when I would have time to read.

The reality was that unless I changed my life priorities, I was never going to have time to read these books. Furthermore, my continuing desire to keep books in my life even though I wasn’t finding time to read them was telling me that reading books was a bigger priority to me than I was giving it credit for.

The obvious conclusion, then, was that I needed to rethink my priorities in life.

There was a problem, though – I perceived my life as being “too busy” for devoting time to reading like I used to.

That perception was not reality. The truth was that I was really bad at personal time management. I spent time online. I spent time golfing. I spent time playing video games. I spent time watching television.

Why did I choose those things over reading? Those were things that I perceived that I could pick up and drop easily, because I was “busy,” but I was actually devoting a lot of time to those things each week. In my head, my life was pretty full, but the truth was that it actually consisted of a list of things that needed to get done and then some blocks of time that were devoted to things like work and sleep with some surprisingly large gaps in between them.

So, what did I do? I started trying to get everything I could done during the week so that my weekends were as wide open as possible, giving me the unblocked leisure time I needed for reading. I made having big uninterrupted blocks of leisure time a big priority in my life, cutting out lots of things that were eating half an hour here or an hour there and replacing them with tasks that I might otherwise shove off until later, which then allowed me to have my weekends free.

The same thing had happened with tabletop games. My desire to play them was still high, but my perceived opportunity to play them was low. The end result is that I fell into a pattern of buying more than playing because it was something I wanted to keep in my life because I cared about it.

Again, that behavior was a sign that I needed to change some priorities for my time use. I talked things over with Sarah and decided to start hosting a weekly board game night with some of my friends that takes place at my house most weeks. That way, I’m actually playing games much more, and that is channeling the hobby down a “participation” path rather than an “acquisition” path.

When you find that a passion of yours is turning into acquiring more things than you are actually finding time to use, then what you’re actually experiencing is a life priority problem. You have something you care deeply about that you’re being blocked from experiencing as much as you like. That’s a very dangerous financial path to go down.

There are a lot of things that can be blocking it, but often it’s just a matter of priorities and time management. What are you doing in your life very regularly that actually isn’t that important to you? Looking at websites on your phone? Binge watching mediocre shows on Netflix? Playing Candy Crush Saga for hours? If you do those things to “fill in gaps,” why not try to do productive things in those gaps so that you have blocks of time on weeknights or weekends to do those things that are really important to you?

If you’re passionate about something, make it your goal to fill lists, not shopping carts. Rather than going to the bookstore yet again when you have books on your shelf, set aside time to read each day, or at least give yourself a healthy block on each weekend day, and start adding books to your “books I read this year” list. Rather than subscribing to three different streaming services to try to “keep up with the latest,” simply make a long list of series you really want to watch, figure out how to watch them, organize them according to the service they’re on, then have only one active service at a time as you focus on going through that list and adding to your list of series that you’ve watched.

Prioritizing your time so that you actually have time to engage in the things you’re passionate about will go a long way toward curbing a lot of impulse buying related to that passion. I’ve witnessed it time and time again in my own life. Real leisure time devoted to things you care about has real financial value, as it not only relaxes and refreshes us, but it keeps us from throwing money after buying things instead of participating in them.

Think about what you’re passionate about. Have you been actually giving them a backseat and replacing that passion with buying stuff related to it? That’s probably a sign that you need to re-prioritize your time and give that passion some fresh breathing room.

Good luck!

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