The Art of Letting Things Go: Love People, Use Things
Minimizing our belongings is often easier said than done, people often struggle when it comes to “S-Canning” certain things
One of the Key reason people get emotionally attached to things is because of the “endowment effect” people add value items once they own them.
Once something is ours, it becomes “Special.”
In the video above, this and other psych underpinnings of emotional attachment to material things are explained. Not only do we learn, from an early age, to equate our own “self” with the things we own, we also have a tendency to view things as being imbued with a certain “essence.”
This thinking is a Key reason why it is so difficult to part with family heirlooms in particular. Giving or throwing such items away equates to discarding the person it belonged to whose essence is still considered part of that object.
Hoarding disorder is in part caused by an exaggerated sense of responsibility and protectiveness of these special items.
The core is that all items become special in the eyes of a hoarder. Hoarding is the endowment effect on steroids, and it may be more common than previously thought.
An estimated 15-M Americans have hoarding disorder, which can be hard to treat and overcome, but there is a wide spectrum of over-accumulation.
Americans in general tend to own far more stuff than they need or can even properly care for.
According to a hoarding response team at the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, 70% of Americans who own homes cannot park their car in the garage due to it being filled to the hilt with stuff that does not fit inside the house.
Personally, I am not one of those, but I know plenty of people who are. The garage is for cars!
Understanding the psych behind your attachments may help to de-clutter your space and let go of some (or a lot) of your excess.
As noted by Tom Stafford in a BBC article on this topic: “Knowing the powerful influence that possession has on our psychology, I take a simple step to counteract it … Say I am cleaning out my stuff. Before I learnt about the endowment effect I would go through my things one by one and try to make a decision on what to do with it. Quite reasonably, I would ask myself whether I should throw this away.
At this point, although I didn’t have a name for it, the endowment effect would begin to work its magic, leading me to generate all sorts of reasons why I should keep an item based on a mistaken estimate of how valuable I found it. After hours of tidying I would have kept everything, including the 300 rubber bands (they might be useful one day), the birthday card from two years ago (given to me by my mother) and the obscure computer cable (it was expensive).
Now, knowing the power of the bias, for each item I ask myself a simple question: If I didn’t have this, how much effort would I put in to obtain it? And then more often or not I throw it away, concluding that if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t want this. Let this anti-endowment effect technique perform its magic for you, and you too will soon be joyously throwing away things that you only think you want, but actually wouldn’t trouble yourself to acquire if you didn’t have them.”
For sentimental items, Mr. Millburn suggest taking photographs of them before you send them on their way. While the item does not actually hold your memory, things can trigger memories. But we do not need the actual item. A photo of the item can accomplish this just as well.
In the 2 TED Talk videos above, Messrs Millburn and Nicodemus share many stories of what they gained by letting go of their stuff and refraining from buying more than they actually need and use.
This includes the following:
- Working less yet having more money
- Having more time and energy to look after your health
- Cultivating and prioritizing personal relationships
- Having the time to pursue your passions
- Being able to contribute time and money to help others
- Less stress
While the idea of owning nothing but the bare necessities will not appeal to everyone, many could probably benefit from taking a closer look at their material possessions and questioning their pursuit of material goods.
The Big Q’s: What are you actually seeking? What do you imagine you will gain once the item is yours?
Retaining only the items that actually add value to our lifes can be an excellent way of editing your life down to more manageable levels, decreasing much self-inflicted stress and easing financial woes.
As noted by Messrs Millburn and Nicodemus, the purpose of minimalism is to get the benefits you experience once all the clutter is gone.
Consumption itself is not the problem, unchecked compulsory shopping is.
Some people keep shopping, thinking happiness and life satisfaction will come with it, it never does. Many times, accumulation of material goods is a symptom that one may be trying to fill a void in one’s life.
The problem is that void can never be filled by material things. More often than not, the void is silently asking for more love, connection and experiences that bring purpose and passionate engagement.
Part of the answer is to stop trying to find life meaning through the act of shopping and to become a more deliberate consumer.
If an item is not going to have a useful purpose or bring you great joy, it will probably only get in the way of your efforts to find purpose and joy.
Some worthwhile questions you may want to ask yourself as you go about de-cluttering your space include the following:
- What are my priorities?
- What do I value and want more of in my life?
- Who do I want to be and what kind of life do I want to live?
- How do I define success?
- Why am I discontent?
Failing to address and answer these kinds of questions, one is likely to refill empty spaces with new things, which defeats the whole purpose of doing it in the 1st place.
Purging without also following through on not buying more stuff will only feed the destructive consumer cycle a cycle that is currently taking a tremendous toll on the global environment.
“Love people and use things, because the opposite never works”
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Have a happy day!