The Best Way to Break Into a House, or Admiration without Ownership

One of my creepy pleasures is checking out the interiors of giant mansions. Sure, there are the scowling stone lions and spiky fences to dodge. But once inside, scoping out luxury kitchens and looking out from patios at ocean views is an easy way to feel rich. From clifftop compounds in Carmel to palatial estates on the shores of Lake Erie, exploring a different perspective on life is a fun retreat, if only for a moment.

Luckily, technology is on my side. I do all this with my phone’s Zillow app. (What, you thought I was breaking and entering?) And after flipping through the 15 photos and expressing indignation at the cost of the home, I’m ready to move on from this quick hit. Back to real life.

These days, I try to be appreciative rather than envious. Admiration need not equal desire. I can imagine an evening in a sitting room with a view that turns Medusa into a honey-tongued princess, but I don’t want the property taxes. The $100k kitchen is beautiful, but I don’t want the mortgage payment squelching my ability to work on my own terms and travel. No thanks on landscaper and housekeeper costs either. And I certainly don’t want to decorate it!

In the same vein, we can admire a gorgeous bird warbling in the wild without needing to possess it. I’ve had the desire, as many of us do, to see something beautiful and wish I owned it so that I could see it every day. Put that bird in a cage and it’s no longer amazing, just a shrouded voice behind bars.

Chelsea offers a baby bird water. Always a tough call to know when to intervene, but with the sun beating down on him in the middle of a giant lawn, we decided to help out.

Chelsea offers a baby bird  some water. Always a tough call to know when to intervene, but with the sun beating down on him in the middle of a giant lawn, we decided to help out.

I DO love ogling expensive sports cars. Chelsea, the more practical of our duo, can’t at all understand my admiration. To her, cars are all the same save one difference: the color. Beyond that, who cares? And she’s practically spot on. Admiring a hot red Ferrari is perhaps what any American lad does, but now the thought of owning one freaks me out. Just one more anchor.

Back in college when I thought an MLM was a smart path to riches (hindsight burns), I wasn’t this way. Using a technique the hucksters recommend to solidify my vision of a “successful” future, I drove my old Corolla a few hours inland from the California coast to test drive a new Lexus IS300. The smooth lines and upscale image of the purring car appealed to the “hey, look at me!” ego clamoring inside. I took that sweet car out, cranked the stereo and floored it on I-5 near Bakersfield. As I weaved through traffic, I dreamed of mansions and the fast cars that would fill my 10-car garage.

A sunset on the Waumee River in Ohio.

A sunset on the Waumee River in Ohio.

Well, those easy riches didn’t play out. It took me a couple more lessons to learn there wasn’t any way to make money except putting yourself out there, working your butt off and creating value for others every single day. And the reality is that I’m glad it didn’t work out and that expensive car-house combo never happened. You see, the more I test drive my current life of flexibility, of exploring the world and testing my own comfort zones, the less I want any physical object that doesn’t directly correlate to empowering those goals. Shiny cars and turreted homes are pretty, but they don’t accomplish that. And they certainly don’t help me invest in experiences, tick off items on my bucket list or allocate money for charity.

Traveling in our van made me appreciate the smaller amenities in life and bicycle touring upped that exponentially. I am so grateful for the comforts of a home, such as the lovely couch I am sitting on while writing this. A nice car (especially compared to a bike seat) feels like a luxury, yet I prefer hopping in a car-share vehicle and leaving the maintenance to the company who owns it. This isn’t about eschewing ownership completely, merely applying a conscious mental exercise to the purchase. The value delivered to our lives by owning our expensive camper van is worth the energy spent earning the money to buy it. And I can’t always win – the Sprinter sits moldering in Idaho as we bike tour, which irks me.

Perhaps there will again come a time when ownership of things resurfaces as an important aspect of my life. If or when it does, I hope I possess the clarity to see what value the object adds to my life and what the cost will be. These days, my goal when I see or experience something beautiful is to appreciate it. To be inspired by the comfort or happiness someone may find by experiencing it. And then I grin at the lions flanking the ornate gate and pedal on toward the next adventure.


Waves and rockin' sunset in Barcelona, NY on Lake Erie.

Waves and rockin’ sunset in Barcelona, NY on Lake Erie. Photo credit Chelsea.



8 replies
  1. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    “….the thought of owning one freaks me out. Just one more anchor.” I identify with this SO much. It’s interesting to me that so few people see debt obligations this way because they “deserve” nice things. I’d much rather deserve to not be in debt and own less stuff!

  2. Dakota Gale
    Dakota Gale says:

    “Deserve” is a dangerous word indeed. Easy to go down the path of rewarding yourself with nice things over and over…which begets going to the office over and over! “Your Money or Your Life” is a great resource for quantifying that. Thanks for stopping by Jessie!


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