The Death Contract We Have With Our Stuff

Here’s something I didn’t know: the word “mortgage” comes from French law and translates to “death contract.” Now, death here refers to the obligation being “dead” once the loan is paid off, but this is still worth thinking about. Before we own a thing, we should stop and think about how it will own is. Including for how long, at what cost, and most importantly at what benefit to us – mentally, monetarily, spiritually, or otherwise.

A home can be a wonderful thing, but it is an ongoing responsibility we have to accept the duty of caring for. A special car, a pet, a company – these all come with their own duties and timelines. Their obligations can be much more open-ended than our mortgage example.

A friend lost her father. One thing she inherited was a coin collection. Another thing she inherited was his regret over never having bought a house by “the lake” to spend time at with his family. She’d been struggling with both. We talked about how these two things owned her and why.

She explained how the coin collection felt like a burden. She uncovered that the only meaning it held for her was that it meant something to him. She didn’t get the same reward out of it. She’s going to have someone assess it, keep anything that strikes her as special, maybe (look away coin collectors) make some into a necklace, and then sell or give away the rest.

The lake house idea is different. She has a family and she wants the same for them. She’d accept the extra responsibilities for the trade-off. She sees the value of entering into that contract, and if she likes it, maybe for the rest of her life. In its own way, it gives her something of value and honors a memory of her father at the same time. She’s already moved forward to make this happen with a portion of her inheritance.

Things own us. It’s an inescapable truth. We have to ask why, and we can help people by helping them to ask and reflect on why too. Unnecessary ownership, without purpose, can drag a person down. Maybe we shouldn’t weigh all contracts as death contracts, but maybe we should weigh more of them with death in mind. These are choices, and we should choose what makes us long-term happier.

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