Friday, June 20, 2008

Studying Economics To Help Get Rid of Clutter

Not only can studying economics help make you happier and earn a decent living, it can help you declutter too! (Although the offices of some of my profs seem to contradict this notion.)
The idea that we paid money for an object (or experience, as with the movie) is not a valid reason to hold onto something... 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.
Here are a few more reasons to study economics and some of this economist's thoughts on simplicity.


Becoming Me said...

OK, please forgive me if this is rude, but I have to know the answer...when you lived in Orlando, your former roommate showed us the condition of your rented room. Kinda looked like that picture....but a little worse. So does all your simplification speak come from personal experience. ie-do you practice what you preach? :-)

Brian Hollar said...

What do you think made me want to change? :) Much of this advice does come from personal experience, although I still practice all of this imperfectly. A few formative experiences I’ve had since then that have shaped my thinking include:

1) I started traveling a lot overseas out of carry-on only luggage. Learning I could make do on so little challenged me at home.

2) Traveling to Japan and staying ryokan (Japanese inns), learning to really appreciate the simplicity of their aesthetic.

3) Seeing the third world and beginning to recognize the abundance I possessed.

4) Moving at least seven times :P since then – each time having to confront all of my stuff. I once discovered I held onto a very large, unopened box for ~ 5 years. When I finally got around to opening it up, I sorted through the mystery items and ended up throwing or giving away every one of them. Why did I keep it for so long, especially when my space was so constrained?

5) Having too many experiences of not being able to find stuff and not having any room in the small spaces I lived in.

6) Getting my own place and actually wanting to have people over without getting embarrassed or closing off rooms.

I think it’s safe to say both of us have changed since then. As far as whether or not I keep my own advice -- I’ll let you decide. Here are photos of my last apartment in Orlando and my first room in Virginia.

Brian Hollar said...

P.S. -- I almost forgot...

7) I started studying economics! :)