The Endowment Effect

yellowcupThe pursuit of efficiency often requires a cleanup of our physical spaces.  While clearing out clutter should be easy to do, in practice it is hard to throw away objects we own.  For example, maybe you got a mug at a conference six years ago.  The conference was unmemorable and the mug is an awful yellow color.  As you are considering parting with it, a colleague asks if they can have it.  You quickly decline and put it back on the shelf.   This is a direct experience of the Endowment Effect.

The Endowment Effect is the hypothesis that people ascribe more value to things merely because they own them.   In studies, people want more money to sell an an item they own than they would ever be willing to pay for it new.  Plus, there is often a sentimental value attached to the item, which makes it even harder to part with.

If the Endowment Effect is an obstacle when clearing out clutter, it might be useful to adopt a strategy similar to the one used to avoid the Sunk Cost Effect.  Look at the item as if it were on a store shelf and ask yourself if you would buy it today.  If not, get rid of it.  Another approach is the KonMari Method.  Hold the object in your hand and ask yourself it is sparks joy within you.  If not, discard it.

In order to experience the strategic value of clear space, it is necessary to discard unused items from your world.   Consider these strategies for your next office cleaning session and see the results.

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