Ownership. The Holy Grail of life in modern Western society.
To control something.
It’s yours. You’ve won!
I think we’ve all dreamed of owning different things at different times in our lives. But how often do we pause and think about ownership and what it means?
Have you ever stopped to think about what ownership really means? And is it worth it?
I recently watched a podcast with my friend Joel Block and his guest Randy Gage. The podcast made me re-examine something I had already been thinking of – what is ownership? And is ownership what it used to be?
It Started Early For Me
Thoughts of ownership for me started early in life. My parents, largely my father, told me it was great to own things. Being an owner, and not a renter, was the way to go. Owning stuff meant that you could use with when you like, control it and generally be the decision maker.
With all of that stacked in favor there was no question I wanted to own things. Who doesn’t want to control more and have access to your things 24/7?
And I think most of us, at least many of us over a certain age, start with this knowledge and these assumptions.
Do We Really Own Anything?
But as I got older and accumulated more experience I started to think more about ownership. As time went on I owned more and more stuff: a house, a bunch of cars, tools, contents of multiple houses, travel trinkets and just generally a lot of stuff.
By Western standards I had it all. And some stuff does make you happy. Let’s face it it’s nice to jump in your car (or one of your cars for those of us so lucky) and go. It’s nice to come home to your house.
But as I examined ownership in modern society one question kept coming to mind. Do we truly own anything?
Most people would think this a silly question. But I found it to be a more nuanced question.
It Always Comes With Cost
Everything we do comes with cost. Even ownership.
As I examined ownership more and more – and owned more and more – the costs started to add up. And these costs became more and more important in the ownership process.
And when we start to look at these costs I start to question if we really own anything.
I remember the conversation well. It was on a social media channel. I was talking about renting a piece of real estate instead of owning it.
A real estate agent, who of course had a vested interest in the ownership side of the equation, was arguing that I was dumb for not owning real estate.
But real estate, as lovely as it is, comes with costs. And one of those big costs is real estate is taxes. In Texas, where I was renting when I had this conversation, real estate taxes can run about 3% of the property’s value each year. Ouch.
The real estate agent went on and on about the ownership. And how great it was. He pointed out no one could take something you own.
But what if you don’t pay the taxes?
I bet you, full well, if you don’t pay the taxes the government is coming and taking what you “own.” So even if you own a house you don’t own it if you don’t pay someone else.
In many places similar payments need to be made on cars, personal property and other things. Ownership comes with a tax cost.
Not only do we often have to pay taxes to the government to own things – we often have to maintain – or do upkeep – on that which we own.
Sure, we own it. But things happen. Houses encounter storms. Cars rust and need parts replaced. Even simple assets we own – like tools – need to be sharpened, tuned, oiled, etc.
Everything we keep we become responsible for keeping in good working order. And over time these costs add up.
And if we don’t do the work of maintenance? We’ll find the things we own lose value and utility.
Beyond the mere maintenance and taxes we also become responsible for securing that which we own. We have to lock our cars and houses. We have to house and lock them.
We spend more time than most of us realize on keeping what we have. Putting them away, locking them up and making sure they are still there.
Some of my cars are garage kept to keep them in top collector shape. What does that mean? Another building to keep. Another door to lock. More to check on.
And tandem with the security is the time and attention the things we own require. We have to keep track of the things we own. Some, like houses and cars, require tax payments, registration, insurance, etc.
Smaller items need to be put away, moved and found when we need them.
The bottom line is that everything we have – throughout life – requires our attention. And more stuff means more attention. More of this hidden cost.
Loss Of Value
Most of the things we own in life will come and go from us before we die. Houses, cars and nick-nacks seem to come and god.
And for almost all of them there is a loss of value. Few things go up in value over time. Real estate is a rare exception. In most areas of the world real estate does tend to increase in value over time if you do the things mentioned in this article – maintain it, secure it, insure it and pay the taxes. Even owning real estate has it’s costs.
So everything we “own” is most likely losing value from the time we acquire it to the time we dispose of it. So ownership certainly isn’t free.
And with all of this comes opportunity cost. Often when we are owning own thing it prevents us from owning another. Owning this house keeps ups from owning that house. Putting down a down payment for a house or car means we can’t buy stocks in the market.
Everything we do to own something has a cost somewhere else. We lose some opportunity with everything we own.
We Are All Really Renters Over The Long Term
And over the long term, the many years, we are all really renters. Sure, we owned that house or car, but now someone else does.
For those of us that own something for the rest of our lives when we die that ownership goes somewhere. Likely to our family through the estate – they then get the burdens of ownership handed from us.
Nothing we have is permanent. If we stop doing the work of ownership it’s over – someone else gets to take control.
So with the high cost of ownership – when examined – what are we to do?
There certainly are more efficient things we can do. The average car is parked 95% of the time according to some accounts. 19/20ths of its life the average car is doing nothing but taking up space and adding costs to our lives.
By the time we go to work, meetings and travel a lot of our houses are sitting empty a lot of the time.
Tools – forget it. I bet none of my tools are used 1% of the time.
And that’s why a lot of folks are questioning ownership. And what is efficient.
Is it efficient to have a car, store it, maintain it, pay to park it and let it depreciate on you? Or is it better to call a car sharing service and use a car when you need it?
It’s something that has this car guy wondering if I’ve bought my last car. Think of our cities with driverless cars that leave the city after drop-off – less parking needed, the elimination of garages from building architecture and less cars parked in the suburbs. A lot of the hidden costs of car ownership are gone.
A New Way of Thinking
And as Randy Gage and Joel Block pointed out in their podcast that partially inspired this article a lot of folks are starting to question things.
Is ownership worth it? Or is it better to just get what you need when you need it?
I know it’s something I am examining more and more. I no longer take so much pride in ownership. I take pride in experiences and wise use of assets -whether they are mine or others.
As Kat Kou pointed out in her article recently we should focus on the experiences. More and more are coming to this conclusion. Come on – even when you own something you own it for the experiences you think it’ll give you. Right?
How about you? What do you think about ownership? Has it’s time past? Or are there things you want to own?
By: The Our Shawn McBride, a speaker, trainer and consultant on The Future of Business, the host of The Future Done Right(TM) Show and long-time business attorney. If you want regular content on the future of business subscribe to get new blog posts from us here.
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