Are You Possessed by Possessions?

by matt on April 14, 2010

Are You Possessed by Possessions?

A few weeks ago I took my family on a trip to San Francisco for Spring Break.  We drove the scenic route down Highway 101 through the beautiful southern Oregon coast and then through the majestic redwoods.  It was a fantastic trip with lots to see and do.  But that is not what I want to write about today.  What I want to talk about are possessions.

Throughout the trip I had moments where I was consumed by thoughts of fear and anxiety regarding my possessions.  I worried about my car that I had to valet park at the hotel.  Would it get scratched or broken into?  I feared for my expensive electronics that were now sitting helpless in an empty un-guarded house.  I had visions of getting robbed and all the things that I valued in the hands of some thief somewhere.

This feeling of anxiety began even before we left for the trip.  To show you how paranoid I really was before we left on our trip I set up timers on the lights in the house so that at night the lights would come on at random times and create the appearance that someone was home.  It was garbage day when we left and I didn’t put the cans out because I knew they would be sitting out in front of the house for a week and everyone would know that nobody was at home.  Before we left I had to check all the doors and windows and make sure they were locked.  I had to do this twice before I was satisfied.  I also made sure that things were unplugged, that the oven and stove burners were off, that my wife didn’t leave her hair curler plugged in.  I checked all these things twice as well. 

A touch of OCD?  Maybe.  Or maybe we have become a society that is so consumed with the acquisition of possessions and materialism that we have lost sight of what is really important in life.  Think about this, I purchased all these things I was now worrying about because I believed they would make me happy or make my life easier.  But here I was on what should have been an incredible trip wasting time worrying about whether my “stuff” was safe.  I had visions of some dope smoking kid rifling through all my things and those thoughts took away from the experience of travel and seeing new things.  They took away from enjoying time with my family.

If You Don’t Own Much, You Won’t Have Much to Lose

I remember once looking across the street and seeing my neighbor’s garage stuffed to the gills with crap.  Then I took a look at my own garage and realized I had just as much crap stuffed to the rafters.  Why is it so hard for us to let stuff go and even harder to stop buying so much?  I think it has much to do with how we equate possessions with success.

When I look at the world today I can plainly see that we have been sold a lie.  We’ve been led to believe that it is your possessions that make you who you are.  We equate possessions to success.  If you own a nice home in a nice neighborhood and drive a fancy imported sports car you must be successful.  If your home is filled with the latest technological toys you must be successful.

Yeah, we all want the latest and greatest things.  But what is the cost of keeping up with the Jones’?  All these possession take something away from us.  If we are living like most Americans do we buy many of our things using credit.  It’s not entirely our fault.  We are constantly being encouraged to buy now and pay later.  Eighteen months same as cash!  No payments for a year!  It’s a temptation that is often too hard to resist.  But eventually the bill has to be paid and that takes money.

As I’ve started thinking about my “stuff” and how I relate to it, I came up with a few ideas on the benefits of living with less:

1)      If you don’t own much, you won’t have much to lose.  This translates into less worrying about your stuff.  Keep the things you really need in order to live the life you want and get rid of the rest.

2)      Save money.  Purchase fewer things and you will have money to put elsewhere.  You’ll also save money on storage fees if by chance you have more stuff stored in a rented storage area.  We need to break out of the thinking that possessions equate to success.

3)      Better for the environment.  When you consume less you put less demand on the environment.  Be smart about the items you purchase and do the environment a favor.  We only have this planet to sustain us.

4)      More freedom.  Fewer possessions mean you can travel light.  When you have only the things you need you have the freedom to move about unencumbered by your possessions.  Imagine how much less stressful moving to a new house would be or taking off for an extended vacation.

5)      Sustainability.  In the long run the less you spend on stuff the more money you will have for other pursuits.  You will have a more sustainable lifestyle and be much happier in the long run.

I recently started reading the book “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.  It’s all about transforming your relationship with and view of money and working to achieve your own financial independence.  Early on in the book they point out that when we purchase something we are exchanging our life energy for that item.  In other words, in order to get the money to make a purchase we use some of our life energy to pay for it.  We all pay for money with our time.

When I read this I started to think about how much my life is worth to me?  What is the true cost of my consumerism?  Of course there are many aspects on the true cost of consumerism and materialism such as the economic, environmental, social, emotional and psychological costs.  I’ve tried to touch briefly on a few of those.  So what does this entire thought process mean to me?

What am I doing to change?

After thinking about all of this and realizing that I have been a victim of my own materialism I have decided to start to break this cycle and purge the clutter I have built up over the years by doing 2 things immediately.

1)      I am starting a process of inventory of every item that I own.  Items that have not been used in the last year are going away.  I will either hold a garage sale or give the items to Goodwill/Salvation Army.  I’ll be digging into old boxes to see what is inside and purging.  I don’t suspect this will be an easy task as the urge to keep things is very strong.  But I hope that by doing this I will be able to overcome this urge and become less attached to my possessions.

2)      I am putting in place a 2 month moratorium on all purchases that do not fall into the category of a necessity (food, rent, utilities, medicine etc.)  I will start a list of items I would like to purchase but all actual purchases will have to wait at least 2 months.  What I am hoping will happen is that after two months the items on my list will not seem as important as they did when I placed them on the list.  This will eliminate the impulse purchase.

Over the course of the next several months I also intend to keep track of every penny I receive and every penny I spend.  This will afford me a great view on what I am actually spending my money on.  I’m willing to bet that even as much as I currently track my expenses I really don’t have a concrete idea on where every penny is being spent.

The bottom line

Here’s the bottom line.  Do my possessions own me?  Do they dictate the direction my life is going?  What is it I value most in life?  I think these are questions we have to ask ourselves.

I’ve got dreams and aspirations in life and I am not going to let my possessions hold me back from realizing them.  I don’t want to be indebted to the things I own.  This only delays me from doing the things I really want to do.  I choose to not be a slave to materialism.  I value my life energy too much.

What about you?  Are you possessed by your possessions?

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