The Stockholm Syndrome, is the phenomenon in which victims display compassion for and even loyalty to their captors. It’s typically associated with dreadful things like kidnappings and abductions. But it’s not too much of a stretch to apply it to our relationship with our possessions, where they are the captors and we, the unwitting victims.
Over time, we make excuses for our things and admit to being comforted by them. Once we own something, we place a higher value on it than we did when we acquired it- “the endowment effect”. Put another way, once an item makes your team, it’s hard to cut it from your team. All well and good if it’s something you need, use and love. But where things begin to unravel is when we afford this same loyalty and status to clutter, odds and ends and junk.
Blame evolution for this odd behavior. Our ancestors lived with chronic scarcity and getting rid of anything was risky business. You might be left cold, hungry and naked. In the affluent world, scarcity is at most an occasional worry. We’re warm, full and well-clad. Yet we’re hardwired to want more. In our overstuffed existence, it’s buying that’s risky business. “Retail therapy” is not what the doctor ordered. That shopping has been medicalized, even tongue in cheek, should give us pause.
Behavioral economists have devised clever experiments that prove we are reluctant to let go of things even if we don’t need them or like them. We are more psychologically and emotionally saddened by letting go of something we don’t like than we were gladdened by acquiring it.
This might sound like a lot of nonsense, but the message is simple: Be careful about what you acquire because it may end up owning you. Holding on to things you don’t like, want or need is one way of protecting yourself from the bad feelings letting go engenders. And it’s also the way to be awash in clutter.
You’ll know you’re in trouble when you start making excuses for your clutter. Can you hear yourself saying, “It’s not that much stuff. I might need this one day. It was a gift from my mother. I already have a lot of piles- one more won’t matter.”? These are common symptoms of the Syndrome.
Has your home become a prison because of your sympathy for your inanimate captors? Does your devotion to the 'mouse and the mall' cloud your better judgment ? If so, the diagnosis may be the Stuff Syndrome.
You wouldn’t willingly welcome a stranger or a dangerous person into your home. Exercise the same vigilance with things.
“Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”
Vin Scully was talking baseball, but the same is true for stuff.