people, not possessions, matter most

It’s called “Oniomania” and it’s a disorder that afflicts far more people than you might imagine. No it doesn’t refer to fanatics of Onoway, but rather it is the craving to acquire possessions. Together with the unhealthy habit of hoarding, these two disorders torment people into believing that they need stuff, and lots of it.

My father-in-law was well known for repairing almost anything – telephones, radios, plumbing, hairdryers, vacuum cleaners – you name it. In fact he refused to throw something away if there was even the remote possibility of fixing it or finding a useful part from it in the future. His basement and garage became overrun with items needing repair and junk that just accumulated over the years. For decades, his wife and children pleaded with him to go through it, but to no avail. He held on to it until his death. His children cleaned out most of his stuff with the majority going straight to the dump. Now, two years later, they still have a storage unit full of items. They know some of it would be of value to just the right person, but everyone feels guilty because no one has the time needed to go through it all and find a home for each item.

Our culture is addicted to possessions. Thrift stores and dumps are overflowing. Traffic on sites like Craigslist and Kijiji help move items from one household to another. We work hard to collect stuff and we use it to help define our self-worth. But using possessions to measure our worth is like performing heart surgery on the image we see in the mirror. It’s not real. Nonetheless, every day new excuses are made up for people to keep items they no longer use, or buy things they don’t need.

Our addiction to possessions seems to source from a search for happiness, but ironically, every item we own begins to own us, sucking the joy out of our life as we have to maintain it or keep moving it around. Then when we are utterly spent by it, we leave it behind to our children, who must then fight over who owns it or who will dispose of it.

My upright grand piano was nabbed by my parents from a local church for a hundred bucks when I was nine. I’ve played it for thousands of hours. Although that piece of furniture has enormous value to me, my children will not see it the same way. They are less enamored with the object, and more with the person it represents and the memories of me playing it. If I were to leave it behind for them, they would inherit the burden of deciding what to do with it, and the natural concern that disposal would be disrespectful to me. Why would I want to give them that as a parting gift?

People mistakenly assume that items of sentiment will be warmly welcomed by their children. There are items we keep because they remind us of those we love. But in many cases we hang on to things because we feel guilty about getting rid of them. Or we think that cleaning out our keepsakes somehow disconnects us from our past. It’s people that matter not things.

Studies indicate that once individuals acquire the basic necessities of life, their accumulation of wealth and property bring little satisfaction and minimal joy. In fact, excessive wealth is a Petri dish for entitlement. And much to the dismay of rich people, entitlement is not a value. It is a disease.

Even if the one who dies with the most toys wins, he’s still dead, and as we can all remember from Kindergarten, it’s never fun cleaning up someone else’s toys.


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