Do Our Belongings Show Who We Are?

Lately, I have been seeing an Etsy commercial with this tagline: “Our belongings don’t just show what we care about; they show who we are.” I knew right away that I would have to make a post about this, because as a minimalist I cannot possibly agree with this message (even though I love the concept of Etsy and have bought from the site a number of times).

Etsy is an online marketplace where people can sell their personal creations—things they have sewn, knitted, carved, etc. I bought the hair comb I wore for my wedding from a seller on Etsy (shown in the featured image). I understand the concept of the advertisement—after all, they need to convince us about how important it is to buy things from the site. But it just really rubbed me the wrong way.

I suppose you could say that the things we choose to buy, display, and wear do tell the world something about what we care about; our personal style and taste. But do our belongings truly show who we are? I have to disagree.

When was the last time someone asked you about yourself, and you answered by telling them about the things you own? “Well, my favorite sweater is one that I bought on Etsy. It’s really unique.” No. You tell them about your job (which isn’t the best answer either, but I digress). You, perhaps, tell them about your interests or hobbies. What do you do (or like to do)? What makes you who you are? It’s not the stuff. (I don’t think that the actions of cleaning and maintaining your things count that much toward what you are “doing with your life,” unless you spend literally all your time doing it.)

Even if you are an avid collector of something, you wouldn’t describe your things as the most important aspect—you wouldn’t be likely to say “I have a bunch of antique glass bottles”; you would say “I collect glass bottles.” In that way, it is the act of collecting, rather than the things you actually collect, that says something about you. “I am collector,” not “I own stuff.”

When you think about who you are, do you think about the things you surround yourself with? In the collector example, you might. But again, you aren’t defined by having the things. You are defined by liking those things, by appreciating those things. You can just as easily like and appreciate a piece of someone else’s collection.

Whether or not you like your things, whether or not they are valuable to you for certain memories they hold, aren’t your actions and words a more important way to show who you truly are? I would argue that the things you do with your life are almost never dictated by the things you have (except, perhaps, when it comes to something like art supplies that you use to express yourself in a particular way). But couldn’t you could express yourself in the same way by borrowing art supplies from someone else?

So, do the things you happen to own show who you are?

What do you think? To what extent do your belongings show who you are?

2 thoughts on “Do Our Belongings Show Who We Are?

Add yours

  1. I think you’re focusing on something different than the add, tbh. You’re talking about active and intentional showing- but the add refers to something much for passive and unintentional. And actively and intentionally showing who you are, imo, is another matter entirely than the question of whether or not what we buy passively and unintentionally says something about us.

    I do agree that we’re not defined by what we have. That, I’d say I’m certain of. But I do think what we have does happen to say a lot about us… More than I think you’re giving it credit for.

    I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a minimalist by any standard of measure; most people’s “minimalism” was my “growing up impoverished” where everything had to have at least 3 uses to justify the purchase; but I keep my house as uncluttered as possible… And yet still, I have a lot of gardening books. There’s (mostly floral) art all over my walls. I collect vintage and antique tea cups (mostly with timeless floral motifs). I have a massive tea stash on full display. I have a lot of very feminine clothing, etc.

    I may not actively describe myself to others in terms of what I own… It makes no sense to… But all of what I own still passively says a lot about me if you were to step into my house and take a look at it; if you take it in terms of the greater picture, and are willing to look past the outward appearance of it just being “stuff”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s nice to hear your perspective on the topic! It’s an interesting take and makes me think further than what I did. I love engaging about posts and getting to see from new points of view. Thank you!


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