I am sitting on my couch in the middle of my dining room writing this, nursing a very sore body. This weekend we gave away and sold everything we own. Our king sized bed, 30 boxes of books, the guitar I meant to learn how to play but never did, even our Panini grill and espresso machine (and so much more). I thought it would be hard to lose the things my husband and I collected in the past eight years, but you know what? It was actually very freeing. The act of physically moving these things out onto the sidewalk, setting prices and then watching as strangers walked away with even the most personal of our possessions, was a strange kind of relief. Even as I reflect back now on what I might miss, I’ve come to realize just what I’ve gained by letting go. Here are 10 Unexpected Costs of Owning Things:
1. The things you own have a cost of ownership. Even if you don’t use it, you’re paying for it. Over the years we’ve lived in bigger and bigger places. When we first met, I was renting a single room in a house. Everything I owned fit in the 15X20 space. Our first apartment was 2 bedrooms and 700 sq feet. When a few years we graduated to a 1300 sq ft house with 3 bedrooms. Soon it was the 2000 sq ft home that we had to buy more furniture to fill up. It seems insane now, to pay for larger and larger living spaces just to store our stuff- but that’s what we did. Over the years, we could have saved thousands on housing and utilities, just by downsizing our lives.
2. You are carrying around the emotional weight of the things you don’t use. I always wanted to play the guitar. Six years ago, my husband bought me one for my birthday. I learned “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Eight Days a Week”, got some blisters and promptly gave up. But the guitar stayed with us, and periodically I would feel bad about not playing. Now my guitar has found a home with a drummer who had been looking for a cheap ax for months. And now I can finally admit it: I am not interested in learning the guitar; I don’t want to spend my time focusing on that particular skill. It’s ok; there are lots of other things I am interested in. And now I can just let that aspiration go.
3. You don’t learn your lessons on overspending, because you never face reality. You stuff the pair of shoes you never wore into a closet somewhere and forget about it. While I was pulling storage containers out, I was amazed at how many things I owned but hadn’t used. I think I had 4 different unopened blushes (makeup). I kept putting them away under the bathroom sink and forgetting about it. But I wasn’t learning my lesson. I wasn’t connecting the fact that I bought something I didn’t need, so I wasn’t getting the message to change my habits.
4. You let yourself buy status symbols—whether an exhaustive book collection, to show off how smart you are, or artwork from around the world to prove you have traveled, you let yourself belief these tangible proofs are more important than the fact that you have read a lot or you have traveled a lot. This will shift your priorities slightly, as the acquisition of these items becomes a priority in itself. What if you didn’t outwardly give the world clues about who you are?
5. You use objects as comfort. I admit it, I’m a secret nester. I like building a cozy home, and filling it with things that make me feel happy. It’s interesting though, because even though we’ve had a guest bedroom for the last 3 years, we rarely have guests overnight. I think it just makes me feel good to have it, to walk past that room and smile at the coordinated duvet and pillow shams. But the truth is, you don’t need those things to be happy. It’s a wicked habit, and I can’t help but think I’ve been influenced by a lifetime of Pottery Barn magazines.
6. You are weighed down. If you can’t carry it, you can’t travel with it. The whole point of selling this stuff is so we can move abroad and travel as we please. As we were buying it though, we weren’t thinking, “Lets buy this, so we can be even more chained to our possessions. Maybe we should get two, that way we can be landlocked even if one breaks!”
7. The more stuff you have the more blind you become to it. There were so many books, DVDs drawers full of stuff that I hadn’t remembered seeing for years. And yet there they were, in plain sight for years, just obscured by the details of so many other things. We didn’t appreciate what we had, because there was just too much of it!
8. If you are overspending, you will never see that money again. When you sell off your stuff, expect the going rate to be 25% or less of what you spent for it. We have spent thousands over the years and the whole lot when for a couple hundred bucks. Ouch.
9. Each object has a path before you bought it. We don’t often think about where things come from, but everything that you buy has been manufactured somewhere. When you think about the never used guitar that was made in China, by someone making pennies a day, shipped overseas, using lots of gasoline, driven across the country to a store near you, just so it could sit in your closet. At some point it must occur to us that we’re not just wasting our money, but the planet’s resources as well.
10. You like the idea of owning something more than the reality. For years I held onto all my books, because I really liked owning them. But two things happened this weekend. First, I realized I hadn’t opened many of them after the first time I read them. Second, I was passing on my favorite books to other people, who were excited to read them. Instead of keeping a great book for my collection, I will now always pass it on.
What are you some ways the things you own, own you?