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Psychology, Sustainability, Uncategorized

What do you keep but never use?

I wrote before about things that are too nice to use. At the time, I searched for research on this idea and came up dry. But a recent study has started to fill the gap.

Kowalski and Yoon (2022) looked at how the reasons that people are attached to different products impact whether those products get used or stored away. In my previous post I talked about the wooden kayak that I built. The boat is nice, but the idea it is too nice to use strikes me as ridiculous and yet apparently that is pretty common. When I think about it, I have memories of people talking about their good dishes. The ones that came out for special occasions only. Collectors often keep things protected, away from use, so that, whatever it is, it doesn’t get damaged. The problem, from a sustainability perspective, is that having good dishes means you probably have two sets of dishes. Collecting sneakers means the resources that went into them aren’t being used for their purpose and that the collector would need additional shoes that they are willing to wear.

Being attached to objects can facilitate sustainability because it makes someone less likely to replace it and more likely to repair it. I had a pair of figure skates that I had rebuilt twice before I finally gave up and replaced it. Through maintenance and repair I managed to ride my last bike for 20 years before my situation changed enough that I had to give in and replace it completely. Replacing parts is labour intensive but it uses less resources. It reduces the amount of new resources that need to be used and decreases the amount of waste sent to the landfill.

So what makes the difference between something that a person is willing to use and potentially repair because they are attached and something that a person stores away for rare occasions because they are attached? Kowalski and Yoon found that irreplaceability was most likely to be tied to a lack of use. A limited edition pair of sneakers or the china that has been passed down through your family are hard to replace so you don’t want to risk damage. On the other hand, an object that seems durable was more likely to be used.

So it’s not just that something is too nice to use, it also has to be hard to replace and be less likely to survive being used. Does this impact how you think about any of the items you are attached to?

About Tai Munro

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

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