One of my earliest memories of being possessive was when I was 4.
My mother’s company went on a trip to the ocean on China’s east coast. She brought me along with her and we had a fabulous time by the ocean. To be honest, I don’t remember much of the trip at all except for one particular incident.
I was resting on the tour bus at one point when my mother gave me a rainbow colored slinky to play with. I remember being absolutely enamored by the slinky. I had so much fun watching the colours swish back and forth.
I absent-mindedly asked as I played with the toy, “Who bought this for me?”
My mother responded, “It’s [colleague’s daughter’s], I gave it to you to play with.”
I just remember being completely distraught at the fact that this slinky did not belong to me. I stopped playing with it, clutched it to my chest and began to cry. I couldn’t bear with the thought of returning it to the original owner. How could I, when I loved it so much? It should be mine!
Of course embarrassed by my outburst, my mom took the slinky away from me and gave it back to the other mother. As I continued to sniffle the next day, she gave in and bought me my own slinky from a roadside merchant.
You know, I don’t really remember my own slinky that remarkably. I played with it for the rest of my trip, and then when I got back home I probably brought it to my pre-school a few times before I forgot about it like all my other toys. I just remember how vividly that feeling of envy and sadness lingered in my little 4 year old body even 20 years later.
That feeling always resonated within me as I grew older. I could not stand ‘sharing’ things with other people. If it couldn’t be mine, then I didn’t want anything to do with it. When I started making my own money at 15 – it was the first time I could truly ‘own’ things myself. I didn’t have to depend on someone else’s judgment and I purchased all the things I liked – manga, clothes, makeup, toys, etc. I had no idea how to assess whether something was ‘worthwhile’ or not. I just knew that if I liked it, I wanted to own it.
I never tired of shopping, and really was only limited by the amount in my bank account. When money was running low, I would simply switch to buying cheaper things. And then, when I ran out of that, I asked my parents to purchase me books, music supplies, school supplies because these were deemed ‘educational items’.
As I look back and re-examine these feelings. I think about how little it had to do with the actual ‘things’ and more to do with the feeling of possessing things. Something deep inside of me was scared of not having enough – maybe a ghost of the 4 year old Tracy was scared that someone would take away her beloved slinky again, so she acquired more things than she could possibly need. By over-consuming, I would never have to feel again the sting of being without.
With every shopaholic comes the underlying issue as for why they over-consume. Fear of abandonment, poor impulse control, wanting to be liked, suppression of other emotional trauma, etc. I don’t think there’s one singular reason why we obtain so much gratification from stuff – but I do believe, that it’s never about the stuff at all.