Ralph Nader has been frozen into journalistic parlance as a ``consumer advocate.'' Yet the man is about as close to a nonconsumer as an American can be. He owns no house, no car, and writes on a manual typewriter in an office that contains little else besides paper.

Reporters have treated this indifference to possessions as an oddity, even a symptom of psychological disorder. To Nader, it is a question of freedom to do the work he cares about.

``When you have a lot of things,'' he mused during a recent interview, ``you have to spend an inordinate amount of time taking care of them. Paying bills, repairing them, taking them back, replacing them. And that is the entire point.

``A friend of mine lives down the road. He's the perfect example of the guy who made it and had all kinds of things - including a boat, a recreational camper, and a plane.

``In the last few weeks, he sold them all. And he said something to me that I now repeat. He said, `When you own a lot of things, the things begin to own you.'''

After selling the stuff, Nader says, ``he was free.''

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