Does accumulating things really make life better?

We built our current home in 1970—more than 30 years ago. My husband designed it and served as contractor. I looked at the plans with some interest but not too closely because we were building a “spec” house.
We were the first house in a new development, and expected to build our permanent home in a cul-de-sac when the road was finished.
In the meantime, my husband planted lots of trees and bushes. And when it was time to build our permanent house, no one wanted to move. So instead of buying a lot somewhere else, we bought two adjacent lots and again planted lots of trees.
Had I known in 1970 we were building our permanent house, I would have looked more closely at the plans. But fortunately, the house plan has stood the test of time. With a cathedral ceiling and the living room in the back, the house is still very contemporary.
But by 1985, our new house had become a little shabby. That was the year my mother died, so we renovated the house with some of my inheritance money, in memory of her.
Now 19 years later, our house once again shows signs of wear.
I have a list of what we could do—paint the inside and outside, think about replacing the carpet and our living room furniture, and renovate two bathrooms into one with a Jacuzzi.
The list goes on. But the question is: Will renovating our house make our lives better?
While pondering that question, I read the obituary of Emma Buck in The New York Times.
Emma died recently in the log cabin where she was born either 100 or 101 years ago. She died in the sleigh bed which she slept in for 98 years.
Emma’s great-grandparents emigrated from Germany, arriving in New Orleans in 1841 and traveling to western Illinois, where they settled 35 miles down river from St. Louis.
The log cabin was built by her great uncle 12 years before the Civil War.
Ever since that time, Emma’s family history has been deeply interwoven with this parcel of land. Emma and her sister, Anna, grew up learning 19th-century farming practices from their father.
The sisters gave up farming the land after their father’s death in 1966.
Anna died a few years ago and Emma continued to live in the cabin by herself without modern conveniences.
Until recently, she drew buckets of water from a well or from a cistern that collected rain water. She pulled her own teeth, fixed roofs, repaired the split-rail fences, and sharpened her father’s handmade tools on a whetstone.
Some time ago, the Sunday New York Times had a front-page story reporting that 95-year-old Emma weeded her 100-year-old rose bushes with a 120-year-old hoe.
Emma once told a reporter that she had left the farm less than two dozen times in her whole life. She said, “We weren’t the travelling kind.”
In 1999, Emma deeded her 70-acre farm to a non-profit foundation as a “rural Smithsonian.”
Emma lived a contented and purposeful life in her 155-year-old unrenovated log cabin. And she also left a wonderful legacy.
Think about Emma’s life and ask yourself this question—does buying, accumulating, and renovating really make life better?
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

Posted in Uncategorized