The Myth of Ownership

The Myth of Ownership

The myth of ownership is short and simple and looks something like this ….

“If you own ___________, you will be ______________”

For example …

  • If you own your own home, you will be a responsible adult.
  • If you own a pair of skinny jeans, you will look skinny.
  • If you own the brand name handbag you’ve been dreaming about, you will finally be happy.
  • If you own a brand new pair of skis, you will be faster.
  • If you own a car, you will be safe and comfortable and can go wherever you want in life.
  • If you own the right shirt, people will like you and think you are cool.
  • If you own the latest in technology, you will be smarter.
  • If you own the best face cream, you won’t get older.
  • If you own the right things, you will be happy and loved.

The only truth in ownership is that if you own something, it’s yours to take care of and pay for every day. It’s not a long-term solution, the answer to your prayers, or a life changing event.

Ownership begins with a purchase or investment of money. You make a down payment, swipe a little plastic or pay with your hard-earned cash. After a momentary, “I got it, it’s mine” high, you start paying for your ownership again. You invest your time taking care of the item, your energy thinking about it, protecting it and worrying about it and then you often invest more money upgrading it, insuring it and taking care of it.

The Big Myths

Let’s start with the silliest myth of all. The myth of home ownership. We bought our home in 2005 and here are some of the stories we told ourselves.

  • If we own our own home, it will be less expensive than renting.
  • If we own our own home, we will be making a great investment.
  • If we own our own home, it will be ours. (pretty sure the bank owns more of our home than we do)
  • If we own our home, we will be secure, responsible, successful.

We bought our home with the best of intentions, bought into all of the myths and learned that none of them were true. We are happy living in our home, but we could be happy almost anywhere.

I thought I would always have a car payment and a car of my own, not realizing that while I had a car payment, I didn’t really own a car .. just the responsibility that came with it. The myths of car ownership include:

  • A used car isn’t reliable
  • I deserve something comfortable
  • The new car smell lasts forever
  • A good-looking car will make me more successful
  • It’s only $300 a month

The investment of a car is much higher than the monthly payment. Between insurance, maintenance, registration, gas, and parking, the actual cost of the car or car payment is only a fraction of the true cost of car ownership.

The right stuff
Stuff without expectation, emotion and high hopes is just stuff. Think about the things you tell yourself about stuff …

  • If I had the right suitcase, I would travel more.
  • If I had the right table, I would entertain more often and have more friends.
  • If I had the right workout shirt, I would go to the gym on a regular basis.
  • If I had the right phone, I’d be more productive.
  • If I have the right shoes, people will think I’m powerful, sexy, and confident.
  • If I buy the right stuff, I will fit in and they will love me.

Take away the myths and you can give more freely, worry less and purchase something with intention and purpose instead of how you think it will make you feel, look, or be. You aren’t your stuff and it will never make you more lovable. Give people a chance to love you for you.

What if we worried less about ownership and more about cultivating?

What if instead of buying things with such a strong focus on ownership and fulfilment, we purchased things when we needed them and passed them on when we didn’t. What if we borrowed and shared more? And most importantly, what if we found happiness in something other than stuff?

Instead of owning stuff, cultivate …

  • Joy
  • Gratitude
  • Space
  • Generosity
  • Forgiveness
  • Time
  • Presence
  • Love

Understanding the myth of ownership doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy things, or that buying something, even a home is a bad decision, but when you do buy, remove the myth and expectation. Loosen your grip and share your stuff or give it to someone who needs it more. Sell and give it away when it stops having purpose in your life. If it doesn’t fit, has expired, is broken, or is from a fantasy life, let go.

When the myth is gone, so is the attachment and all of the stress and investment that comes with it. Without it, you are free.

Once you reject the myth of ownership you can fully embrace hundreds of beautiful gardens all over the city and all over the world. 



  1. says

    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!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Besty, When you are invited back, I’ll be your +1. Hope you and Warren are well. xo

  2. says

    “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. says

    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. says

    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.

    • says

      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. Lynn says

    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!

    • says

      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.

      • says

        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.

  6. says

    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. says

      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.

  7. says

    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.

  8. says

    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

  9. says

    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!

  10. says

    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. says

      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 says

      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:

  11. says

    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!

  12. Carmina says

    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.

  13. says

    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.

  14. says

    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!

  15. says

    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.

  16. Jim says

    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.

  17. says

    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.

  18. says

    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….

  19. says

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

  20. Alexis says

    I owned a very nice, fairly large home atop a beautiful hill years ago. I saved my money and it was paid for the day I walked in the door. However, when I received the property tax bill in the mail, I realized I would never truly “own” my house, as the government would steal away it should I not pay them tribute in three years time. Home ownership is entirely conditional in the US. And, should you want to change something on “your property” some unelected bureaucrat can deny that to you even though they never had a stake in it!

    After a great deal of health problems, I sold me house and moved into a one-bedroom apartment nearby. It was one of the best decisions I ever made living alone. I don’t have to worry about maintenance, burglars or tax thieves. If I go out, someone I know is always watching, and if you have pets, that can be a real comfort.

    Houses come with huge utility bills, as you get older you simply don’t want. One of my friends has an $ 850+/- per month electric bill. He also has 20, yes 20, flat screen televisions in his home, including computer monitors. His wife is a spendthrift and he’s an enabler. Everything that comes in goes out every month. He also goes to $ 200 – $ 600 brunches to “be seen” by supposedly influential people who could frankly care less about him.

    Lesson learned: Living with less is genuinely more!