Why am I so attached to my belongings?

In this article, we will answer the question, ‘Why am I so attached to my belongings?’. We will understand the signs to notice unhealthy attachment to objects. We will also look at some ways in which we can stop feeling so attached to things.  

Why am I so attached to my belongings?

There could be many possible reasons for being attached to your belongings. Some of them are:

  • A sense of self attached to the object
  • The endowment effect 
  • The emotional value you attach to the object is much more than the purpose it is meant to serve
  • It is an indication of the presence of a hoarding disorder. 

A sense of self attached to the object

Your self-worth is attached to the object. You feel dependent on it for your functioning and may feel helpless or paralyzed in its absence. The object becomes a part of who we are as a person and our identity that is known to others. For example, some people might have a bracelet that they always wear and that becomes their identification symbol.  

The endowment effect

Research has shown that once people own something, the value for it increases. For example, if you are shown two items at once and you decide to buy/own one you wouldn’t trade it for the other object because of the endowment effect. You would resist parting from something that you call yours.  

The emotional value you attach to the object is much more than the purpose it is meant to serve 

The emotional value assigned to the object is much more than the use of the object/product. You refuse to use the product just because you do not wish for it to be depleted. You buy more things similar to the object because the more it is, the better you feel emotionally. Or, they spend more money on maintaining it just because your emotional state will be affected if something happens to it.   

Indication of a hoarding disorder 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 as proposed by the American Psychological Association indicates that people can have a ‘Hoarding Disorder’. 

Symptoms of having a hoarding disorder:

  • Excessively acquiring and storing items that they do not need or for which there’s no storage space.
  • Extreme prolonged difficulty throwing out or parting with your things, regardless of actual value.
  • Feeling a need to save these items, and being upset by the thought of discarding them
  • Building up of clutter to the point where rooms become unusable.
  • Having a tendency toward indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organizing. 

Excessive acquiring and refusing to discard items results in:

  • Disorganized piles or stacks of items, such as newspapers, clothes, paperwork, books, or sentimental items
  • Possessions that make your living space look and feel cluttered, crowded, and chaotic. Hoarded goods make the space unusable for the intended purpose, such as not being able to cook in the kitchen or use the bathroom to bathe.
  • Hoarding of fresh food, grocery items, and perishable goods in large quantities to unsanitary levels.
  • Significant distress or problems functioning or keeping yourself and others safe in your home.
  • Conflict with other people who tell you or try to reduce or remove clutter from your home.
  • Difficulty organizing items, sometimes losing important items in the clutter.

People with hoarding disorder typically save items because:

  • They believe these items are one of a kind or will be needed at some point in the future
  • The hoarded items have important emotional meaning and value— serving as a nostalgic reminder of happier times or representing people/pets they love or people/pets they lost
  • They feel a sense of security when they surrounded by the things they save
  • They are against wastage of things 

Signs that you are attached to your stuff?

An immediate question that might pop up in your head at this point may be “How do I know if I am attached to my stuff or do I need it genuinely?”.

Some signs to notice unhealthy attachment with materialistic things are:

  • You become stressed when the object is not to be found.
  • The presence or absence of the object is interfering with your relationships and personal well-being.
  • Your self-worth is being dictated by the object.
  • You are spending a lot of money unnecessarily to maintain the object you are attached to. 

How to detach yourself from things that you own?

You can successfully detach yourself from materialistic objects by:

  • Getting rid of smaller or less meaningful things 
  • Connect with your inner self and emotions.
  • Ask yourself ‘Does it bring joy to me?’
  • Setting deadlines.
  • Challenging yourself 
  • Seeking professional help. 

Start with smaller things 

Begin by getting rid of small things, something that does not have a lot of value to you compared to other bigger things.  This makes the daunting process seem a little easier. 

We, humans, have the tendency to work on the proof we receive. Here, it means that we will try and understand how it made us feel when we got rid of something and we take that experience as proof for later experiences. 

So, when you get rid of smaller or less meaningful things first and it does not feel very difficult your system understands that it is okay to detach from things and it is not as bad as it seems. 

Connect with your inner self and emotions 

As mentioned earlier, often, we assign emotional value to objects that prohibit us from being detached from them. This could be an opportunity for you to think about why have you assigned it an emotional value. 

Think about, What is it that is missing in your life, that is causing you to feel a void which is being covered up with the object? Is it security, love, attachment to humans, an illusion of consistency, and something staying the way it is forever, etc? 

How can you generate a culture within yourself and with the people in your life to navigate the pain the void is causing?      

Ask yourself ‘Does it bring joy to me?’

Popular celebrity organizer and decluttering expert, Marie Kondo, has proposed the KonMari method of cleaning. In her minimalist living approach, she suggests that when you hold any object, connect with how it resonates with the inner you by asking yourself the question “Does this spark joy in me?”. By doing so you truly engage in a mindful practice of cleaning and tidying the space around you through owning minimum things that truly influence your well-being. 

Set deadlines 

Much like how you get other important tasks of the day done through organizing/scheduling methods like making to-do lists or following the calendar, you can get your space decluttered too. Set a deadline for when you will get rid of which belonging that you feel attached to. 

The deadline system works wonders when you have a reward given to yourself after the accomplishment of the task. So come up with a token system.

 For example, for every item that you get rid of find a suitable reward, perhaps some extra minutes of sleep during the day, a favorite meal, etc. Upon completion of the task, give yourself the well-deserved reward. In this way, the emotions that you feel when you get rid of something that you were attached to will be somewhat balanced out with the pleasant sensation of receiving the reward.     

Challenge yourself 

Challenging yourself also works wonders when it comes to detaching yourself from things. Though this requires a lot of determination and mental strength it can feel empowering when you successfully get rid of something that no longer serves you. As mentioned in the set deadlines approach, having a reward for a job well done can be a motivating factor. 

You can also find buddies who are on the same journey as you are so that you feel motivated to do better seeing other people’s progress and efficiency.    

Seek professional help

When the above-mentioned techniques do not seem to be working for you, consider seeking professional help. Consulting a psychiatrist or a psychologist can be beneficial in multiple ways. If there are signs of hoarding disorder appropriate measures can be taken under the supervision of an expert. 

A counselor/psychologist can help you work your way through the emotional challenges your attachment and detachment with objects pose. They can help you identify if you are using objects to cover up the need for a much bigger emotional need that is unmet. In resolving such psychological needs you will find the much sought-after detachment from materialistic things.   

Conclusion

In this article, we answered the question, ‘Why am I so attached to my belongings?’. We attempted to understand the signs to notice unhealthy attachment to objects. We also looked at some ways in which we can stop feeling so attached to things. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I get emotionally attached to objects?

People get emotionally attached to objects by connecting feelings to the objects. They tend to give the object the power to alter their moods. That is, in the presence of the object the person feels happy, and in the absence of it, you feel dejected and unhappy. It is helpful to be mindful about how your thoughts are getting converted into emotions because of the object. 

People collect or hoard objects for numerous reasons. Some do it to feel wealthy whereas some do it because of the irrational fear of ‘running out’ of the food/commodity. It is important to recognize that both these and similar thoughts like these are irrational. Perhaps you need to dig in deeper within yourself to understand what having possessions truly does to you. Research has shown that the happiness levels a person feels before the possession of things they desire reduce after they buy it. So it is not about feeling wealthy. And stocking up of things in the fear of it getting depleted does no good to you because most of these items are perishable commodities that will go bad before you know it.

What is an unhealthy emotional attachment?

An unhealthy emotional attachment is when a person gets emotionally driven by the presence or absence of the person or the object. It is mostly experienced when the emotional value you place for them/it is one-sided or more from your end than it is from their end. Of course in the case of attachment to non-living things, it is purely one-sided.   

It is important to recognize when your level of effort and emotional investment is not matched up by the other person, this helps in making a decision of how you would like to proceed in your relationship with them.       

References   

https://lifehacker.com/why-we-re-so-attached-to-our-stuff-1791452600

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/5-warning-signs-youre-too-attached-to-your-stuff-2017-07-05

https://tinybuddha.com/blog/7-decluttering-tips-release-attachment-stuff/

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