Be it the toy truck, the pasta bowl, the piano, the silver earrings or the old books, we all have stuff because psychologically we need stuff.
Sartre holds that “to have” (along with “to do” and “to be”) is one of the three categories of human existence…
Wired for Stuff
Famous psychologist, Donald Winnicott, tells us that long before we could verbalize the need, we transitioned from merged oneness with mother to “transitional objects,” the favorite blanket, pacifier, stuffed animal, or a piece of cloth that was attributed a special value as a means of making the shift from mother to genuine object relationships.
That said, our relationship with objects, “our stuff” never stops. It unfolds throughout our life; reflecting who we are, where we are, whom we are connected with and what we need to be ourselves.
One of the reasons we find it easier to ask others rather than ourselves, “Do you really need this stuff?” is that the actual value of anything is primarily a function of our investment in it and/or our interaction with it. We give “stuff” value and meaning.
The Psychological Dynamics of Owning “ Stuff”
Theorists propose that the roots of psychological ownership can be found in three human motives: efficacy (competence), self-identity, and ‘having a place.’ Consider your stuff in the light of these:
Whether it is the sand box shovel, the hiking boots, the computer or the car, we need and want ownership of those things that help us accomplish our goals. We value these things because they enhance our sense of competence and accordingly, our sense of self.
“I won’t know myself in someone else’s kitchen.”
“That garden is me.”
“I can’t give up my car – I don’t care if I can’t drive!”
Given the purpose and power of self-identification with things, it is understandable that we often feel grief, violation and assault in the aftermath of their loss or destruction.
Most people can tell you with vivid detail of something loved and lost over the course of their lifetime.
Having a Place
How Do We Cope With Loss of “Our Stuff”?
A poignant answer is offered in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her hike of the 2,640 mile Pacific Crest Trail, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.“
In the shadow of her young mother’s death, the dissolution of her marriage, and an increasingly drug-filled life, Strayed takes what little money she has to buy the “stuff” she thinks she will need and takes on the Pacific Crest Trail.
As she slowly hikes with blisters and a backpack the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, she literally and emotionally finds her way. She lightens her load and alters what she needs with the help of connections with other hikers, her memories, a book of poetry and painful determination. At some point she finds that her grueling efforts have so empowered her that the trail and the forest start to feel like home…
In the face of losing what we value and what we love, we suffer and grieve; but all is not lost.
For as long as we believe in our capacity to do, to treasure, to share, to find a place, we find ourselves – we find “Our Stuff.”
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Tasty and Hearty Soup Recipes That Are Quick and Easy (August 9, 2012)
Last reviewed: 3 Aug 2012