5 Ways to Enjoy Things Without Owning Them

Art glass


Dear friends,

Years ago when I was a magazine publisher, I visited a fabulous mountain home owned by a wealthy couple. In their living room they had two illuminated cases, each showcasing a sparkling collection of multicolored art glass. I lingered in the room like a beady-eyed raven, fixated by the shiny objects.

At the time I had a four-year-old daughter, two curious cats and a lively dog, but I vowed that someday I, too, would own a beautiful collection of art glass.

Since then, my life has grown to include a son, remote-control helicopters, Frisbees, Nerf guns, basketballs, and two energetic dogs. I have yet to sustain a lifestyle — even for ten minutes — that would allow for any sort of glass display.

Fortunately, I think I stumbled upon a better alternative.

A Collection in Print

At our library’s annual book sale, I discovered a beautiful four-color book about art glass. Now, I can enjoy the most beautiful works by glass artisans whenever I like — no insurance or dusting required. Reading the book satisfies my appreciation of hand-blown studio glass, and I no longer feel the need to own a collection.

What I’m beginning to learn is that if I can delay my first instinct to buy or own something, I can often find other ways to enjoy and appreciate a thing without having the cost, responsibility and upkeep that go along with ownership.

The Stuff that Owns Us

On the flip side, sometimes we find ourselves in possession of things that are sentimental and therefore difficult to let go. The item might not really fit our lifestyle, but for emotional reasons we feel like we shouldn’t or couldn’t get rid of it.


taxidermy fish


A real-life example for me is the taxidermy Colorado brown trout that I inherited when Dad died. He had two mounted fish, so my sister and I each got one. My stuffed trout hangs in my office, and it’s been fun to have it there. But now I’m ready to update and declutter the space, and I fear the fish’s days are numbered. At the same time, it’s not easy to let go of something that meant so much to my father.

What are we to do? Here are some ideas:

5 Alternatives to Owning Things

1. Take yourself on a field trip.

Go visit the things you love. Maybe you’ll stroll among beautiful paintings by your favorite artist at an art gallery, or see the perfectly restored car of  your dreams housed at a vintage auto museum. Perhaps you want to say hello to all the colorful fish at the aquarium, or gaze at the most beautiful orchids in the botanical gardens greenhouse. Immerse yourself, and enjoy those special things in a place that showcases them.

2. Snap a photo. 

This sounds crazy, but humor me.  The next time you’re in, say, an antique store or a gift shop and you see an eye-catching item you covet, take a picture of the treasure for now. Maybe you’ll return to the store to buy the item at a later time, but you may discover that having a photo satisfies the longing to own it. Try it and see!

This works for family heirlooms, too. The photo I took of Dad’s trout will help me remember how much he loved being on a mountain stream fly fishing. My hope is that someone else will enjoy hanging the fish in their family room or cabin.

3. Buy or make a book.

If you are on the fence about buying something, or if the time’s not right (like when I wanted to own a collection of art glass), perhaps you can buy a related book and savor the beautiful pictures and information.

Alternatively, if you own a collection of something that you’re no longer enjoying, perhaps you could photograph the items and publish them in a photo book that you make yourself through a service like Shutterfly. It’s easier to let go of something if you have a nice high-quality book with photos that you can look at and remember.

4. Bestow a gift to someone else.

Perhaps you own something that you have loved for a long time that someone else would enjoy now. In my case, I have a set of lovely crystal champagne and wine glasses from my grandmother that I have loved for decades. Now I’ll share them with the next generation of young women in our family. The three adult daughters will each receive a quartet of the glasses and a bottle of Champagne as a wedding gift. If I’m lucky, I just might encounter these pretty glasses again at a future family event.

5. Borrow or rent.

When our DIY or craft projects require a special tool, let’s think twice about whether we need to buy it. The Peerby app connects neighbors who have tools with neighbors who need tools. Borrowing equipment from a rental center can help keep our garages uncluttered from a bunch of tools we might only use occasionally. Some home improvement stores loan tools and equipment if you purchase materials.

Check out your local library and you might be surprised at what you can borrow. Our district offers access to a fully-stocked craft room with sewing and embroidery machines, a button maker, a die-cutter and much more.

The same thinking applies to clothes. Do I really need to buy a new dress for every formal occasion? My friend Laura has loaned me several beautiful outfits for special events. I have friends who have rented gowns from companies like Rent the Runway. In our neighborhood, we also share kids’ formal attire.

How About You?

Have you found ways to enjoy things without having to possess them? Do you have any ideas or strategies to add to this list?

Also — do you by any chance have a need for a taxidermy trout?

I always enjoy hearing your thoughts.


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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is the author of 16 books, including Small Bites, 101 Things To Do With Bacon, and BERRIES. She enjoys sharing ideas to simplify cooking, gardening, and home projects. She is also the owner of Cross Media, Inc. and founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society.

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