At Postconsumers, our core mission is to help individuals recover from our society’s addictive consumerism to find the satisfaction of enough. At our base, we simply want to help people find happiness. The benefits to the planet and individual finances are just symptoms of finding this happiness. But we’re upfront about the fact that the path to the satisfaction of enough may not be smooth and easy. Many of the behaviors of addictive consumerism are ingrained in us from our earliest years. Overcoming them and learning that true joy doesn’t come from “stuff” can be more of a struggle than quitting smoking. That’s why it’s so important to us that we provide content that helps to guide you in that process. Today, we’ll be talking about one of the most challenging parts of the postconsumer path: learning to make connections in life rather than manifest those emotional connections in “stuff.”

The Emotional Connection with Stuff: Nostalgia Versus Deep Emotion

If you assign emotional value to “stuff,” don’t feel guilty about it. Most of us do in some form or another. In fact, a certain sense of nostalgia or meaning for certain items isn’t a bad thing. Arguably, the disposable nature of most things that we purchase these days leads to the overconsumption and huge carbon footprint of this nation. As the mother of one of our Postconsumers team members recently said, “Nobody purchases furniture to pass it down anymore. It’s all disposable. Couch doesn’t match the room? Just buy a new one.” We agree with her that a greater sense of permanence and meaning in the stuff we do buy wouldn’t be a bad thing. We also think that a certain sense of nostalgia about items that were around during events or times that had emotional meaning isn’t a problem either.  Where the line often gets crossed is that actual emotions are assigned to the item itself rather than using it as a trigger for the memory of the happy time.

For example, saving a t-shirt that you bought on your favorite family vacation and putting it into your memory box isn’t a bad thing (as long as the habit is kept in check). But believing that you have to hold on to that t-shirt because it somehow encapsulates the memory and emotion of that same family vacation is a dangerous road. The more that “stuff” represents your happy times, the less accessible living in those moments and then re-living them in memory becomes.

What You’re Giving Up Is … The Actual Happy Time!

The main problem with assigning emotional value to “stuff” is that it takes you out of the moment of experiencing satisfaction and joy and immediately transfers that satisfaction and joy to an inanimate object. That inanimate object can’t form memories or share emotion with you, so that actual happy time or experience actually dies as soon as it is transferred to the “thing.” While the “thing” may later serve as a nostalgia trigger to ignite memories of the event or moment, the event or moment has lost its sense of being a living memory.

This is just as important a concept when we talk about filling emotional voids or holes with “stuff.” The practice is becoming more pervasive in contemporary society. Rather than focus on finding partnership, friendship, comradery, sense of community or team, we focus on finding joy through purchasing. The same emotional holes that are created by our lack of effort (or, most upsettingly, comfort) building connections with other people in our lives and community cannot truly ever be filled by “stuff.” As we mentioned above, “stuff” and “things” can’t provide the most essential part of a connection. They can’t feedback to you, or share a memory, or experience a moment. An inanimate object cannot manifest emotions or fill emotional voids because it is devoid of emotion itself. This logic makes sense, but the desire to fill emotional voids rarely circles back to logic. It instead tends to grab quickly, and in contemporary society the fastest thing to grab is something that we can buy or consume.

So How Do You Foster Real Connections Instead of Connections with “Stuff?”

Of course, understanding that you can’t fill emotional voids or satisfy emotional needs or even capture emotional memories with a thing isn’t that hard to do. It’s taking the next step that is challenging. Unfortunately, that step typically has to be a two-step process that happens simultaneously. While you begin to separate out emotions from things, you also need to begin to fill the emotional gaps that you’ll suddenly notice by starting to make real interpersonal connections. That, for most people, is the truly challenging part. While the “stuff” that you were deflecting emotions toward didn’t actually fulfill your emotional needs, it gave you a place to focus with temporary relief. You’ll feel those emotional gaps much more acutely as you wean yourself off of a connection between emotions, memories and “stuff.”

So how do you go about starting to build connections with people, animals and other non-inanimate objects? We wish that we had a simple answer, and we completely understand that this can be difficult for many people. We might even suggest that life coaching or therapy aren’t bad things to consider if this is a true struggle for you. Everybody deserves the satisfaction of enough and true joy in life. However, if you want to tackle the task on your own, here are some suggestions.

  • Get Active: Join volunteer and activist groups in your community that share your passions.
  • Get Educated: Taking a class is always a great idea.
  • Find Puppy Love: Remember that adopting a pet is a commitment, but pets can teach us so much about our own emotions.
  • Use the Internet for Good: The internet can be a big, scary place. But it can also be a place to connect with niche groups that share common interest with you. We won’t contribute to the debate about whether you can form a meaningful relationship online, but we definitely think that it can be a start.

It’s not the easiest thing in the world to wean yourself off of material connections and learn to develop real ones. However, we promise you that it will be worth it in the end.

Have a different idea on how to keep connections grounded in human emotions rather than “stuff?” Tell us about it on the social media channels below.

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Photo Credit: Sean McGrath Via Flickr