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Is the need to own things the cause of our control issues?

For a child, owning something is both security, safety and, somehow, a rush. Look at a kid after he or she has been given a book or toy. They clutch it to their chest with fierce determination. But for an adult, the apex of maturity is to let things go. A “toxic” friendship; a silly fight with a colleague; a pair of jeans from another decade. We’re better – and in some cases, healthier – with them on the trash heap.

In Australia, buying a home is a rite of passage, but elsewhere in the world, it isn’t viewed with quite the same reverence.Credit:iStock

Recently, I cleaned out a wardrobe that had been left to languish through moves across three continents, drastic lifestyle shifts, and a rapidly transforming world. Exhibit A: is there anything more exquisitely pointless in 2021 than a very high pair of heels? After discarding a good 90 per cent of my old clothes – thanking them for their loyal service, and then either reselling online or donating to charity – I felt cleansed, as though I’d consumed nothing but celery soup and rock melon for a week.

This feeling seemed to prove that even merely hanging on a rack, minding their own business, these old clothes – ghosts of smaller selves past – had become a burden. I have resolved never to accumulate as many again, and a big part of how I plan to accomplish that is by using a clothing rental service.

I like the idea of renting because it eliminates the need for clothing upkeep. The maintenance associated with owning houses and cars is well-documented, but clothing, or at least the presentable kind, requires TLC, too.

At the start of COVID, it seemed like the sharing economy was doomed to fail. But with our fear of fomites overcome, borrowing has once again picked up momentum. Ride-share services mean I need never master the art of parallel parking. Bike and scooter rentals have made getting around cities even easier. My clothing rental service even offers homewares, in case acquiring a throw pillow is too much of a commitment.

On a more primeval level, perhaps owning one’s home taps into those cosy and complete feelings from childhood.

In the bid to timeshare our lives, the final frontier for Australians will be property. For us, buying a home is a rite of passage, but elsewhere in the world, buying a house isn’t seen as the greatest of all achievements.

A friend in Paris explained to me that everyone rents there, and also that renters invest in their flats in ways we would never think of. (For instance, she is renovating her bathroom.) This is also the case in New York City, where among my friendship group it’s assumed if you buy, it’s only because you come from serious family money.

Elsewhere in the US as in Australia, owning property is seen as desirable. Also as in Australia, my theory is that it’s to do with the harsh climate and a need to control it. Washington, D.C. gets four seasons “and a lot of them,” as the saying goes – you don’t want to be arguing with your landlord over the heating when winter comes.

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