My dad has two sayings related to possessions.
The first: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” This one is nice in theory, but I’ve never been able to achieve anything loftier than “A place for most things, and most things in their place a lot of the time.” (I should probably mention that in order to cast a more favorable light on my habits, I’m conveniently including items such as the couch and refrigerator, which obligingly remain in their places at all times, in the tally of “most things”.)
The second saying: “Whatever you own owns you.” Dad would offer up this one up whenever we suggested getting a horse, for example, or buying our own camper instead of renting one. Or installing a pool. It seemed that horses, campers, and pools all demand a lot of work and time. If we acquired these things, they would own us. We’d labor on their behalf; we would be their slave. Their slave!
This second piece of wisdom works better for me. Its truth looms large whenever we’re faced with a home repair or car problem. And recently I spent several hours in the basement, rearranging the storage area and trying to determine which items were worth saving after a water leak had dampened them. “Whatever you own owns you,” a voice in my head mentioned. Yes, it was true. I was sweating over stuff we seldom or never used. This stuff owned me—or at least it had retained me for the afternoon.
In that moment, new motivation dawned for spring cleaning. Humming “You Don’t Own Me,” I surveyed the house and pondered which possessions were worth even moments of my service to them.
Old magazines? No.
This tower of rags? A few, yes; the rest, no.
The paint left behind by the previous homeowners? No.
The pipe-cleaner and bead necklace that Ace made for me? Yes.
The bundt pan? No.
The springform pan? Yes. Cheesecake, you know.
This shrieky little toy from a long-ago kids’ meal? Obviously a rhetorical question.
The note that Sonny wrote me in church last week? Yes.
The malfunctioning camera that could possibly be repaired? No.
The Hunger Walk shirt that I haven’t worn in years, even for yard work? No.
Decisions about small things were easy. Those about large things were more challenging. The TV? The extra electronic devices? Stored furniture, even though we like it? Well . . . no.
Meanwhile, what else could I emancipate myself from?
The embryonic grudge from yesterday’s misunderstanding.
Concern about what others think of me.
The avoidance of conflict, even potentially helpful conflict.
Unrealistic expectations of myself and others.
I don’t want these things to own me, either, even briefly. They are not worth my time and effort. Nor do I want them to shape who I am and infect my relationships. So although tossing them out won’t be as easy as dropping that shrieky little toy into the trash can, it’s an effort worth owning—and owning me.
What things own you?