How much is your life worth? And is the more the merrier?

Should your life’s worth really be calculated in monetary value?

I got a fun press release from Lifesworth this morning.

Apparently, in the UK at least, you’re ‘worth’ the most at the age of 46.

They’re talking in terms of personal possessions, of course, not your real worth (don’t get me started…). The average mid-life Brit apparently owns about £40k’s worth of goods and chattels – more than you ever have in your life before or afterwards. Interestingly, though, that same average Brit also believes their personal possessions amount to about £28k and underinsures them accordingly.

This, of course, is Lifesworth’s objective – to get you to up your insurance premiums, but I must confess the idea of being ‘worth’ £40k made me laugh out loud. I doubt I am ‘worth’ half this now, and it’s very definitely by design.

Over the years, I’ve come to the belief that people are at their most free and creative when they’re not burdened by possessions. Sure, it’s great to own things, but once you’ve got them, you have to worry about them. Clean them, dust them, store them, take care of them, insure them. Is this really a good idea? Better to have plates you can afford to break, clothes you can afford to ruin without there being any heartache involved. Then you don’t have to work so hard to support a lifestyle. Maybe you can just have a life instead.

The DH and I, some 10 years ago, were forcibly relieved of much of our burden of possessions by a burglary. After the initial relief that no-one was hurt (the house was empty at the time), came the absolute fury about what had been taken – our wedding presents to each other, the Victorian writing box my parents gave me when I was 16, Steve’s favourite watch, the World War II marching compass I’d bought him in six instalments, his entire collection of aviation memorabilia, my late father’s clock. There were also our computers, all of our coats, the throws off the sofas, the curtain tie-backs – a strange assortment of finds. It was Christmas, and they had gone shopping in our house. 

A wealthy friend patted me on the head and said: "Trish, they’re only things," which only incensed me more because a: his parents subbed his lifestyle and he’d never had to work, and b: many of them were things that I had bought and paid for, worked many hours at a job I hated in order to own. They were MINE, for God’s sake.  

And then I thought again. Why exactly was I working all these awful hours in horrible jobs just in order to buy stuff? None of it was necessary stuff – it was pretty, it was nice to have, but it wasn’t the roof over my head, it wasn’t food on the table. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t make a difference. Sure, it’s nice to be surrounded by pretty things, but it’s not necessary to fulfilment.

Some of the items had sentimental value, but this too is an imaginary construct. I didn’t drop dead for the loss of any of them. And the truth may be something else, too. Every time I looked at that clock I remembered that my mother wouldn’t give it to me when dad died but had made me pay £200 for it. Whenever I looked at the writing box, I was chastened by the split it had picked up when I placed it too close to a radiator. Steve had bought his favourite watch the same day as a near-identical one for his ex-wife, which coloured my view of it somewhat. 

A couple of years went by and although we sometimes winced when we thought of what had been taken, we found we didn’t need to replace much, other than the work computers. When we did buy, we hit on a strategy of buying only things we could use, not things that were purely ornamental. And gradually, gradually, we began to divest.

I can’t remember now what went first, but every year that goes by, we have sloughed off more of our belongings, and every year we feel better for it. We’ve got rid of clothes, books we’ll never read again, ripped all our CDs into I-Tunes and chucked the discs, put item after item of furniture into the local depot vente. The house feels bigger, emptier, more spacious. There is less cleaning to do, less maneouvring around things. Both our lives and our souls free freer for it, and I hope, in time, to get to a stage where nothing I own has ANY monetary value at all. 

I wonder where this would put me on the Lifesworth scale? Probably a complete loser. But I frankly I have no truck with a society where a person’s worth is calculated by what they own and not by what they contribute. If the latter was calculated, where on this scale would the average lawyer, PR executive or stockbroker be? A damn sight further down than the lowly-paid nurse or cleaner or ambulance driver.

If you want to calculate your worth on Lifesworth, click here (only relevant to UK residents).

Average age and value of possessions in the UK 20 – £24,548 30 – £34,823 40 – £40,125 50 – £40,454 60 – £35,810 70 – £26,192

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