The Legacy of Owning Stuff: Be careful what you don’t purchase

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

I will call her Mrs. Denial. This hardworking American mother never bought herself a beautiful dress.  She made do with what she had, what was passed-down to her, or what she found on clearance.  The kids are grown and she can afford more, but still she does not buy the dress that makes her feel the loveliest.  The reason she states are plentiful,”The grandkids may need something, the kids inheritance….”  She sacrificed and continues to sacrifice because that is what moms do.

But is it right?

Sadly something happened in Mrs. Denial’s methodology, her children didn’t witness this as selflessness.  Instead these actions made them see mom as not valuing herself.  The message got mixed up, “If Mom can’t have what she needs or dreams–neither can we.”  Today, her adult children all struggle with valuing themselves, and there may be a myriad of reasons why. Mostly, children emulate what they see and not necessarily what they hear…

I talk and write a lot about simplifying and minimizing what we own.  I think that message is important–we can’t continue to consume at the level we are in our nation and in the world and possibly sustain it.  I’ve wanted to live what I preach and I make do with what I have a lot.  It is a game to me, “How long can I go without, how can I use what I have to get the job done, can I borrow it, can I buy it used….”  I call it being resourceful and my children participate in the “game” with me and often it is very fun for all of us.

However, something has changed in the past few years and I’ve stopped consuming to the point that buying the shoes I badly need has become unbearably hard.  I have the money and yet I haven’t purchased them…do I deserve new shoes when others have so little and think of the resources, the questionable labor…?  Seems crazy doesn’t it–this self-created martyrism?  But there it is in my head this very instant…and the thing is I think others who journey through voluntary simplicity or minimalism struggle as well. It is a tricky business owning and consuming things.  The wants and the needs get confused, the voices of humanity and fairness echo in your head, and with so much vying for our money and time it is almost easier to completely deny ourselves than have to deal with figuring out what has true value or what is truly fair.

But shouldn’t we value ourselves?

If we cannot value ourselves then how can we value others in this world around us?  Maybe it’s about making ethical choices in our purchases and finding quality and not succumbing to the quantity.  It is the quantity that is the problem–we as a world own too much stuff, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own anything?  (And yes I know the idea of “owning” can be philosophized to death–so let’s skip that part.)

If Mrs. Denial had bought a beautiful, solidly made dress that made her feel lovely…maybe she would have smiled more…her children would have echoed that smile…maybe their stories would be different…a different legacy.  Perhaps, some will think how stupid a dress is a thing and it can’t bring joy–no, it can’t…but sometimes our minds can be altered because of the way we perceive a thing…

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

It is a tricky business owning and consuming things, but I can’t talk about it anymore…I’ve got to buy some solidly made, lasting shoes…and I might just smile about it.


11 thoughts on “The Legacy of Owning Stuff: Be careful what you don’t purchase

  1. Found your blog through Slow Your Home. Great post! My husband and I are the same way. We’ve minimized and cut our budget so much that even when we have money to spend we feel guilty doing so. We want to buy high-quality, ethically made goods, but when it’s time to lay down the money we tend to balk. This lifestyle is definitely a work in progress, but I wouldn’t go back!


  2. Kate,
    I agree–the uneasiness about spending on things I need is definitely worth it–the lifestyle in itself has made my life better–there is no going back! Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. You go get those good shoes. Proper clothing is one of the basic requirements in life. Like decent food. You may just have bounced up against the reasonable limit of frugality in a modern country.

    I feel for the mother without the dress. Especially that she is saving her money for inheritance. The legacy she should give her kids is that she made them self reliant, self sufficient. Not the inflation prone numerical the gift of money after she is dead, which won’t and can’t be appreciated to its full extent.

    I told my parents to find some nice things to do with their modest savings before they die, instead of worrying about inheritance tax being levied on it for us kids in the (hopefully distant) future.

    1. The Reasonable Limit of Frugality (in a modern country)–that would be an excellent book title. I think I have bounced–Mrs. Denial’s sad story really made me take stock into my own–loving myself is essential (I believe) to loving others and clothing is basic–I think we attach an overtly and overdone consumption to the clothing industry because of what it has become–but a good pair of shoes to walk a good life is not conspicuous consumption, and I’m glad I learned this lesson early while my children are still watching. Thank you for your comment–I’m really loving this conversation–I think we are all touching on the next steps beyond just clutter.

      1. Great thoughts, indeed. I’m very happy for you and your children. Loving ourselves in a way that hurts no one and supports others (in this case teaching your children beautiful living by example) is also a great legacy. Giving the world decent people for the future is a very great thing for humanity. History shows that civilization can be lost in less than a generation, which is probably why we can be so easily influenced on masse by commercials and brain washing by big industry. That’s all we’re trying to counteract here with frugality: separating the senseless from what is good and useful.

        LOL! We should write that book, shouldn’t we?

  4. For me the legacy thing is huge. My mum has kept everything that my brother and I ever touched. It’s difficult because I think it’s part of her holding onto us being kids, and her life pre divorcing my dad. But to me, I think she should let go of it all, I don’t know what I don’t have, so it wouldn’t bother me if she threw it all out!

    1. I think you’re right–your mum is holding onto the pieces left in maybe the happiest time in her life–sometimes stuff becomes primary in holding onto memories–sadly, I think that makes the life we are leading now secondary and when our energy is diverted towards saving the past how can our “now” be as fulfilling. Mrs. Denial (who is a very real person)has some heavy issues with holding onto things as well, and I plan to explore that concept later. Thanks for commenting:)

  5. I love love love this article. Well said! We need to be able to fully love and care for ourselves before we can fully love and care for others, just in the basics no need to go overboard with buying “stuff”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s