Develop Healthy Attitudes Toward Your Belongings

By , October 28, 2009

I adhere to the principal that happiness comes not from owning what you love, but from loving what you own. Compared to most Americans we have very little; what we do own we take pride and pleasure in. We try hard not to take any of it for granted. At the risk of overusing a common buzzword, we try to use our possessions mindfully.

Luckily for our income’s sake, we have simple tastes. Michelle has never been very interested in jewelry. Our clothing tends toward practical rather than fashionable. In fact, we tend to rebel against “fashion” in many ways. We don’t keep up on the latest trends. Neither do our neighbors, which helps considerably.

Our tastes in belongings are also simple. I take great pleasure in particular styles of eating utensils, such as forks and spoons, mugs, and wine glasses. My favorite fork and spoon styles are commonly carried by cut-rate cafeteria suppliers, and often end up in thrift stores. My odd little collection of other peoples’ castoffs gets used more often than the Oneida flatware Michelle and I received as a wedding present over 27 years ago. I have two particularly favorite mugs. One was a gift from my brother, the other I found in a thrift store. Our sturdiest, most trusted dishes are inexpensive Corelle Ware. Even our precious and beloved “winter” wine glasses are, I recently discovered, from a fast food chain premium campaign!

No doubt all of these things earn us the scorn of our “betters.” In college I remember a wealthier coed disparaging Corelle Ware, which I’d used ever since they became the “new dishes” in my parents’ household. Luckily, her sort of person never seems to make it out to the homestead for dinner, no doubt saving them much displeasure and discomfort. We don’t seem to feel the loss of their company, ourselves.

I can’t lie and say we wouldn’t like to “trade up” on some of our possessions. We’re human, after all, and not wholly separate from our consumer-oriented society. However, these feelings are rarely strong enough to act on. If something wears out, we replace it if we must. If we find an excellent bargain, we might replace something early, especially if we can sell the old item, or give it to someone who really needs it.

And yet, we’re happy! How we manage that without constantly consuming new and better goods is a mystery. I suspect a certain level of self-satisfaction may be a factor.

Another key to our happiness is being able to let these possessions go when necessary.

I have always felt that transience enhances beauty and value. Flowers are more beautiful for their brief life; the joy of a bunch of balloons is enhanced by the shortness of their duration (this is why I find mylar balloons unpleasant—they last too long!). Soap bubbles are even more precious, being so much more temporary. Good food must be enjoyed when fresh.

I try to apply this same aesthetic to possessions. We must handle glassware delicately to preserve it. Breakage is to be expected—doesn’t the very fragility of a fine-stemmed glass enhance its beauty?

Many of my personal treasures are rare; should they become damaged or lost, it’s very unlikely they could be replaced. I consider them even more precious for that reason, rather than holding out hope or expectation that they might be restored somehow if necessary. And, if they are lost, I try to focus on remembering the joy they gave me when I had them, rather than mourning their absence. I try to say “I had it once” rather than “I’ll replace it.” In the few cases where I have actually replaced an item, I found the replacement inferior to the original, as it lacked the pleasant associations of the first. The replacement is a mere reminder of the lost article’s significance.

The possible exception to this is books, and perhaps movies and music. Such items, where the content is key, can be replaced, although particular editions of books—especially ones gifted by special friends—are more difficult to restore.

By cultivating this attitude, we’ve managed to transition more smoothly from “normal” American life to a far richer, more rewarding life on the homestead. The necessity of padding our nest egg with as much cash as possible, and the daunting task of carrying everything we owned to the homestead, spurred us to sell as many belongings as possible before the move. Eventually, we donated a considerable amount of goods to charity. Accepting transience in possessions became key to making a successful break, and has continued to help us maintain an excellent lifestyle on very little money and no steady income.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but how does one know until one tries? It needn’t be all-or-nothing—but small steps in the right direction could eventually lead one on an incredible adventure!

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

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