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Your things own you—a perspective on minimalism.

New phone. New car. New wife. New life. New everything.

I’ve accepted the fact that this is the culture we’ve created. Props to the Baby Boomers who started this, but I can’t place all of the blame on them. Generation Xers bought into it and have now passed those values down to the Millennials.

We can’t get enough of new. It doesn’t matter what it is or the impact it has on society or the environment. Those old things aren’t as good as the new ones. Hence we begin the quest to upgrade.

I’m not comfortable accepting the culture because we’ve created it. And if we created this culture, we can create another culture.

Not so long ago, I would save my money for a weekly trip to the record store. I bought mostly CDs in the 1980s and 1990s, but we still called them record stores back then. I couldn’t get every new album that hit the shelves on new-release Tuesday. Nobody could. You had to save your money and make hard decisions about which CD you wanted to listen to the most. Napster didn’t exist, let alone Apple Music or Spotify. I’m not sure I could have imagined a universe where I could listen to just about any song ever recorded on a device the size of my wallet for a few dollars a month.

But before I break into the “back in my day” old-guy rant, let me say that I still have all of the CDs I’ve ever purchased. They’re sitting on a shelf to the left of my desk, all 1,000+ of them. And I hate those damn things. They’re heavy and useless. I don’t even own a CD player anymore. Haven’t in years. Automobile manufacturers stopped putting them in new cars.

Those CDs own me—I’m responsible for them like a warden is for an inmate. Even if I could throw them in the trash, which I want to do, I’d have to box up hundreds of pounds worth of plastic and then pay to have a company haul them away. Instead, I keep them on the shelf and have to periodically dust them when my wife tells me she can’t read the spines. The discs themselves are literally worthless. I’d be lucky to get fifty cents a piece if I sold them to a used bookstore.

I’m in this situation because a few wasn’t enough. For decades, I bought 2-3 CDs every week. And after the initial listen, most of them sat on my shelf completely untouched. Once the smartphone came along and I spent an entire summer ripping those CDs into mp3 files, the CDs became even more irrelevant. The hard drive size on phones grew and now, I have every CD I’ve ever purchased on my phone.

I love reading. I hate books. Yes, I said it. Paper is an indulgence, a luxury coming at the expense of the Third World and the environment. The thought that we should be cutting down trees and using the wood to transmit stories in this day and age is vile.

Libraries get a pass because they do something great for society. Luckily for libraries, they don’t often move, otherwise I’ll bet librarians would feel differently about paper as well.

How many books do you need? Must your personal library be used to impress your friends, your family?

My music is now on my phone. My books are on my Kindle. I read and listen to music every day, but it doesn’t own me.

I’m in subtraction mode. I’ve spent the first few decades of adulthood collecting things and the last one trying to get rid of them. The more things I jettison from my life, the fewer masters I have. Instead of working to pay off the car or for those extra 500 square feet in that slightly nicer neighborhood, I get to invest that energy into my family, my lifestyle, my life.

My favorite part of revision is removing. I enjoy stripping a bloated sentence down to its essence, shaving hundreds or thousands of words from a first draft, pulling back the clouds to let the sunshine in.

As James Altucher has said, we’re really in an access economy now, not a sharing economy. I can “rent” a ride, a meal delivery, or someone’s unused bedroom. I don’t have to own any of those things to have access to them. And in turn, those things don’t own me. They don’t squawk for my attention.

Because he who dies with the most toys is still dead.

Wanna buy 1,000 slightly used, dusty CDs?

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