The Weight of Ownership

Fight ClubI have many times been forced to clean out a house I purchased of the belongings left behind by the previous owner. The previous owners have collected room after room of personal possessions over the years and when they left there was so much stuff they couldn’t even take it all with them.

It seems innocuous enough. Somewhere deep in our spirt we have a fear that our needs won’t be met so we gather things day by day and bring them into our home. But if you like me ever have the opportunity to go through someone ELSE’S stuff, where there is no emotional attachment, you realize that it’s all useless crap. What they so carefully purchased and cared for isn’t even worth giving to the homeless.

But what I’ve realized is that it’s worse then useless crap. It’s worse then harmless. It’s worse then garbage. Why? As I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to the following conclusion:

When you own something, you take a responsibility upon yourself.

The dictionary calls a responsibility a “burden of obligation”. It is “the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management.”

When I own something, even if I never use it, I am accountable for it because it’s under my control. This is a spiritual law. You might not feel a need to keep it out of elements, clean it, store it, use it, fix it, protect it from theft, move it from house to house, or bequeath it to your love ones but nonetheless your spirit carries that weight.

We bought my daughter a sewing machine for Christmas. What a wonderful gift for an 8 year old girl who watches Project Runway and draws dresses in a sketch pad for fun. My wife and I, however, don’t know how to sew so this amazing piece of technology sits unused 6 weeks later.

I’m sure we’re capable of learning how to sew, but that means I’m responsible to learn how. The point isn’t the purchase. It could yet turn out to be a wonderful gift upon which many happy childhood memories are made. The point is the layers of responsibility that we now own thanks to this purchase.

I think this inherent responsibility is at the root of a really great practice. Marie Kondo has become a global celebrity by teaching people to own less. One of her keys is to thank an item for its service as you let it go from your life. By doing this, you’re releasing yourself from the personal responsibility of owning it.

We are the Lord’s ‘freed person’. Before I buy something I need to count the costs. Am I ok to take on the responsibility of owning this? Do I need to let something else go to make room for this in my life? What is the full “burden of obligation” I am assuming?

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