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There's nothing inherently wrong with possessions.  There are many things that we can own that can improve our quality of life, that can add new dimensions to our experiences here on this planet.  Possessions can't be bad on their own, for they are, for the most part, just things.  The things themselves can't do anything to us, and they can't make us do anything that we don't want to do or become anything we don't want to become.  Whether we're talking about cars or stereos or cd's or books or clothes or anything else, things we own do not determine who we are as human beings.

Unless we choose to let them do so, that is, and many people do so.  Possessions seem to be seductive by their very nature--having something empowers us, and power is one of the most seductive forces known to humankind.  We often feel that owning a certain item can make us more desirable to others as a person, as a friend, as a significant other.  Having a certain car can show others that we have good taste, that we have a lot of money, that we're a certain type of person (practical, rebellious, strong--whatever).  Owning a certain set of books can show that we're cultured, intelligent, broad-minded, appreciative of good humor--again, whatever.

Almost all of us get satisfaction from our possessions, and we use our possessions to establish common points of interest.  

If we see someone who has the same type of anything that we have--cd, car, shoes, or even a calculator--we have an immediate point in common, a place where we can start a conversation about the object.  "Oh, you have that, too?  I love mine--what do you think about yours?"  They're very convenient that way, and they serve a vital social role for many people who haven't yet learned to start such interactions on a different level.

Possessions should reflect who we are.  We usually choose our possessions carefully based on the image we wish to project.  This shows up most obviously in our clothing, but it certainly extends past our clothes.  Problems arise when we allow our possessions to do our talking for us, and they no longer reflect who we are--we become the kind of person who we think owns that type of possession.  I own the car I own because of the type of person I am--I was looking something practical, affordable, and economical, and the car I own shows those traits.  I wasn't looking for anything to send a message to anyone, but I was looking for something that was proven to be safe, that got good gas mileage, and that wouldn't take too much money out of my checking account each month.  In those ways, it's a reflection of who I am.

On the other hand, I have a friend who bought a car based on the image he wanted to project.  He wanted people to think he was powerful (he's not), that he had good taste (his taste tends to run with whatever's popular at the moment), and that he had money to burn (he didn't).  So he bought a car that he couldn't really afford, and he struggles now to make payments and to keep the gas tank full.

What's worse, though, is that he changes when he's around his car.  He's a bit more arrogant, and he's always looking around to see who's noticing his car.  Few people notice, which gets him very frustrated--in this way, this "great car" has hurt him and his image of himself.  His expectations of what life would be like with a cool new car never were met, and he feels bad because of it.

That's one way that possessions can be an obstacle to a full life--they can disappoint us when we expect much out of them.  We may expect the fact of ownership to be fulfilling or to make our lives better, but it won't.  And that leads to disappointment, disillusionment, disenchantment--hurt.

Another way that possessions can hurt us is when they start piling up, never being used any more.  When we constantly need new things, we're looking for something outside of ourselves to provide us with satisfaction.  There are many people who live to buy--they always want to find the newest gadgets, games, or fashions, and the older ones pile up in the house.  This is most disastrous when you need to move, but even if a move isn't in your future, keeping all of the things around can be a very unpleasant reminder of the failed attempts to find gratification through an object, through a possession.

For me, music has been a major obstacle in my efforts to simplify my life.  My music collection was vast, and I hadn't listened to much of it in years.  I could go searching and find cd's that I hadn't even seen in years, much less heard.  They took a lot of time and effort to manage and to maintain, and I didn't even listen to most of them.  It wasn't until I started to get rid of them that I started to feel a weight lifting off my shoulders--letting go of the music was one of the best things I could do for myself.  And I find that I don't miss the music that I've gotten rid of--there's plenty of new stuff coming out that I can hear (but not buy) to keep me interested.

I do have other possessions that I haven't used for a long time, and they also just kind of hang around--they've also been marked to go.  And getting rid of them doesn't hurt like I thought it would.  In fact, it's a very good feeling to get rid of the old stuff.

It's time to beware of possessions when they start to control you--either when they make you act as you normally wouldn't act, or when they make you keep them around long after their usefulness has worn out.  Our lives are our lives, and it's important that we develop who we are, not what we have.  Possessions are a very positive part of life--there are many things that I have that I love to have--but if we ever let them control us, then they've become an obstacle to our happiness.


Many of the things that bring delight should not be owned.
They are more enjoyed if anotherís, than if yours;
the first day they give pleasure to the owner,
but in all the rest to the others:  what belongs to another
rejoices doubly, because it is without the risk of going stale
and with the satisfaction of freshness. . . the possession
of things not only diminishes their enjoyment, but
augments their annoyance, whether shared or not shared.

Baltasar Gracian


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Anything that is given can be at once taken away.
We have to learn never to expect anything, and when
it comes it's no more than a gift on loan.

John McGahern

Measure wealth not by the things which you have, but by
the things you have for which you would not take money.



If we did but know how little some enjoy of the great things
that they possess, there would not be much envy in the world.

Edward Young

The Chinese tell of a man of Peiping who dreamed of gold, much gold, his heart's desire.
He rose one day and when the sun was high he dressed in his finest garments and went
to the crowded market place.  He stepped directly to the booth of a gold dealer,
snatched a bag full of gold coins, and walked calmly away.  The officials who arrested him
were puzzled:  "Why did you rob the gold dealer in broad daylight?" they asked.
"And in the presence of so many people?"
    "I did not see any people," the man replied.  "I saw only gold."

Louis Binstock

Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.
Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.

Henry David Thoreau



Sages do not accumulate for themselves.  The more they give to others,
the more they possess of their own.  The way of Heaven is
to benefit others and not to injure.



It is the preoccupation with possession, more than anything
else, that prevents people from living freely and nobly.

Bertrand Russell


Remember, what you possess in the world will be found
at the day of your death to belong to someone else,
but what you are will be yours forever.

Henry van Dyke

Mary Oliver

When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room
for.  What does one do?  I rented a storage
space.  And filled it.  Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in,
but nothing happened, not a single
twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared
about grew fewer, but were more
important.  So one day I undid the lock
and called the trash man.  He took
I felt like the little donkey when
his burden is finally lifted.  Things!
Burn them!  Burn them!  Make a beautiful
fire!  More room in your heart for love,
for the trees!  For the birds who own
nothing-- the reason they can fly.

from Felicity (2015)


I am often reminded of the early mountain man who roamed freely throughout
the Rockies far before that area was settled.  He was able to move unencumbered
along beautiful mountain trails where very few people had ever been able to go.
Years later in his life, he had obtained more possessions and wealth.  While traveling
through the area in a wagon, he was forced to take a desert road instead of his
beloved mountain trail.  As he gazed at the beautiful mountain peaks in the distance,
he realized that his quest for a few material things had changed the course
of his travels and the course of his life.

Jim Stovall


Our desires always increase with our possessions.
The knowledge that something remains yet unenjoyed
impairs our enjoyment of the good before us.

Samuel Johnson


It's possible to have too much in life.  Too many clothes
jade our appreciation for new ones; too much money
can put us out of touch with life; too much free time
can dull the edge of the soul.  We need sometimes to come
very near the bone so that we can taste the marrow
of life rather than its superfluities.

Joan Chittister


We must always remember that possessions have no inherent value.
They become what we make them.  If they increase our capacity
to give, they become something good.  If they increase our focus
on ourselves and become standards by which we measure
other people, they become something bad.
When we seek a possession, we should ask ourselves if it will make us
better people, more able to share, more willing to give, more capable
of doing good in our daily lives.  Possessions that increase our own
sense of self-importance are empty in comparison to those that help us
contribute something of value to the world.

Kent Nerburn

We are possessed by the things we possess.
When I like an object, I always give it to someone.
It isn't generosity--it's only because
I want others to be enslaved by objects, not me.

Jean Paul Sartre

When we put people before possessions in our hearts,
we are sowing seeds of enduring satisfaction.

Beverly LaHaye

A man hoping to find wisdom traveled to Poland to see the renowned
Rabbi Hafez Hayyim.  When he arrived at the celebrated rabbi's house,
he was surprised to see that it was nothing more than a room.  There,
the rabbi sat on a bench at a small table surrounded only by the
numerous volumes of books he continually pored over in study.
   The seeker asked, "Good Rabbi, where are all your belongings?
Where are your furnishings?"
   Hafez answered, "Tell me, where are yours?"
   "Where are mine?" said the startled man.  "But I only
came here for a short visit."
   "So did I," the rabbi said.

traditional Chassidic Jewish story

But it is not the rich person only who is under the
domination of things; they too are slaves who, having
no money, are unhappy from the lack of it.

George MacDonald


Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language,
and yet it is one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying.
The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things,
and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.

Elise Boulding

One is not rich by what one owns, but more by
what one is able to do without with dignity.

Immanuel Kant


The search for security is often marked by the collection of things.
They seem a fortress against need.  We get caught up in the belief
that "more is better."  Piles of objects often take more time to clean
and store than they save.  We exhaust ourselves taking care of our
property and social roles.
How many things do you have stored away for the future, like
squirrels with their nuts?  If you were asked to give away one half,
what would you keep?  When you dream about a fire, what do you
rescue in the house?  Make a list.  Figure out what is weight and what
helps you float. . . . When you let go of the constant urge to acquire,
what you truly need begins to flow into your life.

Jennifer James


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You can never lose anything that really belongs to you,
and you can't keep that which belongs to someone else.

Edgar Cayce

I remember a dear lady, who was up in years. She was working so hard and
always complaining. I finally said to her, "Why in the world do you need
to work so hard when you have only yourself to support?" And she said "Oh, I
have to pay rent on a five room house." "A five room house!" I replied. "But
you're alone in the world. Couldn't you live happily in one room?" "Oh yes,"
she said sadly, "but I have furniture for a five room house." She was actually
working her fingers to the bone to provide a proper home for that furniture!
And that happens all the time. All I can say is, don't let it happen to you.

Peace Pilgrim


My wish simply is to live my life as fully as I can.  In both our work and
our leisure, I think, we should be so employed.  And in our time this means
that we must save ourselves from the products that we are
asked to buy in order, ultimately, to replace ourselves.

Wendell Berry
The Art of the Commonplace


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  materialism - simplicity - letting go    

To find something you can enjoy is far better than
finding something you can possess.

Glen Holm

Don't own so much clutter that you'll be relieved to see
your house catch fire.

Wendell Berry
Farming:  A Handbook


Epictetus once received a visit from a certain magnificent orator
going to Rome on a lawsuit, who wished to learn from the stoic
something of his philosophy.  Epictetus received his visitor
coolly, not believing in his sincerity.  "You will only criticise
my style," said he; "not really wishing to learn principles."
"Well, but," said the orator, "if I attend to that sort of thing,
I shall be a mere pauper, like you, with no plate, nor equipage,
nor land."
"I don't WANT such things," replied Epictetus; "and
besides, you are poorer than I am, after all.  Patron or no
patron, what care I?  You DO care.  I am richer than you.  I don't
care what Caesar thinks of me.  I flatter no one.  This is what I
have, instead of your gold and silver plate.  You have silver
vessels, but earthenware reasons, principles, appetites.  My mind
to me a kingdom is, and it furnishes me with abundant and happy
occupation in lieu of your restless idleness.  All your possessions
seem small to you; mine seem great to me.  Your desire

is insatiate--mine is satisfied."

Samuel Smiles

On our own, feeling alienated from the world we had been
created from, cut off from the full extent of its abundance,
people were no longer happy.  We began to search for the
happiness we had lost.  When we found something that
reminded us of it, we tried to possess it and accumulate
more--thereby introducing Stress into our lives.  But searching
for lasting happiness and accumulating temporary
substitutes for it brought us no satisfaction.

Benjamin Hoff
The Te of Piglet

Some people are so constituted that they do not need to own things to enjoy
them.  There is no envy in their nature.  They feel glad that others have money
and a splendid home, even if they themselves live in poverty.  Henry Ward
Beecher had this broad, liberal, magnanimous, whole-hearted nature, which
could enjoy without owning.  He used to say that it was a great treat to him to
go out and enjoy the good things in the shop windows, especially during the
Christmas holidays, and he could make the architecture and sculpture of
palatial homes his own and enjoy the grounds,
no matter who had the title-deed to them.

Orison Swett Marden
The Joys of Living (1913)



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Yes, life can be mysterious and confusing--but there's much of life that's actually rather dependable and reliable.  Some principles apply to life in so many different contexts that they can truly be called universal--and learning what they are and how to approach them and use them can teach us some of the most important lessons that we've ever learned.
My doctorate is in Teaching and Learning.  I use it a lot when I teach at school, but I also do my best to apply what I've learned to the life I'm living, and to observe how others live their lives.  What makes them happy or unhappy, stressed or peaceful, selfish or generous, compassionate or arrogant?  In this book, I've done my best to pass on to you what I've learned from people in my life, writers whose works I've read, and stories that I've heard.  Perhaps these principles can be a positive part of your life, too!
Universal Principles of Living Life Fully.  Awareness of these principles can explain a lot and take much of the frustration out of the lives we lead.



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