Why I Don’t Like Owning Things

The more things you own, the more things own you.


I think one of the best ways to live your life or to philosophise about life is to figure out what you’re “anti” (against, or don’t believe in). Determining what you dislike, what you hate, and what you’re opposed to is often more clear than knowing what you’re for.

As an American, I’ve been raised in this consumerist culture. To feel like you’re going to be happier, more content, and more productive in life, you must always purchase the newest, the greatest, and the most empowering tools.

Gear acquisition syndrome

There is a notion of “gas”: the idea that you cannot stop buying new gear (gadgets, tools, stuff, things, etc).

Now this is the tricky thing:

We associate consumerist behavior as being “evil” (non-moral) behavior.

But we shouldn’t think of consumerism from a moral or ethical perspective. I say let us approach it with a more practical and utilitarian perspective:

What are the upsides and downsides of ownership? In which domains is ownership good, and which domains is ownership bad?

Downsides of ownership

For myself I don’t like owning things because:

  1. More stuff, more responsibilities: When you own something, you must become responsible for it. For example if you own a car, you must maintain it. If you own a home you must maintain it.
  2. I don’t like being stuck with “old” technology: I love technology and love experimenting with the newest and greatest technology tools. But I don’t really like feeling “stuck” with old technology. For example when I had the older 13 inch MacBook Pro (the heavier one), I wanted the new touch bar MacBook Pro. But it didn’t seem like a “prudent” upgrade from an economic perspective.
  3. I always like being “onto the next one”: I feel like my life is in hyper-speed. I don’t like being held by anything; certainly not stuff. This is why I don’t like to really buy any new fashion trend items; it will become outdated in just a few months or year. Thus perhaps the optimal strategy is to purchase clothing that you can imagine wearing for the rest of your life (the iconic Steve Jobs black turtle neck sweater). This is why I’ve adopted an “all black everything” aesthetic, to ensure that I won’t really get bored of my outfit. Colors come and go in terms of trends, but black seems robust to the effects of time in terms of fashion.

Why I’ll never buy a new Leica digital camera

As I’m writing these lines I’m looking at my film Leica MP. There is a lovely feeling knowing that it is quite robust to the effects of time and technology.

Even with the most innovative digital Leica cameras, they’ve always been outdated with the newest and greatest version.

For example when the LCD-less Leica M240 came out I was intrigued, but recently the new Leica M10-D (no LCD) version came out. Thus it seems to be prudent to “hold out” or not purchase things which you don’t consider “perfect” (or at least not buying the first version of anything and always waiting for the second version).

For example it seems that the new Leica Q2 is a substantial camera, and I’m not how many percentage points it is better than the original Leica Q1, but I kind of feel bad for people who spent $5k on the first version, and now it’s worth less than $3k in the used market. It seems the optimal strategy (with hindsight vision) would have been:

When the original Leica q1 came out, wait until the second version comes out.

In other words,

Don’t be an early-adopter, be a late (or second) adopter.

Own only what you consider essential

Of course you cannot live a modern life without owning things. But my practical tips:

  1. Don’t buy first generation products. Be a late adopter.
  2. Only buy what you consider essential in your life.
  3. Don’t let ethics and morality affect your buying or purchasing behavior. Simply do what feels authentic and genuine to you, and try not to get suckered by advertising (try to live an advertisement-free life).

Or distilled to my maxim:

Own less, live more!


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