42 Responses to “The Myth of Ownership”


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  1. It’s the cultivating of the feelings and emotions we want in our life that should inform our spending, not the other way around.

    One of the most delightful dinner parties I ever attended was 8 people in a 400 sq-ft jewel box of a condo. We used the same plates for dessert as we did for dinner because the homeowner only had 8. But the food was good, the wine continued to pour, and the guests were all fascinating people. The homeowners lived simply so they could cultivate a life of travel and new experiences, so of course they attracted fascinating people as friends.

    I’d go to her house again in a heartbeat and stand the whole night if I had to in order to be part of that kind of conversation. Imagine if they waited to throw a party until they had a bigger place or the right kind of table!

  2. “You aren’t your stuff and it will never make you more lovable.”

    This entire post is wonderful, Courtney, but the line above is absolutely brilliant. It goes against so many voices that have our attention much of the time, which makes it even more important that it be heard.


  3. I have a dear friend who spent the first half of his life believing that his value as a human being was based on the stuff he owned. In turn, he learned how to judge others based on what they owned. He scrutinized the clothes they wore, the car they drove, the house they lived in. And then, his eyesight started to fail; with the possibility that one day (maybe soon) he will be blind.

    His values, now in jeopardy, inspired him to re-evaluate his priorities. He sold his house, quit his job, gave up the car and kept just enough clothing to fit in one suitcase, so that he is free from wasting time on the stuff (that really doesn’t matter), and instead, see what does matter… while he still can.

  4. I love the line about skinny jeans. I’m “skinny” but I can’t fit into skinny jeans because I have muscular calves. But the big one was the myth of home ownership. My mom spent ages trying to convince my husband and I to buy a house because we’d get a tax break and it would be “the same or less money as renting.” It’s a good thing she didn’t succeed because my husband is now my ex-husband.

    • I completely agree. i bought a house with me husband and an RV. He is now my ex (who received both in divorce) and it turns out i was the responsible one with the payments. the rv has since been repossessed and the home has many late payments. my credit is shot and i learned that no matter what, your divorce decree doesn’t mean anything really. I would never a.) buy a house again or b.) jointly buy a house again with someone else.

  5. Melissa

    I love everything about this post. I really needed to hear all of this today. Thank you.

  6. Lynn

    I love the post, but wanted to make one comment on home ownership: after moving from two rented houses because the home owners were foreclosed on, I’ve discovered home ownership does have its advantages. No more letters the day before Thanksgiving informing me the house we live in is being auctioned off. No more moving during Advent if I don’t want to. That brings me joy and gratitude, even with the headaches of owning our home!

    • I have to agree. Not having to worry about someone raising the rent has been HUGE for me. Plus, I never again have to come home to discover that the landlord or some maintenance person has inadvertently let one of the cats escape.

      • I agree too, I have had bad landlord and never felt really at home in a rental. Now I can paint the walls as I please, start a garden, have hens, and no one tells me a thing. I bought a very small home that is enough for me and that I own completely. Ownership gives me peace.

  7. Learning to enjoy things without owning them has been a breakthrough for me: I have a small garden so I enjoy other people’s gardens and walks in the countryside instead; I am paring down my wardrobe so when I see a beautiful garment in a shop I admire it but walk away, knowing I don’t want a cluttered wardrobe with too many unworn clothes. The time I have gained by downsizing my life is worth more than any possession. A great post Courtney!

    • laura m.

      Claire: I agree and also have a pared down wardrobe mostly jogging outfits, capri’s and tops, shirts as a retiree. At the end of winter and summer, anything not worn or doesn’t fit right, gets donated. I recently purged books and music cd’s not used/read in a long time along with kitchen items not used. Group homes got some linens I had too many of.

  8. Struggling to maintain my home while watching my boyfriend spend hours doing all kinds of creative things–time that his apartment didn’t require in maintenance–was a huge wake-up call to me. I still own a home, but in a different place and one that requires much less maintenance. When we no longer have kids living with us, we’ll move to a much smaller one. Much truth in this post.

  9. I love your posts and yes we played this game very briefly but no longer!!

    We are just about to head off for a life in the mountains of Italy, leaving our meager ‘stuff’ behind doesn’t worry me at all. I have over the years found many treasures of the moment and given them all away as we move onto our next renovation.

    Our children are happy with the basics and we buy our clothes from op shops. I feel we’ve been living ‘a simple life’ long before it became the new thing to do….before the term ‘declutter’ came along LOL

    This has always been a choice for us, not of necessity but of principal, we have so much more than we need and I want our children to be free from the chore of keeping up with the jones.

    I’ve been reading your blog for ages and don’t think I’ve commented before, thanks for all the inspiration and common sense, ciao lisa x

  10. Paula

    Love this post! your works made me smile at the end of a long day! thank you! :)

  11. Paula

    i meant your WORDS! sorry!

  12. I just found your blog, Courtney, and this post came up. I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for this reminder that owning more stuff doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness. Hope your post will inspire many people to spend less on stuff and spend more time on cultivating relationships with themselves and their loved ones. It’s a great reminder, especially now as we’re deep into of the most consumerist months of the year. Happy holidays, everyone!

  13. I totally agree with the sentiment of this post, and I also think that in a real sense nobody really “owns” anything – we just use things while where here on this earth, and when we move on, the things remain.

    That being said, I have to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment. I think there are some real advantages to owning over renting – especially when owning means that you have it paid off. If you’re paying off a loan for whatever it is, you don’t really own it, the bank does.

    I own my home, and it’s given me freedom that I never thought I’d be able to have. I bought carefully and frugally, and my mortgage payment is less than the cost of a studio apartment – plus, I get to have a yard where I can grow my own food. And I’ll have the mortgage paid off in 11 months which will give me even more financial freedom. I own my 22 year old car car outright, and it provides me transportation that’s much cheaper than the bus – even when you consider the cost of upkeep. I traded in my cable box and it’s monthly fee for a Roku player (which I own) so I now get my entertainment for a fraction of the cost. I can think of many more examples, but I’ll spare you.

    Like I said, I understand the sentiment of your post, but I think that there’s a big difference between acquiring things and debt because you’re trying to live up to some pretty picture, and owning rather than renting when it saves you endless rent payments, and the when purchases are carefully considered.

    • Sarah T.

      Can you tell me a bit more about the Roku? I’ve seen it, but we’re not big into technology, so I’m not sure how it would work with our old (not flat screen) television, rabbit ears, converter box, etc. We don’t do netflix or subscribe to hulu, but we do use hulu on the computer. Would we still benefit from this?

    • NMRider

      EcoCatLady, you have really good points. I think we need to ask ourselves, of our stuff, is it serving us or owning us?

      I just upgraded to an iPhone 4S, and it has made me more productive. The GPS/voice navigation has saved me from spending lots of time figuring out where I need to go, and saved me time getting lost. That phone has replaced many other things that I’ve been able to sell/give away. It has simplified my life. I’ve been able to “dematerialize” because of it. The Cato Institute made a wonderful graphic illustrating dematerialization thanks to the iPhone: http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/dematerialization-update/

  14. I second the comments above, this was a fantastic post and just what I needed to remember this evening. I still fall into this sometimes, when I really want some thing, but feel thankful to have created over time a little space between the wanting and the association. A little pause to reflect and get distance, and realize what’s happening. At least it distinguishes between needs and wants!

  15. Carmina

    I enjoyed this post. A lady I knew years back passed away the day before thanksgiving. She was my age,which caused me to reflect on life and death. Our posessions will be left behind but we will continue to live in spirit. Life is too short to worry about material things.

  16. Great article, you really nailed it. Why is everyone so caught up in these mental traps? It tends to feel lonely feeling this way, it seems too many people are caught up in these ‘traditions’ and its hindering their growth.

  17. Holy moly, I love this post! We looked at home ownership the same way and decided to keep renting. We cultivate the home environment much the same as if we owned the land and building. But instead of worrying about the upcoming roof replacement, or holding our breath against the major appliance going out, we are able to cultivate memories with our kids. We still teach them our values (e.g. leave the space better than you found it) and our anxiety level regarding our home is virtually nil. And THAT is priceless to us. For some reason, it never struck me before that we can do the same in other “ownership” areas. Thanks Courtney!

  18. I agree so fully that we are so much more than our possessions. The more we can let go, the freer we will be. It doesn’t mean we can’t own anything, but just – as you say – we are not grasping onto it desperately to maintain our identity.

    As others have said above, I do feel more secure owning a home. I’ve rented almost my entire life, which I didn’t mind during the time. Just feel very grateful now to own my own home, which I know is a rare luxury.

  19. What a wonderful post. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks so much for sharing!

  20. Jim

    Great post! It’s one that really spoke to me. My wife has been telling me since we met, the more things we own the more they own us. That was hard for me to quantify but your post spelled it out for me. I’ve changed my focus in recent years from nurturing things to nurturing relationships, be it my marriage or my friendships.

  21. Thoughtful post, Courtney. I am in agreement with your ideas about possession. It brings to mind buddhist principles of attachment and detachment. We definitely overattach with ownership and the expected benefits that may or may not come from it. I think that some of the qualities you mention above will come from recognizing the fact that we can’t really own anything – not even our physical bodies as they will eventually rot. As you describe, what ends up happening is that our stuff ends up owning us.

    Interestingly, I’ve always found it intriguing that we have to buy land, something that never originally belonged to anyone. Only by questioning and breaking down these mental prisons individually & piece by piece, will we be able to see changes on a societal level, where we are less selfish and much more generous.

  22. As always is the case with me, I had to learn all of this the hard way (especially with a $900/month car!!! Ugh..). That said, I would never have been able to write about all of this if not for the experience.

    I do love real estate, though….

  23. Ownership means responsibility of taking care of the possession and spending more in its upkeep and maintenance. A very alternative thought indeed.

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