The Self-Centeredness of Stuff

We think about ourselves a lot. Makes sense because, well, that’s who we are. We are immersed in our thoughts, our relationships, and our day-to-day activities. It’s all about us. And this is true of our possessions. There is a self-centeredness entrenched in our stuff: all of our things and memorabilia, our trinkets and old blankets, well-worn tee shirts and museum-like childhood bedrooms. 

This idea may seem completely obvious or almost offensive. No one wants to be considered self-centered. No one wants the world to revolve them … and yet most of us kind of do. And if you’ve been down the rabbit hole of learning about a random topic through endless YouTube videos, or listened to a new album ad nauseam, you know it’s easy to become engrossed with an idea, a thought, or anything really. Humans easily become myopic.

We do this with our homes on a daily basis. Everything in our home feels important. And the stories behind them? Even more important. Accumulating stuff, when it doesn’t relate directly to our most basic human needs is extra. And all that extra comes with a set of stories we tell ourselves about why we need the item, even though we haven’t used it in years. The stories we recount about our personal histories and heirlooms hold tremendous weight in our hearts.

There’s a detachment between our assertion that we are not self-centered and the reality of being so pre-occupied with our stuff: researching, buying, maintaining, rearranging, thinking about whether to keep, contemplating the intertwined emotions, and the resistance to letting go. We have the opportunity to donate items, give them a new home, or dispose of them in the most sustainable manner, but this is often side stepped in favor of keeping these items because they are significant in some manner or once were. We renege on our desire to give to those in need or take a more sustainable approach because we get busy or forget or it simply feels too difficult to part with certain possessions.

My purpose is to highlight a common disconnect: we believe one thing and act in another manner. When considering how to address your stuff problem it’s best to start by acknowledging the self-centeredness of it. It’s ok. In fact, it can be a bit funny. We all take ourselves too seriously sometimes. When we come face-to-face with this reality, we can then begin to untether ourselves from it’s hold, seeing materialism for what it really is. 

We’re not bad for keeping some heirlooms, kitchen gadgets, or hobby paraphernalia. But we should not see them as holding a special importance because we can say, “this is mine.” As discussed in Stuff as Identity, treating our stuff with a degree of reverence can be a slippery slope in the direction of self-centeredness. That’s why it’s essential to shift toward mindfulness.

Introspection of this sort can be quite uncomfortable. Sitting with it, sans self-judgement or guilt, is key in veering your life toward simplicity. Use this perspective as an antidote to the stories of your possessions’ value and why you need the storage unit or extra bedroom. 

Undoing this self-interest is surprisingly easy when you set your mind to it because stuff can never be you. And, conversely, you will never experience true fulfillment from stuff. Stories are just stories. Instead of allowing the self-centeredness of stuff to happen, center yourself in mindfulness. That’s the key to letting your stuff go.