The Science of Stuff (And Getting Rid of It)

Researchers at the Ohio State University may have a solution for those of us who have trouble hoarding stuff we are emotionally attached to. They found that people were more willing to get rid of unneeded items that still had sentimental value if they first took a photo of the items, thus giving them a different way to preserve the memory.

Such techniques could help parents eliminate baby items once their children have grown or a young person moving out for the first time sort through the their childhood knick-knacks.

The researchers conducted a field study involving 797 students who lived in six residence halls on campus. At the end of a fall semester, the researchers advertised a donation drive before the students left for the holidays. But there was a catch: There were actually two different advertising campaigns that varied by residence halls.

In the memory preservation campaign, signs in the residence hall bathrooms stated, “Don’t Pack up Your Sentimental Clutter…Just Keep a Photo of It, Then Donate.” In the control campaign, fliers told students, “Don’t Pack Up Your Sentimental Clutter, Just Collect the Items, Then Donate.” Similar numbers of students were exposed to both campaigns.

After finals week, research associates who were unaware of what the study was about emptied donation bins in each residence hall, counting the items donated.

The researchers found 613 items were donated in the halls that hosted the “memory preservation” campaign, versus only 533 in the control campaign.

In other related experiments, the researchers found that it wasn’t just the memories associated with these possessions that were keeping people from donating – it was the identities linked to those memories.

For example, older parents may still feel connected to their identity as new mothers and fathers and not want to part with their infant clothes.

In one study, some people who were donating goods at a local thrift shop in State College, Pennsylvania, were given instant photos of the items they were donating, while others were not. They were then asked about whether they would feel a sense of identity loss from giving away the item.

Results showed that those who received the photos reported less identity loss than those who did not.
Researchers said that the bottom line is this technique can help anyone who is emotionally attached to items that could be donated or thrown away, helping declutter their lives.