Why we are so attached to our things
How to shift mindset and never experience clutter again
Jean Piaget, founding father of child psychology, discovered that our sense of ownership develops at a very early age. Once we have established ownership of and an attachment to anything or anyone, we have a hard time letting go.
This is called the endowment effect (or divestiture aversion) in social psychology and behavioral economics, describing how we are more likely to keep an object we own than to replace it with an equally useful object.
The celebrated Nobel Prize laureates in Economics, Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler, found that once we own an object we want twice the price to trade it for an established, equally valuable object.
The leading explanation, created by the above scientists, is that the difference in price is due to so called loss aversion. We simply fear losing things that we own more than we benefit from the gain of an equal object.
Although the endowment effect is fairly new, it has been observed since ancient times:
“For most things are differently valued by those who have them and by those who wish to get them: what belongs to us, and what we give away, always seems very precious to us.” – Aristotle
I experienced the endowment effect on a massive scale when I divested most of my physical belongings about a decade ago. It took many rounds before I had scaled back to the bare essentials I now use every day.
It didn’t help that I had either stopped using the things altogether (clothing for example) or digitized and dematerialized them (books, DVDs and CDs) – I still felt an irrational and psychological loss that lasted a while.
But the creation of modern consumption culture also plays an important role. Scientists have found that the isolated Hadza tribe, living in Northern Tanzania, don’t display any endorsement effect.
The reason for this, the scientists believe, is that their culture value sharing objects over individual ownership. And they also found that the Hadza bushmen that are living in modern society do experience loss aversion.
The endowment effect counteracts the rational choice theory, and works in favor of advertisers and sellers, just like casinos in Las Vegas. Once you feel an object is yours (after a test drive for example) you don’t like to let go.
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.” – Daniel Kahneman
Return policies, for example, are designed around the endowment effect, hoping that you will keep the product you just bought because you’re already developing ownership feelings – however irrational that might sound.
But to keep a clean and decluttered house you need to get rid of and learn how to override this irrational behavior. You need to tell yourself that it’s just mass-produced things, easy to replace and without value unused.