Endowment effect is killing us

I’ve been getting rid of a lot of stuff lately. Practicing what I preach when it comes to understanding that the things we have don’t define us—we define ourselves. One of the challenges of getting rid of something like a pair of cute shoes that I haven’t worn in over a year is that the endowment effect kicks into gear.

Basically, the endowment effect says that you value something more because you own it. This is why the question, “If I didn’t already have this item, how much would I pay for it?” helps when purging clothes that don’t fit or haven’t been worn in years. I’ve been thinking about the endowment effect and how it seems like it’s at play with all the horrendous gun related terror that’s been weighing heavy on my mind lately.

It feels like our country’s gun politics are a box full of wires that have accumulated over the years: old cell phone chargers, speaker wire, USB cords, extra ear buds, phone chargers for the car, wires that go with the t.v., wires that go with the computer. They’re all tangled up and doing nothing except for frustrating the hell out of us because to untangle and get rid of them seems impossible. Yet, we hold on to the mess because it’s familiar to us. We own it. It’s ours. The Second Amendment and all its semiautomatic outcomes are literally killing us.

We cling to the right to bear arms like it defines us. As if by letting go of it, we let go of our autonomy, our identity, ourselves.

From where I’m standing, our world looks like a mess. A complicated tangle of policies that don’t serve people, institutionalized racism, consumer madness that trashes the planet, and so on. It’s overwhelming and heartbreaking when you start to think about it, so our tendency is to either ignore it or be paralyzed by it. It’s time to declusterf%*! our world, one outdated thought//system//policy at a time.

Play more

Hide and seek will forever be fun to me. I love it because it’s a simple yet mighty game that requires absolutely no equipment and is filled with anticipation, suspense, and occasional fright. My nephews came over last weekend and we played some hide and seek in the dark after dinner. I feel like it’s easy to forget about the importance of play as an adult, seeing how K and I have never engaged in a game of hide and seek with adult guests we have over for dinner.

Why is this? If we still find playing fun, why do we do so little of it? And I’m not talking board game play. I’m not talking drinking games or yard games. I’m talking games that evoke pure emotion—so potent they allow us to remember moments from our childhood like it was just yesterday that we were terrified of getting our foot flushed down the toilet during a game of “Sneak.” What? You all didn’t play that game where your friend’s dad chased you around and if he caught you, he stuck your foot in the toilet and flushed it? I’m sorry. You missed out on quite a bit of fun.

We know from studies that if an experience is emotional, it locks into our memory; I might not be able to remember what I had for breakfast last weekend, but I can remember missing the bus when I was in the first grade—upset on my walk home from the bus stop because I felt like I failed big time. I can remember my wedding day very clearly; the day I got an acceptance letter to the college I attended; getting yelled at by the horrendous woman who “taught” music at the elementary school I attended; and learning how to drive a car with manual transmission. These moments were filled with emotion.

I wonder: is the amount of memorable experiences we’re having less than before? Are parents chasing their kids around these days, or are they on their phones while their kids play nearby? Are we fully feeling the moments we’re living, or are we distracted by the thought of how we’ll edit and present the moments on Facebook//Instagram//Twitter//Snapchat//Whateverapp?

I fully appreciate what technology has to offer me. However, I know that connecting with people online feels superficial compared to having a conversation with them in real life. None of the countless hours I’ve spent online (whether it be on Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, email) stand out to me; they tend to blend together. So if I know this, what can I do to continue having experiences that are heartfelt and memorable? Live with intention to do so.

There must be some unwritten rule that says adults aren’t allowed to play. They’re too old. They look silly running around like that. There are too many responsibilities to think about, there’s no time for ridiculousness. The adult ego says, “I am above that sort of thing.” Well ego, I think you’re wrong. I know you’re just doing your job, trying to maintain a respectable sense of self, but you worry too much. I’m not a huge fan of unwritten rules, especially ones that don’t make any sense to me. So I think it’s time to reclaim play. Simple, no electricity required.

FYI:There’s no age limit on slip ‘n’ slides

Stay curious

Some mysteries take years to unravel. When I was on my walk this morning, I spontaneously changed course when I spotted a yard sale; I wandered over to see what gems I might spot (just looking, no intention to buy—I’m all about clutter prevention!). There were some pretty sweet strings of lights, like holiday lights, but there were horses and cowboys covering the bulbs. After a momentary desire to buy, I moved along down the sidewalk and saw the man and woman who were running the show.

Still in the process of setting items out, the man said to the woman, “Well, George has all the heavy stuff,” and the woman replied, “Thanks George!” I assumed George was the guy pushing the dolly with plastic storage tubs stacked high so he couldn’t see where he was going. The woman commented how they had more stuff this time than usual, thanks to George. As I passed the stack of tubs I caught a glimpse of George and was pleasantly surprised to find that he was the older man who I’ve seen wandering around the neighborhood for years.

He initially caught my eye when I’d see him walking down alleys, looking in dumpsters. This in itself isn’t so remarkable, it’s his air of elegance and confidence that always struck me; he held himself as someone who CHOSE to be looking through dumpsters, not someone who looked out of necessity. He always had the same tidy, plaid, collared shirt on and white hair pulled back in a neat low ponytail, sporting a faded yellow backpack. I remember the first day I saw him pushing a grocery cart; no more yellow backpack. I questioned his decision, since to me, the grocery cart dampened his dapperness.

I had no idea what his name was until today. It’s George. I have been curious about George since 2005 when I lived in a building close to where the yard sale was. Now that I think about it, that house was always having yard sales. I did wonder how so much stuff could come from one house, now I know! George.

I believe that familiar strangers are the universe’s way of nudging us. I wonder, what lesson am I to learn from George?

Why I wear Patagonia

I stopped buying clothes from the mall. I no longer drop in to Anthropologie to see what dresses are on their sale rack and I don’t consider H&M when I find myself wanting a new outfit for an upcoming trip or work event. I watched the documentary True Cost in January; it explores the supply chain of fast fashion and sheds light on the garment factories of Bangladesh and Cambodia (where the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building caused +1,000 deaths). It links health and environmental issues near cotton fields in India to pesticide use. I could have easily felt overwhelmed by the complex web of issues that are tied to my clothing purchases. Lucky for me, the film’s website offers suggestions of companies that pay garment workers fair wages and whose business practices reflect their commitment to making the earth habitable to generations who will live 100 years from now. Most recognizable on the list is Patagonia.

I’m a big fan of Patagonia. It started in the 90’s when I was in high school and I sported a forest green Synchilla jacket. What the what is Synchilla you wonder? It’s a soft polyester fleece so snuggly you might as well be cuddling a Chinchilla. I loved that jacket. And I loved the Patagonia catalog I acquired along with it. I remember being amazed at how different it felt to flip through the essays (yes essays in an catalog!) and environmental ally advertisements, compared to Seventeen Magazine, the main event periodical of my adolescent years. Messages from both saturated my subconscious and guess what—Patagonia’s messages have withstood the test of time .

The values I try to live by as a decent human being on this earth are on the same page as Patagonia. I recently read Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. My admiration for the company and the man who started it only grew after reading about the intentional business philosophies practiced at Patagonia, that reflect Chouinard’s commitment to caring for the environment. Even though I have no intention of ever running a business as large as Patagonia, I took away concrete lessons of things I can do in my every day life, to reduce my impact on the environment. Skeptics or lazy brains may say, “What one person does isn’t going to make much of a difference.” That’s true to a certain extent, in the grand scheme of things. But if lots of people started caring enough about the earth to make small changes in their lives, we could collectively save ourselves from a WALL-E situation where we trash ourselves out of a planet and have to float around space on a ship as we grow morbidly obese.

I made a promise to myself, humanity, and the earth after watching True Cost; I am buying less and when I do buy clothes, they must be from companies who pay fair garment wages and who value the earth as I do. Now when you see me wearing the same shirt every time we’re together, you know why. 🙂

Holla days

For the past few years I’ve been working on reclaiming xmas. I didn’t realize this is what I was doing until recently, when I told myself, “It’s time to reclaim xmas!” and I thought about all the small changes I’ve been making to the rituals I choose to participate in during what can be a tumultuous season of consumerism.

Four years ago, my partner for life and I started a new tradition in our home. The xmas time capsule. On December 25, 2011 we gathered items from around our home and placed them in a box, wrote cards and letters of reflection to each other, and closed up the box—a gift to our 2021 selves. Each year since then, we’ve spent time together on Christmas Day, reflecting and packing away tchotchkes that reflect events and interests from the past year. This ritual has come to hold more weight than new gift giving and receiving.

A couple of years after the xmas time capsule tradition began, a xmas cube found its way into our home. More cheerful than a Festivus pole, our xmas cube was constructed by my husband, who initially used it as part of a prototype for a IMG_1344project he was working on. Rather than trashing the thing, we threw some lights and ornaments on it (and later a White Walker–what says winter is here more than that?). I especially love the xmas cube for its size. It doesn’t disrupt the Feng shui of our home and stores easy once xmas is over.

I brought up our one and only cardboard box labeled “XMAS” from the basement the other day and resolved to never have more xmas decorations or ornaments than can fit in that single box. In that moment I managed to tame the beast and freeze it to forever being nothing more than a cute little baby beast. Relief! Literally. A big sigh of it.

IMG_1341Two of the newest items in our box of xmas decorations are beautiful (and ginormous) stockings embroidered by my stepmom. She gifted them to my husband and me over the past couple of years and now they will hang on our mantle each December. I appreciate the time and love she poured into the stockings, and have been thinking a lot about how to incorporate them into a reclaimed version of xmas. Traditionally in my family, the stocking served as the appetizer of gift time. A warm up to the main event. And because of this, I think I probably sped right through the plastic candy canes full of chocolate kisses and whatever else (see? I don’t remember) was in my stocking as a kid. I think the stockings may serve as the main event for our reclaimed xmas. Like the single XMAS box of decorations, the stockings serve as physical visuals of containment. If I don’t contain consumerism, it’ll contain me.

Reclaimed xmas is an evolving process that happens in a dogma free zone. Maybe next year we’ll incorporate a winter solstice celebration—holla to longer days filled with light!

On stuff

I used to save chewed up gum. I’d put flavorless gobs of colorful gum on a coin counting tower I got from Chuckie Cheese. Part of me thought it just looked cool, but let’s face it, another part of me had a serious issue with throwing things (apparently anything) out. Other items I had trouble letting go of:

Cheap crayons

Compared to Crayola, cheap crayons just don’t deliver. You have to press hard and the colors are so weak it makes any picture look like a faded version of life. They break in your hand most of the time because they are brittle and can’t withstand the pressure it takes to get them to work. However, I’m pretty sure their lack of quality isn’t their fault. It’s not like they have free will and just don’t want to work. So I used to hold on to them (because I tend to anthropomorphize everything), as if to let them know that I knew they were of value, just for being.

Bags, boxes, containers

Plastic bags, paper bags, cereal boxes (you can’t throw Snap, Crackle, and Pop in the trash!), gold boxes that once held fancy chocolate (it’s too pretty to throw away!), cylinders no longer full of oats (you also can’t throw the Quaker Man away).


Fluffy was my security blanket. Looking back on it, I realize how disgusting it was. There were numerous blood stains on it from when my nose would bleed and dried up boogers because I was a gross little kid who picked my nose when it wasn’t bleeding and saved the boogers in my Fluffy so I could crush them when they dried up and hardened. I am literally nauseous as I type this.

For me, throwing STUFF out was hard because I may or may not have legitimately believed every thing had a soul of sorts. And I had abandonment issues that I hadn’t worked out yet. So basically I’m fortunate I didn’t turn into a hoarder.

These days I live a life with less STUFF. I like less. Despite the advertisers who want me to believe I need more, I’ve found I’m much happier with less. Less STUFF means less distractions from what I value in life. There is less in the way when I want to connect to my partner, my family, my friends. And when I say connect, I mean directly. Face to face. Sans screen or online social network where ads pop up in the sidebars telling me I need more STUFF. Less stuff means less clutter and that’s a good thing because clutter tends to drive me bananas.

I have a client who is in the process of de-cluttering their own home and is on the quest for less STUFF. I share these tips for them and anyone else who is interested in a life less full of STUFF and more filled with living.

Two Steps Toward Less

  1. Purge

Dedicate time to go through your STUFF and get rid of things. I like to shoot for three or more hours on a weekend so I can get in the zone. Although some suggest not going room by room, I like to focus on one room at a time.

Depending on how much STUFF you have to move, set a goal of completing one or two rooms (or a single closet) during your first purge session. Take the items to a donation drop off center (wait a day if it helps with the goodbye process). I find the satisfaction of seeing a room transformed motivating. Once you reach your goal, set a day and time to work on the next room(s). For some people, the purge step takes weeks, others finish it in one weekend. Figure out what’s right for you and go for it.

During the purge you may think, “What if I need this the day after I get rid of it?,” “What if I grow back/shrink back into this?”, “I can’t get rid of this because…” This can be challenging. Ask yourself why you’re holding on to this particular piece of STUFF. Turn the eye inward and explore your issues. We all have them. If it turns out some professional help could assist you in exploring your particular issues, go for it if it’s within your financial means. A free option for getting to the root of your issues exists. It’s called the library and I love it. I find reading Buddhist texts to help with the purge perspective. A great one to start: The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh.

After purge is complete, take a moment to feel the lightness of a life with less STUFF.

2. Reduce

Practice a pause before buying more STUFF. When you’re about to purchase something online or in a store, take a pause, walk away from the screen/item and take a breather. Break the consumer spell and ask yourself if you really need that particular WHATEVER THING. Companies bombard us with messages that play on our deepest fears to get us to feel like we really need, absolutely can’t survive without, must buy now, their WHATEVER STUFF. And if it’s not the company itself who we get this message from, it’s our neighbors/peers/extended family the Jones’s. Stop trying to keep up and flip the script. Write your own narrative of living with less STUFF.

When I’m in B,B, and Beyond on a mission to buy a mop with my 20% off coupon, it’s tempting to stop and look at the kitchen gadgets and impulse WHATEVER STUFF near the checkout. I have to pause and remember the ol’ 1, 2. Only a few people give me skeptical looks when I punch the air and dodge an invisible fist of STUFF. Part of me wants to hold the mop above my head like I’m the heavyweight champion of the world. Navigating that box store makes me feel like I went twelve rounds with THE MAN.