Stoic Philosophy on Money and Material Possessions

My Friday Focus post is a couple days late because I’m still getting back into the rhythm of blogging after begin sick for a few days. In this week’s daily readings on stoic philosophy, there seemed to be a lot of focus on money and possessions. The timing of it was perfect because with it being the beginning of a new year, this is when we all often stop and take stock in our lives. Almost always that inventory includes habits and possessions.

Craig and I are constantly working on our house and ourselves. It seems like everywhere we turn in our tiny abode, there’s something that needs to be fixed, thrown away, or improved.

“Let’s pass over to the really rich—how often the occasions they look just like the poor! When they travel abroad they must restrict their baggage, and when haste is necessary, they dismiss their entourage. And those who are in the army, how few of their possessions they get to keep…”[1]Seneca, On Consolation to Helvia, 12. 1.b-2

Seneca was one of the richest men in Rome. He knows a thing or two about money. He believed money only marginally changed things in life. It doesn’t solve the problems that people without it think it will.

What it comes down to is this: external things can’t fix internal issues.

Everyone talks about this minimalist movement. So maybe the reason why Craig and I feel like our house is so small is because we have so much stuff. Maybe if we just pared down to just the essentials and a few sentimental things, we wouldn’t feel like our home was so… unfinished.

“What’s left to be prized? This, I think—to limit our action or inaction to only what’s in keeping with the needs of our own preparation… it’s what the exertions of education and teaching are all about—here is the thing to be prized! If you hold this firmly, you’ll stop trying to get yourself all the other things…. If you don’t, you won’t be free, self-sufficient, or liberated from passion, but necessarily full of envy, jealousy, and suspicion for any who have the power to take them, and you’ll plot against those who do have what you prize…. But by having some self-respect for your own mind and prizing it, you will please yourself and be in better harmony with your fellow human beings, and more in tune with the gods—praising everything they have set in order and allotted you.”[2]Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.16.2b-4a

In The Daily Stoic, the author mentions Warren Buffett still lives in the same house he bought in 1958 for $31,500 even though today he’s worth approximately $65 billion.

A lineman for the Baltimore Ravens makes millions but still manages to live on $25,000 a year.

And although the author emphasizes that these men are not by any means cheap, he clearly states that the things that matter to them are cheap. This isn’t just how they are, this is the result of prioritizing. They’ve attained a certain clarity that a lot of us wish to have, or aren’t even aware of. They could lose all their millions or suffer an injury that would take them out for a season and still enjoy their lives.

“The more things we desire and the more we have to do to earn or attain those achievements, the less we actually enjoy our lives—and the less free we are.”[3]Page 33. Holiday, Ryan, and Hanselman, Stephen. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living. Penguin Random House LLC 2016.

I think this week’s stoic philosophy readings have made an impact on my view of our material possessions. Rather than complaining about how little room we have, now I’m beginning to think perhaps it’s not the space that needs to be evaluated, it’s the things in the space.

What is Friday Focus?

The Friday Focus post is an article related to the reflectional reader I’ve chosen for the year. It enables me to study and retain what I’m reading.

Interested in what I’m reading?

Buy The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman from Amazon Today


1Seneca, On Consolation to Helvia, 12. 1.b-2
2Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.16.2b-4a
3Page 33. Holiday, Ryan, and Hanselman, Stephen. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living. Penguin Random House LLC 2016.

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