When I was around nine, I remember being sad my mom was working in the afternoons, and one day she went and bought a new Pontiac Grand Prix. She was so excited. I couldn’t share her feelings. Even at such a young age, there was this thought, “Is this what she is working so hard for? Trading her time that could be spent with my brother and me? For a flashy car?”
When I was eleven, my parents chose to get a divorce. My brother and I finished the school year at my dad’s house and moved in with my mom and her then-boyfriend, who quickly became my stepdad. A few years later, knowing that living with my stepdad was slowly killing me, I asked my dad if I could move in with him.
My stepdad was furious and when the time came for me to actually move, I was allowed only to take the clothes on my back. The remainder of my clothes, all the comic books I collected for years, the Sega Genesis I was given for my birthday, and even the VCR I had scrimped and saved up for by myself all had to be relinquished and given over to my cousin.
At the time, I shrugged and thought, if this was the price to pay, it was absolutely worth it.
Growing up, my grandpa had an airplane hanger full of spare parts. He had helped me fix whatever busted-up old car I was driving when they would break down, so when he asked me a favor, I felt I could not refuse.
His ask was this, if he was to pass away, I was to sell everything in his shop to help support my grandma.
However, she ended up passing away first. One day hanging out with him, he pulled out an old Folgers coffee can and said, “There is a thousand dollars worth of different screws and nuts in this. You can sell this for me when I pass.”
I was startled, the oath I took was to help my grandma, but he was really more concerned with me getting top dollar for his junk.
In my twenties, I saw the movie Fight Club. Besides being an amazing movie (with a really cool twist!), in its way, it summed up so many of the philosophies about materialism I had felt but never heard expressed:
“The things you own end up owning you.”
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank.”
“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”
One of the things we did before selling our house was to downsize our personal belongings. Currently, I am down to about three backpacks (or one duffle bag) worth of clothes, gadgets, and books as the totality of my worldly possessions. Even with that, I am constantly looking at what I have, and wondering if I could do without it.
Also, I have been cutting down the number of subscriptions I pay for. Personally, I love having Apple Music, but they recently increased the cost of their service which made me rethink whether I needed it anymore. I listen to the majority of the same songs and realized with what I have been paying monthly, I could have bought them all as .mp3s already, so I ended up canceling.
For future purchases, it is the same. I know eventually, I will need a car. But once we came back from Hawai’i we used our niece’s car (which I jokingly referred to as a KIA Cilantro) since she had just upgraded hers. Only when her new car had some issues and we had to return it, did my wife finally get a car. Being Texas, it’s hard to get around without wheels, but we are making it work by sharing one car. Now that I am working again, I have been borrowing her car or getting rides to the office. Though I have the cash to buy a car right now, I only plan to do so only once it is painful enough not to.
Now I still have many t-shirts that mean something to me. But when they get holes in them, I’m reminded of the impermanence of our belongings. What we really have, the things that can’t be taken away, are our experiences and the relationships we have cultivated. Everything else you obtain can be lost or will turn to dust eventually. Why then should we put any stock in things?