Sunk Costs: Why It’s Hard To Purge Our Belongings

I read the other day that reporting on the cost and casualties of war can sometimes lead to increased support and investment, because people don’t want the investment to be for naught, and the first thing I thought of was all my stuff.  Not joking.  Here’s why:

People don’t make rational decisions.  We’re influenced by a number of things and one of the most powerful is our aversion to loss.  We’re heavily influence by sunk costs.  We don’t want to waste things — our money, our time, our lives.  Hell, our entire trip is fueled by Lisa’s and my aversion to wasting our time and lives.  But this same desire is working against us — it makes it harder for us to part with our stuff.  Because instead of rationally deciding what we should keep and what we should discard, we are influenced by our previous investments in our stuff.

Take our books as an example — we have a ton of books.  Looking back, we were more likely to get rid of books we purchased used than books we paid full retail price for.  The epitome of this being our college textbooks.  Lisa and I both kept textbooks we’re likely never to open again … basically because they were super expensive when new.  Dammit, psychology!

So here’s my new mindset as we continue to trim down: all my belongings are sunk costs.  I need to ask myself if given the opportunity to re-purchase this belonging today, would I pay for it (again)?  Unless the answer is ‘yes,’ the possession is going to be looking for a new home … I’m looking at you, Mr. Second Swimsuit.

Pile of trash
Creative Commons License photo credit: quinn.anya