“C’mon Bonnie, let’s go out,” I say, as I clip on my earrings and get ready to leave the house. But Bonnie isn’t a person or a pet—she’s my late mother in law, who passed away over 25 years ago. Bonnie made those earrings by gluing clip-backs to two pewter-colored buttons. When I wear them, I feel that I am bringing the spirit of that practical, frugal and creative woman with me.
About ten years into my career as a college professor, I attended a remarkable session at an Association for Consumer Research conference. The presenters had embarked on a “Consumer Behavior Odyssey,” traveling the country and interviewing people about their possessions. We were treated to video excerpts of the interviews—from a Mickey Mouse memorabilia collector to a woman describing cherished furniture made from trees that had grown near the family home.
Through this ethnographic methodology, the researchers uncovered what they called the “deep meaning of possessions.” The focus was shifted from the purchase process (of most interest to marketers), to the consumer’s own experience of and relationship with objects during the consumption stage.
The bottom line was that possessions can hold deep meaning in our lives, whether helping us to extend and enhance our identity, or giving us special powers. I like to introduce my marketing students to this concept, and have them consider the “magical” properties of a lucky hat, pen, or piece of jewelry, or the emotional connection they may have to a favorite pair of jeans or a treasured gift from a loved one.
As a Waste Watcher, I am concerned about responsible consumption and resource conservation. But I also appreciate the emotional role that even the simplest possessions play in our lives. Some are stored with memories, some are sacred to us, and others bring us joy every time we use or wear them. This can make it hard to give things away, but it can also reduce the need to purchase more “stuff.”
I could never love a new car as I do my old but jaunty blue VW Beetle. Why buy a new pair of boots, when my favorite pair just needs some polish and a bit of glue to re-attach the lining? And Bonnie’s button earrings will always be special and irreplaceable.
So let us pause and pay tribute to the possessions that enhance our lives. Do you have a “love story” to share?