The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Ownership

There's a belief about ownership which goes something like this:  "If you own _______, you'll be _______."  It elevates ownership as the answer to all of our hopes and dreams.

Some examples:

  • If you own a pair of skinny jeans, you'll look skinnier.
  • If you own the right skin care products, you'll look younger.
  • If you own a designer handbag, you'll be stylish/happy/enviable.
  • If you own the right equipment, you'll be more proficient.
  • If you own the latest technology, you'll be smarter/cooler/safer.

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The truth

The only truth about ownership is that if you own something, it's yours to pay for and take care of.  It doesn't solve your problems or change you into something you're not.

Ownership begins with payment.  You sign a contract or a loan document, swipe a credit card, or hand over your hard-earned cash.  After a very short "I got it!  It's mine!" high, you get used to having whatever-it-is and it's no longer quite so exciting.

Yet you continue to pay.  If not with a monthly check or automatic charge to your bank account, you pay with time and energy as you think about, protect, and maintain your possession.  You may even invest more money insuring, repairing, and upgrading it.

3 biggest myths

Let's start with the biggest of all – the myth of home ownership.  My husband and I bought our last house in 2007, and here are some of the lies we told ourselves:

  • If we own our home, it will be cheaper than renting.
  • If we own our home, we won't have issues with neighbors.
  • If we own our home, we'll be making a smart investment.
  • If we own our home, we'll be responsible adults.
  • If we own our home, we'll feel more settled and comfortable.
  • If we own our home, we can decorate it our own way.
  • If we own our home, we'll be successful.

We bought our home with good intentions, and believed the myths about tax benefits and building equity.  We imagined we'd be happier as we upgraded and personalized our house to make it reflect our interests and lifestyle.

We learned that none of that was true, and have discovered that we can be happy anywhere.

The next big myth is about owning a new car.  I used to think that having a car payment was an inevitable part of life.  These are the stories I told myself:

  • A used car isn't reliable.
  • I need a new car with all the latest bells and whistles.
  • The payment is worth it to have a pristine vehicle.
  • The payment is worth it for the new car warranty.
  • If we have a newer car, we'll take more exciting family trips.
  • Having a new car means I'm successful.
  • It's only $400 a month.

The cost of a car is much more than the monthly payment.  It also carries the responsibility to insure, maintain, and repair that vehicle.  It includes licensing, registration, and fuel (or electricity).  It's important to understand the true cost of personal transportation.

Finally, there's the myth about owning all of the right stuff.  Think of the stories you tell yourself about what you "need" to own:

  • If I had the right phone, I'd be more in touch and more productive.
  • If I had the right wardrobe, I'd be more confident, powerful, and successful.
  • If I had a remodeled kitchen, I'd entertain more and have more friends.
  • If we had the latest gaming system, we'd spend time together and have a better relationship.
  • If I had the right stuff, I'd fit in and everyone would love me.

Take away those myths, and you may worry less and become more self-reliant.  You'd make purchases with intention and a purpose greater than how you think it will make you look or feel.  As author Courtney Carver says:

You aren't your stuff and it will never make you more lovable.  Give people a chance to love you for you.

Related article:  Why It's Good to Be Weird

The alternative

What if we worried less about ownership?  What if we purchased things when we needed them and stopped thinking or worrying about them when we didn't?  What if we borrowed and shared more?  And most importantly, what if we found happiness in something other than stuff?  Instead, we could spend time and energy cultivating

  • gratitude
  • generosity
  • joy
  • attention
  • relationships
  • talent

Understanding the myths of ownership doesn't mean you shouldn't buy things, or that buying something (even a house or a new car) is always a bad decision.  It just means that when you do buy, you should ignore the hype and the expectations and be real.  It means that you should loosen your grip on what you already own so you can share it, sell it, or give it away when it stops having a purpose in your life.  Don't be the person whose home is packed with stuff that doesn't fit, is broken, has expired, or belongs to a long-ago phase or fantasy life.

When the lies are gone, you can be free.  You'll realize that you don't have to own something to use and enjoy it, and that your hopes and dreams can be fulfilled in a multitude of ways.


  1. I am reading your book “Uncluttered: How Minimalism Can Help You Thrive,” and I had to let you know how much I am enjoying it! I have been on a minimalism/decluttering journey for a few years and finally (at age 78) I am making real progress! I have read many books on the subject by well-known minimalists, but I feel yours is the one that “covers all the bases!” I have struggled with weight issues since college, and feel like I’m slowly making progress in that area as well. Thank you so much for giving me so much to think about, and making me feel in control of my space!

    1. Hi Jane, and thank you for your kind comment! Good luck with all of your efforts.

  2. Selling our last house and moving into an apartment is one of the best things we ever did. Besides buying our first house when the housing market was rising so we made a lot of money selling.
    Linda Sand

    1. My husband and I also feel that moving into an apartment was a great financial decision for us.


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