The paradox of ownership

In our largely materialistic culture, there’s a real drive to own more and more stuff. Houses, cars, pools, spas, decks, HDTVs, mowers, jetski’s. The list could go on a very long time. Maybe some of it stems from our fear of boredom, or a sense of entitlement that comes with never being taught how to work hard. In the end, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that ownership of stuff presents a paradox best summed up by this line from the movie "Fight Club"

The things you own end up owning you.

It sounds absurd, but in the end, I believe it’s true. And here’s why. The things you own need to be cared for if you want to enjoy them. The more things you own, the more things you have to take care of. The more things you have to take care of, the less time you have to enjoy them. Eventually you get to the point where you’re not using certain things, but you still have to take care of them. At that point, that thing owns you. It is happy to sit there and rust, but if you let it do that, you’re the one who has to look at it, think of the money you wasted, feel guilty about not caring for it. It owns you. (And let’s not even talk about the stress that comes from worrying about something happening to those precious toys.)

Take my pool for instance. I love the idea of having a pool. I used to imagine myself coming home every day and going for a swim. The problem is reality. In reality, leaves fall in my pool every day. So do frogs, and sometimes birds. They often die in there. So my vision of jumping in the pool right after coming home from work is postponed by at least 20 minutes of work cleaning up the pool every time I want to use it. It will sit there and collect leaves and dumb thirsty animals whether I take care of it or not. Whether I ever take a swim, it will still run out of chemicals and turn green. I must take care of it if I even want the possibility of using it. It owns me.

I also have a really nice miter saw. I don’t use it. So I put it in my shed. Now it’s starting to corrode. Sure it doesn’t take much maintenance to keep it inside, but it takes up space. Precious space. If I didn’t own it, not only would I get more space in my laundry room, but I’d have one less thing to worry about taking care of.

There’s something to be said for things that you get to use, but not own. Chances are, if you have to leave your house to go use something, you won’t need to do anything to it before you use it. And when you’re done, you just go home. Someone else cleans it, someone else takes care of it, and you can get back to doing whatever else it is that you really care about.

I think I’m approaching a point in life where I want to own the fewest amount of things that take the least amount of maintanance.


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