We Don’t Actually Own Anything
The idea that none of us owns anything is an anathema in a society that is built upon a foundation of capitalism, consumerism and materialism. And don’t get me wrong; I like my stuff as much as anyone. My house is full of stuff. The comedian George Carlin said, “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”
When playing Ryan Bingham in the movie Up in the Air, another George—George Clooney—sidelines as a motivational speaker and delivers a speech during the movie called “What’s in Your Backpack?” He starts off…
“How much does your life weigh?
Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel them?
Now I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. You start with the little things, the things on shelves and in drawers, the knickknacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as that adds up.
Then you start adding the larger stuff: clothes; tabletop appliances; lamps; linens; your TV.
The backpack should be getting pretty heavy now and you go bigger: your couch, bed, your kitchen table. Stuff it all in there. Your car, get it in there. Your home, whether it’s a studio apartment or a two-bedroom house. I want you to stuff it all into that.
Now try to walk. It’s kind of hard, isn’t it?
This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. And make no mistake, moving is living.
Now, I’m going to set that backpack on fire.”
I’m not suggesting that we set fire to our stuff, our possessions, our cherished treasures, cars, furniture or books. I do, however, remind myself that when I am gone, none of my stuff will be my stuff. I’m a caretaker, a collector, a steward for a period of time. I may legally own my car, house and clothes, but eventually someone else will own them. I’m simply using them for the time being.
What I love about the sharing economy and the rise of Uber, Airbnb, Rent The Runway and all the other enablers of me using “just what I need when I need it” is that, with just a few exceptions, most of what I need and use I need and use on a fractional basis.
I use my kitchen and all that is in it for a mere 4% of the time I am awake. My car, 1%; my TV, maybe 3%; most of my clothes, 1% of time (a shirt I wear for eight hours a day and once a month = 96 hours/year, which is 1% of the hours in a year).
Think for a moment of the liberation of not cleaning, insuring, maintaining, fixing, storing, moving and, most importantly, acquiring more stuff. Stuff that, in the end, we use for a small fraction of our lives and will eventually belong to someone else.
What would we do with the time and money used to shop, buy and care for all of that stuff? What passion would you pursue, what friendship would you have the time to renew, and what free space could you open to create something new?
The backpack is heavy. As we enter a season of shopping, buying and giving, I am going to buy things and probably receive a few things. I’ll shop and receive with joy, as we should all be grateful for the generosity of others and the spirit of this season, but I’m also going to try to remember that the most precious gifts are the memories, the experiences and the people in my life.
Have a wonderful and joy-filled holiday.