Erin Doland is a minimalism guru and editor of the home and office organisation blog Unclutterer. Today she’s taking a look at the psychology behind clutter, and why it’s hard for you to get rid of something once you’ve touched it.
Photo by Elsie esq..
As much as we like to believe that we humans have free will and act in wholly rational ways, science often tells us otherwise. When it comes to clutter, human nature can step in and control our behaviour if we do something as basic as touch an object.
In “The power of touch: An examination of the effect of duration of physical contact on the valuation of objects“, researcher James Wolf reported that the longer a person touches an object, the greater value assigned to that item. These conclusions were derived from two studies where people attended an auction and were told that they would be bidding on coffee cups. Before bidding on the items, subjects went around a room inspecting the average, nothing-special-about-them, coffee cups that were going to be put up for sale. Observers found that “examining an item for longer periods of time resulted in greater attachment to the item and thus higher valuations.” Meaning that the longer a subject touched and observed a coffee cup during the inspection period, the more likely he was to buy the cup and pay even more for it than its sticker price.
Simply touching an object and spending time with it greatly increases the likelihood that a typical consumer will buy a product — irrespective of if the consumer has a need or previous desire for the product.
This fact of human nature is why retailers go out of their way to get you to touch merchandise in their stores. They want you to try on clothes, feel the texture of a product and spend time with a good (have you ever had a car salesman offer you a test drive?), because it greatly increases your chances of buying their products. In Paco Underhill’s bestselling book Why We Buy, he outlines entire strategies for retailers to use to encourage touching and time spent with products.
If you’re someone who struggles with clutter or making unnecessary purchases, it’s a good idea to keep this science in mind. First, if you are undertaking an uncluttering project, have a friend or professional organiser help you sort through your things. He or she can hold up items for you so that you won’t touch an item and irrationally become attached to it. Second, if you have difficulty keeping your hands off products in retail stores, try to do most of your shopping online where you can’t touch promotional items. If you need to see a product in person to properly evaluate its worth, take a shopping list with you. Regulate yourself so that you don’t buy anything that doesn’t appear on your list.
You can read more great organisation tips from Erin and her crew everyday at Unclutterer.