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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

in love with our stuff

I am always perplexed by how much people LOVE their possessions and how they seem to have an almost "unhealthy" attachment to them.  I put the word unhealthy in quotes because I am making a judgement call here and some might view such behavior as normal or even beneficial.

I would like to share a recent journal article that I read about this topic.  The ideas discussed by the authors were really interesting and they made me reconsider my own ignorant views on the matter. The article is from the Journal of Consumer Research:

"Truly, Madly, Deeply: Consumers in the Throes of Material Possession Love."
Author(s): John L. Lastovicka and Nancy J. Sirianni
Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 38, No. 2 (August 2011), pp. 323-342

The authors study the relationships individuals have with their possessions and provide hypotheses on why certain individuals get so deeply attached to their belongings.  The possessions considered are automobiles, computers, bicycles, and firearms.  By using interviews and quantitative analysis, the authors arrive at several conclusions for answering the all important WHY question.  Individuals get attached to items to make up for what the authors call "social deficits."  Lonely individuals that lack true friendships or a romantic relationships compensate and cope with their loneliness by getting attached to their possessions and forming "relationships" with the items.  They nurture and take care of their products by spending time, energy, and money on them.  The relationship with the items brings them happiness and a more favorable alternative to loneliness.

The authors believe that we have an innate "need" to value and to find things or people that we can care for.  When we attempt to fulfill this need through people, either through friendships or relationships, we have the chance to be rejected. This rejection can lead to loneliness, pain, disappointment, and social isolation.  Perhaps one way of dealing with this is channeling that energy towards inanimate objects instead.  After all, objects are "safe" and they can't reject us. This can provide comfort and ease.  Additionally, objects can become anchors for a person's identity and as a way of projecting that identity for others to see.  Possessions can also provide a sense of control since they can never talk back or reject you

I used to have a negative view of such "obsessed" people but the authors touched upon ideas that made me reconsider.  Consider the alternative to dealing with rejection and isolation.  Individuals can turn to drugs, alcohol, even further isolation, and anti-depressant medications with unknown and risky side-effects.  Additionally, is being attached to objects really that bad?  From an environmental standpoint, such behavior can actually be beneficial and promote sustainability.  We might actually throw away less stuff and promote a culture of constant reuse.  Also, what about meeting OTHER people that have similar passions and love for prized possessions like you do?  This can directly fight against isolation and allow an individual to meet and connect with others like him.

Personally, I get attached to objects because they bring back memories or they are associated with people that I care about.  There is nothing inherently special about the object itself, it's the kinds of memories that the object triggers. These memories can bring me joy, pride, sadness, and numerous other emotions.  For me, losing the object is almost like losing those memories or losing the person that object is associated with. It's irrational and emotional but it allows me somehow stay connected with people that I care about but rarely get to see.

Ultimately, this issue isn't as black and white as I originally thought. I guess that's the common theme with a lot of topics before we actually do some research and consider new perspectives.

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