How To Have Things Correctly

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.

Supposedly.

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 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.

I feel like this is a good example of "correctly having" something. Considering that in my whole life I've probably spent less than $50 dollars getting all of those crystals, and that I consider the experience of digging them up to have been easily worth that, it has proven to be one of the most effective ways I have ever used money (in terms of making myself happier). And all without actually believing that they have magic powers or anything like that.

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!

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...?!

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.

participants who knew they could exchange their poster anytime were deprive of this emotional benefit of commitment

Cognitive dissonance FTW. "I cannot return it, so I better enjoy it!"

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.)

This particular post mostly agrees with the received wisdom

It has a funny way of showing it then:

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.

Supposedly.

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.

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 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".

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 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.

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?

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.

Alternately, having all those options might also be a form of poverty, or at least disutility.

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.

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.

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.

You seem to conflate owning with sharing.

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

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

None of those qualify as "potential-ownership", they are a shared-access resource.

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.

In some sense I am the owner of a [...] jet ski [...] because at any time I could go out and buy them if the whim struck hard enough.

(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. :-)

Lots of people derive pleasure from having something others don't, be at an art collection, an antique car or even a partner.

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.

I wonder if other places in the world are more access- rather than ownership-friendly.

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 place zero value on the fact of ownership.

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.

I was irrationally overvaluing the stuff just because it was mine

If you place positive value on the fact of ownership the endowment effect isn't irrational.

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.

anything that anyone does can be considered "rational" just by postulating the right utility function.

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.

realized I was irrationally overvaluing the stuff just because it was mine.

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.

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).

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.

...giving away/smashing to bits/losing/selling.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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 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.