The Psychology Of Our Relationship With Our Possessions
Psychology and Possessions
Despite trends such as minimalism and decluttering and the “throwaway society” idea of the relentless pursuit of the newest and best, human beings are nothing if not contrary and many of us find it difficult to get rid of possessions.
The 19th Century British textile designer William Morris advised: ““Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Easier said than done!
However, since the onset of the consumer society it has become clear that ownership of a coveted item does not necessarily make us happy – hence our relentless pursuit of something new, better or different.
Emotions and Memories
Psychologists have a number of explanations for this ambivalent relationship with “stuff”, in essence that we invest emotion and memories in our possessions, giving them deep meaning.
In some ways, they argue, an item does not have to be valuable or even particularly attractive for us to hang onto it and this is something that is evident in us from infancy. Who has not come across the toddler who will go nowhere without a favourite toy or blanket that has become dilapidated from constant use and is devastated if that special object is missing?
Gradually as they grow, children develop envy and covetousness if they see a toy they would particularly like to have, when they also have to be taught the concept of sharing. At this stage the focus is still mainly on the object itself.
By the teenage years, particular kinds of possessions come to represent their sense of self, often dictated by whatever is considered desirable or acceptable by others in a peer group whose acceptance of them they see as important.
By adulthood, what we own or possess becomes not only an extension of ourselves but a marker of our perceived social status and self-worth.
There is an inherent contradiction in this between wanting to be accepted by whatever social group we think it is desirable to belong to and at the same time wanting to demonstrate our individuality.
As we age, our attachment to our possessions deepens and changes. The elderly often hang on to cherished possessions that represent special memories of times and events in their lives. When they die, they want to pass on those possessions and perhaps also the memories to the next generations.
Heirloom vs. Materialism
This explains why we tend to hang onto family heirlooms, no matter whether they are valuable or whether we actually like those objects or have the space for them in our homes or lives.
At the same time, we question the idea of materialism as being unhealthy, arguing that good relationships with other people should be more important than ownership of the “right” possessions to achieve social acceptance.
The psychologists argue that our ambivalent attitudes to possessions can be explained by our reasons for wanting them: it’s not about what you want but about why you want it.
Clearly our relationship with “stuff” is complicated and we often find it hard to let go of it – which is where we come in at HomeStore!