The Bondage of “Stuff” Household

Well, we sold our house, and are now in the process of selling almost everything we own. We made a huge list in Google Docs of all our stuff with prices, and posted it on Craigslist, KSL, Facebook, and other sites, and have had a pretty decent response. It feels wonderful to be freeing ourselves from our possessions. In the process, we’re appreciating how much we really have, and realizing how little we really need.

Our house appraised for $238,000 just a couple months ago, but unfortunately, we didn’t get an offer that high. Because of the current market and time of year, we ended up selling it for $215,000, and after closing costs, we’ll have to pay a couple thousand to get out. But that’s how it goes. There are several reasons that we’re glad to get out from under a mortgage, even if we have to pay to do so.

Stuff Does Not Equal Happiness

For example, we’ve realized that beyond basic necessities, owning stuff does not make you any more happy than you already are. In fact, it can take away from your happiness because you then have that “stuff” to worry about, maintain, and dispose of when you’re done with it. I look back amazed at how much time I have spent in my life purchasing, using, maintaining, and getting rid of stuff – stuff that I didn’t even really need, and that ended up detracting from the things that really matter to me. Then there’s the added stress of hoping it doesn’t get stolen, or damaged, broken, or lost, and then replacing it when it does. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Our house is (was) moderately sized by American standards. 1960 square feet, 4 bedrooms, and a good-sized yard. But for the four of us, it’s really probably more than we need. Sure, we’ve dreamed about renting out some gorgeous mansion in Costa Rica with a grand view, swimming pool, and acres of gardens to wander around in, and that might be fun for a while. But I think we could be just as happy in a little apartment, where we’re closer to the community and have more chances to interact with the local people. Maybe we’ll try both. But I don’t think size matters as much as we’re led to believe. The biggest place we stayed in Panama was a 700 sq ft 2 bedroom house with one bathroom, and it was good enough, really. Do you realize how big our American houses (even the smaller ones) seem to people in other countries?

Obsessed with Size

In America, we are obsessed with the size, quantity, and “niceness” of our possessions. We work so hard to obtain what we think we need. And when our income rises to the next level, we instantly want to upgrade everything we have to bigger and better. We get a bigger TV, a bigger house, a nicer and newer car, and fancier vacations. Then if we get more money, we get an even bigger TV, an even bigger house, more expensive clothes and toys, etc. Why? Does it make us feel more important? Do we want to impress our family and friends? Do we just like having nice things? Or is it just what we do in America because that’s what everyone else does and we don’t want to stand out?

If we have become dissatisfied with our lives and think more or better stuff will make us more happy, I will tell you – that is a lie. Filling your life with more and better stuff may be fun for a while, giving you a temporary sense of pleasure, but it will only last until the next best thing comes along (which it always will), and in the end, you will only have… more stuff to deal with. And that leads to bondage – owning stuff can sap our time, energy, and money, and even leads some into debt. Why can’t we be content with what we have?

I want freedom. Freedom from the bondage of excess material possessions. Sure, I’ll own things that make sense. I’ll still own some clothes, a computer, and other things I enjoy and actually use. But I don’t buy into the idea that the attainment of fancy things is one of the end goals in life or the hallmark of success. Nor do I want to become so attached to my possessions that I’d be heartbroken if they were gone. It’s just “stuff”, and you can’t take it with you when you die, anyway. (My personal belief is that nothing belongs to us anyway, but to God, and we’re just stewards over it.)

Renting Beats Buying

I also don’t want to own a house – at least not right now. Being the furthest thing from a handyman as you can get, I would rather rent, and have someone else take care of maintaining the place. And when I’m ready to move on, or if I get tired of a place, I can leave without worrying about selling a house or having my money tied up there. In Costa Rica, we’re going to be renting furnished places as well (which are in abundance), so we don’t have to own or carry around furniture. This also gives us a nice change of scenery when we change locations, so we don’t get tired of seeing the same furniture pieces and art everywhere we go.

Do the math and you may be surprised that despite what you’ve been told, there is less financial benefit to buying a house than you may think, unless you plan to stay there the rest of your life, or at least long enough for it to appreciate a great deal. Realize that you will almost certainly spend much more on payments than you will ever get back out of the house if you sell it.

In some ways, you could still say that buying is better than renting since a portion of your mortgage payment is going toward principal and you can get that money out with a second mortgage or by selling the house (if you’re lucky). In this way, there’s at least a chance you’ll get some of your money back. But if you compare the total you spend over the years in mortgage payments, taxes, maintenance, repairs (stress), and time, to how much you’d spend renting a similar place, the benefit of “ownership” becomes less appealing. This is especially so when you factor in the 12% + other fees you pay for closing costs when you sell – hence the need for appreciation. And don’t think that real estate doesn’t depreciate. It does. So in some circumstances, you could even end up losing money and being in debt by trying to “own” a home.

Of course, if you don’t ever plan to sell the house, then it will be great to have a place to live your entire life (if you want to stay in the same place that long) and eventually no mortgage payment, although you’ll still have property taxes and utilities. At that point, it’s probably better than renting (although maintenance costs will go up as well). But remember, a house can never be considered an investment, unless you’re also renting it out or making income from it in some other way. Otherwise, a house, along with other possessions, is also just “stuff”.

I may buy a house again someday, if I find a place I want to stay a long, long time. But right now, I value the freedom of mobility more than responsibilities and hassles of home ownership. And I’m excited to own only the things I need and use regularly, and no more.

Less physical clutter leads to less mental clutter, which leads to greater mental clarity, which leads to greater peace. I’m starting to feel the weight lifting already!

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Brandon is a location independent entrepreneur, musician, traveler, worldschooling father, and the principal author of this blog. He's all about reaching his potential and enjoying life to the fullest in every moment while inspiring others to do the same.


Comments

  1. It does sound freeing to just rid myself of everything…. though I don’t think I’m prepared to do so. But I will be inspired by this and get rid of a bunch of stuff taking up space in my closet or garage.

    I think one bit of “stuff” I would always want to own (though hard to cart around) is my own bed. A comfortable bed with a down comforter. I’ve slept on many that are uncomfortable, and it causes pain. I don’t need to impress anyone with my bed – I just want to sleep well in it and feel rested when I awaken. :)

    I’m currently living in a hotel (bathroom being worked on in my condo) and after staying at Extended Stay America for a week my back was nearly in spasms. I’ve now been at the Hampton Inn for 2 nights – and my back is starting to feel much, much better.

    I’m torn between wanting to sell everything and become a vagabond (follow you around the world, perhaps? :) and the comfort/stability of having a place to be settled in. Both have great appeal. I think what I’d really like is to have a place to settle in, that doesn’t require a lot of care or attention, and then have the money to travel a lot…. but always have my own bed and ‘stuff’ to come home to.

    I don’t need a lot of stuff (nor do I have room for it!), but there are some possessions which give me pleasure. They are beautiful to look at and make me smile. Or they hold good memories of which I’m reminded when I see or use them.

    And of course, there is my ribbon collection :) I just don’t think I can bear to part with it. You know how much pleasure I get out of wrapping gifts beautifully and using interesting ribbon. You better have a physical address in Costa Rica so I can send you beautifully wrapped gifts of stuff! :)

  2. I regret not buying a house here in China 5 years ago when the prices are a pittance compared to what they are now. Rents have also sky-rocketed. It depends where you are.

  3. This is definitely a good and insightful post. I know I have lots of stuff that I could easily get rid of. Although I’m not all that attached to any of it, really. Sure there are things that cost money and it would be really annoying and frustrating if it got ruined or stolen, but I’d still be just fine. It’s the things that have lots of sentimental value that I have a hard time parting with. And my clothes. And my phone. :)

    Maybe Justin should read this post. He LOVES his stuff. Hehe

  4. I knew it would feel good to be free from so much of our stuff, but I didn’t realize it would feel quite this good! It truly has led to less mental clutter in the process, and I am feeling so much more peaceful. It is absolutely wonderful!

  5. Jennifer Clark Jones Says: October 21, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    I like this article, it should belong in the ensign, or even a conference talk. I agree with tis post, we do put a lot of emphasis on what we seem to think we need (ie, cell phones remember back 10 years ago when cell phones were nothing but bricks? now everyone has them. not me though dont need it) Sometime we just need to take time and think back to what our granddads did, save up, find uses for cheap stuff etc. The only thing that I don’t agree with is renting better than buying. We have done it for almost 10 yrs now, and Ive felt like we have thrown money away. If you like renting thats fine, but its not for everybody long term. Besides a house you are also investing in yourself, doing what our granddads did and live there permanantly not just as investment property for money. We live in a 2088 sq ft home in a small town, and even to me thats big. But after living in 750 sq ft apts, its nice. But its not those mcmansions you see popping up all over. Ill get off my soapbox now and wish you the best of luck in your endeavors

  6. Congratulations on the sale of your home, Brandon. I’m looking forward to following your adventures in Costa Rica.

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