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Psychology, Sustainability

Too nice to use?

I built a wooden kayak last year. This past weekend I paddled 120 km with it down a river. This makes sense to me. I built it, I used it. But apparently this is not always the response. A lot of people build the boat and then don’t use it because it is too nice.

This makes me think of a scene in the old movie To Catch a Thief. There is a woman who is wearing expensive jewelry. Her daughter worries about her having them out of a safe and the woman comments about getting them to wear them.

So, I tried to find some research on this idea of too nice to use or wear, but I couldn’t find anything. Literally nothing. I presume I’m just not searching the right terms but there you have it. So rather than looking at research I thought I’d reflect on what this means from a sustainability perspective.

The first thing that it makes me think of is what we value. Do we value the purpose of the thing or the thing itself? I value the work I put into building my boat and I love the way it looks but those are more meaningful to me because it also has a function. I can’t put a 16′ kayak on display as art but I can take it out and use it to enjoy nature and physical activity. And let me tell you, knowing that I built the kayak I just used to do a three day solo trip just makes it that much more satisfying.

On the flip side, I think our current capitalist society does place a lot of value on the thing itself. We see this when people buy things like vehicles for the thing, or the status it brings, rather than its use. I think of buying large trucks when you aren’t towing or hauling things regularly as an example. From a sustainability perspective this creates a lot of excess. Most of us could rent a larger vehicle for the rare time we need it rather than buying for just in case.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is important cultural value in art, but for things that are supposed to have a function not using them for that because it’s too nice seems really odd to me. The reason it’s nice is its function, that it looks good a long the way is just bonus.

If you have a different opinion about why something might be justified as being too nice to use I’d be really curious, feel free to comment. In the meantime, I’ll keep taking my boat out and get as much use out of it as I can.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

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