This month, we’re giving you all of the resources our brains can come up with to help you tackle our chosen New Year’s resolution of learning to separate emotion from “stuff.” In talking with people as we developed this month’s worth of content, we realized two things. Firstly, we realized that most people don’t even grasp that they’re associating emotions with “stuff.” They need to be prompted to really think about what emotion they’re associating with a thing. Secondly, we realized that there seem to be five very basic emotions that people tie to their things. Associating emotions with “stuff” is actually a complex psychological process, so we’re obviously simplifying a great deal by narrowing it to five emotions. However, these five seemed to be a common theme and may actually help you to jumpstart your thinking on your emotions and material objects. You may define the emotion you’re associating differently, but we think that you’ll relate to the basic categories below.

Love (via Infused Memory) – Of all of the emotions that you may associate with material things, this is actually the healthiest one (though only in small doses and we’d stand firm in our belief that truly giving emotional attachments to material things is never really healthy). These are the emotions that you associate with an item either because somebody whom you love once used it or somebody whom you love once gave it to you. An example would be an heirloom engagement ring (or really any engagement ring), items your child used or a birthday gift from a loved one for a milestone birthday. We will say that a little bit of this isn’t a bad thing since the core emotion is warm and good and does involve people. However, things aren’t people and they can’t actually make you feel true emotions. These items are capturing memories for you that remind you of an emotion, but it’s still a shadow of the actual emotion. They’re still only things. They can’t replace the person and they can’t love you back.

Happiness (via Infused Memory) – Somewhat obviously, there is a thin line between our first two examples. But love and happiness are two different emotions (as anybody who has ever been in love can passionately attest to) and so they warrant two different categories. Now that you’re familiar with the first category though, you’ll probably have an easy time understanding this one. Things that you assign the emotions of happiness to via an infused memory are things that make you feel happy because you associate them with a time when you were happy. Vacation souvenirs are an obvious choice, but a more accurate example would be high school or college mementos. You know, the glory days that were the best days of everybody’s life! Clearly, they weren’t. But for some people they were and the physical items they associate with them “hold” the emotion of happiness. Again, though, they’re only things. They won’t make you sixteen again. Or happy.

Fulfillment (often Transient) – This one is likely the one that you’re most familiar with; even if perhaps you don’t realize that you’re doing it. It’s the process of assigning the emotion of fulfillment, satisfaction or simply “non-depression” with an item. It’s where the phrase “retail therapy” comes from. It’s the result of decades and decades of consumer marketing convincing society that “stuff” can make you feel whole. Meanwhile, we’ve all degraded our ability to cultivate the types of relationships, crafts, careers and meaningful work that truly would make us feel happy, fulfilled and satisfied. If there’s one thing that we believe isn’t debatable or doesn’t operate on a “sliding scale” of postconsumerism, it’s that “stuff” absolutely cannot give you an emotion of fulfillment. It can spike your dopamine, but so can lots of other things. And very few of them are healthy.

Security (the Closest thing to Hoarding) – While assigning the feeling of security to items isn’t in any way healthy, we have seen plenty of examples where the reason that this emotion is assigned to items makes sense. There’s definitely a sense of this in older individuals who grew up in or immediately following the Great Depression (we’ve actually written about this here). We’ve also seen this happen (or been told it has happened by the individuals involved) with people who grew up impoverished or struggling financially. They interweave the “stuff” that they surround themselves with and the emotion of security of not having to struggle or suffer again. While this is certainly the most understandable association of emotion with “stuff,” it’s also somewhat dangerous. Firstly, obviously, because “stuff” can’t really give you security so the underlying negative emotion (see below where we discuss fear) won’t get resolved. And living without a true sense of security (which is most people these days) is a terrible thing. But additionally, every emotion that you assign to “stuff” makes it easier to attach other emotions to “stuff.” We promise you, that’s not going to end at destination satisfaction and joy.

Fear (the Most Insidious Emotion Tied to Stuff) – Assigning love to an item isn’t a healthy thing, but at least it’s a positive emotion. Assigning fear to an item as though you’ll somehow never feel that love again if you get rid of the item is a different story, however and obviously. Fear is a terrible and debilitating emotion, and assigning it to “stuff” because you’ve falsely convinced yourself that “stuff” can or can’t make you feel an emotion is only going to lead to the very unhappiness that you’re fearful of to begin with.  Break this down to the core and you’ll see the fault in the logic. What you are afraid of is not feeling a powerful and positive emotion again. But the truth of the matter is that a material item will never make you feel that emotion. So by allowing yourself to transfer the power of the emotion of happiness, joy, love or satisfaction to an item – you’re ensuring that the very thing you fear will come to pass. It’s only after you let go of the idea that a thing can have or create such emotions that you’ll find what you’re looking for. Let go of the fear. “Stuff” doesn’t hold that power over you – and it can’t really make you feel anything.

It’s likely that the way in which you might transplant emotion to “stuff” is a variant of one of the ways we just discussed. What’s the next step in your journey? Find some quiet time and some tea (or something stronger) and really examine how you’re assigning emotional value to material things.

We want to hear about how this process impacted you! Tell us about it on the social media channels below.

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Photo Credit: Andi Jetaime via Flickr