The Things You Own, End Up Owning You

13 July 2010

The title of this post is a line from the movie Fight Club where Brad Pitt tells Edward Norton that "the things you own, end up owning you". This a response during their conversation about all the "stuff" Edward Norton lost in his apartment explosion.

For some reason, that line has stuck with me over the years, among a few other memorable quotes! Despite the line from a movie I believe it holds a certain truth, in that the more stuff we have, we end up working just to keep it. For instance, I have a vehicle that I "own", yet upon reevaluating my life and circumstances, the vehicle actually owns me. I say that because after several years and a refinance I am still paying on this vehicle. I work many hours to earn money to be able to keep the vehicle before the company comes to take it away. Once it is finally paid for one might say that I now own the vehicle, but I would still disagree. Even when I "own" it and don't have to make payments anymore, I am still paying for fuel, insurance, registration and maintenance. All of these things add up to a lot of money every year.

As teenagers, we all couldn't wait until we could drive and then one day have a vehicle of our own to drive and take us places. Now that I am over 15 years removed from driver's training, I wish that I didn't need to have an automobile. They are one of the largest money pits we have in our lives. I could have tens of thousands of dollars in my pocket today if I never had purchased a vehicle. Unfortunately, I need to have one to get places.

This whole minimalist thing I am getting into is pretty cool to me. I keep moving from room to room in my home clearing out stuff that I really don't need. I have cleared out a lot of visual distractions, especially in the kitchen on the refrigerator. In the last month, I have made the interior of my home much more aesthetically pleasing by removing the clutter and visual noise.

In addition to that, I have sold many things in our summer long yard sale and ridden myself of material burdens that would require monetary support at some point. Thus lending credit to the title of this post. I figure the more stuff I own, the more it will cost me to keep that stuff in some way or fashion.

I've laid out a few ground rules for myself when I am thinking of buying something.

  1. When I see something I want, I must ask myself "do I want this or do I need this?"
  2. If I get something, I must have somewhere to put it away out of sight when it is not being used.
  3. It must be aesthetically pleasing in my home if it is meant to be in sight.
  4. The cost of it must be justified by its perceived benefit.

I am tired of the stuff I have (or had) owing me. These things have owned me monetarily, visually and in living space. Much of it has been unnecessary. I cringe today when I think of all the needless stuff I have bought over the years and tossed out, gave away or sold at a loss. I wonder how much money I have wasted that way.

Well, I have turned over a new leaf and I am trying to get out from things owning me and un-cluttering my life physically and mentally. Having a lot of stuff, especially the expensive stuff, can sometimes become worrisome. In the back of your mind, you always think about a break in and someone robbing you of your stuff. Then you think about what the cost of replacing some of that stuff would be and it stresses you. Some of that cost may not always be monetary, but can be emotional. If your computer is stolen, think of all the photos and memories that are now gone. All the work and documents you may have saved on there would be gone.

I'm not getting rid of my computer, but I have gotten rid of all the extra computers except a desktop and a laptop. I used to have many computers and lots of parts all over because I like building them and sometimes fixing them for others. I don't do that anymore. I am happy to just come home and use a computer for it's intended purposes and not have to work on them. That is partly why I switched from Windows PC's to a Macintosh; less frequent breakdowns. I still have a large computer desk and I am in the process of having a much smaller and visually pleasing one built that will suit my needs.

Another thing that sort of owned me were books. I love to read and have many books. I am not one for going to the library and checking out books and returning them, but it sounds like I should consider it. But having many books means I need somewhere to store them. Stacking them up all over was getting a bit ugly. So I am now going through my books and selling the ones I have read and aren't likely to read again. I don't plan on buying anymore physical books now that Apple has the iBooks store. I purchased a book on my iPhone the other day and although the screen is small, it's not too bad of a way to read a book. I quickly got used to it. I plan on getting an iPad next year after Apple releases it's second generation iPad. Hopefully they'll have any bugs worked out that this first version may have, add some new features and hopefully, hopefully, lower the price some. Then I will have a much larger display to read my e-books. I guess the real hardcore techies are referring to paper books as "dead tree" and they all have e-readers like the Apple iPad, the Nook from Barnes & Noble or the Kindle from So I don't want "dead tree" owing a lot of real estate anymore now that there are real nice e-readers available.

I am enjoying clearing up the things in my life and looking forward to saving money at the same time. My home is less "busy" visually and it is more relaxing to be in. I have less to worry about as well. Less and less things are now "owning" me.

Download the pdf version with pictures here.