The Burden of Ownership

Take a look at your hobbies. Are they corporate tools (as in a useful device or implement, not a person who is a douchebag)?

They almost certainly are. I, for one, have had MANY hobbies that, in retrospect, seem to have involved little but buying, buying, and more buying.

Take, for example, my years of competitive Magic: The Gathering card playing. I loved the social aspect of the game, being able to attend conventions and tournaments, keep up with the storyline and the lore of the game, and I definitely loved the strategy involved (in both playing the game and building up my collection by trading the cards).

I moved on from Magic to what I, at the time, considered to be a much more evolved hobby: namely, Warhammer and Warhammer 40k (the difference? One takes place 40,000 years after the other. Duh). Warhammer is a tabletop fantasy war game (think Lord of the Rings, but more complex) in which you pit your army (a horde of self-assembled-and-painted plastic and pewter miniatures) against your opponent’s (an army of similar material composition, though likely with a different storyline, weaknesses, and strengths). The real wallet-buster was that all the pieces were shipped from the UK to the US, which resulted in peak pricing, despite the massive size of the armies.

In the end, though, the whole point behind both of these hobbies is to acquire more. Go buy some booster packs to get more cards. Not enough? Buy a box of them! Bored of this set? Don’t worry, there’s a new expansion coming out tomorrow! We should buy a box! And don’t forget to snag a blister pack of Ork Stormboyz while you’re at the comic shop!

Keep in mind, I’m not criticizing either of these hobbies. In fact, I probably owe a lot of my social skills, my penchant for strategizing, and a good deal of my acumen to having partaken in them. I do know, however, that at some point they became too much for me.

I started to have these really bad nightmares, the kind in which you are running through an unfamiliar environment (for me it was usually a derelict office building…read into that what you will) and being chased by an unidentified pursuer. You don’t know who they are, but you know you need to get away, and in my version of the dream I was trying to run while carrying ALL of my Warhammer miniatures and Magic cards along with me.

Now, I was really into these games, so I had thousands upon thousands of cards and boxes and boxes of miniatures piled high in my closet, so it was quite a task to drag all this stuff along with me while running from a dream demon. I was very careful not to hurt anything, too. These things were important to me! They demonstrated my dedication to the craft, in money and in spent time, so I wasn’t going to leave them for this…this ‘whatever’ that was chasing me.

After having these dreams several times a week for a few months, I began to sell and give away my Magic cards. The result? Fewer bad dreams. Then I reduced my Warhammer collection down to one army. Again, fewer bad dreams. By the time I left for college and had completely stricken the hobbies from my lifestyle, the dreams were gone.

The point to this story, and (presumably) the point of my dreams, is that your possessions can wear on you in ways you barely recognize consciously, but definitely feel the results of. Think of someone you know (or yourself, if this is you) who bought that big screen TV, only to find many aspects of their lives suffering because they are now spending all the time they had for other activities pounding back pizza and watching ‘American Idol.’ Think of the time, money and attention spent on accumulating and protecting tacky Precious Moments statuettes and Beanie Babies (yeah, remember those?).

In the United States especially, accumulating possessions is representative of wealth. A bigger house means more space to put things that you buy and forget, or worse, buy and obsess over.

I find that going through everything I own once per month and getting rid of the things I don’t use is incredibly soothing. I literally feel a physical tension release in my shoulders and back; a tightness I didn’t even realize was there until I got rid of some junk that was taking up space in my townhouse and in the back of my mind. I feel lighter.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.

Update: April 22, 2016

I still remember these dreams so viscerally — the feeling of being weighed down but having all this stuff I have to defend and take care of. That feeling is what drove my pursuit of simplicity, and continues to be a reminder — as a contrast — to how good I feel today, lacking those weights, those possession-based burdens.

At this point in my life, I was sorting through all my stuff and doing my best to get rid of it. There was a room in my townhouse that was the ‘garage sale room,’ where all the stuff I had to get rid of before leaving LA was being stored until it could be given away to friends, sold on Craigslist, or donated to Goodwill. I wrote this post from my home office which was right next to that room.