Home > Kids > Values and Responsibilities > Instilling Values > Things: We Own Them, They Don't Own Us

Things: We Own Them, They Don't Own Us

How do we become more skillful in our relationship to things? Much of our lives is spent purchasing, returning, taking care of, cleaning, putting away, moving, and getting rid of things. We acquire possessions through purchase, gifts, and inheritance. Once we are owners, possessions demand a large portion of our life energy. What do we do with the things we no longer use and the things that belonged to the people we loved dearly? Our choices about possessions shape our lives.

Most of us experience a complex range of intense emotions toward possessions. As Americans, we are trained consumers. We often purchase with mixed feelings, however. We know we have too much stuff. At the same time, we often feel, in fact are conditioned to feel, that we don't have enough.

Gaining a deeper understanding of your relationship to the material world can enhance your enjoyment of the things you have. It helps to recognize that you're conditioned to want more things. Unquenchable desires power our economy. An American Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg, tells a story about a friend who said that when she was learning to talk, her favorite phrases were: "I need it! I want it! I have to have it!" For many of us, this is an ongoing mantra of our lives. Understanding both the will to own and the impact of owning can free us to let go of things we no longer want or need.

Desire does not by its nature have to become greed. It is a life force propelling us to move toward people, experiences, and things that we want. One great challenge of desire, however, is that it can slip into greed very easily. Greed is a passion that can blind us to reality and our true needs. Then, we might find that we are making huge decisions about our lives in order to fulfill our greed. Working skillfully with desire means learning to distinguish between need and greed, and learning to hold our desires more lightly, not take them quite so seriously.

We can use our possessions artfully to create places and spaces that nourish us. Traditionally, possessions represented years of savings and were passed on through generations. Yet, because we have become accustomed to the disposable nature of most things, we are less aware of how profoundly our possessions can shape our environment. Working skillfully with our possessions means that we can derive great benefit from each thing that we have and let go of the rest.

Tools to Help You Pause Before You Purchase

  • Shop from a list. Remember, you will want more than you need. Wait a couple of days or a week before you buy something that seems very compelling. In a week, you may have forgotten about it. Buy it if it's been on your list for several weeks.
  • Buy it only if you really love it, not sort of love it.
  • Buy it only if you have a place for it. Whether you are buying clothes, toys, books, tools, or kitchen equipment, remind yourself that everything you bring into your home or office needs a place. It's best to identify the place for this purchase beforehand. If you don't have space for it, either don't buy it or choose something else to get rid of.
  • Make a list of things that you really want but think you can't afford. Include a special vacation or a beautiful piece of artwork. Perhaps you want to take a workshop or course.
  • Keep that list with you when you shop.
  • Put the money you don't spend on the clothes or equipment that you don't really need into a savings account. Save the money for something that you really want.
  • Get skillful at comparing the allure of the new thing with the piles of unused belongings in your house.
  • Examine your beliefs about ownership. What does ownership mean to you?

More on: Family Finances


From It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys by Marilyn Paul, Ph.D. Copyright 2003. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


Vote Now for the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards
Voting is open now through May 3 for the Children's and Teen Choice Book Awards — the only national book awards program where the winning author, illustrator, and books of the year are selected by young readers. Encourage your child to vote for his favorites today!

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books!
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our new Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme, and create reading lists for kids!

8 Products to Help Your Family Go Plastic-Free
How can you minimize your family's exposure to harmful chemicals and lessen your impact on the environment? Try swapping out some of your everyday plastic products with these non-plastic alternatives.

Registered for Kindergarten — Now What?
Wondering what to do now that you've signed your child up for kindergarten? Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks