Possessions, Freedom from Greed … What Do You Own, and Why?

It was the wise observation of the Puritans that,

“Many parents go to hell
in getting an estate;

their children go to hell afterwards,
in spending that estate.”

[ Thomas Manton ]

The accumulation of possessions –
the constant seeking after things,
has been, and will continue to be,

the greatest ruin of men and women
– whether they finally come to realise it
on their deathbed, or not.

It not only feeds Vanity and stimulates
Greed for more and more Things,

but it prevents the mind from pausing to
consider what is TRULY important in this life.


My wife and I live – what is often termed,
“A Plain Life” …

We use Electricity to provide light
and boil the kettle for cups of tea.

We do not use it to run a television
or anything else that would foster laziness,
or carry mental or moral sewage
into our home.

It is a matter of self discipline.

Living without covetousness (‘materialism’, greed)
is PRECISELY the same:

It is about Integrity …

Setting Standards – below which,
you will not allow yourself to fall.

I have always been mystified to observe
that people’s homes almost always
seem stuffed-to-over-flowing in chaos:

possessions, plastic, and paraphernalia
that fill attics and garages, and cover
almost every surface of the house.

There seems to be a perverse mentality
in the world
in which owning things,
is somehow seen as reflecting favourably
on a person’s character.

EVEN the very Introductions that are made
in the 21st century … reek of Greed –

Surely, you are familiar with them … ?

When introduced to someone, WHAT
are the FIRST words that are spoken
TO you?

“Hello … What do you do ?”

When I was growing up,
the question was ALWAYS …

“Hello … HOW do you do ?”

Living without television, stereo, and newspapers
while being of immense benefit
to our mental and moral well-being,
also separates us from that
mass-controlling feature of the modern world:

the perverse onslaught of advertising,
and its utterly bizarre, absolute control
of the modern multitudes.

It is one of the most liberating feelings
in the world to observe people, in general,
speaking, agitating, and rushing frenetically about
in their mad rush to buy the latest technological toy,
sale item, or popular fashion accessory –

and to be, oneself, not the slightest bit interested
in what so evidently controls the thoughts and
desires; commands the attention, and dictates
the actions of the modern multitudes.

Truly, this is Freedom.

Greed – the mindless acquisition of amusements
and vanity toys – is behind the appalling
superficiality of 21st century humanity;

and – for anyone who might seek a life
with more meaning than the constant pursuit
of entertainment and ego –

I can promise that you WILL view the world
– and people – much differently,
once commercial advertising
becomes meaningless to your life.

We moved into our house in November, 2017;
this was the content of the garage
when the previous owners lived here …

This is the content of the garage
now that we live here …

“But surely”, I hear a voice ask – “this is not Practical:
everyone, of necessity, MUST have ‘junk’ –
suitcases, paint tins, tools …”

Yes, very true. BUT that does Not Mean
that these things must be kept in a chaotic mess.

The house in which we live, came equipped with what was
(apparently, in this part of the world) known as a
“Root Cellar” … an area just inside the door of the garage.

After a thorough scrubbing out with hot water and bleach,
all of our tools and miscellaneous bits-and-pieces
were simply placed behind glass doors, on the shelves
that once held Canned Goods.

Every item has a clear box;
and every item is in its own box.

(Please excuse the poor quality photographs, but there
is no natural light down there; only a harsh tungsten bulb
and the flash of the little pocket camera I borrow
for photographs on this site is not up to the task
– It will, however, give you the idea … )


In considering the question of HOW one begins
to ‘downsize’ one’s belongings,
I suppose the best practical answer would be:

“If you have not used it in the past 18 months,
you probably will never use it again.”

(Now, it will go without saying that this excludes
emergency items such as a torch, batteries,
a Primus Stove, and such like.
These can be stored in a container that is
specifically marked for such things as ‘power outages’,
‘plumbing’, ‘electrical’ &c. )

With the “18 month” guide, I refer to personal
and household items; accumulated acquisitions,
and clothing.

Set aside those items that you have not used
in the past year and a half or so:

pick up each one, and ask yourself – out loud:

“Why did I buy this, exactly?”

Then answer the question – out loud:

Absolutely — Talk to Yourself …
And LISTEN to your own answer !

“I bought it to impress (so-and-so)”,
“I bought it because it was on TV –
because ‘everyone else’ had one”,
“I bought it to feed my Vanity” –
and so on.

Then ask, “What does this do with my time?”
“What does having this do to my mind?”
“Could my time be better used than by
wasting it on this?”

When physically hearing the response –
you may well embarrass, if not shame, yourself.

Once all superfluous junk has been set aside
using that criteria as a starting point,

exercise personal integrity in examining
your own conscience to determine
which possessions most gratify Conceit –

that is,

identifying what things have been bought
in order to “impress”
those who are shallow enough
to actually be impressed by … ‘things’.


IF you are determined to ‘downsize’
your own belongings, arrange somewhere
that you can leave the ‘discarded’ items
for a month or so.

If, in that time, your resolve is fixed, and you
truly do not need things to secure happiness,
then, you may donate the items to charity,
if you so wish.

If it is something that is destructive to mind or morals,
– such as a television, books, CD’s, DVD’s &c. –
you effectively destroy it by taking it
to the town dump.

If, on the other hand, the whole exercise was, for you,
a passing fancy … then no ‘harm’ has been done,
and you may freely return to the satisfaction
of your material objects.


Everything that we own has either practical
or sentimental value: there is nothing in our home
that is a ‘fashion statement’ or ‘popular’ product.

I have always believed in quality, dependability,
– craftsmanship: one good item,
rather than three cheap ones.

Taking that little while longer to save one’s pennies
allows one to focus upon whether that item
is really an important and worthwhile purchase.

It removes that desire to ‘collect’ … IF
a self-disciplined mind-set
is behind every future purchase.

By limiting the things that you own
to the narrow and meaningful standard
of definite practical need (clothing),
and sentimental or edifying items (things) only,

you will have effectively removed
the superficial dross of impulse and greed
from your life.

WHAT I Own, and WHY I Keep It …

I cannot show you my DVD Collection,
because I do not have one.
The same applies for CD’s, Books,
or any of the other transient paraphernalia
that observably causes folk to strut about
with an evident sense of superiority.

We have two small Toyota motor cars
– both bought Used; one for my wife’s
medical profession in which mileage
is refunded her;
the other, is our ‘shopping’ car.

Our furniture is antique Scottish or Irish oak,
bought for both its practical use, inherent beauty,
and our deep appreciation of hand-crafted oak.

No attic. No basement. No junk.

It is, very much, A State of Mind
that changes your perception of life:
and reveals the emptiness of the superficial toys
at which multitudes grasp, crave, and strive to own.

It is, quite literally, Freedom from Greed:
something which, I hope, these words might
serve in some way, to help you discover.

Every personal possession that I own
is pictured in this photograph …

A small, watertight, ‘Rubbermaid’ box
contains passport and personal papers;
the other, Kodachrome transparencies from
early work as a photojournalist.

A tea pot and cup; share the space with several
briar pipes,and a container of my pipe tobacco.
Tyndale’s 1536 New Testament sits with
two ring binders holding my academic dissertation
in plastic sheet protectors; whilst a third
contains notes from books, cross references,
and printed pages of my Internet articles.

A five- by three foot oak wardrobe
contains all of my clothes and shoes.

This old leather despatch bag
accompanies me wherever I go;
and carries what you see – my watch,
if the weather is too warm for
wearing a waistcoat.


Every personal item I own (save the clothes
in the oak wardrobe) is included in
these photographs.

All can fit in one large duffle-bag
and be carried with me anywhere,
at a few minutes’ notice.

If looking at something in a shop display,
the philosophy, for me, is a simple one:

Any individual item that cannot be wrapped
and placed in that bag within five minutes,
is something I do not need to own.

A Word about BOOKS …

Reading is my entertainment.

Although having given away my library,
I must mention that, over the years,
the contents of my old books
have been committed (by sheer repetition:
re-reading treasured volumes a dozen times and more)

to my appalling memory … and,
in key quotations, carefully typed
and cross-referenced, and placed in a binder
(which has served when called upon
to deliver a lecture at short notice).

A very well-stocked antiquarian bookshop
provides an admirable and constant source
of quality reading material:

once a book of interest has been read
and re-read, it is returned to the shop,
which, effectively, buys it back
at a small loss to me; credits my ‘account’,
and I can browse for another title of interest.


Should there be anyone who is determined to
improve their heart and their mind
by seriously reducing the amount of clutter
and possessions that are sitting as mere debris
in the home, and debris in the mind ,

I can assure you that – IF you are serious,
following the above suggestions will be
the very best way to test the depth
of your sincerity.

It is impossible to describe the liberty
from constantly ‘wanting’ things
– the freedom from greed – that comes

with a genuine desire and concerted effort
to be rid of extraneous possessions – MOST
of which, have no redeeming merit whatsoever,
and serve only to gratify vanity and waste time.

It is NOT the OBJECT sitting in the attic
of which you are seeking to be rid —

BUT … The desire to “Own things”.

You WILL … once advertising has No impact
upon you whatsoever … find yourself (quietly)
listening to acquaintances talk, and watching
friends waste their money on Vanity Toys.
And you WILL feel sorry for them.

I can also assure you that – with the passage
of a very brief amount of time – one begins
to look back with embarrassment
at the things that were once regarded as
“important” or “indispensable”.

If you are considering “thinning out”
your own personal possessions,
I sincerely trust that the suggestions
presented here may be of some help to you.

P Livingstone

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