Our Sense of Belonging(s)

My wife and I just returned from visiting our families in Florida during our annual migration to thaw out from the winter weather here in Tennessee. It was a good trip overall but not one without its own need for relational thawing. Suffice it to say that while we may be part of our respective families, we do not always feel extremely close to them. Linda was the late arriving baby in her family and I was adopted into mine so each of us occasionally feel like outsiders at a party to which we were belatedly invited.

Adding to our sense of detachment in life is the radical downsizing we embarked upon a few years ago, whereby we not only sold our beloved home but the bulk of our possessions also. We may not regret the move but it has been a monumental one nonetheless, a fact often downplayed or dismissed by loved ones. Despite giving many of our very favorite items to family and friends, some fail to appreciate the act of sacrifice it represents, no matter the love behind it.

Belonging can refer to a possession or a feeling and I think the two are interrelated. As Lucinda Fleeson writes, “That’s why we call them belongings, because they give us a sense of belonging to something when we’ve left behind one life and have no compass to guide us through the next.” Belonging is in the middle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and as such serves as the link between being and becoming. Here physiological and safety needs may be met but self-esteem and self-actualization hinge on one’s sense of belonging.

While our stuff is not meant to define us it may yield clues to what we find meaningful. Oprah Winfrey popularized the term “favorite things” and thinking about ours can be a helpful exercise in identifying what we value. For example, what would you try to rescue in the event of a fire? Or want to pack on a dream vacation? Or be marooned with on a deserted island? All of these are ways of selecting some of our favorite things.

I created a digital file of pictures representing several of my favorite things in addition to a thorough inventory of all our belongings. The process was not only a fun exercise, but also helpful preparation for an emergency. Many people do not even realize all they own and therefore often buy unnecessary duplicates of things, only adding to their accumulated clutter. But once you identify what belongs in your life and what does not, whether people or possessions, you are better positioned to move forward in your life, both physically and emotionally.