Skip to content

possessions and the extended self: belk, 1988

After my father in law died we all found such comfort in some of his possessions – mostly his big cuddly jumpers. Nearly three years later all his grandchildren still delight in rocking up in one of them – ‘even though it’s lost its smell’. Russell Belk would say that this is because possessions are extensions of their owners. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

For me, this paper is a real key to increasing understanding – and acceptance – of the complex, nuanced relationships we all have with some, perhaps all, of our possessions.

Many of us can relate to the quote from the woman whose bicycle is stolen; “You stole a piece of my life…. you walked off with my memories”.

Russell Belk’s seminal paper has been cited in over 10,000 other research articles. Rightly so, in my opinion. When it comes to the complexities of emotional – and other – attachments we have to our possessions, this paper helps deepen our understanding. Even though it was written in the 1980’s it’s just as relevant today.

Possessions and the extended self

I love this quote Russell Belk gave an ACR Newsletter interviewer in 2002. It brings home just what a major feat of thinking, organising and writing this essay was

“…my project on the meaning of possessions in our lives began with my acquisition and possession of relevant material. Indexing it was the first step in organizing it. As with most research, this wasn’t a linear process of accumulating, sorting, allocating, and assorting materials. It was instead a cyclical iterative hermeneutic tacking between materials, concepts, and the library (always a seductive trap). Similarly, the writing process didn’t flow from outline to draft to manuscript to revision. It was more a continual process of writing, searching, re-writing, and researching. I wrote until I lost inspiration and then turned to something else. Or, troubled by a conceptual dilemma, like how possessions relate to our sense of the past, I pondered or headed off to the library in search of clues. Others’ references led me to more sources. I read, underlined, thought, and then forgot about it as I shifted my attention elsewhere. Ideas woke me from sleep or emerged on my morning run, and I scribbled them down or rehearsed and elaborated on them so they wouldn’t be lost…Unlike the more systematic indexing process, this stage usually results in lots of little Post-it notes and scribblings on the backs of envelopes, napkins, and anything else to hand when the muse visits.”

“..if you’re going to spend an afternoon considering dusty old posters and busted camping gear, I can’t think of a better person to do it with..”

– anna, hackney


sign up to Room to Think and receive a free guide to creating self-identity at home

be inspired – make your home feel more like you

contact me

  • Please check below if you would like to receive news and information from Room to Think. I take good care of your personal data and more information can be found on the Privacy Policy here.

Room to Think is a registered UK trade mark of Caroline Rogers
© 2013-2024 Caroline Rogers
Privacy Policy |Cookie Policy

APDO member Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers

accredited member of the Association of Declutterers and Organisers

Back To Top