The Things You Own End up Owning You

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” – Tyler Durden in Fight Club

In general I like things. As I look around my house at the things I own for the most part they give a physical representation of the way I see myself. In addition to the things that are merely decorative there are things that are strictly practical, or sentimental, but both of those other categories are part of the representation that is me. For example in choosing the particular blender I have there was a matter of it being aesthetically pleasing. Even though I see my possessions as part of my representation I’ve been making an effort over the last few years to get rid of as much as I can and limit what I do have to the things that I use, enjoy, or keep for specific sentimental reasons. The rest become superfluous and only cause clutter and stress. I don’t want to keep dusting a vase that has no practicality, I don’t enjoy looking at, and that I have no sentimental attachment to. One of the problems with how we as humans relate to things is the unconscious assumption that things have some intrinsic value. They do not. Any value that we perceive them as having comes from us, our own values and personality.

I’ve come to a point in my life where defining myself through what I own isn’t especially important to me anymore. The problem with getting rid of things is the way in which I (and I believe many people) relate to things. “I purchased that candle holder when we were on that trip.” We consider our things as a way of marking our own pasts. And in the process we get buried in a pile of the clutter of our history. Throwing something away that marks a particular memory or span of time in our life is not easy. Getting rid of things that have sentimental value to them is especially difficult. It feels like it’s throwing away the memory. But there comes a point in which you realize that you are holding on to things out of a sense of guilt about getting rid of it rather than feeling good about having it. I’ve talked with people who have kept things that belonged to their parents that had no sentimental value to them, but they couldn’t get rid of the possessions just because the items belonged to their parent. It was the connection to the person that was important and not the thing. Which is exactly the kind of thing that makes sense to dispose of. The connection won’t disappear because the thing does. It’s a difficult situation to (literally and figuratively) dig ourselves out of. Sometimes it’s helpful to just be brutal in disposing of things. They’re just things after all. But there has to be a realization of the purpose for it. Otherwise one will just end up re-buying a new load of stuff that is unnecessary. A better approach would be to find another way to mark time and memories in our life. Take pictures. Talk to people. I’ve re-remembered so many more events that I had forgotten about in having conversations with people than I ever have from looking at certain lamp. Those are the kind of remembrances that I would prefer to have anyway. One that is shared with someone else.

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