As epiphanies go, this one was on the hysterical side. There we were in a slightly funky northern California Bed and Breakfast, enjoying the first rush of vacation giddies.  Perched high on a cliff, our room overlooked long Pacific rollers and had a fireplace with a supply of firewood. It also had a newly opened bottle of champagne.

    I build a fire. We watch it grow. It quickly wells up large. An occasional back draft forces tiny wisps of smoke into the room. We savor the scent. We notice a fine line of soot on the corner of the fireplace.

    My wife and I admire the soot line. It is perfect. It is the canonical fireplace. We break into wild laughter.

    “You know, if we owned this place, we would be scrubbing the fireplace,” my wife says. Ours is the perfect marriage of two type A personalities, well blended with shared compulsions.

    “Yes,” I answer, pouring more champagne. “But let’s just admire it.”

    And there it was. We have a choice. We can have pride of ownership. Or we can have pride of experience. If you have the first, you may miss the second.

    I have had this vision before. Six years ago, on vacation in Puerto Vallarta where we rented a Concha Chinas house large enough for ourselves, our adult children and their newly minted spouses, we thought it would be nice to take everyone sailing for the day. So we chartered a Catalina 42 sloop and enjoyed a blissful day on the water.

    I couldn’t help thinking how different it was from actual ownership. In the late sixties and early seventies I owned a beautiful 32-foot Herreshoff ketch. Or maybe it owned me. A wooden boat, I worked on it through the cold Massachusetts winters, was a slave to it in spring, and did minor maintenance through the summer. The ratio of maintenance to sailing hours was very high. It offered great pride of ownership but minimized actual sailing experience. Friends with fiberglass boats weren’t much better off.

    In America, we make this mistake a lot. We confuse having with doing. We reify--- we long for an experience but buy the object that represents it. Possessing the thing, we get confused and lose the experience. Visit the marinas in Fort Lauderdale--- or almost any marina in America--- and you’ll see hundreds of boats, motor and sail, sitting idle most of the time.  They gleam with pride of ownership, but sit there unexperienced.

    I am not writing this as an anti-materialist rant. My plea is for efficient materialism.

    We don’t own stocks or mutual funds for pride of ownership. We own them for the benefits they will provide. The moment a financial asset looks like it won’t provide the benefits we seek, we think about replacing it with one that will.

    Let’s do the same with our stuff.

    So what happened to my pride of ownership boat?

    I sold it, invested most of the proceeds, and bought a windsurfer. That’s about 95 percent pride of experience, 5 percent pride of ownership.