I love this post by Miss Minimalist about "possessions as promises." She argues that when we buy new things, it's not the thing we really want -- it's the promise it holds, and the thing itself often doesn't deliver. This is such a great point. All those issues of Real Simple, telling you that you need a $90 Lucite inbox so that your papers can be organized... the must-have item of the day at Corporette, holding the promise of a stylish and professional look... that new exercise equipment that is just the thing you need to get more fit. And those things end up shoved in a closet while your papers spill on the floor and you eat a brownie. And by "you" I mean me.
Everyone always talks about how stuff doesn't make you happy, experiences do. But I don't think that's really true. I have plenty of stuff that makes me happy, and not just practical things (e.g., I'm happy to have a fridge so my food doesn't spoil). My colorful living room rug makes me happy, even though I bought it at a time when I probably shouldn't have. The pens I use for work make me happy. I bought a box of the exact pens I like as a Christmas present for myself. My Prius makes me smile every time I stop at a red light and hear silence.
I think the key is that all of those were things I really wanted and thought about for a long time before buying them. (Yes, even the pens, because sometimes I have a hard time pulling the trigger for purchases.) The stuff that doesn't make me happy is generally stuff that I impulse buy, or especially that I see on the Internet and think I have to have, because it will make me more fit, or more stylish, or more organized, or a better mom. But it rarely does.