You Are What You Own: Exploring Identity & Ownership

In my last post on identity, we examined race, ethnicity, nationality, and culture identity, or RENC for short. The article covered the history and usage of these terms, the sensitivities surrounding that particular aspect of one’s identity, and the effects of a globalized society on RENC. That article can be found HERE.

In today’s article we continue our exploration of identity and how we define ourselves. There are many facets of identity, but how do people define themselves beyond their biology or culture? One such facet would be through that which someone possesses or owns.


The Concept Of Ownership

A woman who gave birth is a mom, but the woman that gave birth to you is your mom. When shopping at the grocery store, people often consider the basket they pick out as theirs, as well as the items that they put with in it.  While living in an apartment that you rent, you may consider the apartment yours, even though the building actually belongs to the person that owns the property. If you are familiar with the TV show, “The Big Bang Theory”, you may have heard Sheldon Cooper lament on more than one occasion over someone sitting in “his spot” on the couch.

All of these are examples of ownership. Generally, frequent usage, interaction, or perception of an object creates a sense of familiarity or intimacy, and it is this bond that we call ownership. The concept of ownership can be a bit complex as there are quite a few layers to it’s understanding.

Ownership can come in different forms, for example, legal ownership refers to the possession of property. Psychological ownership pertains to our affiliations, such as being part of a company, family, or environment.

In addition to our emotional attachment to objects, we even associate emotions or memories of certain experiences with a particular object. The things we believe to be “ours”, then becomes an extension of ourselves and our inner and outer identity.


Ownership & Self-Identity

Life seems to be a never ending quest for some thing more: more durable, more beautiful, more efficient, more recent, more better suited to our particular preferences. But why do we want the things we want?

Aside from satisfying our basic needs, like those mentioned is Maslow’s Hierarchy (which I’ve mentioned in the past HERE), we want to “own” certain things for certain reasons. One such reason pertains to self-identity.

For example, we need, and for the most, want to wear clothes. Clothing keeps us warm and protects our skin from damage and other hazards, and saves us the embarrassment of nudity in a mostly conservative society. But the clothes we own serve more purpose beyond that. What we wear is an expression of ourselves, our likes and dislikes, our passions, our sense of humor, and personality.

Yet sometimes it’s not about possessing an object to serve as a reflection of the self. It’s more about what owning that object makes us feel. Continuing with the clothing example, wearing a leather jacket might make you feel like a badass, wearing a suit might make you feel more confident or successful, and wearing a dress might make you feel more empowered or carefree. This indicates that the things we own, generate with in us feelings that affect our self-esteem and attitude.


Ownership & Outward Identity

Sometimes the things that we want aren’t just for our own self-confidences, but for how we want to be perceived. If wearing a suit makes you feel more successful, you probably want others to recognize you as such, and chances are that they will. With this in mind, our ability to define ourselves may be influenced by others, society, and where we want our place in the world to be.

The “American Dream” for example, which includes a nice two story house, white picket fence, a yard large enough for a dog and 2.5 kids to play in, paints a picture of a certain lifestyle of a person who is moderately wealthy, successful, loved, and content. Or too attain such comforts one must possess those things.

We believe that the quantity and quality of our possessions serve as an indication of our socioeconomic status. The more things we own, the more wealthy, successful, powerful, or confident we believe others will perceive us, and a lack of possessions would suggest the opposite.

Our awareness of these perceptions and beliefs of others can also instill the same belief towards self-identity. When we compare ourselves to others who possess more than we do, we see these shortcomings in ourselves and we believe others see that in us as well.

Nevertheless, humans are social creatures. We need, and for the most part, want the acceptance of others. To belong, or in other words to belong to others, just as we believe certain people belong to us. This includes being a part of a family, group, or culture.

As I mentioned earlier, we can become emotionally attached to things through our past experiences. For example, a romantic couple might want to keep a stone from the shore of the lake they first met at. That object serves as a physical reminder of a past event and the bond that the couple has had over the years as they’ve grown in love with one another. The stone demonstrates how the couple perceives their relationship, as well as how other will likely perceive it.

The careers we choose and the people we surround ourselves with, reflect a certain lifestyle, or outward identity, which is visualized through the things or people we possess and share common ownership with.



Our emotional attachments to objects may serve an instinctual, biological or psychological need, yet the concept of ownership is something people rarely think about. Ownership is the bond of familiarity that makes us believe that a particular object is an extension of ourselves.

The things we own measures our wealth, social status, esteem and self-esteem. They influence how we perceive ourselves and how we want to be perceived. Our ownership of and towards those closest to us and society or specific social group, allows us to receive that same emotional attachment towards ourselves, so as to find our place within society. What we own helps to materialize our inner and outer perceptions and manifest our emotional and intellectual identity






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