Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Studying economics to help get rid of clutter

080326moneyWhen clients tell me that they are having difficulty getting rid of clutter, I ask the following questions:

Have you ever gone to the movie theater and seen a really bad movie? If so, did you leave the theater before the movie was finished?

To date, the responses have always been "yes" to the first question and "no" to the second. The justifications are usually that they paid money for the tickets, so they stayed for the whole movie.

The same explanation is used by a lot of people when they decide to hold onto their clutter. They find it difficult to part with an object because they "paid good money for it." I have definitely fallen prey to this line of reasoning -- especially when computer equipment is involved.

The idea that we paid money for an object (or experience, as with the movie) is not a valid reason to hold onto something, however. The money has already been spent. We can't go back in time and unmake a purchase no matter how much we all would like to. Therefore, letting an object's purchase price be part of our decision to keep it in the future is irrational. We've stopped evaluating the current merits of the object and are instead evaluating costs we can't recoup. This line of thinking is so prevalent that it is studied in economics and is called the sunk cost fallacy.

Simply stated, if you don't have use for an object, then the real value of that object to you is zero -- not what was spent on it when you bought it. You don't need it and you don't really want it. Instead of holding onto it, you should consider donating the object to charity or selling it to someone who places a higher value on the object than you do. I enjoy knowing that something I once enjoyed has been set free into the world to be valued by someone else (or at least that's what I tell myself when I part with the clutter).

Reminding ourselves about the sunk cost fallacy is one way to get past the "but I paid a lot of money for it" excuse for holding onto things we no longer value or need. Although it's a difficult task, it can be helpful when tackling an uncluttering project to keep in mind the current value of an object, not its purchase price.


Miss Jen said...

I love he bit of this about how you feel that if you paid money for something you can't get rid of it. I have a theory about that and it's just that if you got *your* moneys worth out of it then pass it on! Maybe this is why I never want to pay full price for anything???

Love the letter from Julia on the side bar.

What is the chat button??

Laura said...

Lately, we have been getting rid of a lot. I think getting rid of things you don't need, helps you to make better decisions in the future---sometimes a little pain in getting rid of things helps us not to accumulate so much in the future!

Sara said...

It took a hurricane to make me realize that all the stuff I felt I couldn't get rid of because I spent money on it could be gotten rid of...now my life is less cluttered. I am also finding it easier to get rid of things that I don't need, don't wear (I hate getting rid of clothes), or don't use. This is coming in handy as I am starting to weed out as I prepare to pack up in the next few weeks to Vegas! I am so excited for Vegas and can't wait...I love big cities!