The Dark Side of Ownership

Like most people, when I was young I didn’t own much. Everything I owned could easily be packed up in a pickup truck if I needed to move from Point A to Point B. Now, everything I own can’t even fit into one building.

You might be tempted to envy me or to think that’s a good thing. But lately I’ve been changing my thinking about why we own things.

Almost everything you own is because you needed that thing at one time or anticipated a high likelihood that you would need it in the future. (In this context, pure enjoyment counts as “need”.) Whether it’s a lawnmower, a chainsaw, a microwave oven, a glass knick-knack or even a ball-point pen, you bought that thing so that you would have unfettered use of it when the need arose.

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Let’s just say that you own a sailboat (we all should be so lucky), but now you live nowhere near the water. Or perhaps it has some mechanical problem that makes it unseaworthy. You still own it but without the benefit of being able to use it.

As it turns out, what we’re really after most of the time is the use of things and not so much the outright ownership of them.

Granted, there are times when frequency of use makes ownership more practical than alternatives like borrowing or renting. Other factors may also be at play. For instance, the “ick-factor” ensures that you would rather own your toothbrush than simply have use of some random toothbrush when you need it.

On the other hand, time-shares continue to be popular because it’s a much cheaper alternative than owning a vacation home. (Or a whole network of them in various places you might like to visit.) On-demand car rental companies like Zipcars have become popular for much the same reason. For that matter, streaming media such as on-demand movies further leverage the use-is-better-than-ownership philosophy.

Where am I going with this?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. This is a bit of an exploration of the concept.

I’m interested in learning what thoughts others have on the topic. Please feel free to comment below. Perhaps it will help my own thoughts become more coherent and well-formed.

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