I think people who are not made happier by having things either have the wrong things, or have them incorrectly.  Here is how I get the most out of my stuff.

Money doesn't buy happiness.  If you want to try throwing money at the problem anyway, you should buy experiences like vacations or services, rather than purchasing objects.  If you have to buy objects, they should be absolute and not positional goods; positional goods just put you on a treadmill and you're never going to catch up.


I think getting value out of spending money, owning objects, and having positional goods are all three of them skills, that people often don't have naturally but can develop.  I'm going to focus mostly on the middle skill: how to have things correctly1.

1. Obtain more-correct things in the first place.

If you and I are personal friends, you probably know that I have weird gift-receiving protocols.  This is partly because I hate surprises.  But it's also because I don't want to have incorrect things, cluttering my space, generating guilt because they're gifts that I never use, and generally having high opportunity cost because the giver could have gotten me something else.

This problem isn't only with gifts.  People get themselves incorrect things all the time - seduced by marketing, seized by impulse, or too hurried to think about which of several choices is the best one for their wants and needs.  I have some incorrect clothes, which I got because I was sick of shopping and needed a new pair of pants even if it was terrible; as soon as I found better pants (or whatever) those clothes were never worn again and now they're just waiting for my next haul to Goodwill.  I bet a lot of people have incorrect printers, mostly because printers in general are evil, but partly because it's irritating and dull to investigate them ahead of time.  Cars may also tend to fall into this category, with a lot of people neutral or ambivalent about their self-selected objects that cost thousands of dollars.

If you are not currently living in a cluttered space, or feeling guilty about not using your objects enough, or tending to dislike the things that you have, or finding yourself wanting things that you "can't" get because you already have an inferior item in the same reference class, or just buying too many not-strict-necessities than is appropriate for your budget - then this might not be a step you need to focus on.  If you have objects you don't like (not just aren't getting a lot out of, that's for later steps, but actually dislike) then you might need to change your thresholds for object-acquisition.

This doesn't mean something stodgy like "before you get something, think carefully about whether you will actually use and enjoy it, using outside view information about items in this reference class".  Or, well, it can mean that, but that's not the only criterion!  You can also increase the amount of sheer emotional want that you allow to move you to action - wait until you more-than-idly desire it.  If I were good at math, I would try to operationalize this as some sort of formula, but suffice it to say that the cost of the object (in money, but also social capital and storage space and inconvenience and whatnot) should interact with how much you just-plain-want-it and also with how much use you will likely get out of it.

Speaking of how much use you get out of it...

2. Find excuses to use your stuff.

I have a cloak.  It cost me about $80 on Etsy.  It is custom made, and reversible between black and gray, and made out of my favorite fabric, and falls all the way to the floor from my shoulders, and has a hood so deep that I can hide in it if I want.  If I run while I wear it, it swoops out behind me.  It's soft and warm but not too warm.  I like my cloak.

I also have sweaters.  They didn't cost me anywhere near $80, not a one of them.

When it's chilly, I reach for the cloak first.

I'm playing a game with my brain: I will let it make me spend $80 on a cloak, if it will produce enough impetus towards cloak-wearing and cloak-enjoying that I actually get $80 of value out of it.  If it can't follow through, then I later trust its wants less ("last time I bought something like this, it just hung in my closet forever and I only pulled it out on Halloween!"), and then it doesn't get to make me buy any more cloaklike objects, which it really wants to be able to do.  (I don't know if everyone's brain is wired to play this sort of game, but if yours is, it's worth doing.)  My brain is doing a very nice job of helping me enjoy my cloak.  Eventually I may let it buy another cloak in a different pair of colors, if it demonstrates that it really can keep this up long-term.

People sometimes treat not using their stuff like something that happens to them.  "I never wound up using it."  "It turned out that I just left it in the basement."  This is silly.  If I'm going to use my cloak - or my miniature cheesecake pan or my snazzy letter opener - then this is because at some point I will decide to put on my cloak, make miniature cheesecakes, or open letters with my snazzy dedicated device instead of my nail file.  You know, on purpose.

Sure, some things seem to prompt you to use them more easily.  If you get a new video game, and you really like it, it's probably not going turn out that you never think to play it.  If you get a cat or something sufficiently autonomous like that, you will know if you are not paying it sufficient attention.

But if you get a muffin tin and you have no pre-installed prompts for "I could make muffins" because that impulse was extinguished due to lack of muffin tin, it will be easy to ignore.  You're going to need to train yourself to think of muffins as a makeable thing.  And you can train yourself to do that!  Put the muffins on your to-do list.  Lead your friends to expect baked goods.  Preheat the oven and leave a stick of butter out to soften so you're committed.  If that doesn't sound appealing to you - if you don't want to bake muffins - then you shouldn't have acquired a muffin tin.

Speaking of your friends...

3. Invite others to benefit from your thing.

I've got a pet snake.  Six days of the week, she is just my pet snake.  On Saturdays, during my famous dinner parties at which the Illuminati congregate, I often pass her around to interested visitors, too.  The dinner parties themselves allow my friends to benefit from my stuff, too - kitchen implements and appliances and the very table at which my guests sit.  It would be less useful to own a stand mixer or a giant wok if I only ever cooked for myself.  It would be less pleasant to have a pet snake if I had no chance to share her.  It would be less important to have pretty clothes if no one ever saw me wearing them.

You're a social ape.  If you're trying to get more out of something, an obvious first hypothesis to test is to see if adding other social apes helps:

  • Loan your stuff out.  (People seem to acquire physical copies of books for this motivation; it is good.  Do more of that.)
  • Acquire more stuff that can be used cooperatively.  (Own games you like, for instance.)
  • Find creative ways to use stuff cooperatively where it was not intended.
  • Tell people stories about your stuff, if you have interesting stories about it.
  • Fetch it when it is a useful tool for someone else's task.
  • Accept compliments on your stuff gleefully.  Let people have experiences of your stuff so that they will produce same.

Also, circling back to the bit about gifts: I bet you own some gifts.  Use them as excuses to think about who gave them to you!  My grandmother got me my blender, my mom made me my purse, my best friend gave me the entire signed Fablehaven series.  Interacting with those objects now produces extra warmfuzzies if I take the extra cognitive step.

Speaking of how you go about experiencing your stuff...

4. Turn stuff into experiences via the senses.

Remember my cloak?  It's made of flannel, so it's nice to pet; it's fun to swoosh it about.  Remember my snake?  She feels nifty and cool and smooth, and she looks pretty, and I get to watch her swallow a mouse once a week if I care to stick around to supervise.  I get candy from Trader Joe's because it tastes good and music that I like because it sounds good.  If you never look at your stuff or touch it or taste it or whatever is appropriate for the type of stuff, you might not be having it correctly.  (Raise your hand if you have chachkas on your shelves that you don't actually look at.)

Caveat: Some purely instrumental tools can be had correctly without this - I don't directly experience my Dustbuster with much enthusiasm, just the cleanliness that I can use it to create.  Although nothing prevents you from directly enjoying a particularly nice tool either - I have spatulas I am fond of.

And of course if you choose to follow the standard advice about purchasing experiences in a more standard way, you can still use stuff there.  You will have more fun camping if you have decent camping gear; you will have more fun at the beach if you have suitable beach things; you will have more fun in the south of France if you have travel guides and phrasebooks that you like.


1It's an optional skill.  You could neglect it in favor of others, and depending on your own talents and values, this could be higher-leverage than learning to have things correctly.  But I bet the following steps will be improvements for some people.

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I sometimes go digging for quartz. This includes camping out with friends the night before, then getting dirty, digging in the mud, and finding neat little things all day. All in all, I really enjoy the experience. But then I bring home pounds and pounds of the stuff and really only enjoy having a few of the pieces that really jump out to me as being exceptional.

Most people have never gone to dig for quartz, and don't have nearly the amount of it that I do. On top of that, many of my friends attribute all sorts of magical nonsense to the stones. So, the way I enjoy the rest of it is giving it away. Any of the pieces I bothered to bring home seem really beautiful and amazing to people who don't have endless pounds of the stuff cluttering up their room. I'm often told months/years after giving one out that the recipient still has it and cherishes it and keeps it in some special place where they always see it, which provides another little burst of me enjoying the thing.

Similarly, when someone comes into my room for the first time and is amazed by the collection as a whole, I get a little bit of joy out of their amazement. Every time I think I've run out of ones that are w... (read more)

I'm often told months/years after giving one out that the recipient still has it and cherishes it and keeps it in some special place where they always see it, which provides another little burst of me enjoying the thing.

This also teaches a lesson on the social skill of 'gift receiving'. Just remembering the gift received and signalling appreciation almost certainly created more goodwill and affiliation than actually buying an expensive gift and giving it to gravitron.

Every time I think I've run out of ones that are worthy of gifting, someone notices one in particular that they really love, and I say "you can have it" and they jump for joy and tell me I'm the greatest person ever.

Cost of jumping and uttering words: maybe a kJ. Social and emotional benefit to both parties: ??.

This is an excellent example/anecdote; thank you!

Better reading: "If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right", Dunn et al 2011, Journal of Consumer Psychology

I'm going to start awarding "Gwern points" to people.


No, you can't do that - only I can sign Gwern points with my private key. Unless...?!

See also.
Klevador's post is a pretty fantastic review of the literature. It's too bad he's been gone since April; I would have liked to see more from him (perhaps his experiences trying to implement recommendations?).
I actually see a connection between the two: One of the points in the article is to buy experiences rather than things, and Alicorn's post seems to be (possibly among other things) a set of ways to turn things into experiences.
Cognitive dissonance FTW. "I cannot return it, so I better enjoy it!"
That link gives me a 404.
I think I just rationalized my spending on computer "stuff" - the ultimate experience good.
Well, it's reasonable... if you are actually getting a better experience. If 'stuff expands to fill hard drive capacity' as the quip goes, it's just another brutal hedonic treadmill of stuff and not experiences.

This doesn't mean something stodgy like "before you get something, think carefully about whether you will actually use and enjoy it, using outside view information about items in this reference class".

Shame, that would have been an excellent message. It sounds much more practical than self-modifying into someone who likes to make muffins just because I bought a muffin tin.

I'd go as far as to say that a bias towards changing yourself to be someone who uses the stuff you buy is something to beware of. Perhaps before I buy something I should ask the question "How will owning this item change my preferences and my habits? Do I want my preferences and habits to be changed in this way?" (Sometimes the answer is "Yes!")

If you aren't currently someone who would use a muffin tin, and you don't want to self-modify in that direction, then the article seems correct in advising that you don't buy a muffin tin...

And yet, on the other hand, my spontaneous modification into someone who wears a leather vest given any reasonable opportunity was a somewhat predictable but ultimately unintended side effect of my recent Awesome Leather Vest purchase - I really had planned on it being just a component of one or two special-event outfits. In this case it was a known risk and not a problematic one, but if I hadn't thought that all the way through and leather vests of the type I acquired had more problematic social-signaling properties, it could indeed have been a problem - this is actually a component of why I haven't gotten a cloak, and also I could make an argument on that basis that I shouldn't've gotten a cane when I injured my knee a year ago, since I wasn't intending on modifying into a full-time cane-user and that somewhat-predictably happened anyway and has had repercussions. (I don't mind 'em on net, from here, but being visibly disabled has taken some adjusting to, and peoples' behavior on that count still grates a bit sometimes, and I really should have put a bit more thought into that ahead of time, ideally. OTOH, canes: kinda awesome.) Not all 'self'-modifications are voluntary. Sunk-cost-based modifications are a subset of the ones that aren't. Being wary of the involuntary ones is not necessarily unwise.
True. I hadn't meant "if you don't want to self-modify in that direction" to imply voluntary or non-voluntary. Sometimes it's a voluntary process of making-yourself-use-it like Alicorn described, and sometimes it's an involuntary process like you've described.
I'm pretty sure wedrifred was referring to either involuntary modifications or both kinds, was the point.
Why would you not want to be someone who wears a cloak often? And whatever those reasons are, why wouldn't they prevent you from wearing a cloak after you buy it?
If it follows the pattern of the vest and the cane, I'll want to wear it All The Time, whether that's a good idea for signaling and aesthetic reasons or not - and I'm not sure it would be a good idea on either of those counts, but sensory considerations often trump those when it comes to things that I actually own and have experienced and gotten used to at all. In other words: Right now I'm physically comfortable not wearing a cloak. If I get it and it's as awesome along the physically-comfortable axis as I expect it will be, then I will quickly become the kind of person who is not physically comfortable when not wearing a cloak, and if it's socially unacceptable to wear a cloak, or socially unacceptable to wear a cloak with my vest that I'm now uncomfortable when I'm not wearing, then that change could be a problem. (For values of 'socially unacceptable' that include 'changes how people react to me in ways that are sufficiently bad'.) If I could predict what peoples' reaction to me-wearing-a-cloak would be without actually wearing a cloak to find out, this would be less of a problem, but as of right now I don't know that they'd react acceptably.

I think Alicorn's intended point was closer to "How will owning this item change my preferences and my habits? Do I want my preferences and habits to be changed in this way?" (Sometimes the answer is "Yes!")" than "self-modifying into someone who likes to make muffins just because I bought a muffin tin." You need to do the value-weighing before you purchase something.

Also, she's made an underlying assumption that a) you have limited resources, such that buying something is a tradeoff against buying something else, and b) having stuff you don't use creates "clutter" which is unpleasant. These points may not be true for everyone: someone making $150,000 a year probably doesn't have to ponder very hard on whether or not buying a muffin tin is worth it, because it has a negligible effect on their savings, and not everyone finds having a lot of stuff distressing. I do think it's true that most people err on the side of buying too much (see rising Canadian household debt) and keeping too much stuff around.

This reads like some combination of generalizing from one example / other-optimizing. Is there any reason for me to think anything in this post is true, or useful to me? Is there relevant research on this subject?

Note that you're dismissing the received wisdom about this topic, some of which actually does come from serious research. It seems like you need to be leveraging a bit more evidence here.

This particular post mostly agrees with the received wisdom, though the mention of the skill of owning positional goods might disagree with it. (Note the amount of signalling trouble that surrounds that conversation, though.)
It has a funny way of showing it then:

I agree that it claims to disagree with it, but look at the actual recommendations of the post. Don't buy items that won't make your life noticeably better; use the items you already have to make your life better; turn your objects into experiences as much as possible. All of those fit with the received wisdom.

Agreed. I'd say it can be reasonably summarized as extending "conventional wisdom" to include the idea that purchasing goods often enables experiences (whether this be "having a snake", "not getting soaked when walking in the rain", "sharing muffins with friends", or "camping")

The primary effect that reading this had on me was the change in state from [owning a cloak hadn't occurred to me] to [owning a cloak sounds awesome; i am unhappy that i hadn't thought of it on my own]

Heh. For me it was mainly "Which Etsy supplier was that?" I've been wanting a good cloak. Although the bits about "just having a thing that you could get the benefit of may not help if the previous lack of it meant the necessary motivation to use it was never really instilled as a pattern" actually helped. Going to have to plan to make more muffins.
This person made my cloak. Etsy people in general are staggeringly receptive to requests for custom orders, in my experience, so I just searched for "cloak", found someone who made cloaks that looked reasonably nice and not too overwhelmingly expensive, and asked whether they could do reversible flannel.
Thank you! I've had the opposite experience on Etsy (seems to go roughly, "If they don't explicitly say they do X or modify in slight ways to accomodate, then you will be not merely told no but insulted for your trouble") so it's good to get that pre-specified.

You can also avoid the permanency of owning things by renting/leasing/borrowing/returning for refund.

EDIT: I place zero value on the fact of ownership. That is, I derive no satisfaction from knowing that something (or someone) belongs to me. I am given to understand that this is rather unusual. Of course, I value having hassle-free access to things when I need them, and often the only way to ensure this is by owning them, but when there is a choice, I'd rather not, even if it costs a bit more. Unfortunately, the society around me is not set up for this, except for really expensive items, like a place to live or a means of transportation. I wonder if other places in the world are more access- rather than ownership-friendly.

I can't seem to find it in my quotes file, but I recall once reading an interesting few paragraphs by someone explaining that capitalism allows them to "own" nearly everything they want in the world. In some sense I am the owner of a 16 inch telescope, a jet ski, a table with a gourmet meal at the best restaurant in the city, etc., regardless of whether I've gone out and bought those things and had them assigned to be my property, because at any time I could go out and buy them if the whim struck hard enough. The world is full of warehouses and store shelves and other buildings whose sole purpose is to store stuff-that-I-can-have-whenever-I-want-it. Even if the transaction costs are still high enough that I may end up foregoing some of those luxuries, just having the option is itself a kind of wealth.

And in a way this bounty of materialism leads one to be anti-materialistic. If I own all these wonderful things, why bother with the inconvenience of storing them in my own house until/unless I'm ready to really experience them?


Fortunately for you, my use of spaced repetition means I know exactly what interesting paragraphs you are talking about: http://www.metafilter.com/65284/Collect-em-all#1862024

This is indeed the exact quote I have saved. Apparently a good memory is even better than grep or a search engine, at least when the latter have nothing more to go on than keywords from a bad memory. I'd love to hear more details on how you recalled it, though - do you have an Anki deck or something filled with particularly interesting quotes including that one? Or do you believe that your use of spaced repetition has improved your memory even for data that you're not specifically using spaced repetition to remember?
Mnemosyne, yeah.
I suspect that a personification of Capitalism would find the notion of this inflationary use of "own" rather offensive. It has rather strong ideas about what "ownership" means. The personification of Free Market may also be a tad disgruntled that Capitalism is being given the credit for its work when it believes it should be respected as an individual. Neither of those is (strictly) dependent on the other.
Alternately, having all those options might also be a form of poverty, or at least disutility.
That's an awesome perspective. I need to remember this.
You seem to conflate owning with sharing. The original meaning is "mine and no one else's". Lots of people derive pleasure from having something others don't, be at an art collection, an antique car or even a partner.
No, it's conflating ownership with potential-ownership. The idea is, I can store apples at the grocery store or in my pantry - there is basically no chance that I will go to pick up my apples at the grocery store and they won't be available for sale, so it's just trivial that I haven't spent the money on them yet.
It seems pretty silly to conflate the two when ownership implies that it is no longer an opportunity cost to acquire "your" possession, as the cost has already been paid. If you have a million dollars, you potentially own any of all the million dollar possessions on the market, but only one of them at most. Owning all of them would be very different.
Subjectively, though, I for one get that feeling. It's like "within my reach" and "owned by me" were equivalent to my brain on some level. And, when, once I've made my purchase, I find my money diminished by that same amount, I find that I feel cheated, somehow. Like accumulated money should work like an access clearance threshold, rather than a reservoir of resources across space and time. Which is economically absurd...
The comment I was replying to said None of those qualify as "potential-ownership", they are a shared-access resource.
Is there something about "potential-ownership" that gives it a different meaning to "an item that I could potentially buy and thereby become the owner of"?
I'm confused. How are jet skis relevantly different from apples?
From the context, roystgnr meant renting jet skis for a day, rather than owning and maintaining them. You can hardly do that with apples.
No, really. (emphasis added) Buy, not rent.
I interpreted it as buying a service, not an object, but it's up to roystgnr to clarify.
My recollection and interpretation was buying/objects not renting/services. Picking an object like a jet ski that is probably more often rented than bought was probably a misleading choice of example, sorry. Anyway, it's not up to me to clarify anymore - gwern found the original quote, so you can debate the interpretation of that rather than of my half-recollected paraphrasing. :-)
This suddenly strikes me as a very important issue of study. I would be extremely relieved to find a large body of experimental evidence that would confirm the hypothesis that all those people enjoy this for other reasons, such as status display or signalling, rather than actually having part of their brain directly place actual value on being the sole owner and user of something without notions of availability or other logistical problems of sharing stuff, i.e. as a terminal value in some sense.
Strikes me that a lot of communal living would have this. Even just living with a roommate, she "owns" some of our kitchenware, and I "own" other portions, but we're both 100% free to use it. Quotes on "own" because we'd probably work out who-gets-what based on practical considerations if it ever mattered (for example, I would have no use for most of our baking supplies if I moved out, since I only bake socially)
I think I might be the same way. It almost seems weird to be any other way. If you want to become this way yourself, here's a possible way to do it. Next time you're moving, as you're packing your stuff, decide, for each item, whether you ought to keep, sell, or trash it. (Keep in mind that most of the things you own you could buy anew pretty easily, so selling something amounts to converting it to a more convenient form of wealth (currency) for a certain overhead cost.) I used to experience a lot of cognitive dissonance when I did this, because I'd find myself wanting to hold on to stuff that had negligible market value and no obvious use cases. Then I made the connection with the endowment effect, realized I was irrationally overvaluing the stuff just because it was mine, and became way more willing to throw stuff out. Or read this essay. Or watch this video.
If you place positive value on the fact of ownership the endowment effect isn't irrational.
But it is worth reexamining this particular terminal value and see if it is indeed terminal. If there is an answer to "I value owning things because..." beyond "because the mere fact of owning things gives me warm fuzzies", then maybe there is a better way to get those warm fuzzies.
OK, I'm not an expert on the endowment effect. But from what I recall, behavioral economists have found that if you randomly give a gift to half of a classroom, then offer everyone the option to sell their gift if they have one or buy one if they don't, very few transactions take place. This is considered odd because you'd expect naively that everyone values the gift according to a certain dollar amount before any gifting happens, and you'd expect to see lots of cases where people could gain by selling/buying a gift. It sounds like maybe the way you're using the word "rational", anything that anyone does can be considered "rational" just by postulating the right utility function. I don't think that approximates the standard usage of the word. If you prefer to place value on the fact of ownership, I recommend you avoid reading the GP, as it was directed at people who wanted to hack themselves to no longer place value on the fact of ownership. If you prefer not to, knowing that economists consider your impulses odd and not very useful (in a certain technical sense) might help.
No, they actually have to have that utility function. That my actions would be rational if I did value something doesn't mean they actually are. However, in the case we're discussing it seemed you were stipulating just those people - people who value possessions qua possessions.
I'd say it's usually that there's a small, immediate negative effect of losing the object, but a larger-over-time positive effect of not living with clutter. I suspect most people run in to up-front-costs issues, and also don't realize how much of a negative effect clutter can have ("it takes an extra 2-3 seconds to find any utensil while cooking; therefor cooking is less fun; therefor I cook less often" style chains seem fairly common)
I'm not saying that most people do value ownership. I'm simply pointing out that John_Maxwell_IV's advice was aimed specifically at a group which did.
0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
I think that for some people, and some things, it may be rational to value things with 'negligible market value' just because they are theirs. Examples are knicknacks that you bought as souvenirs of an enjoyable trip, gifts that you don't use but like looking at once in a while, photos, etc... I don't personally like having souvenirs lying around, and gifts that I don't use are annoying, but I know other people who seem to get a lot of emotional comfort from physical objects.
I'd say valuing something as a memento and valuing it just-for-ownership are different traits. I routinely gift away my dishes when I move because the effort of moving them is less than the cost of replacing them. I keep a box of ticket stubs, love letters, certificates / awards, and other mementos. That said, there's definitely a failure state where everything gets labelled a "memento" to protect it from being thrown out.
Sure. One good test might be: If you lost this item and miraculously found it again at a flea market, would you buy it back? If you would not, that suggests the item is worth less than its market price to you, and you might want to sell it for its market price (assuming that's not too difficult).
...giving away/smashing to bits/losing/selling.
That seems more wasteful.
But it can still be better than keeping stuff around you don't need or like. It takes up space that could be used for nicer things, you have to clean (around) it, you have to see it and hate it (even if it's just a tiny little bit) every time you do... So yes, it can be better to just put it in the trash if you can't find anyone to give it to.
All kinds of used stuff can be traded online at sites such as eBay. Leasing contracts are generally more complex than simple sale transactions, and they are more likely to generate contention between the parties, hence they are typically avoided for all except very expensive goods.
I take some comfort in knowing that some things are available for my immediate use at no marginal cost beyond that inherent in their use. I also take some pleasure in knowing that I am responsible for the creation, maintenance, and decisions regarding some things. Both of those are things that I consider 'mine', even when I recognize that the title belongs to someone else.
0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
That's really interesting. Do you think this has to do with the hassle of looking after stuff you own, maintaining it, having it take up space, etc? Or is it something else? Thinking about it, it's also true for me that I dislike some aspects of owning things I need–storage, mostly, and having to organize stuff and keep track of it. Every time I move apartments, I feel a brief urge to give away half of my belongings, even though nearly all of them I do use on a day-to-day basis. I still err on the side of buying rather than renting/leasing, though, mostly because it usually leads to long-term savings and this is something I place a high value on.
I tend to think of "stuff" as tools required to perform a task or accomplish a goal. An ideal tool only exists at the time you use it, magically appearing only when needed and disappearing after the job is done. This is pretty standard in the GUI design, where a (well designed) context menu (right-click on Windows) only contains the items you can use in a current situation. Many computer games are like that, too. A physical world (rather non-ideal) example would be something like cab service or a zipcar. "Looking after stuff you own" could be a goal in itself, like when if it's your pet or your antique car, or, in extreme narcissistic cases, your child or your partner (50 shades is an example of the last from the currently popular fiction). When it's not the goal, however, it's a waste of space, time and effort. I have no attachment to my computer beyond the convenient setup and the information that is stored there. This is also one of the reasons I lease my car rather than own it. There is a balance between savings from ownership and expense of maintaining stuff, paying for the extra space it requires and spending time keeping it ship-shape vs earning more or doing something else useful/fun. It can tip either way, for different people, items and situations. I wonder, maybe examples of such optimization decisions could be useful on this forum.

I stopped reading around the cloak part. I don't understand. If it makes you happy to buy a cloak, buy it. If it makes you happy to wear a cloak, wear it. Why mete out wearing the cloak as penance for buying the cloak?

Is this supposed to be a way to save money? If so, maybe this strategy makes sense if you frequently find yourself overcome with difficult-to-resist urges to buy stuff that your rational mind considers a low-utility use of your money? I guess I'm lucky to not suffer from that problem much?

What are your goals here, and how are you trying to achieve them?

Is this supposed to be a way to save money? If so, maybe this strategy makes sense if you frequently find yourself overcome with difficult-to-resist urges to buy stuff that your rational mind considers a low-utility use of your money?

This is a fairly common problem. Mostly with girls–it's kind of a Western-cultural thing for girls to go shopping "for fun" and get pleasure from acquiring stuff, which they won't necessarily use frequently. I don't have this problem either, mostly because my threshold for actually buying stuff is really high and I've integrated "being thrifty and good at saving money" as part of my self-concept. But I observe it a lot.

There's also the aspect that using stuff is a good way to increase your day-to-day physical pleasure. A cloak feels nice on your skin, it's warm, it's comfy, etc...and reminding yourself to use it increases the amount of attention you pay to those simple, easy-to-obtain pleasures.

Just a passing thought: frequency of use shouldn't be the only criterion we use to judge whether something was a good purchase or not. Obviously if it breaks before you ever use it, then it was a poor purchase, but if you buy something durable & only use it once in a blue moon, but it lasts forever, I don't think that is such a mistake. I guess this is also contingent upon how much storage space you have & how much you value minimalism.
I like to think of it as purchasing "the experience of shopping", and it's quite pleasant for me. I just avoid bringing home anything that would be problematic to own :)
Agreed. My own epiphany of shopping came to me when I realised I could treat shops like art-galleries... containing many beautiful things that I could look at all day - but was under no obligation to actually buy and take home.
I object to your attributing this failure mode mostly to women, without additional support.

I've witnessed a lot of men having this failure mode in the form of buying new computer games (particularly from services like Steam or Good Old Games) when they still have loads of completely unplayed old ones. Or buying lots of books and only reading a small part of them.

I don't expect the one about books to be substantially more common among men than among women. (As for me, I once resolved to never buying a book before finishing reading the previous one (or giving up), to prevent that. Now I'm more lenient with myself about that, but I still try to avoid bookstores when I have more than half a dozen books in the ‘queue’ -- including electronic ones.)
Sure, but women doing shop therapy codes as normative in Western society, while guys overbuying boardgames is considered inexplicable by society as a whole. Swimmer963 doesn't need to endorse the normative desireability of this gendered social setup to note its existence, especially when she explicitly noted the cultural context.
I was talking about what people actually do, as opposed to what the cultural attitudes to it are. (Note that "it's kind of a Western-cultural thing" can be interpreted to refer to either - I'm not sure which of the two interpretations Swimmer963 had in mind.)
I'm myself someone who ends up with this "failure mode", but I do like the empowerment from having a bunch of unplayed games at my disposal to choose from according to whatever mood or wants I have at that particular time. Not to mention the ability to instantly play any of these with friends if some of them have one of them and the game has coop/multiplayer, though with my current internet bandwidth that's much less of an issue than it used to be. However, this doesn't seem like it's nearly on the same scale. Steam probably has a much larger userbase than GoG, and based on the stats I've seen fairly recently it would seem that less than 3% of Steam's 8 million "active" users actually own more than 500$ worth of steam games, which I consider a pretty decent guesstimate as for how much one would usually have to spend before we can consider them more likely to fall into this failure mode. Those est.-250 000 people seem somewhat of a very minor problem compared to the tens-if-not-hundreds of millions of women falling into the failure mode of "shopping".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haul_video comes to mind.
I think it's shifting from thinking about buying something to possess it, or to just have it on hand in your magical bag of holding, and actually buying it to use and experience it. I think the muffin tin example was a little more helpful, since the problem is you haven't trained yourself to spot muffin-baking opportunities. Similarly, I might think "Oooh, sweater-weather" not cloak-weather until I build up a new habit. So, I'll make smarter purchases if I think about the times I want to trigger "I should use this!" ahead of time and make sure they exist, and I'll actually make good on my pre-commitment if I try and train those triggers. It's not penance, it's just habit-making.

I would add artificially extending the wait time to purchase. Some time ago I read a study (that I can no longer find) that correlated a decline in consumer satisfaction with an increase in credit based purchases. We no longer pine at the store window for months saving up to buy X. Which probably has two effects: when you finally get it, it feels much more satisfying (like the first meal after starving for a week is probably the best meal you have ever had), also, in the three months it takes you to save up to buy a super-left-handed-water-redehydrator, you might have the chance to use one at a friend's house and realize you don't really like it.

My top three satisfying purchases (which happen to all be vehicles) were all acquired after protracted waiting periods, one of which was nearly three years.

My rule of thumb is that I generally don't buy an X for myself unless I've tried living without it, then borrowed a friend's X and found it helpful. This mainly applies to cooking and hiking instruments. And I try really really hard to not buy yarn (for knitting) without a project in mind.

Number 2 sounds suspiciously like a sunk cost fallacy to me. (And you don't appear to realize you're allowed to give stuff away/sell stuff/throw away stuff you don't want.)

Number 2 sounds suspiciously like a sunk cost fallacy to me.

Actually this statement seems like an example of Yvain's non-central fallacy, since her hacking her mind into enjoying the stuff she bought is not a bad thing unless she ends up buying more junk just because she knows that she can always make having it fun.

I concur. Section 2 is good advice to those who have not previously considered that point of view: Tell Your Brain Who's In Charge. If I ended up grudgingly making muffins with my muffin tin at Illuminati parties just to make it useful, resenting the burden of the process, I could just as easily update on that emotional input, and then sell my muffin tin. It's possible to use this skill intelligently.
Isn't that wireheading?
Isn't that wireheading put to good use?
It doesn't seem so. Can you elaborate?
Because if you found you actually did enjoy using the muffin tin, you could end up in a positive mental state of your choosing, while still having the option to reverse it. That seemed preferable to selling it without experimenting first, although I have heard that cats have met their demise by such methods.
Of course I can give away, sell, or discard things I don't want. I don't see what about the post gave the impression that I'm unaware of that.
You seem to suggest to perform sub-optimal actions to put to use an item just because you happen to own it and to have spent a significant amount of money to acquire it: I'm assuming that if bought your cloak for the same price of a typical sweater, you would preferably use sweaters rather than the cloak. If this assumption is correct, then you are committing the sunk (edited, thanks wedrifid) cost fallacy.
If the cloak had been the price of my typical sweater (which I get from thrift stores), not only would I already own five of them, I would choose between the individual cloaks and sweaters in the same way that I currently choose between just my sweaters (based on what would look best with my outfit). The fact that I give my cloak preference doesn't actually imply sunk-costing, though. I made up my mind to do what I am doing, cloakwise, before I bought the cloak: I wanted the cloak so I came up with a way to ensure that I'd get the relevant amount of value out of it so I could sensibly acquire it. And now I'm done engaging your criticisms; they are tiresome.

From the few comments of yours I've read, I've noticed that you have a pattern of taking criticism as personal attacks.

Nobody here is trying to teach you how to live your life, but if you engage in public discussion, you can't expect your claims to remain unchallenged, whether for good or wrong reasons. If you are offended when you receive criticism on examples taken from your real life, then don't use them.

As army1987 pointed out, the advice you give appears to entail the sunken cost fallacy, and your last answer doesn't seem to refute that: you first committed to acquire the cloak because you "wanted" it, and then you decided to give it a priority that is dystonic with your true preferences (which would be to use the cloak only when it matches the rest of your outfit) in order to retroactively justify your commitment.

Assuming that your cloak is not a Veblen good (which would gain you utility directly from its price due to status signalling), then, if you wanted to be instrumentally rational, you should have based your decision to buy the cloak on the utility you expected to get from it by using it according to your true preferences, irrespective on its price, and then compare it to the expected utility of other uses of the same amount of money (including savings or donations).

I made up my mind to do what I am doing, cloakwise, before I bought the cloak

As army1987 pointed out, the advice you give appears to entail the sunken cost fallacy, and your last answer doesn't seem to refute that

Read it again. Then keep reading it. Look up sunk cost fallacy again if necessary. You are just trivially wrong.

From the few comments of yours I've read, I've noticed that you have a pattern of taking criticism as personal attacks.

No, she called your criticisms tiresome because they were repetitive, inane and completely unresponsive to her actual words on the subject. Of course there isn't any point in her trying to engage with them further.

Did you decide what you were going to do with the cloak before you bought it, or did you correctly predict what you would do with that cloak if you had it?
I endorse wedrifid's reply. Thanks, wedrifid.
The post seems to be directly advocating deciding to do more things with your stuff and choosing stuff to by that you will be able to successfully make yourself do more stuff with. While it is conceivable that this is rationonalisation all the way down it would be polite to accept the explicit testimony that she made up her mind before the purchase. If this is to be denied then it would need to be done by questioning whether some part of the post represents formalising rationalisation. Because whatever else it is clear that Alicorn's testimony in the replies is entirely consistent with the great big essay she wrote on the subject. ie. It can't coherently be said of the post "If true, this represents execution of the sunk cost fallacy". It would be coherent (albeit rather implausible) to claim of the post "This post represents a failure of Luminosity#Living_Luminously_by_Alicorn). You really just use stuff due to the sunk cost fallacy and are now writing a post that advocates deliberately buying stuff that you will be able to actively make yourself use more as a mere rationalisation."
Right, I'm just uncertain how to tell the difference between "I want a flannel cloak, and in order to justify the purchase of a flannel cloak, I will wear it when it is not the best thing in my wardrobe." and "I believe that the addition of this flannel cloak to my wardrobe will have a positive net effect." This is because I know it would be awesome for me to have a cloak, but I would have to change my current patterns of behavior in order to wear it regularly. I am one of the people that would leave it in the back of the closet except for special events, and I would not be satisfied with the purchase of a cloak. I am not someone for whom the addition of a cloak would be a net positive. I also know that I could decide to change, and instead wear a cloak often enough that the investment was justified. I could choose to change into the kind of person who gets value out of wearing a cloak. I don't know what other changes would be associated with that- and without a lot more information on which to gauge the expected results of changing the kind of person I am, I won't do it. I was trying to determine if the particular anecdote I just encountered was an example of someone changing their habits knowingly and in advance, or someone who simply knew what their habits were already going to be, and made a correct value judgement. ... The opening of that section starts with the idea of 'change into the person who will benefit from the decisions you have made', while the closing is very much 'correctly evaluate whether you will benefit from the decisions you are about to make'.
Consider it as a basic optimisation algorithm. You evaluate the expected utility of your life if you buy the cloak and compare it to the expected utility when you do not buy the cloak. Answering the first question requires recursing to the optimisation of how you will live your life assuming you have the cloak. Because naturally the utility you wish to estimate is the utility of having the cloak assuming you use it well, not the utility of the cloak assuming you use the cloak to suffocate babies. Here some of the principles of "Min-Max" come into play. That means not assuming that we have perfect control of all future actions but instead making a realistic assessment of how we will behave, with other parts being partially modeled as agents with different incentives in a game. For instance if I happened to assign ten quintillion utility to me making muffins every day for the next sixty years and yet know that even if I buy a muffin tin I'm still not going to make muffins I will choose to not buy a muffin tin. This is the same reasoning that applies when I am playing chess and white opens with F3---I don't instantly move E5 under the expectation that white will move to G4, because that isn't likely to happen. But if I know that if I buy a kettlebell I will do kettlebell swings regularly as well as show it off to my sports-nerd friends and family then I will choose to buy kettlebell. Overall this means "Make purchases where you predict that you will change into (or already be) a person who gets a net benefit from having made that purchase".
If you assign some amount of utility to making muffins, and then choose not to make muffins, then you are either failing to optimize for utility, or assign some larger amount of utility to something which is mutually exclusive with making muffins. What you have just described is correctly predicting your future actions, not deciding what your future actions will be for the purpose of reducing the negative effects of an action which would otherwise be a short-term benefit followed by a long-term harm. I predict that I would benefit greatly from buying a cloak, but I would be harmed more in the long term from having to keep and maintain a cloak that I rarely used. Without hacking myself, I would rarely use a cloak, and that is why I haven't purchased one. I thought I saw someone who had managed to to hack their own future preferences for a purpose similar to my own, and was trying to confirm if that was the case and if so gather a data point from which to evaluate the expected results of imitation. It appears as though I just found someone who made the same decision based on simple evaluation of the expected results, without a prior attempt to alter the expected results. And while my opinions regarding cloaks are literally true, my final goal isn't to decide whether to buy a cloak, but to practice in a low-risk environment like garb the skills required for high-risk behavior with multiple complicating factors.
But she specifically stated that she would use that cloak less often if she had paid less for it. Since we are not talking about a luxury item that you can display in public for a status signalling effect that increases with its price, this means she is behaving suboptimally according to her own preferences in order to retroactively justify the expenditure. She may have planned to do that before she actually bought the cloak, but this is irrelevant: in principle you could plan ahead all your actions and turn yourself into a lookup table, but you can still commit the sunk (edited, thanks wedrifid) cost fallacy.
I believe you are mistaken for the reasons previously explained in redundant detail. I have indicated my support of the decision algorithm suggested by the post and reasonable interpretations thereof in as much as it represents a coherent strategy for optimising the preferences the author indicates that she has. (I reserve judgement as to what extent the specific behavioral suggestions can be generalised to either all people or to myself in particular. I lack evidence regarding either.) I do not believe this conversation will be able to progress beyond further repetitions of "She said use the sunk cost fallacy", "No, that isn't the strategy advocated at all, and you don't understand what the term means". I suspect readers would prefer that I did not spam them in that manner.
It's not the sunk cost fallacy- The cloak IS the best thing in the wardrobe to wear. The cloak, minus $80, is a net positive; the question I am trying to answer is "Would the cloak and -$80 have been a net positive without the prior commitment?"
The point is whether it is the best thing to wear because of its price. If it is, then it's a sunk cost fallacy, if it isn't then there is no fallacy. According to my interpretation of what the OP said, in particular: the fallacy seems be present. Anyway, for the purpose of this discussion, the actual OP thought processes aren't of particular interest: we are not here to decide whether to award Alicorn a rationality badge. What matters is whether the general form of the argument is correct or fallacious.
1) buy a new spatula and use it = positive utility 2) buy a new spatula, then forget it exists = negative utility 3) never buy the spatula = neutral The ideal situation is #1. Alicorn is describing a fix to the common failure state, which is #2. Using this technique should result in either #3 (you won't use the item and therefor don't buy it) or #1 (you remember to use it) The issue is that to get $80 worth of value from the cloak, you have to remember to use it. This will require changing habits that would previously have relied on other possessions (in Alicorn's case, sweaters). For some people and some purchases, people forget to evaluate this. Alicorn has developed a technique that makes her aware of this requirement, helps her evaluate whether she really will remember to use it, and then further helps her to actually use it. I think you're confusing commitment with the sunk cost fallacy. Alicorn is committing to using a new wardrobe algorithm, which will properly value the cloak. Her old algorithm would undervalue it, because it wasn't designed to handle "I have a cloak". The sunk cost fallacy applies only if Alicorn continues wearing the cloak despite it being a reduction in utility; everything she has said here seems to indicate that wearing the cloak increases her utility; she just has to be careful to remember it as an option.
If the cloak is the best thing to wear because of its price, it still isn't sunk cost. It's when the cloak is worn because of its cost, despite not being the best thing in the wardrobe, that sunk cost applies. In poker, if I raise $80 on a value bet, and an opponent raises that by $1 (causing me to update the chances that I have a better hand), it is sunk cost to figure "There is a 1% chance that I will win the pot, but I've already put in $80 so I might as well lose another dollar". It is perfectly rational to figure "There is a 1% chance that I will win the pot, and the pot will contain $162 dollars if I risk $1, and that call will end further betting. I expect +$.62 dollars from calling, and +0 dollars from folding."
That's what I meant.
It's almost exactly the opposite of what you wrote.
I'm not sure what we are exactly disagreeing about. I'm assuming that the cloak is not a Veblen good, hence the utility of wearing it is not correlated with its price. What do you mean by "best thing in the wardrobe"?
"The best thing in the wardrobe" is that which, when worn today, will have the highest expected utility.
If the price correlates with the amount of effort you put into convincing yourself to enjoy wearing it, and that effort correlates with how much you enjoy wearing the cloak later on, then yes the price is correlated with the utility of wearing the cloak. If this price-causes-effort-causes-enjoyment chain brings the total net utility of the cloak from "not the best thing" to "the best thing", then you're still winning because there was a potential profit margin in the enjoyment compared to the price and effort costs, and you took the opportunity to make some utilitarian profit.
Can you please explain this to me, in PM if necessary? I've read all your comments on this thread, and I still seem to be fairly convinced the sunk cost fallacy is in play. I might just be pattern matching "I spent X on it, so...", which seems to be the only requirement for the sunk cost fallacy. If the difference is planning, it still seems like the plan involves "My brain will fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy, so let me trick it into doing what I want using sunk costs".
Making commitments doesn't mean that you are engaging in the sunk cost fallacy. Let's say I want to exercise every day in the next week for 30 minutes. I could promise you to pay you $1000 if I don't fulfill my goal. Making that promise will increase the likelihood that I will exercise every day. You have to ask yourself two things: "What's the value of the increased likelihood of exercising for yourself?" and "What's the likelihood of having to pay the $100. What's the expected cost of making the commitment?" If being healthy is really valuable for yourself the benefit of the increased likelihood of exercising might be $75 for you. The chance of losing the money might be 0.25 and therefore cost you an expected $25. The net value of making that commitment is $50. It's a good idea to make the commitment contract. Alicon advocates to make a commitment when buying an item. This commitment is supposed to have two advantages: 1) Increasing the expected utility in case of buying the item. 2) Decreasing the chance that she makes a bad buying decision. It should be fairly trival to see that 2) is true. Determining whether 1) is true is more complicated. It's about far mode vs. near mode and about the value of focusing attention. Alicorn doesn't use a formal commitment contract for her robe. She would feel a bit of emotional pain if she would valuate her commitment. For illustration purposes let's imagine she would use a commitment contract. She would take a friend and say: "If I don't wear the robe 10 times in the next three month I will pay you $100". Let's say we have the last day of the three month and she wore a robe 9 times. She needs to wear the robe today or lose the $100 dollar. Today, she's interviewing for a new job. If she wears the robe to the interview she expects to have lower chances of getting the job. She estimates the costs of wearing the robe to the interview as $200. If she still decides to wear the robe she's commiting a fallacy. That doesn't me
The scenario you describe seems relevantly different from the one Alicorn described. I completely understand how commitment contracts are helpful, and even though they rely on (or are necessitated by) human cognitive flaws, the sunk cost fallacy is not among them. In your scenario, at time #10 you're making the rational decision between wearing the robe today and $100. In a parallel scenario to this one based on what Alicorn did, you instead would pay the $100 ahead of time and then (for some reason) be committed to wearing it 10 times. Now, what decision are you making at time #10 that is similar to the case above?
I also believe the same thing with respect to you. I suppose we can't resolve this disagreement, so we can close this discussion.
These aren't really in tension. Do you want to bake muffins? Then arrange to bake muffins. Do you not want to bake muffins? Then don't buy a muffin tin. Do you want to have and benefit from a cloak? Then acquire and arrange to wear a cloak. Do you not want to have and benefit from a cloak? Then don't acquire a cloak. The failure mode we wish to avoid is "want to use thing, wind up not actually using thing".
Thank you- what you have just described, in terms of my original question, is that you correctly predicted that you would wear that cloak and acquire significant value from it. Perhaps it might be better off described as "Get into the habit of doing the things that you believe are optimal." If you get into the habit of not baking muffins because you don't have a muffin tin, then getting a muffin tin will not break the habit of not baking. The step 'break the habit of not doing something you want to do' is pretty important in acquiring value out of an item which enables you to do something that you want to do. I suspected, however, that your actual advice was 'change so that you want to do things so that you can acquire value from things which enable you to do those things'.
Planning ahead of time to perform sub-optimal actions would seem to require a different label to "Sunk Cost Fallacy", assuming said actions would, in fact, be sub-optimal.
Throwing The Cost In The Sea Fallacy?
We could customize it to "Muffin Making Modification"!
"People are crazy, the world is mad!" does tend to work as a generic catch-all. It perhaps lacks a little a specific descriptor.
Planned sunk (edited, thanks wedrifid) cost fallacy?

Planned sunken cost fallacy?

Or perhaps the "It's Just Not A Sunk Cost Fallacy When You Have Not Sunk Cost And For Crying Out Loud It Is 'Sunk' Not 'Sunken' I've Been Trying To Correct That Subtly" fallacy?

The sunk cost fallacy is taking into account costs that have already incurred and are unrecoverable when making your current decision. Planning your decisions ahead of time is merely an optimization: in order to do it correctly, you have to plan each decision according to the world state that you expect to occur when that decision is to be executed. In the cloak example, in world states where a decision between wearing the cloak and wearing a sweater is to be executed, the price of the cloak and the price of the sweaters are sunk costs, thus they should not affect the decision.
Instead, just assume that if she had not found excuses to wear the cloak, she would use sweaters rather than the cloak. This could be chosen by habit rather than considered preference.
So why did she mention the price of the cloak as a relevant factor?

I'm of the opinion that objects are like beliefs in that they should pay rent. If they don't, get rid of them. If I'm on the fence about acquiring something I often ask how it will pay rent. If it won't, the problem is solved.

Key concept: "generally useful" versus "actually useful". I find the former to be another term for "not useful".

I find it poignant that you had to expend >1000 words to tell people "obtain my consent before using my gift receiving for your pleasure".

Sometimes I hate this society.

As someone who accidentally started hedonic treadmilling recently, this is useful to me.

I would add a skill, that works quite well at least for me : buy things that emotionally connect with happy moments of your life. It could take many shapes - souvenirs from holidays, D&D manuals that reminds you the fun you had playing the game, an object that reminds you of someone or the great moment you had with someone (like my chess set, I used to play chess with my grandfather, I didn't play it much in the 15 years since he died, but every time I look at my chess set, I remember the games with him). The same goes with presents - many presents I g... (read more)

Any thoughts about optimizing book ownership?

Electronic copies of every book and a reader you actually enjoy reading books on. I was surprised to find a Blackberry phone doing a decent job of being the latter, a much better job than my laptop did - I read all the time now, whereas I have paper books by my bedside I haven't opened in a year. YMMV, this is a highly personal thing.
I'm finding my new Nexus 7 tablet a very good book reading device. Small enough to carry in a pocket and hold with one hand, and has enough resolution and screen space to display almost any sensible PDF readable in full page view. I just gave away my older 10" PDF reading tablet (Acer A500) after not having booted it once since getting the N7. I moved apartment this month and didn't bring over any paper books or a bookshelf. I doubt I will either. A single SD card is much nicer to carry around than a few bookshelves worth of books.
Depends on: * whether you like reading on screens * how often you reread * how many friends you have who a) have similar tastes and b) reliably return borrowed objects * how much living space you have to work with * how convenient you are to a library * your finances, and * to what extent you enjoy books as decor.
Add also: * which kind of books you want and their intended form of reading * how often you will want to search the contents * how often you might want to refer to the contents when applicable, such as reference books * whether you have the urge to press ctrl+f whenever you want to find something in a long text * how likely you are to immediately look up the definition of a word (perhaps in another tab or window) as opposed to just keep on reading and infer from context * other stuff that's easier to do when you've already got the text in electronic format and have direct access to search and lookup tools
Buy all of them. (More seriously, I go back and forth on this. My books are some of my favorite possessions, so long as I'm not moving- but every time I move, I get that much closer to switching to a Kindle.)

My default position towards things is hate. I hate stuff. It gets dusty, it has to be managed, it takes up space. A room with lots of stuff in it is cognitively difficult for the brain to process; having lots of stuff around actually drains your mental energy.


I generally dislike owning things that I can't physically carry with me at all times (because "if you don't have something with you, owning it probably hasn't made you more powerful"). Consequently, the majority of what I own I carry with me. The only real... (read more)

I generally dislike owning things that I can't physically carry with me at all times (because "if you don't have something with you, owning it probably hasn't made you more powerful").

This seems false on all sorts of levels.

  • I own a kettlebell. It makes me literally and figuratively stronger.
  • I have shelves full of performance enhancing substances. They make me stronger and not all of them require that I have them with me or even have a dose currently in my system.
  • The Nuclear ICMB that I own is too big to carry around but being able to have it launched at will (or even if I fail to report in with a don't-launch code at regular intervals) certainly makes me more powerful.
  • I can't carry a mansion with me, or a racehorse, yacht or business. Yet owning these things changes the way people perceive me and makes them more likely to do what I want. That is power.
  • Owning the tools of my professional trade has made me more powerful---they allow me to earn more money. I don't carry them with me at all times.
  • Owning jacket suitable for wet and cold conditions increases my power---it means I can go to cold wet places without getting cold. I don't carry with it with me when it's summer at the beach. I carry my surfboard instead. Generalising this principle I can't use all my power at once, so I only carry the power enhancing objects that are relevant to the immediate task.
The phrasing I used there is indefensible, but the general idea I'm trying to get at is that many people acquire tons of things which in theory increase their power but in practise don't because they are never on hand when needed. Added to this are the tons of things many people acquire whose uselessness goes unnoticed because of a general failure to criticize potential acquisitions for power increasing ability at all.
Remind me not to get on your bad side.
Or, I suppose, live within the fallout radius of anyone on my bad side
That, too.
I have a question about this, but I decided to put it in the open thread.

Link us to your Etsy cloak provider?

Here 'tis. Apparently I misremembered the price; there were a few dollar amounts batted back and forth before she determined how much what I wanted would cost. I'll edit my post.

With regards to number 1:

When I need something non-essential I put an alert up for it on slickdeals. Eventually a good deal on some version of what I want will be posted. This has had several effects:

  1. reduction in time preference (this has huge ripple effects).
  2. increase in acquisition threshold resulting in less ownership of non-essentials.
  3. bonus fuzzies both for being able to be patient and getting good deals on things.

Shopping for things in bulk is also an opportunity to practice this skill. If I don't want 200 of it do I actually need it?


My model of people reading this article has some of them wasting time doing things they don't enjoy that much because they bought something for thing they assume they should enjoy. Then they still go and buy something like that next time.

I like your advice even if it is based just on anecdote, I just am not sure what the fraction of those who will use it properly is.

I'm having trouble owning a desktop gaming PC these days. With the form factor of personal computers having gone from the traditional "mini-fridge" to a much nicer "deck of cards" or "thick envelope", I don't really like having to have a giant box and a mess of peripherals and wires that could fit right in a late 1980s computer den around just so that I can play graphics-intensive modern commercial games. I can do all actually useful stuff like reading, writing and coding on a laptop or a tablet, as well as do all the entertai... (read more)

The loved one just got her other boyfriend's cast-off laptop: a Dell XPS M170 gaming laptop from 2006. The key attraction is the 17" 1920x1200 screen and the decent graphics card. Uses: art, gaming, movies. Weight: 4kg. Not quite convenient, but can in fact be used in one's lap. I must say, I've found 11-inch gaming laptops a temptation (though I still think of laptops as things one's employer pays for).
This is all somewhat ironic, considering I just bought a desktop PC specifically to start gaming again.
I just bought a new laptop specifically with gaming in mind. Seems to work great, though I've only tried it with XCOM so far.
My laptop could run Fallout 3 pretty well with minimal settings back when I had Windows as the primary OS. I'm not going back after switching to Linux though, which leaves Wine and dual booting. I've been meaning to get a SSD drive, which would be pretty small for dual boot. There seems to be a general slightly higher annoyance level in getting a diverse set of games running on a laptop.
Yes, this is a good solution too. I have a friend / extended-family-member who converted to laptops exclusively around 8 years ago, but still buys big power-house gaming laptops with large screens. Some creative desktop arrangements allow him to put down the laptop to use as a screen+mainbox, while plugging in large external drives, keyboard and mouse using eSata and USB ports, for whenever he wants to do some "real gaming". Unplug all three and you've still got a laptop to carry around, though obviously it's a bit larger than most laptops and the laptop itself costs a lot more than normal.
Possible approaches: 1. Unplug your gaming PC and put it in a closet for a week. See how your time use changes. 2. Investigate getting really long monitor / keyboard / mouse cables, so you can have the desktop PC somewhere besides your workstation, but still have low-ping access to it from your workstation. (Alternatively, remote into it from elsewhere, though this may run into graphics issues.) 3. Become at peace with the space it takes up around your workstation.
I think I already often go weeks without turning the machine on. I have a lot of fun whenever I get into a game, but it doesn't happen often.

famous dinner parties at which the Illuminati congregate.

Upvoted. Your sense of humor is just awesome. Unless this is one humongous Fnord.

This idea is absolutely brilliant, especially #2 on the list, personally I need to ensure that I actually start consciously making the connection between owning things and having them around to use.

I've been cutting back on video game purchases because they make them faster than I can beat them. My Backloggery is something of a testament to the relative speed of acquisitions vs. completions. In other words, I've turned into this guy, only more so, without actually meaning to.

I find playing the best liked games from three years ago sort of optimal. 1. Looking back the best games of 2010 or 2009 are easier to identify 2. Fully patched pirated versions are around 3. You can run them on a reasonably priced laptop.
I'm mostly a console gamer, actually, aside from Magic Online. And I probably spend more time playing handhelds than anything else, because I don't have to compete with my parents for the TV and can play them in bed at night (and turn them off easily when I get tired and want to sleep). I did get a gaming-quality PC not too long ago, though.
Xkcd Sorry, can't hyperlink from phone. ---------------------------------------- Edit: hyperlinked ---------------------------------------- Edit before retraction: As Kindly points out below, reading comprehension FAIL from me.
The xkcd link format is really easy - http://xkcd.com/606/ isn't too hard to type.
Ok, lesson learned - don't post a comment that requires a link if I'm not able to make the hyperlink because I can't copy and paste. That's a silly rule, but at least it is easy to follow.
A less silly rule is to read the parent of the comment you're replying to so that the comment thread does not turn into a Markov chain of order 1. (That is, I don't believe that the hyperlink thing is the reason you were downvoted; most likely it is that CronoDAS had already linked to the same comic.)


Any relation to the Bayesian Conspiracy?

No, it's a reference to the fact that Eliezer appears to use the parties as focus groups and this is silly.

Wow. This is particularly interesting to me, because I already felt this way without knowing why, not having consciously examined the feeling. I know that I already felt uncomfortable around gift-giving holidays, and this provides context to that; I don't particularly enjoy receiving incorrect things, and indeed, I have several boxes full of incorrect things following me around that I can't get rid of (even if I can't think of any reason to have or use a thing, it feels like losing hit points to dispose of it). For the same reason, I feel uncomfortable ... (read more)

I find the following difficult to parse:

I think people who are not made happier by having things have the wrong things, or have them incorrectly.

The phrase "having things have the wrong things" is a grammatically valid noun phrase, and it took me >10s to figure out why the sentence [looks to me like it] is missing a predicate.

For my own part, I think I'm one of those people who is not made happier by having things have the wrong things. Although I'll admit it amuses me sometimes, depending on what wrong things those things have.
Would it help if I added an ellipsis between "having things" and "have the wrong things"?
You could make it an explicit "either . . . or." I.e. "I think that people who are not made happier by having things either have the wrong things or have them incorrectly."
Insert "tend to" after "having things".
I would go with "having things either have the wrong things or have them incorrectly." Possibly keep the comma to match speech patterns / make it slightly clearer, though I think it looks better without it.

If money doesn't buy you happiness, you don't have enough money.

For example, what would you do if you had ten billion dollars ? Some people would answer, "I'd buy my own zoo !" or whatever, but the real answer is, "I would never work again; instead, I'd pursue whatever projects I found interesting“. That kind of freedom could enable you to be quite happy.

I'm not sure if this kind of experience scales to lower amounts of money; there's probably a minimum threshold above which wealth becomes entirely self-sustaining, and below which you'd sti... (read more)

That kind of money would certainly enable happiness, but I doubt it'd reliably cause happiness. Suddenly removing the need to ever work again, without developing the mental habits needed to exploit that freedom, sounds like a recipe for boredom and listlessness.

I get the impression that money is important to happiness mainly insofar as it affects people's locus of control. That explains the data pretty well: lower-income individuals are on average likely to feel less control over their lives and thus to be less happy, but where we find exceptions to that rule (i.e. broke college kids) we find happier populations. More money implies more options and also a cultural presumption of agency (which hasn't been researched much but probably should be). Above a certain point, though, we hit diminishing returns: an upper-middle-class income gives you more options than a middle-class income, but the diffs are smaller. Eventually they're drowned out by uncorrelated noise: happiness set points, habits, accidents, non-financial life choices.

This predicts that uncorking a $10^10 financial genie wouldn't much affect most people's happiness. As far as I know, windfalls of that magnitude are so rare that there's no data to speak of, but there is a pretty good record of happiness research on lottery winners that seems to back this up on a smaller scale.

I'm not sure what the difference is, practically speaking. You say: I agree with you there, but all that money could also buy you the freedom (plus any external help you may need) to acquire those habits. Agreed, but then, a million-dollar income would enable many more options, with many more differences. The price/performance curve is not linear, but IMO it does increase monotonically. I haven't read the article yet, but what it says about contrast effects sounds reasonable. That said, I don't know what they mean by "happiness from mundane events". How mundane are we talking about ? For example, I was relatively happy after managing to unclog my toilet, but I'd be even happier if I never had to worry about clogged toilets ever again.
The difference is necessary vs. sufficient. Money and most purchasable goods aren't a significant source of happiness as best I can tell, and neither is freedom as such. Lower incomes constrain your happiness by increasing your sensitivity to negative externalities and probably also by way of status effects, but removing those constraints doesn't lead reliably to a happy life; granted, I'd expect the miserable millionaire trope to be at least partly sour grapes, but I'm sure there are plenty of independently wealthy people out there that never developed the skills to be happy. Particularly if we're talking old money, since I'd expect people who grew up with that level of privilege to respond poorly to any minor disruption. A billion dollars would give you all the freedom you need to be happy -- but going from that to "a billionaire must be unusually happy", or even "most billionaires are unusually happy", seems to depend on a lot more self-awareness and agency than I think most people of any income actually have. I also doubt there's much of a discontinuity in the income-to-happiness curve when income reaches what Neal Stephenson called "fuck-you money"; if there was, we'd expect the lottery winner results to look different.
One thing I muse over sometimes in the context of billionaires is that, by and large, we should expect them to be strange and often unhappy people - simply because anyone more normal and well-adjusted would have stopped at, say, $10 million and $10 million typically doesn't accidentally turn into billions. Continuing past the point where all one's real needs are met indicates a bizarrely low estimate of the utility of switching to consumption and away from earning additional money (or perhaps the inability to stop working).
Having worked for / talked to some people who became decamillionaires or higher through startups, a common theme seems to be just being really competitive. They don't care too much about money for money's sake - that's just what we currently use to send the signal "your startup is doing something we really like" in our society.
Or they just enjoy working... I've read quite a few accounts of work being a fairly meaningful part of life, and when you're worth billions, you probably run the company, set your own dress code, can casually fire anyone that annoys you, etc.. I'd also suggest that being a billionaire and enjoying your work probably go hand in hand - it would explain why so many of them work 80+ hours a week...
1Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
Agreed that being a billionaire and enjoying work go hand in hand–obviously they enjoyed it enough to put in the work required to earn billions. It's not impossible that someone could say "well, I sort of got dragged into working 80-hour weeks running my company and making billions, but I wish I'd just worked 9-5 for $100,000 a year and spent my leisure time doing x, y, z." But I doubt you hear it often–if they were the kind of person who enjoyed leisure activities more than working, earning, and promotions, they probably would have ended up in the 9-5 job by default–it's hard to accidentally get to be a billionaire.
7Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
I think this is unlikely to be the case (that "well-adjusted" people would stop at $10 million), because the processes that lead you to earn $10 million, i.e. being the CEO of a major corporation, aren't things you just quit doing because you felt like "switching to consumption." Also, the type of person who is ambitious and self-driven enough to earn $10 million is likely to be someone who enjoys the process of their work more than consumption anyway. I don't expect I'll ever earn $10 million, so that is a moot point, but if it happened you could earn millions of dollars working as a nurse, I wouldn't quit nursing just because all my "needs" were met. A lot of my needs (emotional, self-worth, social life) are met at work. Maybe an "inability to stop working" is an adequate description–but how is that unhealthy compared to, say, an inability to stop watching sci-fi movies? If your job provides a significant part of the meaning in your life, it wouldn't make sense to quit it and live a life of luxury. And high earning jobs (like being a CEO), although stressful, are probably much more "meaningful" than sitting in an office all day, at least to the type of people who are likely to succeed in those jobs.
Well, yes, I wouldn't expect billionaires to be normal, but I don't see why that implies unhappiness.
Lottery winners have different problems. Mostly that sharp changes in money are socially disruptive, and that lottery players are not the most fiscally responsible people on Earth. It's a recipe for failure.
It's trivially true that multiplying the amount of money you have by 10,000 will probably make you much happier, but the interesting question is whether this is the easiest or most efficient route to increasing happiness. Since most people have no practical path to acquiring ten billion dollars, and most people could learn to enjoy their possessions more, Alicorn's piece is quite useful.
2Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
Why is there this cultural assumption that everyone dislikes their job and would do something else if they had the option? I honestly think that if I had ten billion dollars, I would continue to do a lot of the things I currently get paid to do, only for fun. This has a lot to do with the way my brain's motivational system works–if I'm not in a structured environment, my default is to mess around doing random stuff that doesn't output much of value, which I don't endorse myself doing and which I don't actually find all that pleasurable (although it is a good way to recharge when I'm exhausted.) Work provides a structured environment, and it's not all that hard to modify the environment a little bit and yourself a little bit to enjoy work more. Maybe this isn't attainable for everyone–there are some jobs I wouldn't want to do–but given that most people do have to work, shouldn't enjoying it be more of a goal?
While not everyone dislikes their job, many if not most people do. Although "dislike" is not the same as "burning hatred"; many people are content with doing their jobs, but would still prefer to do something else if given freedom to do so. I have no idea what you do, so I can't comment on your exact situation. My guess is that, if you were freed from life-support tasks such as earning money to buy food and shelter, and spending time to prepare and maintain said food and shelter -- then you would, at the very least, have more hours in the day to spend on doing those things you enjoy. This is only a guess, though. I should add that another interesting effect of having an extremely large supply of money (one that I didn't cover in my original comment) is that you can now perform activities that are categorically different from the activities that a middle-class person can engage in. An ordinary middle-class citizen can study astronomy in his spare time -- or, if he's lucky, during the course of his main job. A multi-billionaire can launch his own space program. I don't know whether it should be or not, morally speaking, but I do acknowledge that it's a reasonable goal. If you find yourself spending a lot of time on doing things you don't enjoy, and you cannot change the things you do due to the lack of money, then changing yourself to enjoy those things is a practical solution.
5Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
I'm currently a student in my last year of nursing school. The best job I've ever had was this summer, as part of a program where Ontario hospitals hire 3rd year nursing students to work as non-reglemented health care providers and follow a nurse around on a unit of their choice. I got my first choice, which was the intensive care unit, and I was excited to go to work for every shift–including night shifts. I was sad when my every other weekend off came around, because that meant 2 whole days of not being up to date on what was happening on the unit. I think the reason I liked that job so much, and expect to love nursing as a career, is that it involves all five senses in a way that your standard office job doesn't. I rarely got to sit down at work. I saw some of the most interesting things I've ever seen in my life. Being someone who is basically immune to disgust–I don't know if I really know what being "grossed out" feels like–and who has quite a poor sense of smell, was likely helpful. I acquired a reputation of being extremely curious and wanting to help everyone, and the nursing staff happily answered all my questions and would come find me to show me anything interesting. The staff was also awesome–I was surrounded by motivated people who liked being busy and hated being bored. I also had tons of awesome anecdotes to relate to my (usually grossed-out) friends and family. I found it personally meaningful, being there to make a difference in people's lives. And I learned a lot–working there for the summer gave me a huge advantage going into my fourth year of nursing school. So some of it is likely the fact that nursing in general, and ICU nursing in particular, is hardly ever boring–if I worked in an office doing spreadsheets and answering emails, I probably wouldn't like going to work as much. But it's also the fact that little things make me disproportionately happy. I've really liked working as a lifeguard and swim instructor at a community pool, too, and
I think what you intended to say is "There are a lot of things which would make people happy, except that they are not financially feasible." Also, when discussing amounts of money which approach the GNP of a small country, you can't just 'get' the wealth without there also coming into existence a small country whose GNP you get. For small amounts of wealth, rounding errors in inflation will mask the effect.
Well, the world's current GDP is about 70 trillion dollars. $10 billion is about 0.014% of that, which seems like it'd be within the error bars of at least a consumer-level presentation of its inflation.
$10 billion dollars a year is then roughly 80 minutes of every single person's time, assuming all people are productive 24/365 and all productive time is included in the world GDP; or about 15 minutes of working time for everyone who is included in the world GDP, assuming they average a 2000 work-hour year.

This is relevant to #4 – purchasing experiences are some of my best money well spent, especially eating. You can do so affordable by choosing interesting and tasty restaurants to dine at rather than expensive ones. I often find myself in a conversation with people reminiscing about how awesome a restaurant was. This positive shared experience is constantly brought up again and again; whereas I rarely find myself in a situation where I am reminded about how awesome an object is to me.

I built a system into my Empowerment framework for adding things to a "do not want list" alongside the have and want list for exactly this reason.

I'd like to hear more about your Empowerment framework.

I would add an additional related skill, of deriving happiness from correctly NOT having things.

I do enjoy window shopping and browsing all kinds of goods, but I have learned to tell the difference between liking something and wanting to have it. So actually, most places which are intended by their owners for the sale of consumer goods are for me just museums and art-galleries of weird stuff humans make. It's a lot of fun.

Correction: I have mostly learned this skill. I do still occasionally buy musical instruments that I believe (with very high probability based on previous experience) I will never bother to learn how to play well.


I am still trying to figure out how to Have Computers correctly, because they suffer from this weird constraint where they're only really useful if I can carry them all over, but if I do that I lose them all the time.

(Symptomatically, I'm typing this on your broken/cast-off macbook =P)

The way I keep from leaving my laptop anywhere is to put my car keys in the laptop bag. Barring rides with other people and mass transit, it's impossible to leave your car keys somewhere. And if you travel mass transit, you could leave your wallet in the laptop bag instead. But even if you do travel sans car, you will notice your lack of keys/computer the second you get home, instead of figuring it hours or days later when you try to use the computer. I do this trick with things beside my laptop, like if I'm helping move furniture and don't want to endanger the phone in my pocket, I make sure my car keys are one of the things I remove also. If I'm somewhere else, and there is anything I might leave, my keys are with it. (And this rule also requires that all of my things are in the same place, another good rule in general.) I also do this at home, in a way...I put things I need to remember to take with me on top of my car keys, so I can't take the keys without picking that thing up. (This is obviously not a good plan if you can't keep track of where you leave your keys at home, as it will make them harder to find. But I don't have that problem, I only have one place they ever get left.)
I can't keep track of my keys, and I don't drive. (No car keys, but housekey/mailbox key/office key all fairly important.) So I attached my keychain to the zipper on my wallet, because I basically can't go anywhere without my wallet. Astonishingly, I have not misplaced my keys or my wallet since doing this.
Physically attach the computer to something which is impossible to leave behind, or which provides a physical cue when you walk away from it? I keep my smartphone in a belt holster; it is (almost) always either on the charger, in the holster, or in my hand.
There exist wallet-finders and so on but I haven't used one. Attaching it to a laptop may keep you from forgetting it places, though it might be the sort of thing that's inconvenient enough that you end up not using it.
If you want to attack this from the "quit losing them" angle, one way is to use spaced-repetition software to train you to notice when you're in circumstances where you might be about to walk away without your computer (or whatever your failure mode is). I do something like this to train myself to be mindful whenever I get out of my car. (For context, I drive almost every day.) Specifically: * I have an Anki card that says, "When's the last time you got out of a car? Did you check what you should have?" The back of the card says "Dome light, keys, headlights, lock." * When Anki gives me this card, I score myself well only if I remember getting out of the car and checking the things on my checklist while doing so. I've been doing this for less than three months and it has not fixed my brain yet. But I'm pretty sure it works: Currently I might go up to three days without doing my getting-out-of-car ritual, while previously I might go for months and months at a time without doing it. (I lock my keys in my car around once a year.) I have similar cards for checking the parking brake, doing my leaving-the-house checklist, and putting my car keys in my pocket when I turn the car off but do not immediately get out. (This last is a specific locking-the-keys-in-the-car failure mode for me.)
Or fix the door lock to require a key to lock the door.
Smartphone or tablet, with really snazzy synchronization with your main box?
His phones aren't immune from getting lost (although it's slightly less likely, as they can live in jeans pockets).
There are programs now that make it easier to find them if they're lost, like Find My iPhone. It won't help with all the ways of losing such things, but the left on the bus type scenarios will be reduced.
That, and they're cheaper to replace.