Why Is It Hard to Give Away Things We Own?

Grandma’s doillies, 2018.

Source: Mica Estrada, used with permission.

My mother came to my house with a bag of my grandmother’s possessions.  Given my New Year’s intention to let go of things, the bag of clothing represented an unwanted reversal of my simplifying life project. The clothes, her doll collection, the many doilies, were all things I do not need to lead a complete and fulfilling life. Still, I experienced a strong emotional pull to keep these things because they connected me to my grandma.

Even before those bags arrived, I was already astonished by two clear experiences that had resulted from my signing up for the online “Simple Year” program, which is designed to help people like me simplify closets, email, finances, and life.

1.      Committing 10-15 minutes a day to the task of simplifying some aspect of my household was surprisingly effective (I have given away 20 boxes of stuff already, with more to go).

2.      My attachment to things is irrationally strong – this includes Legos, small pieces of paper, and other mundane items.

Question: Why is it so hard to give things away?

As a researcher, I looked at the literature to figure out why getting rid of stuff was so hard. From a cognitive perspective, there is ample evidence that we are biased to value the things that we possess. Research on the mere exposure effect shows that the more we are exposed to something, the more it will become favorable to us (Zajonc, 1968). This is…

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