Why We Hoard – And How to Stop


Our brain tells us to value something merely because it is ours. It’s what researchers call the endowment effect. While there may be many books, stuffed animals or DVDs that are exactly the same as the ones stuffed in your closet, there’s something special about the copy you own specifically because it’s yours. Follow this urge to the extreme and you might wind up with a scene from the television show “Hoarders.”

Mind Hacks digs into this effect, and how to do some healthy purging:

To put a scientific lens on what’s going on here, a team led by psychologist Daniel Kahneman carried out a simple experiment. They took a class of ordinary University students and gave half of them a University-crested mug, the other half received $6 – the nominal cost of the mug.

If economic theory holds true, the students should begin to swap cash for mugs and vice versus. This is, after all, how prices emerge in any market.

But economic theory lost out to psychology. Hardly any students traded. Those with mugs tended to keep them, asking on average for more than $5 to give up their mug. Those without mugs didn’t want to trade at this price, being only willing to spend an average of around $2.50 to purchase a mug.

Since the mugs were distributed randomly, the researchers figured the only way to justify the mug owners’ inordinate love of their newfound objects is that the simple act of being given an object makes you value that object.

This is the endowment effect, and it is the reason why things reach a higher price at auctions – because people become attached to the thing they’re bidding for, experiencing a premature sense of ownership that pushes them to bid more than they would otherwise. It is also why car dealers want you to test drive the car, encouraging you in everyway to think about what it would be like to possess the car. The endowment effect is so strong that even imagined ownership can increase the value of something.

You can break through this potentially expensive and clutter-inducing phenomenon without the help of prime time intervention, however. Armed with knowledge of the endowment effect’s pull on our psychology, Mind Hacks calls for the enlightened closet hoarder to ask herself: “If I didn’t have this, how much effort would I put in to obtain it?”

Let this anti-endowment effect technique perform its magic for you, and you too will soon be joyously throwing away things that you only think you want, but actually wouldn’t trouble yourself to acquire if you didn’t have them.

More from Smithsonian.com:

One Man’s Private Cache Pays Off For the Rest of Us 

Fate of Auctioned Tarbosaurus Yet to be Determined 

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.