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Monday, September 5, 2011

A Natural Sense of Ownership in a Culture of Consumerism

In the most recent issue of Scientific American Mind (Sept/Oct 2011) there is an article discussing the natural human need to use objects as part of the role of forming our identity.

It is impossible to express, or even understand our own identity without some objects being involved. The clothes we decide to wear (whether bought or made ourselves) the objects we use for our hobbies, the type of home we live in express who we are (or who we want to be).
It's unreasonable to say that we shouldn't have any possessions or desire possessions. If nothing else, we need shelter, appropriate clothes for the weather, and tools to obtain and prepare food. What we can control is how many and what types of objects we obtain.

Like most natural instincts, the instinct to "own" things is natural and good for survival. But when it overtakes other survival instincts - such as feeling that one can only be happy with things far more expensive than one can afford - is when it becomes a problem.

Here in the United States advertisers and credit companies use that natural desire for ownership and the natural desire to have an image as "successful and powerful" to their advantage to try and sell more stuff. But is it "successful" or "powerful" to have a lot of expensive objects that you didn't actually pay for and that you owe so much money that you may end up having to file bankruptcy? You're in a much more powerful and successful position if what you own is what you have actually paid for and can not be taken back by repo men.

I used to work for a very nice family who lived in a beautiful mansion in the heart of Seattle. My husband and I would've loved to have lived in that vibrant, beautiful neighborhood of Capitol Hill ourselves but we couldn't afford it. Apparently, neither could this family. When I started working with them they were so heavily in debt that one slight misstep and their whole life would fall apart around them and they'd lose everything. At the time my husband and I lived in a four-room house (not counting the tiny bathroom) five miles outside the city. But other than our small mortgage we didn't have any debt and had a solid safety net. Who in that situation would you look at from the outside and say is more successful? Then looking at the reality of the situation who would you say is more successful?

Now is a good time to re-shape your thinking to see that a solid financial foundation is a sign of success, not a lot of expensive possessions. If you can afford a mansion on Capitol Hill and need that much space then by all means make that your home. We were very happy in our tiny house for over ten years because we had everything we needed. And a part of that happiness was knowing we didn't have to worry about money.

Try to rethink what it would mean to you to be successful and powerful. Does is mean buying into the advertising and paying more than you can afford for things that marketing experts tell you that you need to have? Or is to more powerful to know who you are as an individual and know what is important to you? Start today by thinking for yourself on what is important to you, not what advertising execs tell you they want you to think is important.

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