On the weekend my husband was lamenting about the weather and the kids. Every time he “threatened” to go outside with them, the weather “turned” on him and rained. As if the weather was being vindictive or contrary by siding with the kids in their pursuit of sedentary activities.
One of the theories of “hypersentimentality” (which just means excessive attachment to stuff) is anthropomorphism – a mouthful I know but it’s a fascinating concept. Just hang in there it’s worth it.
Anthropomorphism (ehh?) is a phenomenon, which is characterised by reflecting or imbibing human elements onto non-human entities – sort of magical thinking if you like. It could be a pet or a computer. It’s not only human movement, which is more animism; it’s emotions and feelings as well as intention. Making our possessions seem human means we become more attached to them and feel a strong sense of loss when letting them go. Marketers like to anthropomorphise products because it makes consumers buy more stuff…like us, for example; we just bought a new car and gave it a name (Izzy) because if the kids believe the car has feelings and emotions they will be more “careful” and not hurt “her”.
For example, I was watching The Living Room (Australian TV show on Channel 10) with Peter Walsh (Australian – American Professional Organiser, often called Oprah’s Go-To man, and all round nice guy). He was helping a young couple get control of their possessions. The girl had been assaulted 8 years ago and since then had been feeling very depressed and anxious and was unable to function successfully outside the home. Her and her partner lived in a 2 bedroom flat and it was a bit of a mess. I wouldn’t call it “hoarding” by any stretch but extremely cluttered with no sense of order. The state of the flat was not improving and was affecting her relationship with her partner.
The girl felt “safe” being surrounded by her stuff and when confronted with the prospect of letting go of just ONE pair of her 97 pairs of shoes (yup almost 100 pairs of footwear) she described her shoes as her “friends” and it would be too overwhelming to let any of them go – like they might feel “neglected” or “abandoned”… I guess like she felt in some way. She was assaulted and that shouldn’t have happened to her and someone or something should have saved her from that fate. Perhaps she felt her possessions were within her control and she could “save” them from a similar “fate”. So I got to thinking about her choice of words during the interview. There was this sense of anthropomorphising her stuff. It was also, in some way, an extension of her personality (but we’ll leave extended-self for another time shall we?) and she did seem to be transferring her feelings onto inanimate objects.
The breakthrough came when she looked at which items she most treasured and couldn’t let go of. Peter Walsh took a positive spin on the process. Rather than “parting with” individual items, every item from the home was removed to a secondary location and only what was most loved, useful, or essential was returned; this led to a dramatic change in the young woman’s perspective. It allowed her to choose which possessions she truly treasured see the rest of the items for what they really were…just things. Not friends but objects she didn’t need that were holding her back from living a full and valued life.
This anthropomorphism is difficult to understand. Why do some hoarders think all their stuff needs to be “saved” and “loved”? Why do we all, at one time or another, think our cat is “plotting” against us or our computer is crashing coz it’s “evil” and “knows” an assignment’s due?
I don’t know…do you?
What are your thoughts about anthropomorphism? Do you do it? Why do you do it?