I wouldn’t have bought it, but I’d never sell it

Posted by Rob Walker on July 1, 2008
Posted Under: Things/Thinking

Vis a vis the recent discussion here of the endowment effect, useless stuff, and storage space: I just belatedly read (via Treehugger) this NYT piece by Joyce Wadler (a Times favorite of mine, actually), on “The Tyranny of the Heirloom.”

As hard as it may be to dispose of a piece of furniture you bought with the fellow who turned out to be your ex-husband, it is far more difficult to get rid of a piece bequeathed to you by a member of a previous generation, which carries with it not only your memories, but his or hers as well.

[T]urning your back on a grandmother’s tea set or ornate settee can feel like betrayal. Admit to your family you’re thinking of getting rid of such a piece and you’re likely to kick off a family opera, with crescendoing wails of “How could you?” Quite likely, you’ll be torturing yourself with the same question.

Ambivalence and guilt, it seems, are central elements of furniture inheritance, the anchoring pieces around which everything is organized, like the sofa in a living room. Barry Lubetkin, a psychologist and the director of the Institute for Behavior Therapy in Manhattan, has observed this in a number of patients living with inherited furniture they hate. It’s an unhealthy setup, in which people become “slaves to inanimate objects,” he says. “Once you’re defining it as something you can’t get rid of, you’re not in control of your life or your home.”

Of course, as Wadler observers later in the piece, it’s never totally that easy. Even an inherited object you don’t particularly like can be meaningful — and thus hard to part with — anyway. I certainly own a few things that I would never have bought in a million years, for any price, but because they fit into the story of my life in some way (family connection, etc.) I wouldn’t sell them for any price either.

Another great example of how tricky it is to nail down the “value” of an object.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

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