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 and 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.

18 comments

  1. Man, I love getting rid of stuff! When I moved to Thailand I got rid of all my furniture except for a chair, and everything else I kept I was able to fit into a closet. It’s such a liberating feeling. I believe 98% of the things we own we could do just fine without, but are so convinced that we are emotionally attached we don’t realize we wouldn’t even notice if it were gone.

    It was also a plus when I moved back to the States to only have to move a carload of crap into an apartment rather than a whole moving van.

  2. Man, I love getting rid of stuff! When I moved to Thailand I got rid of all my furniture except for a chair, and everything else I kept I was able to fit into a closet. It’s such a liberating feeling. I believe 98% of the things we own we could do just fine without, but are so convinced that we are emotionally attached we don’t realize we wouldn’t even notice if it were gone.

    It was also a plus when I moved back to the States to only have to move a carload of crap into an apartment rather than a whole moving van.

  3. Oh I’m totally looking forward to an excuse to get rid of stuff. I always feel lighter after I do, and without the traveling excuse I think I’d feel like a hobo, not owning plates or chairs.

    I’ve always liked the idea of owning very little, but the best of what you do own. I definitely prefer quality over quantity, and I’ll finally get to express that preference fully!

    Have you found that moving back to a non-traveling lifestyle has brought back some of the sprawl? That’s part of what I’m afraid of, and part of why I’m considering continuing this project indefinitely!

  4. Oh I’m totally looking forward to an excuse to get rid of stuff. I always feel lighter after I do, and without the traveling excuse I think I’d feel like a hobo, not owning plates or chairs.

    I’ve always liked the idea of owning very little, but the best of what you do own. I definitely prefer quality over quantity, and I’ll finally get to express that preference fully!

    Have you found that moving back to a non-traveling lifestyle has brought back some of the sprawl? That’s part of what I’m afraid of, and part of why I’m considering continuing this project indefinitely!

  5. I agree with you completely. I have spent the past four years purging my possessions, and to be honest, I owned a small fraction of what most people have. I sold a bunch on eBay, donated nearly $8K worth to charity, and gave away the rest.

    A couple months ago, I finally got down to a carry-on bag and a messenger briefcase. Everything else is gone. It has been an amazingly liberating process.

    Incidentally, I received a lot of flack from the people in my life for giving away so much stuff. It’s a rare delight to find people who understand the philosophy behind it.

  6. I agree with you completely. I have spent the past four years purging my possessions, and to be honest, I owned a small fraction of what most people have. I sold a bunch on eBay, donated nearly $8K worth to charity, and gave away the rest.

    A couple months ago, I finally got down to a carry-on bag and a messenger briefcase. Everything else is gone. It has been an amazingly liberating process.

    Incidentally, I received a lot of flack from the people in my life for giving away so much stuff. It’s a rare delight to find people who understand the philosophy behind it.

  7. when i left to travel i sold some of my stuff, and gave away the remaining stuff. i just filled up one backpack with clothes and left. hehe

    i realize that i bought a lot of stuff that i dont actually need…

    -flip

  8. when i left to travel i sold some of my stuff, and gave away the remaining stuff. i just filled up one backpack with clothes and left. hehe

    i realize that i bought a lot of stuff that i dont actually need…

    -flip

  9. I had to laugh out loud, I mean really LAUGH out loud at your tacky Precious Moments comment, as I just finally sent mine to Goodwill. After preserving a broken music box in its so-called “valuable” original packaging since 1983, I realized that this was serving no purpose stashed away in a memory box in the back of my closet. For crying out loud, out with the thing! I snapped a digital photo for the nostalgia of it all, but it just seemed so ridiculous to keep and I’ve finally arrived at that point – of seeing ridiculous instead of sweet memories. My memories are my memories, even if I don’t have the lame porcelain to show for them.

  10. I had to laugh out loud, I mean really LAUGH out loud at your tacky Precious Moments comment, as I just finally sent mine to Goodwill. After preserving a broken music box in its so-called “valuable” original packaging since 1983, I realized that this was serving no purpose stashed away in a memory box in the back of my closet. For crying out loud, out with the thing! I snapped a digital photo for the nostalgia of it all, but it just seemed so ridiculous to keep and I’ve finally arrived at that point – of seeing ridiculous instead of sweet memories. My memories are my memories, even if I don’t have the lame porcelain to show for them.

  11. This is true, relatable, and really frustrating. After spending a few years working in marketing, I’m a lot more sensitive to the tools used to get people to buy stuff, and it’s appalling how pervasive they are. Cartoons we loved as kids were designed to push action figures, and it seems like everything part of some massive collection we should try to complete. I’ve done a lot of purging in the last year and I’m continuing to do so. It’s definitely a relief to let go, and more than a little embarrassing to realize how much money I’ve spent on stuff that really served no purpose but to be owned.

  12. I have totally had task dreams… but they can involve my work too – I have to complete a programming solution in order to turn a computer to my advantage to get out of a dangerous (usually futuristic – a la star wars trash compactor) situation.

    Also have had video game issues. I have many hobbies and they all cost money:
    - DJ stuff
    - Computerrs
    - Games (see above)
    - Cars (engines, performance, racing, etc)
    - Mountain Biking
    - Beer Making

    These all take money – sometimes a lot of it, but anything that will distract me from the everyday and transform my creativity into something tactile is worth it. …oh, and Mountain Biking is good for me… don’t think anything else on there is necessarily healthy from a living well standpoint ;)

  13. It has been quite liberating for me….I have been on my journey for 3 years now (mind you I have 30+ years of accumulation) I am having a problem convincing dear hubby how it makes you feel…it is as if you are a child again, TOTALLY FREE! I have not touched his stuff…and everyone I know thinks I am nuts, lol….oh but if they could only experience the freedom :) I am in the process of a move from a 1000sqft home to one that is nearly 5,000sqft (long story, it was a steal at $16,000, but needed to be redone from bottom to top) I have no need for the room other than to help others to come and destress from their cluttered lives….after this home, I want to create my own design for a very simple home for retirement. I have actually lived for 1 1/2 years while working on the large home with very few things…and have been happier than I have ever been. My list of items…3 outfits of clothing, one pair of shoes, toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, small mini fridge, coffee pot, microwave, toaster, small suitcase, 1 water hose (no running water in the house yet) large square pan for washing, hose to wash hair, 2 chairs, table, and 2 air mattress (extra on in case my boys arrive to give a hand) computer (cable man thought it was sorta funny, empty uncompleted home needing internet), but I needed a way to get on craigslist, the home is being built $100 at a time, paper and pen. If I could live this way the rest of my life I would be totally happy (a stove and shower would be nice) So everything at my other house that we visit once a week, brings sadness (except the warm shower :) of course) And truely I do not miss a thing :)…any help on convincing a hubby other than leading by example?

  14. Thoughtful post, Colin. And one that is extremely timely for me.

    When I first read the title of this post, I wasn’t sure if this would be an article about ownership of things or ownership as another way of saying personal responsibility. They’re different, but they very much go hand in hand.

    I’m a big fan of truly owning my own ideas, thoughts and actions. Being clear and honest with who I am, what I want and what I do. But when that extends to the things in my life, that ownership becomes too heavy.

    I’m also a big proponent of getting rid of things you don’t need. Five years ago, my family and I sold everything we owned and left to travel. It was wonderful not having to pay rent or worry about furniture or more clothing than we could carry. Now, I’m living in one place, and we’re on the cusp of buying a house that is also to be an artist community center. (We hope to close and move in tomorrow.)

    It’s daunting to think of having this large responsibility again. Things break. We need heat in winter, lights and internet all year round. (Altho yes, need is relative).

    I’m trying to approach it all with the same lack of attachment as I had while traveling. If anything, that is my resolution for 2011. To be able to own, without attachment.

  15. I totally agree with your arguments. I remember a few nights I could not sleep because I was so busy trying to figure out which series (of a certain produc) I should buy and get complete! Silly me! Now that I have decided to get rid of the whole collection I feel much lighter!

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