Behavioral Grooves Podcast

Grooving on Too Much Stuff

Dec. 31, 2018

After the gift-giving holidays – Hanukkah and Christmas – homes and apartments are bursting at the seams with more stuff.  Knick-knacks, novelties, gewgaws, tchotchkes, odds and ends of all sorts are crowding out space where the familiar stuff currently resides.

For most of us, parting with some old familiar goodies requires a change in behavior.  And if you want to make that change, there’s hope! This episode offers some behavioral science to help you with the process.

One of the biggest things you need to overcome is Status Quo Bias. This is the big hairy elephant in the room. We love to hang on to old stuff, in part because our default is to keep stuff, not get rid of it – that’s the status quo. Ridding yourself of old stuff to make way for the new requires overcoming this intensely powerful default. 

Priming. Begin your journey to unload stuff by opening up 3 or 4 bags or boxes and laying them in plain sight. You’re more likely to fill them if they’re open and ready to use than if you must fetch a new one each time you fill the previous one. Make the choice to give something away as easy as possible. 

Joint Comparison.  If you only look at one item at a time, you’ll find a good reason to keep it. Force yourself to compare two or three like items and to rid yourself of one of them. That way, you’re creating an environment where you might say: “This old cookie-sheet is in worse shape than this other cookie sheet and, since I haven’t used it in a year, I’ll give it away.”

Social Accountability. The best solution for cleaning out a kitchen, bathroom or garage to make way for newer things is to enlist the help of a trusted friend or relative. Ideally, they could become recipients for some of your gently-used items; however, the important thing is that having a comrade-in-arms will reduce the probability of assigning ‘save’ to items best identified as ‘give away.’

When/Then Statement. Use a commitment statement to orient your actions, such as, “When I get home from work on Friday night, then I’m going to set out my packing boxes.” And, “When I wake up on Saturday morning, then I’m going to start cleaning out my closet.”

Getting rid of stuff can be difficult, but when space begins to run short, you’re going to be forced to make some decisions. You want plenty of room for all the new stuff that you just received as gifts, don’t you? Then get started!

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