Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Your Bank Balance is at Zero

Your Bank Balance is at Zero
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My brother and I were awfully nerdy. In our pre-teen years we spent a lot of time on an Atari 520ST, playing clumsy video games and momentarily forgetting just how hard the fates had hit us with the “dork stick.” One of our favorite games was called SunDog, and something from it has stuck with me for a while now.

The fantasy of nothing

In SunDog, you travel from planet to planet, trying to do… something. Sorry, I can’t quite remember the actual point of the game. What I do remember is that you’d land your ship on various planets. Generally you started without any currency, but this world was yours to explore. Even at 12 years old this seemed exciting to me: having nothing meant little to lose, meanwhile, who cared, so long as you could discover new things?

SunDog was a game, and very little more; nevertheless, I can’t help but see how similar this game was to our actual lives. Aside from those born lucky, most of us arrive with very little currency, but are fortunate enough to have a whole world to explore. In SunDog you’d quickly become consumed by the game and worry about losing what you had managed to acquire. Life is like this too.

How we all turn into everyone else

Upon completing college, I momentarily fooled myself into thinking that I was different. I needed not a car, mortgage, or houseplants. There was little possibility that I would be caught by such trappings. No, I was special: a unique snowflake ready to embark on a great adventure filled with excitement and pure experience.

Sadly, it turns out that all that adventure I had imagined required cash. Neither train tickets, hostel bookings, student loans, or beer seemed to be on the same page as me. My activities closer to home weren’t all that different. Paint, canvas, brushes, all needed to be paid for as well. (And, yes Dad, I did buy a lot of CDs too.)

Soon, a few extra hours at my part-time job seemed like a good idea. Shortly thereafter a full-time opportunity seemed too good to pass up (I figured I could always cut back my hours later, If I chose to). With this small infusion of cash, I soon found myself reasoning out why a house would be a good investment, and how having a nicer car would help me, “visit my parents more often.”  (In truth, I thought it might help me fare better on dates.)

Get a cage early

Monthly payments are a brilliant thing for businesses looking to snare ongoing revenues. $70 or $90 a week really doesn’t seem like such a big deal for a car that is “yours,” smells “new,” and feels so good to sit in. First houses are much the same: “if the bank thinks I can do it, I guess I can do it!” These choices that seem so light and liberating are in fact attached to 50,000 pound weights, which very few ever seem to escape from.

Suddenly, the bills for the house renovations, assorted costs, and those “easy payments” seemed a little more daunting than I had first anticipated. I soon learned that having no cushion quickly leant stress to every aspect of my life, and I grew to resent the choices I had made and these things that once seemed so convenient and benign.

I was, however, incredibly lucky to have this experience in my early twenties, when I was still young enough to correct course. I did go on to experience other cages (of my own devisal) later in life, but those are stories for another day. The experience I gained was one of simple perspective: ownership goes both ways.

We’re renters for life

When it comes to one’s household, most either rent from a landlord or from a bank. The first option allows either party to sever the agreement rapidly. The second gives the occupant the opportunity to paint the walls without fear of having to vacate two months later. Look at either a little more closely, though, and the line gets fuzzier. The landlord doesn’t actually have the ability to act that quickly, and the bank can actually repossess the structure in spite of one being able to proudly exclaim, “I’m a homeowner!”

In my mind, it hardly makes any difference. I’ve now been on both sides of those situations, and neither seems to be a clear winner. You make your choice and you live with it, or, you change something. The point I’m trying to get at is that the notion of ownership isn’t quite as clear cut as we often like to think it is.

In addition to this, I’d like to return to that SunDog analogy because I think there’s another key parallel worth noting. No matter how much you manage to accrue during the course of the game, at the end, there’s little value to it aside from perhaps some sense of mastery in having completed the game successfully. You turn off the computer, and whatever you did in it remains there locked. Hmmm…

Drawing back the lens

Few of us want to die, as evidenced by such statements as, “if I die…” (like there’s some  possibility of an alternative). I hate to break it to you, but the only real variables are how and when. Other than that, we’re probably best to accept that you and I are both just toast. I find a kind of liberty in this knowledge. In fact, it suggests that most of the things I fret over are largely inconsequential, and that I shouldn’t squander these moments.

From a population control standpoint, though, this sort of thinking isn’t all that useful. Get people thinking that many of their decisions don’t really matter and you start to get an unruly populace. All of a sudden the game is completely different: If I’m going to die anyway, why do I need to panic about mortgage payments? If I’m on my way out, maybe I should take in some scenery instead of racing for a promotion. If I can’t take any of my stuff with me, was it ever really my stuff?

I’m not saying anything particularly new here. We all know that it all amounts to very little. The fact of the matter is that we elect to buy into the game most days, and for good reason. Monopoly isn’t much fun until you get into it. Saying, “it’s just a game,” every 30 seconds will quickly reduce the experience to one worth avoiding. Life isn’t that different: achievement is gratifying, consumption is fun, and the small victories along the way aren’t inconsequential. Experiencing these things necessitates treating it as a “for real” thing. Nevertheless, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask yourself whether you’re playing the right game.

The problem with ownership

I don’t wish to deny anyone the pleasure of material comforts. I am no pious monk living in bliss on some mountain, and I have no aversion to technology or creature comforts. What I do wonder is whether we might all benefit from rethinking our stuff, rather substantially. My strong belief is that owning is a limited construct that diminishes more than it adds.

On a personal level, owning is inconvenient. You need to pick it up, store it, clean it, move it, and dispose of it. My suspicion is that the last point I noted will increasingly become a bigger issue. I predict that within the next 5 – 10 years, we’ll (rightly) start having to pay for disposal. Beyond that, there are the associated costs. Buying a house isn’t just about buying a house. It typically means also buying a hammer, wall fasteners, door mat, lawn mower, rake, fertilizer spreader, mouse traps… and the list goes on. Sure, renting a house comes with some of these costs; my point is simply that a single purchase often necessitates the acquisition of many other things.

My greater concern is that ownership makes us think in “me” terms, and this is horribly destructive. It leaves us thinking that we’ll accept a low priced product from Walmart, in spite of how the costs were externalized, be it child labor or environmental abuse. It leaves us wary of lending things to others, fearing that they may not be returned. The perverse reality here is that by sharing, we can all get access to stuff when we need, it without even having to pay. Besides, when it comes down to it, most of the stuff you own will end up selling for 50 cents or going to goodwill in the event of your death. Truth be told, your kids probably don’t want your crap either. They are too busy buying (and hoarding) their own.

The joy of renting

By owning your music collection, you’re forced to store it, organize it, and back it up. Why not just subscribe to a service that allows you to listen to what you want, when you want? The cost will likely be more agreeable than owning, while freeing you from some unnecessary burdens. Or, instead of owning a car, why not join a car co-op within which you can get the car you want, when you want it, free of the hassle and substantial cost, of owning one?

Embracing a rental mindset allows you access to all the same stuff, with (most times) fewer headaches. Even if you own a house, you can house-swap it with someone on another continent and experience something completely new. Curiously, you do in some ways “own” experiences more than material possessions. By starting a local sharing network, you can get access go your neighbors tools, and vice versa, while building community. By giving away your ideas, you stand to gain access to other interesting people, new insights, and ultimately, access to even more ideas.

A rental mindset reminds us that every material thing we have is only in our possession temporarily. We don’t own our computers, we’re just renting the gear, until it goes to rest in a landfill. We don’t own our ideas, they are simply an amalgamation and mingling of those many influences lent to us by others. And we don’t even own the money in our bank accounts or investment portfolio. As we recently witnessed, it only takes a bit of collective panic to reduce the agreed upon value of these things substantially.

The long view

One of the things we do own is our legacy. Long after we’re worm food, the things we’ve done, said, thought, and fought for, will remain. A rental culture is better in tune to this actuality than one locked in in the illusion of ownership.

Your decision to give back to your community will impact the lives of others. Your decision to not drive a car will extend our species’ stay on the planet, and the quality of it. Your choice to do more than collect a private mountain of riches will afford you time to consider the needs of others and seek to understand them. This last point will pay out greater dividends than owning any object adorned with a “desirable” logo. (For what it’s worth, when I see a Louis Vuitton handbag, I’m not impressed; I just see a sucker. Same goes for your BMW.)

All of us, from the dawn of time to the end of our existence (and beyond) are connected. We’re all drawing from the same pool, which means you can’t actually own anything. Such a notion is solely a remnant of a less sophisticated and socially evolved time. That being said, you can experience almost anything, and if you’re crafty, may never even have to pay for some of it.

Isn’t that infinitely better?

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. mindctrl says:

    Well said. I bet people think you're an alien. Happens to me too.

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  3. Russ says:

    I find this a horribly one-sided view.

    1) Saying that renting a a house is the same as buying is extremely short-sighted - after 25 years or fewer, I'll have paid off the mortgage and I'll own my house, not the bank. After 25 years of renting, you'll have to face the fact that you've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and are still just where you started (and no, don't tell me "but renters invest the difference and come out even richer", because we both know that the vast, huge, overwhelming majority of renters do no such thing).

    2) Sure, I can't take possessions with me, but that's because I'm not going anywhere. Dead is dead. I can't take my memories either, so using "you can't take it with you" as a basis for preferring experiences over possessions is bunk. In fact, given the notorious unreliability of the human memory (ask any practising lawyer in the land about that), you could actually argue the opposite - an antique piece of furniture or art will stay as it is and give me pleasure till the day I die, whereas that memory of visiting Peru might have almost no basis in reality whatsoever by the time I hit my 80s.

    3) If everything you own ends up in a landfill, you aren't spending your money very wisely. Sure, a few cheap gadgets might, but the important things won't.

    4) Your legacy will almost certainly last no more than a generation or two. Ask 10 random people on the street if they can name all 8 of their great-grandparents. I'll bet dollars to dimes that not one of them can. Think the internet will change this? Nope, it just means there's even more noise for your signal to get lost in. By 2100, maybe sooner, chances are that no-one alive will remember you or what you've done.

    5) I'd rather own a BMW than be a judgemental ass. That 'sucker' you peer down your nose at might be a good man who happens to get a lot of pleasure from driving a nice car and has, after years of hard work and careful saving without neglecting his family or his future, decided to buy something that adds to his day-to-day happiness. Who the hell are you to say that you're better than him (and yes, you are saying exactly that)? I'll leave it to you to pick out the irony in mocking someone for finding value in a "desirable logo" and in the very same breath dismissing them as a worthwhile person based entirely your value judgement of the same logo. You clearly allow yourself to be influenced just as much by that BMW badge as the person behind the wheel, but in a far more negative way.

    This basically reads like a long extrapolation of the worn-out meme "experiences > possessions". This is a gross (and often inaccurate) oversimplification, whether you state in it 2 words or 2000 words.

  4. Thank goodness for folks like you Russ. Keep buying stuff.

  5. Matthew says:

    These things don't need to be cages, though. They're only a cage if you lock yourself in and have no means of getting out.

    For example, we bought a house, and are homeowners in every way you describe above, except one. We have a hammer and wall fasteners, rugs, a furnace and the necessary furnace servicing that costs money, a lawn and suddenly the need for a lawn mower. But we'll have that house paid off in about four more years. We won't be renting from anyone. Same for the car--it will be paid off in about two years.

    When I buy a music album or a game, the payments stop immediately. I pay once and that's it. I can now devote the rest of my resources to something else. When the house and the car and the student loans are paid off, our resources can go elsewhere. When we have no debt, my wife and I can cut back on work, travel more, and live on significantly less income.

    You can't paint ownership with the broad brush of serfdom; it's just not that simple. If the bank tells you that you can afford a house that will take 100% of your income to pay for, it's your responsibility to ignore that and be reasonable. These choices only become a prison when made unwisely.

  6. Jess Sand says:

    This may be a nonsequitor, but I've always thought the American Dream (yes, I realize you're Canadian!) - that one is ultimately accountable, and therefore able to act upon the world to achieve certain aims - has been colored terribly by our increasing dependence on ownership over accountability. They are often conflated, and (mis)interpreted as "if I own (or consume, in many cases), then I exert power over my world."

    But I think there's something to the idea that letting go brings far more power. Or centeredness. Or enlightenment. Or whatever that state is we're all seeking as flawed little humans.

    I dig your philosophical bent these days.

  7. Russ says:

    Hi Eric, thanks for confirming the 'judgemental ass' opinion I had tentatively formed of you. The only thing I stated ownership of in my whole comment was my house. Based on that single data point, you dismiss me as a mindless consumer instead of dealing with counterpoints. I don't have a BMW. I'd rather have a BMW and accept it's microscopically tiny impact of the longevity of our species than be like you and poison our culture with holier-than-thou posturing.

  8. That's OK Russ, you're allowed to think I'm a judgmental ass. I won't think any less of you.

  9. Russ says:

    What you think of me isn't of the slightest concern to anyone (though the speed with which you apparently jump to conclusions about people is very much part of the problem).

    I note that you steadfastly refuse to actually address any of the flaws in your argument, though. Seems your dismissive attitude applies to contrary points of view as easily as it does to your fellow man based on nothing more than the badge on their car. And you have the cheek to lecture others on their values? Astounding.

  10. Russ, I'm happy to discuss anything I write, and be challenged on my perspectives.

    In my experience, though, folks who write comments like your initial one, don't really want to talk. They largely seem more interested in making a fuss and name calling.

    So, I welcome you to name call and make disparaging remarks about my character. It's sort of entertaining to read things like that anyway.

    Meanwhile, I engage with those who comment here in pretty much the way that I'm approached. When folks ask questions, or, want to discuss, I generally take a lot of time to provide thorough and (hopefully) well articulated responses.

    On the other hand, when folks seem more interested in starting a pissing match, I tend to be a little more glib.

    To me, that's part of the fun.

  11. Sean says:

    Eric you're not wrong! Anyone who disagrees with you is just a consumerist drone! Rock on!

  12. Shawn Petriw says:

    Great post, as always, Eric.

    As the person you know that owns the least amount of stuff I can tell you you're on the right track here.

  13. Nick says:

    I too would like to hear a rebuttal to Russ's points instead of lame jokes. If you're going to write a post like this, please be prepared to defend it.

  14. Fair enough Nick. I’m happy to talk more…

    Russ, you call this a “one-sided view,” and you are absolutely right. That’s the whole point of my blog: to present arguments for discussion. I’m not looking to represent all interests or perspectives. (Frankly, that’s not really my role here.)

    It’s nice that after 25 years, you’ll have paid off your mortgage. Actually, I’m in the same boat, as my wife and I recently “bought” a house. That being said, I’m disinclined to believe that this is the only way to look at one’s lodging. Many are rethinking this approach, and—particularly in light of the American housing crisis—it’s hard to say that owning a home is the financial “slam dunk” it once appeared to be. We bought because Vancouver is a very bad market for renters; in another market, we might have acted quite differently. Meanwhile, a smart individual can invest in many other ways.

    You’re right, you can’t take your memories with you when you die. The problem isn’t in having possessions, it’s in the disparity between what we’re told to expect from them, and what they actually provide. A luxury handbag might make its owner happy, but, it won’t provide the sense of importance the accompanying advertisement promises. I’m quite fond of nice things; that being said they’re just things. Meanwhile, there’s a bigger price to things that needs to be considered as well. I’ve written more on that here: http://gu.nu/n2Y

    You note, “If everything you own ends up in a landfill, you aren't spending your money very wisely.” The fact of the matter, however, is that most things end up in a landfill.

    Later, you explain that “By 2100, maybe sooner, chances are that no-one alive will remember you or what you've done.” Your misunderstanding here is thinking that I tie legacy to ego. Hardly anyone knows me now and that’s OK; I similarly have little concern about who knows me in a century. When I speak of legacy, I am talking about what we as a generation stand for, and what we leave for our children. I am not interested in the vanity of any individual. If we take good care of this planet, I believe we’ll have established a fine legacy for future generations.

    You seem very excited in your comments about BMWs. While I in no way deny another of the pleasure of that can come from nice possessions, I argue that many who purchase such things do so not out of utility, but, rather, out of a need to seem “important.” That’s sort of a sad thing, isn’t it? And although I have little data to back this up, I suspect that many more people are drowning in lease payments for such things than outright owning them anyway.

    Your concluding comment of this being a “worn-out meme” seems odd to me. I’m not talking about a trend or trying to milk some idea. All I’m asking is whether there may be a way for us to get what we want without getting bogged down by the idea of “owning.”

  15. Russ says:

    Eric, perhaps you'd like to point out where my initial comment indulges in name calling? The nearest it ever gets calling you judgmental, which is in direct response to your unqualified statement that you regard anyone with an expensive car or handbag as a 'sucker'. If anyone started name-calling around here, it was you.

    That aside, the preceding four points were made with calmly and are certainly not what I would call 'making a fuss'. Again, I invite you to point out where you think I have done otherwise. If you are going to tell me that you're personally offended somehow by my statement that no-one will remember you by 2100, I'll call you oversensitive, since that statement applies to me and pretty much everyone else too. It's no more offensive than your statement that everyone will die one day.

  16. Matt Green says:

    Russ has something of a point when he talks of being judgmental, but, in my own life, I've found that the most interesting people are rarely the ones that do everything right in society's eyes. After all, the reason they get pegged as "interesting" is that there's something different about them. Now, I'm not trying to deify interesting-ness, but just making an observation. Also, Russ' comment presumes that one person's 'happiness' is just as valid as another's. This might be a bit problematic, because you run the risk of confusing "happiness" and "joy." Externally, the two may seem similar, but they're very different internally. Happiness is transient, while joy tends to arise out of things you have to work long and hard at. Consequently, it is a bit more durable. Thus, when people make life decisions in the name of finding joy, they *should* be seen as more respectable choices than simply consuming "luxury" commodities.

    In other words: joy/meaning confer identity; happiness, not so much. And possessions? They're utterly incapable of doing so. Believing that things can tell you who you are is idiocy. So, please, don't talk about possessions as if they actually mean something, because, they don't. :)

  17. jarvet says:

    if the definition of being rich is that most of your material wants are satisfied....

    if we want what we already have, isnt that a lot easier on ourselves?

    at least the stoic argument goes.

  18. I'm reminded of a Mitch Hedberg stand-up bit in where he says something like "I went to the Home Depot, which was unnecessary. I need to go to the Apartment Depot. Which is just a big warehouse with a whole lot of people standing around saying 'We don't have to fix anything.'"

  19. I like that Nick.

  20. Chris Ritke says:

    I agree with you so much that it hurts (although I may have some problems with the legacy part) . It takes a lot of living and thinking to get to where you are in this post - especially because just about every institution we go through pounds the opposite into our heads (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dtixs0UhkI)

  21. anon says:

    I agree with your premise, but not your conclusion.

    There's tradeoffs between buying and owning.

    Sometimes renting gives you more flexibility. Sometimes buying lets you get a superior good.

    I think the big problem has nothing to do with renting or buying. It's about *debt*. Debt is killing everyone who falls for it.

    A small amount of debt is great. It shows that buyers are willing to make a tradeoff so they can buy goods *now* instead of in the future. If that's what they want, they the sellers can take the risk that they might not get paid. Great.

    The problem is when you have too much debt it actually creates risk beyond just the risk of the debt itself. In other words, when the risk of nonpayment exceeds the risk of bankruptcy, then you're in big trouble. Now you're not just in risk of losing the original sale, but you're in risk of losing ALL sales.

    That's the right conclusion here. Big debt is bad.

  22. I've written this post strongly in favor of renting, largely, because the "default setting" is one of ownership. It's not that I believe owning things is inherently flawed; it's the predominant notion of needing to own *all* things that I feel is problematic.

    The bigger part of my question is whether we can achieve the same pleasures and comforts of sharing or borrowing, without necessarily needing to "own." (The car co-op being one of my favorite arguments in favor of this train of thought.)

    Of course, this is an area in which everyone needs to make their own decision. As I look at some of the things that I've accumulated, though, I have to wonder whether I've made the right choice. For example, I'm predisposed to buying a book, instead of downloading the same thing to my iPad, because, I want to have that "thing." Increasingly, I'm finding myself asking: "why?"

  23. Russ says:


    Thank you for finally addressing my points. You are far less objectionable when not being flippant and evasive, as you were initially. Perhaps now we can move on.

    I understand that you are presenting your point of view. However, most of the time in order to present a good argument you need to understand and deconstruct the alternatives. I didn't think you had done that, choosing instead argument by assertion, and called you on it. It's no big deal though.

    "The problem isn’t in having possessions, it’s in the disparity between what we’re told to expect from them, and what they actually provide...it won’t provide the sense of importance the accompanying advertisement promises"

    Fine. But it seems that your problem in that case is with the efficacy of marketing, not the possessions themselves. You think everyone driving a BMW is a sucker, yet you cannot possibly know whether they bought it because they were suckered into it, or whether it was a rational and considered opinion based on their means and values. Hell, for all you know they won it on a whimsical spin of a Vegas slot machine. That person with a Louis Vuitton bag may have received it as a gift, or a lucky find in a thrift store. To you, though, they're 'suckers'.

    And no, it's not the BMWs themselves that I'm getting very excited about, it's your broad-brush dismissal of everyone you see behind the wheel of one simply because owning a BMW doesn't make sense in your own personal value system. I'd have reacted the same had you specified Audis or Mercedes or any other above-entry-level automobile.

    Similarly, your objection to home-ownership seems now to be that they aren't the 'financial slam dunk' that a bunch of realtors told you they were. Well that's great, but I bought my house as somewhere to live and maybe raise a family, not because I thought it was a financial slam dunk. In 25 years I'll be 55. I'd quite like to be able to retire by then, and that will be much easier if my mortgage is paid off and I'm not having to hope that the yield from my investments will cover my rent or my landlord will decide to turf me out for reasons of his own.

    "The fact of the matter, however, is that most things end up in a landfill."

    The fact that most things end up in a landfill is indicative of poor buying habits, not a characteristic of all possessions. I have a pair of very nice and still perfectly serviceable shoes that belonged to my grandfather. A watch, too. I know other people who have inherited suits, jewellery, pens, furniture, art, real estate, stock, and so on and so on. If you spend all your money on computers and iPhones (and, yes I admit, BMWs) then sure it ends up in a landfill. But if you choose to do so, you can spend money on things that will last for a very long time and can be passed on to the next generation.

    "If we take good care of this planet, I believe we’ll have established a fine legacy for future generations"

    In the article, you say the following on the subject of legacies: "A rental culture is better in tune to this actuality than one locked in in the illusion of ownership". I dispute that. A rental culture means that subsequent generations have to start from zero. Our children will need somewhere to live. If I can bequeath property to mine, they might be able to do greater things with their income than pay it to a landlord. A renter's children, however, will spend their lives on the same treadmill. Furthermore, *someone* has to own things in order for you to rent them. A rental culture will massively shift power to those owners, increasing the divide between haves and have-nots even further. If I own a house, and have a choice between selling it to you or renting it to you and then to your children and then to your grandchildren, which do you think is going to shift more power/money from your family to mine? Which do you think a record company will prefer, selling you a CD for $10 or renting the tracks to you for $5 a month for the next 40 years?

  24. Greg says:

    Well said Eric. Things are nice, but they're just things...and when we die, they just become someone else's things. They may remind others of 'us' in the short term but eventually things end up as dust.

    Tough life situations always cause anxiety but gratitude for the non-materialistic gifts will always endure.

    I really hope my check to the funeral home bounces.

  25. m3mnoch says:

    pah. whatever.

    you're just setting yourself up for failure. how do i know that? go down the list of wealthiest people in the world. yep. keep going... how many are "renters"?

    no, really. keep going.

    how far do you have to go?

    out of the top 1% of wealthiest people? the top 2%? 5%?

    how far down the line of "success" do you have to go to find someone who doesn't build wealth by "owning" things.

    this whole post -- and the whole movement for that matter -- is anti-establishment tripe.

    if you want to be a nomad, cool on you. but, call it what it is, forgoing wealth in exchange for simplicity. neither is better, they're just different choices.

    me? i like comfort. comfort for me and my family after me. because, you know, you can't pass on shit you don't own.


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  27. Henry says:

    "A rental culture is better in tune to this actuality than one locked in in the illusion of ownership" - well this depends on who people rent from. Essentially, rent is just another technique to make a profit. Also, one thing is renting, but sharing is a totally different business. If you have ownership of an object, usually you better take care of it. That's why most off lease cars come back to the dealers in such horrible conditions - people who drive them simply don't care. They don't have to maintain the cars since the cars don't really belong to them. Same goes for rental apartment - why would I take care or renovate my apartment, if I am not really the owner. Your global rental strategy would only spool up the production wasting even more resources. I am tired from all the Walmart garbage we have on the market today. Screw imports, we need expensive high quality locally produced goods that would LAST - just like we did before this whole globalization thing happened.

  28. Kevin Fairchild says:

    Hippy ;)

    Seriously, though, there were some points that I'd probably argue with a bit, but most of it I could definitely relate to. But I'm also a bit more of a minimalist than some.

  29. mindctrl says:

    If you think you ever own a house try not paying the property taxes on it and see how quickly the government seizes it. We're all renters.

    Society is anti-freedom.

  30. Peter Ashford says:

    I find it odd that Russ et al claim that the author is a judgmental ass. I thought the author was quite thought provoking. In fact, it's the nay-sayers I thought were asses.

    The negative feedback seems very defensive to me and kinda confirms a lot of the biases that I have about American society in general, although I really mean anyone who thinks that consumerism is a noble or worthy aim in life. I think these people are so far down the rabbit hole that they don't realise that they're trapped there.

    I don't think it's a coincidence that a society that focuses so heavily on "having stuff" is also increasingly facing a epidemic of depression. I like the idea that ownership is a two way street. It echo's Nietzsche's "if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you".

    Don't get me wrong - like the author, I like creature comforts. I have a mortgage and possessions of which I'm fond. But all these things can become a drag on our freedom and without freedom I think we loose something fundamental about ourselves.

    I definitely wouldn't promote an ascetic lifestyle but I do think that "aquiring stuff" often turns out to be less satisfying than we think and therefore less worthy as a life's goal than perhaps spending time with good people and making a difference to people's lives and in our communities.

    Your milage might vary, but I also think people with Luis Vuitton hang bags are suckers. It is churlish to claim that such an object is not a status symbol (however one is acquired) and it functions in that role primary. Needing to acquire or display status symbols is lame. It says nothing about the moral worth of its owner it merely says "I own stuff". Whoopdy do.

    But ignore me, I'm just another judgmental ass :o)

  31. Michael Marcos says:

    Say what you want about Beemers, but I take pride in owning it. Regardless of the absurd upkeep post-warranty, drastically decreasing value, and increasingly obsolete technology and performance. Sometimes, ownership gives people a sense of being, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all.

  32. Thank you Peter--I think you've covered a number of points I wanted to address in the post, but, didn't quite cover.

    Michael, I'm glad you like your car. Someday I'd like to drive a Porsche for a while. They seem to go fast, and I do like driving. (I'll likely rent one, though.)

    At the same time, I see an awful lot of people, "keeping up with the Joneses," who don't seem awfully happy. That seems like a shame. It is just metal after all.

  33. m3mnoch says:

    good lord, but there's a ton of conflation here.

    owning stuff isn't necessarily good. owning assets is always good. stuff and assets are in no way mutually inclusive.

    to the bmw and porsche lovers? i'd more often than not peg you as a sucker. you better love that car cause it's not worth anything.

    real estate owners? there's only so much square footage on earth. sure there're bad real estate deals out there, but it's not going to just evaporate. all these whiners about the mortgage downturn either don't realize you don't take a loss until you sell or they made terrible investment choices. if you get into a mortgage you can't pay, you have no business getting a mortgage.

    and some poor troll who put money into louis vuitton handbag instead of a roth ira? ha! i laugh at you. and always will.

    some people just need to learn the difference between owning "stuff" and "building wealth." owning is not and never will be "bad" in all cases.

    as in, never.

    meaning, never ever ever.

    if you're owning stuff to keep up with the jones's, you're doing it wrong and deserve what you get in the rat race.

    if you're eschewing ownership because it's "keeping you down, man...?" well, good for you. i'll take your share of the good assets and happily rent it back to you for a 30% markup so you're not feeling "tied down."


  34. Andrew says:

    > "It is just metal after all."

    Beautiful, beautiful metal.

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  36. Hans Saefkow says:

    Almost afraid to join in the fray, but I thought I'd add another angle... I'm somewhat inclined to agree.. a little bit, with both Russ (in the Blue Corner) and Eric (in the Green corner) Which probably makes me look somewhat wishy washy.
    Here's my point.
    A long time go, my father came to Canada to, as the saying went, 'build a life and a family' His first dream of farming went bust (how unusual) and, while he tried to pick up the pieces, he rented a house. At some point, it turned out he would have been able to buy a house, but refused... Hmmm I wondereed why...He also refused to make investments.
    Years later, I asked him about this and he didn't hesitate when he said 'There is no free wealth. Every dollar I get without working, comes from another man's sweat, and If I was to buy a house, as an investment, I would be stealing another man's energy by selling at a profit" So he refused to buy a house until he was sure that it was the one he would live in for the rest of his life.
    Okay.. I know he comes across as some Socialist/Commie crackpot, but to be honest, all you have to do is look at the way the market and banks have benefited us all over the last few years to know that at some level -and yes, an environmental one as well, in some way he was right.
    'Wealth' for what it is worth, changes behaviour, and moves mountains -literally -and not always for the better, it does skew the reality that we live with and does hurt the environment (to say nothing of social imbalance)
    The fact that the average CEO in 1980 made 42 times the average wage, and now makes 419 times as much is BOUND to influence us all -and our buying patterns
    -Truth is, though, that this IS our culture.. in a capitalist sytem, the engine that drives the economy is desire (and, the imaginary possibility that some day, God willing (Yes, Him) we will ALL have that huge CEO salary because that possibility exists for us all.. right? right? after all, if ANYone can grow up to be president, that stands to reason.
    Unfortunately, as my father pointed out, the more material wealth we create, the more we are pitted against each other, and the more we need to 'grow' the economy because the status quo doesn't allow for the inner peace of owning that BMW or Lopius Vuitton handbag...

    -Oh, and, by the way, my father now makes inverstments.. why? -because there really is no way of living completely outside the system as it is

    He also subscribes to the Economist...
    And drives a VW...So if you're looking for him.. he doesn't resemble a Hippie Pinko Commie in the least, but he does have a lot of sympathy for his fellow man and the future of the planet.

  37. Hello, Eric.

    I quite enjoyed reading this — I don't own any of the clichéd valuable things: car, house, investment — sold 'em off or gave them back to bank, 5 years ago.

    I don't plan to own anything — something about it, ties me down to a specific place, location and long-time-frame of paying for it — now I can live in any city, without worrying about 'stuff' I own.

    Like a friend o' mine once said: "I will only buy anything that I pack as check-in luggage."

    Oh, yes — I do like your definition of Legacy, it not being about ego.


  38. mcgees.org says:

    @Eric: First time here. I enjoyed this post.

    There seems to be a disconnect between what you were saying in your original post, and in what many of the naysayers are contending. Actually, there seems to be that same disconnect between parts of your original post and other part of your original post: Are we arguing what is good for our stress level, some scope larger than our immediate family, or our financial well-being? Of course it is the case that if do things to increase our financial well-being, or financial well-being will be improved. While @m3mnoch might grasp that, I think he's conflating the domains w/r/t the position you are putting forward.

    I agree with you -- vastly and epically -- on the wider benefits of co-ops, sharing, and property reduction, and so take my comments (you, and other readers) as coming from one with that ethical perspective. A favorite quote is from Henry David Thoreau: "I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, cattle, barns, and farming tools, for these are more easily acquired than gotten rid of."

    Two points I wished to make:

    1. There is a lovely middle ground: Own what you can afford to own outright, and nothing else. A down payment on a house can get you a serviceable cabin or nice RV. A security deposit on an apartment is almost enough to buy a van. Sure, that's extreme by contemporary North American standards, and hard to do when faced with other choices -- but disguising "debt" as "credit" would be just as foreign to someone two hundred, or even one hundred, years ago.

    2. It looks as if you don't know @Russ, nor he you, and it's certainly the case that I know neither of you. I think the discussion ended up on the wrong footing because he responded to what I imagine to be a word choice for rhetorical effect. You wrote "I definitely wouldn't promote an ascetic lifestyle", and neither would I. Which means, by definition, that you are advocating a lifestyle possessed of some luxuries, right? For you it might be that world travel; for me it might be a vintage Les Paul; for Russ it might be a nice car. Scope, moderation, and affordability seem paramount. It might not be as globally defensible as pure asceticism -- but it seems easier to convince people to do, easier to maintain when one has other options, and, as it were, even a slight reduction in luxury spending could help.

    @Russ wrote If you spend all your money on computers and iPhones (and, yes I admit, BMWs) then sure it ends up in a landfill. But if you choose to do so, you can spend money on things that will last for a very long time and can be passed on to the next generation.

    Riiight, but, Russ, do such things make up the majority of your possessions? Even a large fraction? The clothes you are currently wearing, your car, your eyeglasses, your refrigerator, your running shoes, your shower curtain, the ... well, the computer with which you wrote that comment? I find it hard to believe that even, say, 10% of what you own would be both serviceable and desirable to your heirs a century hence. If not, then most of your things will end up in a landfull.

    If I'm wrong, my hat's off to you. ( And it's a good hat. I plan to pass it to my son. ;-) )

  39. Russ says:


    "Do such things make up the majority of your possessions?"

    Depends how you measure it. By mass, no. By quantity, no. By value, certainly. Of the stuff I own, by far the most money has been spent on the things that will last. This computer is almost 5 years old and only cost about $500 when I bought it. My car is a 9 year old Ford (despite the ill-founded assumption of certain commenters that I must be a BMW owner) that didn't cost much and is long since paid off. My wristwatch cost a lot more than both items put together, and I will give it to a son or nephew as a graduation gift some day in the future. The jeans I am wearing may not last, but the shirt I am wearing will (with a little care and attention from a tailor now and then). My house itself is worth many times the combined value of the stuff in it.

  40. Vishu says:

    I guess both Russ and Eric are right. Basically, its about your own priorities and preferences. If Russ likes to "own" things, its his preference. And as Eric says that he values experience over possessions, its his preference. Everyone defines his or her comfort zones. If you are buying a car, you know that you are not only buying a car, but also the job of maintaining it and getting it repaired from time to time. Some people know this and accept this, while others do not. Similar view goes for anything else. That you know this and are ready to put up with this, is your personal choice. Russ will do it. Eric will probably not. But you should know what will be the net worth. That's more important. Its primarily a question of your perception, rather than it being good or bad.

    On the other hand, as you mentioned Eric that ownership forces us to think in "me" terms, you are absolutely right. It restricts us from thinking in a holistic manner (child labor, environment abuse, as mentioned). But if you genuinely think that way, I would suggest that you rather take to living the monk way, unless you want to be called a hypocrite :P. Or what one can do is to maintain a balance. We always have a choice. You can enjoy material pleasures and at the same time contribute to the society. I bet that this would be more fulfilling to many people. Again, this is a question of perception, rather it being good or bad. :)

  41. Mark says:

    This is the type of post which will rally love from people who agree with you, and hate from those who don't. It is so because being a homeowner is a rite of passage, and once you are on the other side you don't want to hear that renters are having a good time too.

    There are many roads to success (or happiness in general), 'Look, I did it this way and I did great' works only when the relevant circumstances are similar. Owning a home is important for those who value security and legacy, renting is better for those that value mobility and nimbleness.

    I recently arrived to Canada, and I'm impressed by how environmentally conscious everyone is. I frankly couldn't care less, and despite this my net impact on the environment is much less than that of 'green' people. I have never owned a car, I have always chosen to live close to work, I have lived in small spaces and my whole life fits in two 23 Kg suitcases. This has allowed me to live in six different cities in 10 years, doing what I love, and if someone requires my services I can be set up in less than 30 days. I love my lifestyle, but it's not for everyone.

  42. The thing that concerns me as I read through some of the comments here is in the relative disconnect between self and community. At Hacker News: http://gu.nu/enu the discussion quickly became one of which is financially better for the individual. These are narrow views of this situation, and, in my mind, illustrate how self-centered we all are.

    The fact is, we (particularly North Americans) are obsessed with consumption. Our houses have increased in size from around 983 sq. ft. in the 1950s to around 2,394 sq. ft. in the 2000s: http://gu.nu/yO. Think about that: we’ve almost tripled the size of our homes, and I suspect we’ve done so largely to contain all the things we keep buying.

    With Russ perhaps being the one exception who largely owns solely “quality” things he needs, the rest of us are pretty good at accumulating crap. So, when I question our need to own stuff, I’m not talking about having a few nice things (like an heirloom watch, or, reliable hammer). Instead, I’m questioning a collective hoarding mentality that can pretty safely be labeled excessive consumption. Some fun reading: http://gu.nu/ej. My favorite quote: “Our cherished American way of life is enabled by excessive consumption, the dysfunctional behavior through which we live beyond our means in order to perpetuate our inflated lifestyles.”

    Me? I’m riddled by the amount of stuff that I simply cannot sidestep. I notice this as I sneak bits of my kids’ Halloween candy: each tiny nugget of chocolate wrapped individually in plastic. I see it as I fill my recycle bin with plastic, knowing that little of it will actually be recycled: http://gu.nu/DIS. Similarly, as I leave conferences I’ve spoken at, I wonder how many of those stupid lanyards I’ve had to use over the years, and dread the piles of them that contribute to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. If you want a quick cup of “holy crap, we’re really screwed,” I encourage you to give Chris’ talk a scant 17 minutes of your day: http://gu.nu/a5

    No matter how much we try to buy quality, our current system does not allow us to sidestep “stuff.” Some talk about what we save for our children. Believe me, our kids are going to be way more pissed about the mess we’ve created on this planet than they’ll ever be by any lack of monetary inheritance.

    And yes, I’m moving a little beyond the owning/rental discussion that I began with, but, this is all connected. All of my neighbors (in the townhouse complex I live in) could share the same drill, as most of us aren’t putting holes in the wall on a daily basis. Sharing would be more cost effective, and sustainable. Instead, we all have drills of our own, which largely sit unused, just because we need to “own” everything, because it’s so “convenient” to do so.

    The reason I hate your BMW? It’s an emblem for a system that can’t support itself, and allows us to happily drive our planet into an early grave. I don’t wish to deny anyone creature comforts. Nevertheless, some of the things we surround ourselves with are largely statements of excess. Worse yet, we don’t pay the full cost for “owning” these things. In truth, we export our headaches en masse. A nice little snippet:

    “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that we are still trashing about 85% of our electronics, with only 15% is getting into the hands of recyclers. We’re exporting a lot of that still, which means [America's] e-waste strategy is to literally poison people in other parts of the globe. This has happened long enough that scientists have been able to go and find adults with high dioxin levels, and kids with high lead poisoning from our e-waste. We’ve got to look at the big picture here and think beyond ‘What does this product do for me,’ and ask ‘When I’m done with it, where will it go?’” Source: http://gu.nu/rwP

    There are another 6.8 billion people on the planet. Our individual needs can’t trump those of all our neighbors.

    If you don’t care about the planet, you’re either ill-informed, irresponsible, or plain stupid. We’re putting a huge load on a closed space, and not contemplating the consequences is selfish, foolish, and immoral.

    I’m not proposing that no one ever own anything. What I am asking is what we actually need to own, and what we might be able to share. Additionally, I propose that in some situations, the benefits of doing so outnumber any inconveniences.

    Personally, I’d like to drive a nice car to the office. I think that would be fun. My choice to instead take the bus is because the community is simply more important than my personal ego or desire for comfort. As a result, I feel as though I’m a part of something: a collective force interested in doing what’s in all of our best interests. Some will see this as a socialist, “hippy,” or touchy-feely sentiment. Such criticisms would be incorrect. I believe in democracy, responsibility, and pragmatism.

    For me, though, it’s important to see such notions dispassionately. Democracy isn’t about those who I live in close proximity to; it’s about everyone, everywhere. Responsibility needs to be held by all of us, and most importantly those of us born into privilege. And, yes, I’m pragmatic: we’ve built a system that doesn’t work. We see this as we hit the wall for the materials we can draw from the planet, and how much we can happily puke into the atmosphere without notable consequence. As a result, we need to challenge ideas that might have worked at one time, but, simply do not on a very crowded planet.

    Some may say that I’m preaching or lecturing. (In fact, some have specifically said that.) I say: thank fucking goodness. We all need to start making noise, asking questions, and challenging a system and outmoded ideas that are collectively screwing our planet, and, in turn, us.

    We don’t need to give up our comforts to enjoy good lives. We may need to loosen our grasp on our stuff, though, because there’s more to stuff than what’s good for you. “Owning” isn’t just about the individual. It impacts all of us.

  43. Matthew says:

    Eric, I think that comment is far better than the original post :-) Thanks for writing it.

    Re: BMW -- Same deal here, which is why I bike most of the time. I'll need to give further thought to sharing (though we share some things like tools with/from my in-laws now--we could certainly do more).

  44. Jess Sand says:

    Well fucking said.

    Here's another way to say it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac

  45. mcgees.org says:

    I'm with @Matthew and @Jess Sand: That comment was better than the original point. Bravo, and well-said.

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  47. Jennifer says:

    I don't own many "things", but each item I do own serves a purpose and is useful to me. Anything extra is clutter and a distraction that I don't want or need. And besides, it's more to keep track of and more to clean. More things = more work, in my experience. No thank you.

    And as a renter, I get tired of the pressure to buy from well meaning friends. My partner and I like that renting allows us the kind of mobility and options that buying wouldn't. And besides, we pay around half of what our friends do every month for a roof over our head. How can that not be a good thing?

  48. Michael Marcos says:

    >> The reason I hate your BMW? It’s an emblem for a system that can’t support itself, and allows us to happily drive our planet into an early grave.

    I guess there are two types of waste to be considered here: financial and physical. While I firmly disagree with the idea that buying a BMW is a financial waste, I can at least understand your opinion. Some people allocate money to different areas, and I clearly put a higher allocation into "car" than you. That's fine. To me, owning my car has been a wonderful experience (even considering the drawbacks I mentioned) that I would do again.

    In terms of physical waste.. well.. I don't really see how that would actually make a BMW any worse than any other car manufacturer. I'd agree with you if you said SUV's contributed to that, but I might be missing something...

  49. Frankly, it's not really the BMW that I'm so cranky about. I was being cheeky when I originally referenced that in the post, largely as it's a recognized icon of luxury. My original point was that this thing that's supposed to make you look like someone "important" is still just a car.

    The comment I made later could be applied to any overpriced car. Yes, if you need to buy a car, it's likely more sensible to buy one of that's made well. That being said, many of these objects look like "quality," but are in fact not that different from other brands. (JD Power ranks most new BMWs as "about average.")

    You're right, SUVs are often quite a bit worse in terms of emissions. Cars like the Chevy Tahoe are particularly bad. On the other hand, transit, bikes, and feet are quite good.

    Some people really need cars. Nevertheless, most of us (since around the turn of the century) live in cities. As a result, most of us can be well served by alternate means of transport than any car.

  50. Jim says:

    Just stumbled upon this post. Very thought provoking and very true. Personally, I don't look at it as ownership vs renting. I don't really care that much about the planet (a sad reality). But what I do value is freedom. Without owning Shit You Don't Need, you can, with minimal money, do whatever you want. It's a selfish point of view, but probably less selfish than buying a bunch of crap that fills up landfills and pollutes the atmosphere.

    And Russ? No offense, but you come across as a douche. It ain't about the handbag, bro.

  51. Michael Marcos says:

    Thanks for easing off the Beemers :)

    >> Some people really need cars.

    I think you're right here, it's not a black and white issue, but moreso a function of your circumstances. And how much you value personal ownership (something we clearly disagree on, although, again, I do understand your position).

    You know, you're right too - a lot of these luxury brands target consumers that care about image far more than quality, but there are definitely outliers. They buy the blue and white badge not to be seen in it (well, kinda to be seen in it) but primarily because they know what it represents.

    I know we took a detour away from your initial argument, but it was fun at least :p

  52. Vee Sweeney says:

    When it comes down to it, to each his own. In other words, the "dream" or what a good investment is (or isn't) is truly up to the eye of the beholder. It is not for one person or another to judge what another person believes from what they have learned in life and their life experiences. Every experience is different and everything impacts each person differently.

  53. Speaking of crap going to landfills..... more specifically though, landfills in China:


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  55. Josh Noland says:

    Hi Eric,

    I read your blog from time to time as I find it interesting. This article was as all a good one as most of them. What I found different was your response to "Russ's" comments.

    I think Russ had some valid comments to your article and your comments were not very kind and contradictory to what you believe and do for a living.

    I remember the video you posted on you tube :


    In this video you discuss how everything is about details and putting in the extra effort to make something feel good in your hand and how its about creating a feeling to a materialistic object, that it's not the object its the feeling you buy into... in the video you salute the details!

    In the article you state: (For what it’s worth, when I see a Louis Vuitton handbag, I’m not impressed; I just see a sucker. Same goes for your BMW.)

    Each of the two brands you address in the above statement are all about what you salute in the video. Some people do buy a Louis Vuitton because it is a better made handbag, and its stitching is perfect, and others buy a BMW because it is a better built car...why because these companies have built their brand around the details. (something you salute!)

    Some people appreciate having these items instead of taking a trip. Some people prefer to own something like a BMW use it and enjoy it the same as a trip or a memory.

    I think your article is very one sided as Russ states you contradict yourself a multitude of times not only in the article but also what you do for a living.

    In any case I still salute you.

  56. Glad you liked the article Josh, and sorry if I somehow disappointed you in my response to Russ. Frankly, there was something that just "rubbed me wrong" with his initial comment, and I felt like having some fun with him.

    With regards to your note surrounding the details. While you're right that both of those companies concentrate on such details, doing so doesn't necessarily make them free of other consideration.

    The important thing to remember here is that most things are not black and white, but, rather, shades of gray. So, while I applaud BMW for brilliant brand building and fine cars, I also have to recognize that they are in many ways representative of a culture that's awfully self-involved and narcissistic.

    Meanwhile, BMW isn't oblivious to this; they have cultivated such notions and play on them with keen skill. Truth of the matter is, most aren't buying a BMW due to quality or details. They're buying them to look "better" than their neighbors.

    Similarly, while I appreciate how well Louis Vuitton has built its brand, I'm quite convinced that few are buying those costly bags due to quality. Rather, these are symbols of success.

    Again, I have little against creature comforts, or, for that matter, indulgences. At the same time, it's important that we recognize these for what they are. Additionally, we should probably be thinking critically about why we feel the need to buy such symbols: is it really because we like them, or, because we want to somehow feel special?

    These aren't simple discussions. What's strange to me is that in the past I've raised much more contentious and important ones. Upon making one flippant comment about a car, though, an awful lot of discussion ensued. To me this is emblematic of our culture's inability to see what's really important.

  57. Jeff Doer says:

    Think you are making a point that eventually we are all subject to the consumer/capitalist society. However, I think within this system there is room enough for change and improving society.

    I suggest not to change the whole world at once, but with a lot of small steps. Everyone has the power to make these small changes

  58. navin harish says:

    I agree with the first point of Russ. I don't know how long I am going to live, the loner I live, the harder it will be for me keep paying rent (if not impossible). Imagine you are 80 years old and have no work since the last 20 - 25 years. I would draw huge security from the fact that I own a house and my outgoings are significantly lower than someone who is renting.

  59. Yael says:

    There's an ancient Jewish proverb: "A good name is better than good oil."

    This loosely translates as: It's better to live a lifestyle that leaves one with a good name (which lasts beyond one's lifetime), than to focus on amassing wealth and material possessions (which don't last).

    I think this suitably sums up your overarching point, Eric.

  60. Nicely put Yael!

  61. Tom McNamara says:

    Eric, I don't know whether your a judgmental ass or not, but if you are (Ok, yes you are), it's the best damn post and comment stream I've read on a blog in a long time. So my recycled mug raises to you and all the judgmental asses who inspire us to think about the inanity and of our consumption patterns and the destruction it wreaks.

    I mention this in full recognition of the hypocrisy of earning my living helping brands try to present themselves as something beyond their purely functional value -- isn't that the goal of most branding? So I guess that makes me a hypocritical bastard.

    Where do you draw the line Eric?

  62. Where do I draw the line? Hard to say.

    I think I'm increasingly critical of the decisions I make, and I'm asking questions of the role I play as a communicator.

    On one hand, I need to make a living (and keep my kids fed), and this is the work I am good at. On the other, there are dubious aspects to the profession I’ve chosen.

    Sometimes I've elected to turn "not so good" clients away, as I felt bad about what they were doing. On others it's been a less clear line, and cash was tight, so, I took the work.

    So, no clear answer, but many questions.

    Personally, I'm a mess. I do enjoy buying things, but I'm increasingly aware of the bigger picture costs of such appetites.

    I'm by no means perfect; I am getting better though.

    I buy less than I once did, and I try to consider the lifespan of the product and the nature of the organization that produced it. I tend to prefer objects built to last, or, ones that are second hand (older furniture, for example, tends to be better than newer options).

    I also think about the high cost of consumable items we've been led to largely ignore. I almost never buy bottled water, and rarely pick up a can of soda (the price of wasting that aluminum en masse just seems too high.)

    We own a minivan, which is very handy given our kids and visiting family. I'm happy to own it most of the time, but I've often contemplating the car co-op route. The only thing that really holds me back right now is the inconvenience of having to load two car seats into different cars, repeatedly.

    For what it's worth, we only fill the tank once a month or so. I take transit every day, and my wife walks, bikes, or takes transit for work. This was by design. We moved into a complex that’s right next door to our daycare provider, and relatively close to our respective workplaces.

    Meanwhile, I write articles like these ones, aimed at challenging some of the ideas we all hold dearly, but perhaps need to reconsider. It's not a big thing. I do think that more of us asking these questions help us break some bad habits.

    I could go on... really, I could. The simple answer to your question of where I draw the line is: nowhere defined. I just try to make the best decision I can, be it personally or professionally. Sometimes I'm selfish; at other times I make choices with the greater community in mind. It all depends upon my state-of-mind on the given day.

    The important part for me is that I'm increasingly conscious of the decisions I make. That's what I'm really lobbying for here: buy what you want, rent what you want; but, do it in an informed and critical fashion so you get what you want, while remaining aware of the overall cost of such decisions.

  63. Adrian says:

    Eric, you're priceless. In your response to Josh, you remind everyone that life is not black and white, but rather is composed of many shades of grey. Then in the very next paragraph you state "The truth is......BWM owners are "buying them to look better than their neighbors". How could you possibly know this as a statement of fact? You've taken a half-baked observation and presented it as a dogmatic fact. You're judging books by their covers.

    I'm not sure why Russ's comments were turned into a championing of captalistic excess--as far as I can see he never advocated consumerism--because his arguments (mostly ignored) were very logical. I refer you to his first point which addresses (to my mind) the fatal flaw of your argument. You briskly claim that renting and owning accommodation are largely interchangeble, both with pros and cons. You gloss over this point so quickly I suspect you didn't really believe it, but tried to shoehorn it into your argument anyway.

    Compared to home ownership, renting sucks on all levels. As any homeowner if they would be willing to go back to renting and they will tell you, 100% of the time, no.

    Sure there are dangers to ownership. You stop paying your mortgage and the bank will take your house away. But you can't seriously expect that to be an argument against ownership.....it doesn't make any sense.

    @Peter -- having issues with Eric's post doesn't autumatically make us defensive consumerists who drive giant SUVs and refuse to use our recycling bins. However, what gets us a bit hot under the collar are sweeping overgeneralizations and slightly condescending judgements of people. But I understand your need to dismiss Louis Vuitton and its customers--it gives you a little smug glow from feeling that you are better than others. Nobody needs to quote Nietzsche to pick up on that.

  64. Thanks for popping in and sharing some of your opinions. I'm not sure if you're saying "priceless" in a playful or pejorative fashion, but for now, I'll just assume it's the former.

    I trust parenthood is treating you well, and that you and Rita are enjoying the fun of having a new person in the house. :-)

  65. Adrian says:

    It was an interesting post and feedback--I'm sorry I arrived late. Will look forward to reading how you put your environmental passion into practice; don't forget we were all born into this mess--including car companies. Who knows, maybe BMW will come up with a snappy little electric car in a couple of years. And they should be given credit for their 30+mpg Mini, no?

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