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Why We Become So Attached to Our Belongings

Our excessively materialistic culture has not gone unnoticed by researchers. Journalist and author Francine Russo offers a roundup of the primary research in a recent piece in Scientific American.

Material things don’t just fill basic emotional needs:

In fact, our possessions do not just make us feel secure by substituting for important people in our lives; we actually see these objects as an extension of ourselves. We believe—or perhaps act as if we believe—that in some ways our very essence permeates our things. If these things become damaged or lost, we ourselves become damaged or lost.

People can and do let us down, but not things. “That worn sweatshirt is not human. It does not show us compassion. Neither does a teddy bear or a coffee mug. But, scientists point out, these objects are utterly reliable, always present and under our control. We can count on them.” According to Professor Ian Norris, “Other people are an extension of our self-concept. When those relationships are unstable or unfulfilling, people may lack the connection they need and attach meaning to products that fill the void.”

There’s been an enormous amount of research on the widespread problem with hoarding. One of the main factors is: “The presence of disorders such as depression and anxiety, which make people emotionally vulnerable. Hoarding sufferers use their belongings to safeguard their identity, to ‘soothe their fears’ and to build ‘fortresses’ to make them feel more secure.”


Francine Russo, “Our Stuff, Ourselves,” Scientific American (5-18), Pages 66-71

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