Letting Go: the Process and Meaning of Dispossession in the Lives of Consumers

ABSTRACT - The disposition of possessions involves more than the act of disposal. It is a process, one that facilitates the physical and psychological severance of an object from its possessor. While the act accomplishes final physical severance from the good, its meaning to consumers and the psychological process that enables it is more aptly described as that of Adispossession.@ This paper presents findings from depth interviews with 21 consumers that suggest stages in this process. Furthermore, findings reveal that consumers voluntarily dispose of possessions with special meanings, which serves to heighten the relevance of this final stage of the consumption experience.


Catherine A. Roster (2001) ,"Letting Go: the Process and Meaning of Dispossession in the Lives of Consumers", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 425-430.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 425-430


Catherine A. Roster, University of Missouri


The disposition of possessions involves more than the act of disposal. It is a process, one that facilitates the physical and psychological severance of an object from its possessor. While the act accomplishes final physical severance from the good, its meaning to consumers and the psychological process that enables it is more aptly described as that of "dispossession." This paper presents findings from depth interviews with 21 consumers that suggest stages in this process. Furthermore, findings reveal that consumers voluntarily dispose of possessions with special meanings, which serves to heighten the relevance of this final stage of the consumption experience.


Possessions are valued for the meanings they embody, the instrumentalities they provide, and the contributions they make to our well being. Periodically, however, we discover that circumstances surrounding us have changed and that perhaps even we ourselves have changed. Furthermore, rapid change is a pervasive characteristic of contemporary North America, creating constant flux in the culturally constituted world (McCracken 1986). As a result of these dynamic influences, the meanings associated with our possessions may then change in tandem as we contemplate the culminating impact such developments have had upon our lives. Research exploring changes in possession meaning has suggested thatwhen objects inhibit developmental goals (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981), fall prey to disuse and neglect (Belk 1988; Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry 1989; LaBranche 1973), or fail to represent images of current or future selves (Kleine, Kleine, and Allen 1995; Pavia 1993), such objects may become candidates for disposal.

Despite numerous calls for research, disposition has received only scant attention from consumer researchers. Perhaps one reason the topic has failed to attract a concerted research effort is that it appears at first glance to be a relatively mundane, thoughtless act of little importance to consumers. Early researchers viewed disposition narrowly as actions toward an object taken by an owner following a decision to get rid of something (Burke, Conn, and Lutz 1978; Debell and Dardis 1979; Jacoby, Berning, and Dietvorst 1977). Yet at the same time, consumer researchers have long recognized emotionally laden meanings lurking behind even the most seemingly ordinary household objects (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981; Dichter 1964).

Possessions become imbued with our sense of self as meanings are cultivated by simply knowing objects are available for our use and can enhance our "doing and being" (Belk 1988). Lingering emotional ties to highly cathectic objects may take years to dissipate and may never entirely disappear. Special possessions are often harbored long past their period of immediate relevance in our lives for they enable us to relive important memories and feel connected to significant people and places from our past. These issues prompted Young and Wallendorf (1989) to adopt a broad definition of disposition as "the process of detachment from self."

Disposition is a process. It entails a process of detaching from and ultimately severing the relationship between the possessor and a possession. Although various taxonomies of disposition behaviors (e.g., Jacoby et al. 1977; Young and Wallendorf 1989) have been advanced, the emotional and psychological process of disposition has not been fully explored or articulated. This paper presents an overview of findings obtained through depth interviews with 21 informants who were actively involved in disposition activities. The objective of this study was to explore behaviors and associated meanings accompanying the disposition of consumer goods. The emic perspectives offered by informants provide the basis for the model (see Figure 1) of the psychological process to be introduced and discussed in this paper. These findings suggest that while the final act may be one of disposition, its meaning and the psychological process enabling severance of the relationship between a consumer and a possession is more aptly described as that of "dispossession."


In-depth interviews averaging an hour in length were conducted with 21 consumers, 16 females and five males, who had recently disposed of personal possessions including such items as clothing, furniture, toys, appliances, and various other houehold goods. The age of informants ranged from 22 to 75. Purposive sampling guided the selection of informants for the study. Informants were identified through advertisements for garage sales, moving sales, estate sales, and from referrals. Although in all cases informants were selling goods, they had also engaged in numerous other methods of disposal, such as throwing items away, giving items away to friends or family members, and donating goods to charities or other organizations.

Sampling criteria required that (1) the informant was the owner or co-owner of the goods, (2) the decision to dispose was voluntary, and (3) no more than two weeks had passed following an act of disposition. Diversity in sampling also sought to maximize situational influences, taking into consideration the number and type of objects being disposed of, as well as circumstances surrounding the actions (e.g., life transitions, moving, "downsizing," remodeling projects, "spring cleaning," etc.). This simultaneously influenced the emotional significance of actions and their impact on the owner. For instance, for some informants, the process involved little more than cleaning out a garage or storage room. For others, especially those conducting estate sales, the process marked the disposition of nearly all their accumulated life possessions.

A semi-structured interview guide was used to probe domains of inquiry. Topics included: 1) the owner’s past "history" with a particular object, including any memories or symbolic meanings associated with the object; 2) why particular objects were being disposed of; 3) actions accompanying the disposition of goods; and 4) any emotions, positive or negative, associated with the disposition of particular goods and the process as a whole. The audiotaped interviews were later transcribed to produce approximately 225 pages of verbatim data. The constant comparative method (Glaser and Strauss 1967) and grounded theory techniques described by Strauss and Corbin (1990) guided data collection and analysis. Process analysis explored the consequences of action/interaction sequences and the implications of these for future actions or outcomes (Strauss and Corbin 1990).


Strauss and Corbin (1990) note that sometimes the analysis of a single word or phrase can increase theoretical sensitivity and "open up" the data to deeper levels of analysis. This can be achieved by concentrating on possible meanings underlying a single word or other "indigenous concepts" (Patton 1990) voiced repeatedly by a number of informants. During data analysis, it was observed that two such terms, "finally" and "letting go," were voiced repeatedly by a number of informants. Both terms suggested that informants did indeed view disposition as a process, and that it was, at least in some cases, an emotional process.



Figure 1 represents the psychological process of dispossession that emerged from the etic interpretation of informants’ emic descriptions. Some caveats are important to note. First, consumers dispose of goods daily, often in a fairly routinized manner. The nature and meaning of a product can dramatically influence consumers’ emotional involvement with the dispossession process. Therefore, it is not necessary for the prcess to entail all of the stages depicted in Figure 1. Second, the temporal span associated with any of these stages or the process as a whole can vary widely, from seconds to years. A consumer might spend months deliberating whether or not it is time to upgrade their computer, but require only minutes to assess and acknowledge it is time to throw away a worn-out pair of gloves. Third, the initial starting point and directionality of the flow of events can be blurred. Consumers may enter into the process as a result of a culmination of factors and only then reflect on past incidences that initiated the process. Also, consumers may retreat to previous stages if they experience conflict or uncertainty at any point.

Space limitations preclude presentation of the multitude of verbatim data across a variety of situational contexts and types of possessions that provide the basis and support for the model in Figure 1. Disposition is most complex, both cognitively and emotionally, when objects are imbued with symbolic and meaningful associations to self. Thus, the verbatim data presented here will highlight these types of possessions in order to illustrate more fully the psychological and emotional process depicted in Figure 1. While only a few such examples can be provided in any detail, the interpretation is supported by the recurrence of behavioral patterns and emergent themes across numerous informants. These themes are best described as "tensions" created by the juxtaposition of conflicting needs and desires that arise during the course of the dispossession process.


On the basis of their research, Young and Wallendorf conclude that "disposition is a process rather than a discrete event," but note that "it is impossible to pinpoint the moment when emotional or physical detachment occurs" (1989, p. 34). Findings from this study support the conclusions reached by these authors, and further illuminate factors that instigate and perpetuate the sometimes slow and insidious process of physical and emotional detachment from a possession. Three factors, 1) distancing behaviors, 2) "critical events," and 3) ongoing value and performance assessments, surfaced as primary indicators that the process of physical and emotional detachment between an owner and a possession was underway.

Several behaviors served to distance an object spatially from the owner. These included continued storage without use or clear intent toward future use, neglect, concealment, and hierarchical downgrades in terms of the object’s centrality or functional role in the informant’s life. Through such behaviors, possessions migrated further and further away from the innermost walls of the sanctuary of the home as it embodied self to extremities that while still encompassing self, were more centrifugal (McCracken 1989). Possessions that later became candidates for disposal had frequently been packed away for years in closets, attics, sheds, garages, and other storage areas. Storage separated these goods from those possessing more immediate relevance in informants’ lives, but kept them close should a need or desire for them arise. For instance, one informant, Jane (WF 49), described the objects in her storage room this way:

I don’t know what else is in there. To tell you the truth, some are items, some household items, [things] that we just chose not to put out in this house that we have moved around with us from place to place because we think we will someday use them. But we probably never will! They’re still back in storage, just in case. In the holding mode!

A related distancing behavior was concealment or hiding of undesirable or disliked possessions. These objects, many of which were unwanted gifts, were relegated to less trafficked areas of the home so as to minimize contact. For instance, Shelly (WF 39) described her efforts to conceal from view an "atrocious" 3-D picture of a deer that her mother-in-law had given her and her husband this way:

I hate it! I’ve never seen anything so ugly! We’ve moved it from room to room, but always put it in an inconspicuous place. We finally hung it up in the basement.

Despite their dislike for these objects, informants were reluctant to part with unwanted gifts for fear the giver would discover the repudiation. For example, Tom and Kathy were frustrated by a large flower arrangement their daughter had given them. Tom (WM 65) provided the following account of their efforts to avoid appearing ungrateful:

It was big and just too much for us. We had it everywhere trying to make it fit and finally put it in the spare bedroom. But every time she’d come over, we’d run and put it out, sit them out where she could see them!

A second factor that fostered growing detachment between owner and object was "critical events." Critical events represented occurrences or changes in circumstances that served to alter the relationship between owner and object by provoking feelings of dissatisfaction or a heightened sense of awareness that a product no longer represented relevant aspects of self. Major life transitions such as moving, a change in employment status, changes in health status, or changes in the composition of the family unit (c.f., McAlexander 1991; Pavia 1993; Young 1991) often provoked fundamental shifts in the owner-object relationship. However, critical events also included occurrences of a more innocuous nature, such as performance deficiencies, changes in fashion or stylistic preferences, or replacement purchases that relegated the incumbent good to a secondary role such as that of a "back up." Regardless of how far-reaching their impact, criticl events created chasms in the owner’s relationship with an object that cultivated emotional detachment.

Ongoing value and performance assessments emerged as the third factor signaling growing detachment. From time to time, and often following a critical event, informants described assessments in which the value of the object, whether financial, utilitarian, symbolic, or any combination of these, was compared to the costs of continuing to retain the object in their possession. As long as the accumulation of goods did not present problems or impose costs associated with moving them, storing them, or otherwise continuing to maintain them, informants often seemed content to ignore unwanted, infrequently used, or forgotten possessions. However, when costs outweighed benefits, objects became candidates for disposal.

The primary theme to emerge from informants’ emic descriptions of the detachment process was an underlying tension expressed as ambivalence. Informants were reluctant to part with objects they might later need and possessions that represented interpersonal ties or affiliations to others. Yet, at the same time, the effort and costs of trying to accommodate these objects became increasingly unjustifiable. For instance, Stan (WM 38) and his wife LeAnn disposed of many things during the move to their new home. "Anything we questioned, we put in a box in the garage," Stan explained. But pointing to the stacks of boxes still lining his garage, he lamented, "as you can see, there’s a lot of stuff we can’t let go of!" In the following excerpt, 22-year old Edward describes his feelings of ambivalence as he searched through belongings prior to his and his mother’s moving sale:

Every once in awhile you come across something which is kind of sentimental to you and you have to decide if it’s worth keeping and lugging around for 20 more years. I found some stuff that would be neat to look at when I’m 40, but do I want to keep it for 18 years in a box? So that was kinda tough but for the most part, it was fairly simple. If you don’t use it and don’t want it, either sell it or get rid of it.

Importantly, distancing behaviors, critical events, and value assessments in and of themselves did not inevitably lead to the final act of disposition. It was only following the acknowledgement of changes and the resulting impact on their lives that informants began to actively engage in actions that would culminate in the final severance of their relationship with these objects. Rhonda (WF 44), for example, though remarried, had found it difficult to go through her deceased husband’s clothing, choosing instead to keep them in storage. In this excerpt from the interview with her, Rhonda expresses how the passage of time and the culmination of many critical events led her to decide it was time to take actions she had put off:

For a long time, I wouldn’t get rid of anything. It’s just now that I’m able to part with all of it. It’s like, well, now that they’re leaving [her parets] and going to another part of the world, and my brother-in-law is thinking about moving, I started thinking it was time for me to put my house together, get rid of all this stuff. Like my previous husband’s clothes. I’ve been married again now for 23 years and it’s just time to let go. Both my sons have moved out, one’s at college now, and my other son, he’s finding his way. So, I’m clearing out all this stuff that I just hung onto and hung onto.

Acknowledgement of change, whether change within themselves, change in the family, social, or cultural environment, or change in general life circumstances, prompted informants to take actions that would ultimately dissolve their relationship with possessions that no longer had a place in their lives. Sometimes reluctantly, but often with conviction, informants acknowledged that it was time to let go of the past and the things that embodied past selves.


By engaging in the act of disposition, informants relinquished possession of the object, abdicated responsibility and control over it, and symbolically severed emotional and psychological ties associated with ownership of the object. For some informants, severance was a form of release, as it was for Stan, who proclaimed, "I’m like, #good riddance!’ It was nice knowing youCgoodbye!" For others, severance meant saying a final "goodbye" to memories of loved ones. For example, in the following excerpt, Delores (WF 69) describes her feelings about selling an old coffeepot that reminded her of her deceased brother:

I’ve had it in sales several times before, and I think I purposefully didn’t try to sell it because of the associations, the jokes my brother and I always made about it. It was always kind of the white elephant of the sale. I kind of hated to see it go. When it finally sold yesterday, it was sad.

To prepare for severance, informants engaged in divestment rituals such as those described by McCracken (1986), including cleaning objects to rid them of "contamination" and restoring them to their natural or neutral state. Divestment rituals erased personal meanings associated with objects to prepare them for transition to another owner. Once emptied of these meanings and symbolic properties, it was easier for informants to dispose of the object. However, an underlying tension to emerge during interviews with informants as they described the physical severance process was a simultaneous need to also protect the physical or symbolic properties of the good as ownership passed to another. This theme of "safe passage" reflected informants’ desire to dispose of the item in a manner that would reassure value was retained and that the new owner acknowledged and appreciated sourcs of value, including sources of value that were private or symbolic in nature (Richins 1994).

For possessions being sold "in the profane world of commerce" (Belk et al. 1989), especially those with symbolic value, informants described two strategies to accomplish safe passage. The first was employing pricing barriers. By imposing "higher than market" or nonnegotiable prices on the sale of the item, informants gained reassurance that a possession would not pass easily to the new owner without some appreciation of its value. For instance, Carol (WF 46) was reluctant to sell a favorite old sweater she had once worn in a family photograph. "I put $5 on it," she said, "because I didn’t think anyone would pay that for it and if not, it’s worth more to me to keep it." In another example, a sign advertising the sale of a piano at Edward and his mother’s sale stated firmly that there would be "no negotiations on the price." Later in the interview, Edward offered that the piano had sentimental value as well, because it was "the piano my brother and I took lessons on when we were young." Edward went on to add: "She [his mother] actually made the comment to me last night that she wants to make sure she sells it to someone who will really use it and take care of it."

A second strategy for assuring safe passage to emerge was that of "storytelling." Informants often described relaying the history of the object to a new owner as they were giving it away or selling it. Reliving these memories and telling stories about the object’s past seemed to help them relinquish lingering emotional ties. New owners in turn often relayed their own plans for the object, which further reassured informants of the "safe passage" of once-treasured possessions and the retention and appreciation of its value. Carol offered the following observation:

It’s fun to hear the stories of what they’re going to do with things as well as to tell your own. There’s sentimental value attached to some of these items, and so you tell the story as they’re buying it, reliving that, and then kind of letting it go.

Roberta (WF 57) likewise admitted that she told the "history" of furniture and clothing to buyers. She reflected on why she felt a need to do this in the following excerpt:

I told probably more than they cared about! But that makes it easier somehow, to tell people about the things when they buy it. It just seemed important to me, even if it wasn’t important to them.

One particularly poignant illustration of the importance of storytelling was told by one informant, Juanita (WF 72) who threw away, gave away, or sold most of her own possessions and those she had inherited from her mother when she decided to "move to town" at her son’surgings. "If I couldn’t picture it in my new little apartment I didn’t keep it," explained Juanita. One very important item she could not "picture" was the flag that had been on her father’s casket. Her decision to sell it in the estate sale was wrenching, but the following description of this item’s safe passage vividly illustrates how crucial these exchanges between buyer and seller often were to the transfer of meaning during physical severance:

It was my dad’s, he fought in WWI, the flag that had been placed on his casket when he died in 1941. I had kept it all these years in storage. But I was thinking about the senior apartments, and thinking, what am I going to do with this? So, I finally decided to put it in the sale. And some man bought it, and he came back in [the house] and told me that he was going to take it someplace in Florida. There was a museum there, he said, where they just had flags of veterans, and it would be in a glass case. He got all the information about when my dad was in the service and all, and he said it would have a plaque. That was hard, but it turned out really good, and it made me feel better.

Belk et al. (1989) previously observed that the "never sell " rule applies nearly universally to objects regarded as "sacred." Informants in the present study did appear to be willing to sell possessions that if not sacred, were at least "special." However, through pricing strategies and storytelling, they imposed particular conditions on the sale to reassure them of the object’s safe passage and continued separation from the profane. When such reassurance could not be provided, informants sometimes abandoned plans to dispose of the object. The following account offered by Bonnie (WF 62), concerning the sale of a treasured shell collection she had brought with her from the Philippines, reflects both strategies and illustrates how conflict at any stage of the disposition process can result in a return to previous stages:

Bonnie: This lady picked it up to take it, and I said, "what are you going to do with that?" She said, "well, I’m going to put them in my garden." And I said, "no, I don’t want it to go to do that." I wanted it to go to a teacher who would take it to school and show it to students. I didn’t have a price marked on it, and when she told me what she was going to do with it, I told her it was $20. I just made up some number.

Interviewer: What if she had said, "ok, $20?"

Bonnie: She could have had it. But not at a cheap price. I didn’t think she would buy it at $20, and she didn’t. After she left, I pulled it out of the sale. There’s this emotional attachment to things that you want something you have treasured to be used by someone else in some fashion other than just trash.

Through the final act of disposition, informants physically severed their relationship with an object. The process of making this severance was aided by meaning transfer rituals, both those that erased meaning and associations as well as those that assured some meanings would be retained with the product. These meanings were often public meanings or sources of value related to the good’s economic or exchange value. However, for many objects imbued with sentimental meaning, informants also sought to protect sources of private value rooted in the owner’s history with the good (Richins 1994), which seemed to facilitate the impending psychological severance to follow.

Outcome Assessment and Psychological Severance

Following disposal, informants frequently reflected on their decisions, the outcomes both financially and psychologically, and the overall impact of severing their relationships with possessions. For most informants, this assessment elicited positive emotions, feelings of release from obligations to possessions that tied them down, and a newfound awareness of opportunities more suitable to their current situation (Pavia 1993). Informants described a sense of "regained control" over their environment and a sense of emotional closure to the past. Even Juanita, who had disposed of so many of her possessions, described her feelings of relief and renewal in this excerpt from her interview:

Relief! Definitely, that was it, relief! I knew it was going to be hard. But after you get rid of everything that hurts so bad to get rid of, you just feel better. I won’t have to go through that again. I had dreaded it, but it’s past me now. It wasn’t really anything traumatic, but then again, it was. I’ve lived here 52 years and the kids were raised here too. So, it just hurts. But it’s a new beginning.

Although most informants expressed positive feelings, others reported negative feelings of regret and a sense of loss following the disposition of special possessions. Jane (WF 49), for instance, still regrets the circumstances surrounding the sale of her grandmother’s dishes. She relived her emotions in the following story recounted during the interview with her:

I sold candy dishes and things that had been my grandmother’s. And I knew they didn’t cost very much, I mean, I’m not saying they were worth $50 or anything like that. But they were Depression glass, and they were hers, and I put them out there [in the sale] for 75 cents. Well, te first person that came through picked up every single one of them. And I thought, "I am so stupid!" It was hard for me to do that, they were worth something, and now they’re gone! What was I thinking! They were my grandmother’s!

The assessment process appeared to provide a sense of psychological and emotional closure to the act of physically severing ties to a possession once owned. Although the feelings accompanying physical severance were predominately positive, negative affect such as that experienced by Jane continued to haunt informants and appeared to exert influence on future acts of disposition undertaken by these consumers. A special possession might be gone, even voluntarily, but its meaning, the impact of its loss, and the circumstances and personal responsibility surrounding the loss were not always easily forgotten or reconcilable.


It is important for consumer researchers to understand not only how relationships with possessions are cultivated through consumption experiences, but also how these relationships are severed through the act of disposition. At first glance, it would seem contradictory that consumers would voluntarily choose to discard possessions imbued with special meanings. Indeed, the "willingness to discard" possessions, and particularly the decision to dispose of them in the "profane world of commerce," have been treated as criteria that separate "sacred" goods from ordinary or "profane" commodities (Belk et al. 1989). Clearly, many of the goods disposed in this context were devoid of meaning and were frequently characterized by informants as useless "junk" that they were glad to be rid of. However, the conflicting emotions that accompanied decisions to part with many possessions that, at least at one time, had embodied very special meanings and ties to self identity would suggest that the demarcation point between "sacred" and "profane" involves a subtle continuum of meaning.

Coming to terms with this distinction, in fact, may very well be a primary function of behaviors that facilitate the process of dispossession. The frequency with which informants referred to the process as that of "letting go" and the thick descriptions that accompanied their interpretations of the event serve to emphasize that it was not merely the object they were "letting go" of, but more importantly, those aspects of self embodied in possessions. The chronology of events surrounding the act suggest that oftentimes, it is prefaced by a series of stages that reflect these changes in self and signal the forthcoming demise of the relationship. Predisposition behaviors represent growing detachment from an object, but at the same time, make possible a "cooling off" period (McCracken 1988) that enables individuals to deal with feelings of ambivalence and obligation. Disposition rituals and actions enable the physical severance of control over a possession, and if appropriately matched to the possession’s importance in a consumer’s life, facilitate psychological severance. Furthermore, if outcomes are deemed appropriate, these previous actions lead to a much-needed senseof psychological reassurance that provides a sense of closure once the relationship is finally terminated once and for all.

Thus, it appears useful to distinguish the "act of disposition" from the "process of dispossession." The act of disposition signifies the final physical and perhaps legal severance of control over a possession. On the other hand, dispossession represents the broader psychological process through which a person comes to feel physically or emotionally detached and separated from a possession within their control. Dispossession includes instances of detachment and physical severance that may occur while an object is still within a person’s control, as well as psychological severance following the loss of control over a possession.

Viewed in this manner, what it means to dispose of something implies the opposite of what it means to possess something. A voluminous stream of research has addressed the meaning of possession. Belk asserts that possessions become part of the extended self in that they "contribute to our capabilities for doing and being" (1988, p. 145). Furby likewise concludes that a defining characteristic of possessions are that they "appear to be seen as a means to an endCthey allow one to do what one wants" (1978, p. 312). Furby (1978) summarizes her research on possession meaning by noting that the two most frequently mentioned features of possession are (1) use of the object and (2) the right to control use.

In summary, through the voluntary act of disposition, a person abdicates responsibility for and control over the object, forfeits any current or future capabilities or benefits continued possession of the object may afford, and severs any ties that were represented through symbolic aspects of ownership and consumption. If a consumer feels encumbered by continued responsibility for an object, fails to appreciate value associated with any current or future benefits represented by continued ownership, or no longer feels psychologically or emotionally bound by symbolic aspects of ownership, disposition may indeed be an unemotional action that arises from recognition of these factors. However, conflicts present in any or all of the above meanings of possession may present complexities, contribute to emotional distress, or create psychological tension that serves to prolong the process of dispossession and may intensify the impact of psychological severance.


The dispossession process highlights the inextricable and dynamic interplay between development of self and material possessions. Objects assume self cathectic properties and alternatively become "not me possessions" as the self continually metamorphoses through critical events, some of which systematically arise as consumers transition from one life stage to another or go about goal-directed activities, and others that evolve much more slowly and less obviously (Ball and Tasaki 1992; Kleine et al. 1995; Young 1991). As Ball and Tasaki (1992) have noted, it may be more difficult to capture the significance of minor events, such as critical comments of others, performance successes and failures over time, and diminishing returns to self-esteem that accumulate over long periods of time and culminate in the conclusion that a possession is no longer "me."

In conclusion, by examining dispossession as a process, such subtle nuances will not remain hiddn behind the seemingly mundane and uneventful act of disposition. Nevertheless, it is perhaps the psychological impact that is imparted by the final severance of the relationship between an object and its possessor through the act of disposition that captures the true meaning and richness of this final stage of consumption in the lives of consumers.


Ball, A. Dwayne and Lori H. Tasaki (1992), "The Role and Measurement of Attachment in Consumer Behavior," Journal of Consumer Psychology, 1 (2), 155-172.

Belk, Russell W. (1988), "Possessions and the Extended Self," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (September), 139-168.

Belk, Russell W., Melanie Wallendorf, and John F. Sherry (1989), "The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (June), 1-38.

Burke, Marian, W. David Conn, and Richard J. Lutz (1978), "Using Psychographic Variables to Investigate Product Disposition Behaviors," in Proceedings of the AMA Educators’ Conference, ed. Subhash C. Jain, Chicago, IL: American Marketing Association, 321-326.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly and Eugene Rochberg-Halton (1981), The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

DeBell, Margaret and Rachel Dardis (1979), "Extending Product Life: Technology Isn’t the Only Issue," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol 6, ed. William L. Wilkie, Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research, 381-385.

Dichter, Ernest (1964), The Handbook of Consumer Motivations: The Psychology of the World of Objects, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Furby, Lita (1978), "Possessions: Toward a Theory of Their Meaning and Function throughout the Life Cycle," in Life-Span Development and Behavior, Vol. 1, ed. Paul B. Baltes, New York: Academic Press, 297-336.

Glaser, Bernard and nselm Strauss (1967), The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Chicago: Aldine.

Jacoby, Jacob, Carol K. Berning, and Thomas F. Dietvorst (1977), "What About Disposition?," Journal of Marketing, 41 (April), 22-28.

Kleine, Susan Schultz, Robert E. Kleine, and Chris T. Allen (1995), "How is a Possession "Me" or "Not Me"?: Characterizing Types and an Antecedent of Material Possession Attachment," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (December), 327-343.

LaBranche, Anthony (1973), "Neglected and Unused Things: Narrative Encounter," Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, 12 (2), 163-168.

McAlexander, James H. (1991), "Divorce, the Disposition of the Relationship, and Everything," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 18, ed. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT: Association of Consumer Research, 43-48.

McCracken, Grant (1986), "Culture and Consumption: A Theoretical Account of the Structure and Movement of the Cultural Meaning of Consumer Goods," Journal of Consumer Research, 13 (June), 71-84.

McCracken, Grant (1988), Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

McCracken, Grant (1989), "Homeyness: A Cultural Account of One Constellation of Consumer Goods and Meanings," in Interpretive Consumer Research, Provo, UT: Association of Consumer Research, 168-182.

Pavia, Teresa (1993), Dispossession and Perceptions of Self in Late Stage HIV Infection," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 20, ed. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo UT: Association of Consumer Research, 425-428.

Patton, Michael Quinn (1990), Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Richins, Marsha L. (1994), "Valuing Things: The Public and Private Meanings of Possessions," Journal of Consumer Research, 21 (December), 504-521.

Strauss, Anselm and Juliet Corbin (1990), Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Young, Melissa Martin (1991), "Disposition of Possessions During Role Transitions,". in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 18, ed. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT: Association of Consumer Research, 33-39.

Young, Melissa Martin and Melanie Wallendorf (1989), "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust: Conceptualizing Consumer Disposition of Possessions," in Proceedings of the AMA Winter Educator’s Conference, ed. Terry L. Childers et al., Chicago, IL: American Marketing Association, 33-39.



Catherine A. Roster, University of Missouri


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28 | 2001

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


The Psychology of the Sharing Economy: How the Sharing Economy Concept Promotes Consumer Altruistic Behaviors

Ping Dong, Northwestern University, USA
Claire I. Tsai, University of Toronto, Canada

Read More


Conflicting Institutional Logics and Eldercare Consumers’ Coping Strategies in Asymmetrical Service Relationships

Ankita Kumar, University of Wisconsin - Madison, USA

Read More


F8. Dual Routes for Consumer Responses to Corporate Social Responsibility: The Role of Positive Moral Emotions, Attitudes, and Empathy

Chunyan Xie, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences
Richard P. Bagozzi, University of Michigan, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.