Personal identity defined through possessions

Columnist Jonah Kondro explores thoughts about defining identity through possessions

  • Tue Sep 13th, 2016 6:00pm
  • News

By Jonah Kondro

Just recently I had to contend with a bunch of my stuff. I had to move my urban existence from one location to the next; this required that I leave, sell or rid myself of a sizable portion of my belongings. It wasn’t as simple as deciding what I needed or what I wanted to keep, nor was it as simple as deciding what was valuable—I was deciding, through downsizing my possessions, how my new identity was going to look.

It seems very superficial that I consider my own identity to be defined through my belongings. But unfortunately it’s very much the case. Everything I own from my clothing to my DVD collection speak my identity.

My black denim best, among other old articles of clothing, was dropped into a franchise thrift store donation box. This particular denim vest was fashioned with various rock’n’roll patches and outfitted with some subtle studs—custom. The vest never had my name embroidered on it, but the vest did yell my presence when I wore it. And more importantly the vest was a wearable symbol of my identity.

Another thing that needed to go was my beer fridge. I can’t wear a beer fridge like I can wear a trendy backpack. Moreover, owning a beer fridge does point to aspects of my identity: a person that drinks beer. Now, it has been a year or two since I was the kind of guy who kept a well-stocked beer fridge, but I wasn’t ready to part with it (the fridge). So I decided to store papers, files and printed documents on the racks. I turned a beer fridge into a quasi-filing cabinet. I kept it unplugged. I was a guy that appreciated a little visual juxtaposition in the house.

During my urban living transplant, I decided that I didn’t want to be the guy with a beer fridge or the guy that did weird things with his appliances. The fridge ended up in my sister’s boyfriend’s garage. I think he keeps beer in it.

There was (what seemed like a metric ton) of other stuff I gave away, donated or threw away, and I’m certain most people don’t care to read an itemized list of the possessions I cropped out of my life.

Though there is one possession I couldn’t part with; but now that I’ve moved into my new place, I’m thinking I should get rid of a portion of my DVD collection. I don’t know how many DVDs I own. It is enough that I can form several small stacks on the living room floor. The collection doesn’t really take up that much space, and I could easily accommodate their existence in my new space.

The case with my DVDs is similar to my previous beer fridge and rock’n’roll denim vest ownership. They help define who I am. Some of my movies are funny, sad, intellectual and blah blah blah. But I’m wondering if I really want to be the guy that has: two copies of Borat; a disc of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that skips and is unplayable; the widescreen edition of 27 Dresses? I don’t think that I do.

So currently I’ve separated my DVD collection into two piles: keep and don’t keep. It has been difficult to find the proper combination of DVDs picked from my amassed collection that really read who I am. Is Ghostbusters 1 & 2 okay to sit beside The Breakfast Club in my new collection? Am I allowing myself to keep Beerfest for nostalgic purposes?

I suppose that I will have to look in the mirror after I make the DVD collection cut and see if I like the way I look.