A reddish orange glow filled the sky like a Hudson River School scene — a sunrise so brilliant and so colorful, no one would believe it in a painting. The light streamed in through my window, awakening me far too early, as summer sunrises do. Covers over my head, I managed to fall back to sleep and get a couple more hours. Now, on this old porch, the sun is brilliantly reflecting off the water like a Joseph McGurl painting, shimmering into my eyes directly in front of me.
The tick of the old Sessions clock from the living room fills my ears on this otherwise quiet morning. Birds frolic through the trees and there is complete stillness on the lake, the water barely moving.
The first savory sip of my coffee is flavor-filled and glorious. If you close your eyes and take a sip, it makes a regular, mundane thing seem spectacular.
This morning my back is scolding me for abusing it yesterday as I moved stacks and stacks of old paintings out of storage in the boathouse into the old workshop, my new makeshift art studio. Since my mother’s passing and my goal to purge things I no longer need, I realize I’ve been holding on to these paintings for decades. Most I would not show anyone, embarrassed by their simplicity and lack of skill — and fearful that they could make it into the market if something should happen to me. Each proudly holds my signature because when I made them, I was proud of them. Today, as a much more accomplished painter, I see them as lessons and experiments. Yesterday I had them piled up and ready for the trash, when my sister-in-law asked to look through them before I dumped them. She grabbed a couple she liked, which made me realize that they had some value to someone. Now, I’m reconsidering my hoarding, not sure if I should keep them for sentimental reasons, or just photograph them for memory and let them go.
What You Own Owns You
At my recent painting event someone said, “What you own owns you.” My hoard of old paintings, and the boxes of stuff we recently moved, are great examples. Things that have sentimental value, along with things you hate to throw away because you might need them someday — or because you paid a lot for them, even though they’re worthless today.
I’ve not yet unpacked the clothes I moved and have done just fine with a couple of pairs of pants and a couple of shirts for the past two weeks. Why do I need more?
Some of us own a lot, some own little. But we truly are owned by what we own. I think of a reader, whose name I shouldn’t mention, who a year ago told me they wanted to move but dreaded moving and going through “so much stuff.” And they were handcuffed to their state because selling would mean massive taxation that would impact their retirement. They were owned by what they owned. Months after telling me this, a fire took everything and painfully gave them the freedom they sought.
The Dream They Sell Us
Our media and success gurus talk about making boatloads of money so we can own the houses, the jets, the boats, and all the stuff, but what no one ever talks about is how those things own you. Each has to be maintained, houses have taxes and need new roofs and need to be repaired, as do cars and boats. My friend who owns a jet has millions in annual expenses. Once you get these things, you have to make more money to keep them. They become like addictions that have to be satisfied.
The Pressure of a Business
The same is true for a business. Some of us follow the dream of building a business, but once we accomplish that dream, those businesses own us. We have the costs of employees, benefits, insurance, rent, taxes, and we have the pressure of making sure those employees can take good care of their families. Suddenly that business owns you and creates that pressure to make sure it continues. With that comes the need to continually grow (sitting still is going backwards) and continually innovate to keep up with the marketplace. And that need to keep things going means we make decisions that we might not make if we did not have that pressure. A business owns you.
We Can’t Get Enough!
The more we get, the more we want, the more we have to keep generating income, and the more we are owned. And the cycle never seems to end. For instance, that home has taxes and maintenance forever and into retirement. If you plan to stay, you have to have set aside enough, including enough for the unexpected and for increases over time.
Obsessions That Own Us
I used to collect antique radios, and I had over 100 of them. My brother collects books and has thousands. A friend collects, and has hundreds of dolls. Lots of my friends collect paintings. At some point those things we love having around us have to find a new home, either once we’re relocating or downsizing, or once we pass on. When cleaning out my mom’s stuff, I found all kinds of “collections,” and I have no idea if they are valuable or not, but it was left to us to figure out. Now her stuff owns us until it’s resolved.
Where Does Happiness Lie?
I’ve seen surveys about the happiest people on earth, and I’ve met people who live in poverty worse than anything most of us could imagine — yet they are happy. Many of us are happy too, but many can never get enough, or are griping about the chains of ownership … the costs to keep something going.
Are Sacrifices Worth It?
Stages of life impact state of mind. The chains of ownership become heavier with age. And we ultimately have to determine what burdens we’re willing to carry for the things we own. For me, for instance, the burdens of owning a business are worth all the effort because I’m seeing lives changed.
When I was a young man I wanted stuff. I wanted cool cars, I dreamed of owning big houses … I never got all the stuff I dreamed of (which in hindsight was a blessing). As I got older those things meant less to me. There was a time when I had a Porsche and a BMW and a Volvo, yet today I’m happy with my 16-year-old Honda Element, my favorite car ever. And it does not own me much, where the other cars had payments and cost $1,000 with every visit to the dealership.
What Are the Tradeoffs?
Today I think twice about what I want to own. What am I willing to put up with? Does the reward exceed the trouble and the cost? Our little cabin on the lake draws the family together and hopefully will keep the kids and their families returning for a lifetime and possibly generations. Though it’s a lot of upkeep because of harsh winters and because it’s over 125 years old, at the moment, it’s worth being owned. If it ever becomes more than we can bear, we won’t let it own us anymore.
Now, with every purchase, I’m asking myself, will this own me? Will it be worth it? Will it be difficult to get rid of? Do I really want and need it?
What owns you?
What is it that you own that binds you?
What do you have that has become a burden?
What are the strings, the efforts, and the costs associated with the things you think you want?
What do you own that is impacting your happiness?
My number one goal is happiness in life. Everything we do should focus on that, because without it, all the hard parts of life become only a burden.
Since Independence Day is right around the corner (it’s hard to believe tomorrow is July already), it’s time to gain independence from the chains that bind you.
PS: Our family has a habit of thanking service members for their service. We have our independence because of them and those like them who put their lives on the line. At our Publisher’s Invitational I met Matt Borax, a former Special Forces officer who told me about his experiences in the service. He pointed out the impact of PTSD and that after years of training to be on high alert, and then seeing combat, that high alert never goes away for many once they are home. These people are always keyed up and may feel that a bomb or a sniper is right around the next corner. Painting has been the one thing that has changed his life and helped him relax and get away from this curse of PTSD. I told Matt about our PleinAir Force Veterans Squad, where we are training hundreds of former service members in how to paint, something he strongly supports. If you know someone who needs to get a mental break from PTSD or other issues, painting is an excellent outlet. Let me know and I’ll put them in touch with someone who can help in their area. Or they can start with the very basics at my free online lessons at www.paintbynote.com, which starts with the things every painter needs to know first.
PS2: I spent part of last week at the Norman Rockwell Museum on a project I’ll reveal next March. It’s an incredible museum and a must-see if you’re in the Berkshires.
PS3: I’ve sold out my Ghost Ranch Fall Color Week this fall. I am taking a group of art lovers and collectors on a trip to Provence and the South of France this October. You can learn more about that at finearttrip.com. There are only six slots left.
Wow! This post resonated with me. I’ve shared it with my husband, and we have talked about it for days. I am still designing part-time, and continuing to create art (watercolors/oil/charcoal). He is recently retired, we moved, have a second home, and are trying to simplify our lives, getting rid of things that meant a lot at one time, but no longer have a part in our life now. I’ve been looking for a creative volunteer outlet, and nothing is calling me. But this is weighing on my heart and I know this is it. I’m giddy with excitement to be involved with Plein Airforce Veterans Squad. I live here in San Antonio, TX where there are military bases and military hospitals. Please tell me the next step. I’m ready, skilled and willing.
Hi Eric- true true, very true! I am going thru this myself right now- moving to the Adirondacks as a matter of fact. What did you decide to do about your older paintings?
Hope to get to the 10th paint camp….congrats on that, and THANK YOU, and , sincere condolences on your Mom’s passing.
Best wishes, chris
We think so much alike it is scary. Sort of like going to church and feeling the pastor has gotten in your head and knew exactly what you needed to hear! Like you I believe everyone can paint. I have started a series of simple lessons. I taught a class like this years ago. My best student was a friend that had a stroke! I had experienced artists and beginners. It was a blast. Now these painting with friends classes popping up everywhere. Funny how they teach somewhat like I did. I’m afraid to look at your painting class for everyone! If we are similar please note I haven’t looked at it. But I will! Love how you are so open and giving with your knowledge. It’s not about money even though that is what we need as an exchange for products. So sorry about your Mom! Just remember you can never throw out your memories. Blessings Eric- Thank you for sharing and taking time out of your Sunday’s. Love these!
I always enjoy your thoughts and comments, but I thought this one was particularly good.
Here is a little self-discipline trick I use to help to control my urge to acquire..
I allow myself to buy whatever I want…BUT…if I buy something I must get rid of TWO things.
Usually this mental exercise leads me to ask if I really need the new item. Often the answer is “No”.
I truly enjoy your writings, Keep up the good work.
great stuff thank you Eric,
and thanks for opening me up to the realisation that there is a whole community of plein air out there!
love and God bless from New Zealand!
Dear Mr. Rhoads, How is it that we have never met, yet you speak directly to me? Last week’s Coffee and this day’s message are keepers. Thank you for the lives (painters’) your words and works impact–mine for sure.
Good Morning Eric
Your article “What-owns-you” very well put and very well received, thank you. It is interesting as I have a very dear friend who has a very big problem “hoarding” who comes once a week trying to learn all about watercolor painting and confides in me all her woes and am sure it makes her learning more difficult to tackle this medium that I love so much for so many years.
You can bet I will have printed this article out and very diplomatically ask her to read it on her next art lesson meeting.
Eric, you sure touched everyone today, including me. I have a daughter who wants to move, but can’t let go of all the things she has collected over the years. It is so bad that her home has narrow walkways to get through. A son in law who owns a successful manufacturing business, which he keeps expanding as he nears retirement age. My husband and I are in our 80’s and have agreed to move to a retirement center where we will have a small apartment. Our home is full of family furniture from three generations back, and I have more paintings than I have wall space, and keep producing more. Lately I am concentrating on family portraits so, hopefully, those paintings will stay, through the years, as my legacy to my family.
I intend to follow your advise, and will send your words to both my daughter and son in law, for them to consider doing the same. Thank you for putting those thoughts together when I never could.
Bravo, you continue speaking to me and I hope my hubby hears you too. I look around our over crowded house. I’m determined to get rid of all that superfluous STUFF.
No stuff. Moved regardless of tax consequences…balanced out on the most excellent move to beauty and quiet…with something to paint anywhere I look. Change is always good. Freedom is always good.
Bring a small group here…a mini-painters retreat. I love the Wood River Valley, so would your fellow painters.
Your article inspired my post on Face Book.
Note to self:
I was just recently reading an article about what owns me. It struck home because it parallels so close to my life. I have been fairly good about purging, but it’s too darn easy to accumulate stuff. So now I am learning to weigh in the factors is it worth it and why do I need it. I just replaced my cookware because the Teflon was at what I call unhealthy stage. Time to throw it away.
In the article it said and I agree:
Now, with every purchase, I’m asking myself, will this own me? Will it be worth it? Will it be difficult to get rid of? Do I really want and need it?
I have been looking at from that perspective before the article thinking if something happened would I want our children to have to deal with our accumulation of stuff and my answer is no. Just as I want them to grow up and be independent, I believe that they do not need to deal with a huge mess left by us. One of the biggest failings of our country is consumerism in its over abundance.
I like you and I like what you have to say in your newsletter.
Thoroughly e noted this article,I have been discussing this very thing with a friend lately. Thank you for sharing. I’m also grateful for all our veterans.
love today reading of yours I can relate to part of your story because I wanted to be a football player but I dream of art dream change that i have learn myself
Best Sunday Coffee to date. Thank you for the insights JUST when I needed to read them.
Hi Eric. I just read your article “What Owns You.” I found it thought provoking; perhaps a bit sad in places. I think we do things in life based upon timely convenience. Sometimes “convenience” forces us to make decisions in a moment, that we may regret at a later time. I faced the daunting task of sorting through my parents belongings after their passing and discovered that decisions that I made for convenience or practicality brought a measure of regret afterward. Things that I “let go” became things That I wished I’d kept. People have asked me, why I paint. One of my reasons is somewhat selfish and almost narcissistic. I paint to leave a legacy; to be remembered. I have no illusion of greatness. Trust me. But someday, someone might look at an old mediocre painting that I’ve saved and say “Hey, I remember Mike. He was a good guy.” Or maybe a stranger will see my signature on a painting and wonder ” Hmmmm…I wonder who this guy was. I like his painting.” For a moment I’d be remembered. I would have achieved just a touch of immortality. The “stuff” that my parents collected and that I let go, was their legacy. Their mark on the world. That’s what I think our paintings represent. “Our Mark” I agree with you about “ownership” of the big things in our lives. The expensive cars; massive homes; stacks of investments. All of that stuff DOES own the owner. We WANT too much stuff because we think it represents our worth to the society. But it doesn’t. The things that matter are the gestures we make while we’re alive and the memories we leave behind for loved ones…and for strangers John Steinbeck once wrote that “No man’s memory endures, unless he leaves behind something greater than himself.” I suppose that as individuals we have to choose how our memory endues. I’ve chosen to try and leave behind my artwork. Good or Bad. I’m hesitant to throw out any of my work because of the regret I felt disposing what my parents left behind. I know this sounds like the rationalizations of a hoarder (which I am not) or maybe it’s just a warning of sorts. I’m careful of what I let go. Timely convenience is something that can own us just as much as our possessions. Sometimes what we let go can own us as well. I enjoy you’re writing and you’re magazine. Be well.
Is there a way to join the PleinAir Force as an instructor? I teach art and would be interested in volunteering locally (coastal North Carolina). I am in the Baby Boomer-sandwich–Mom just passed away and we’ve been photographing all the family albums so we can make a digital file for everybody; my niece earned a Purple Heart in Iraq…and our son the Millennial doesn’t want any of our stuff!!
What more is there to say? Both the first two post hit on just what I was going to comment on.
1) Having less income than last year, hence needing to think before buying
2) Being able to read such a thought provoking article first thing in the morning and wanting to share it with family and friends; those that I know will benefit from your words.
As I sit here with my coffee, I feel obligated to think about what I have in my home, items that have taking up space, yet serve no purpose, whether emotional or functional? I am forced to say there is more than I thought. Time to schedule in a purge, thank you again for the wonderful Sunday Chats!
Terrific chat and especially meaningful as Steve and I seem to be the recipient of all the family items that won’t fit into some other relatives home. Guilt about throwing out part of our family history finds a way for us to drag these keepsakes into our home until a relative may want them. We have a merged family tree of items, each with their special story but no takers. The old antique organ does make a nice spot to set the recently finished paintings till they dry. Sigh.
Eric, your Sunday Chats are so meaningful to me that I want to save them and/or share them with family and friends. (Many who are not artists.) Is there any way I can do this?
I look forward each Sunday to reading your lovely, thought-provoking message.
What an excellent, delightful, thought-provoking article. Thank you for this!
A very timely post for me. This past year has been a learning experience on how to live frugally since my husband was laid off and our income was cut in half. We have struggled to reduce our lifestyle (not extravagant by any means). My husband is working, but not in his engineering field, and I have a good job so we are getting by. My adult son lives with us and I am about to set him on a project. I have kept way too much of my kids art, and now is the time to shed some of this weight. I am going to set up a digital camera, and have him start photographing the works. We will make digital albums to keep, and toss those physical pieces. We won’t get rid of it all, but I am sure there is a bunch that I am ready to let go. I am photographing my own work as I complete it so I can share on my social media for far flung friends and family. Thanks for all your kind, thoughtful posts.