New Study on Stuff and Love Teaches an Important Lesson

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 04 April 2011

How much do you love your stuff? Do you have panic attacks when treasured items go missing? Feel uneasy when corners aren’t cluttered enough? Get angry if your spouse/partner moves your things without asking?

Ok, I admit that there are a few items that I would be devastated to lose – like my wedding ring, laptop (a writer’s entire life!) or photos of my family. But you know what? It’s just stuff. I could replace all of those things, with the exception of the photos, I suppose. But even then, another family member might have the means to replace them (negatives, slides, CDs).

Here’s the other thing about stuff: it doesn’t love you back. When your engagement ring is lodged between the pipes of your plumbing system, it’s not crying out, “Find me! You need me! You can’t live without me!”

As ridiculous as that sounds, far too many people place far too much value on physical items.

Is it sad to lose items when they hold strong sentimental value? Yes. But we quickly forget that it’s only the item that’s gone, and not the emotion it represents. If you’re married, your husband doesn’t get flushed down the toilet with your ring (no smart comments, please). Ring or not, you’re still married, and you still have the memories of that day he got down on one knee to give you that precious object. Maybe you lost an item from a loved one who is no longer living. Again, it is upsetting, especially because that person is no longer in your life, yet the item’s loss holds no sway when it comes to the love you will always have for that person.

Time.com’s “It’s Your Money” section covered a recent study by UNH psychology professor Edward Lemay and his colleagues at Yale that explored the relationship between stuff and the deep human need for security, love and acceptance. It’s a fascinating piece – as is the study. Read the brief blog post now.

Read more about the study here.

The death of a friend or family member – or any other traumatic personal loss (getting fired after 40 years on the job, experiencing divorce, etc.) – these trying times are what often turns the focus to items. People will let you down, people will leave you, people will break your trust; stuff won’t. Stuff might get legs and walk away (as my husband surmises, those legs that walk his stuff away belong to me), stuff might get warped and damaged over time, stuff might get lost and mysteriously resurface years later.

However, as I said before, stuff won’t love you back. If you’re trying to fill the void that the pain which is part of life has left, don’t do it with more stuff.

Most Americans have far too much stuff in their homes, in storage units, in sheds, in garages, and elsewhere. We’ve cluttered our lives with things we don’t need or use, and we get overwhelmed at the thought of sorting through it, so it just sits. Collects. Piles up.

Consequently, when it’s time to move, or when a loved one passes away, the family is left with the unenviable task of sifting through decades of debris.

We’re all guilty: seniors, boomers, GenXers. So I’m going to throw out a challenge here… this week, fill one box (just one!) with stuff you don’t need or use, and get rid of it. Give it away, throw it away, whatever. Remove it from your home. I guarantee you won’t miss it.

-Michelle Seitzer


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