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When Things Become Too Special to Use

When Things Become Too Special to Use

“We have pretty plates that we don’t use until we run out,” she tells me. “But I’ve broken the BUT WE CAN’T USE THOSE habit.”

I laugh.

She tells me that sometimes she grabs one of the fancy china plates and uses it for her brie to cheer herself up. It’s a habit she’s trying to break, she says, always saving things for later because they’re too special to use. Because life’s too short to never use the good stuff. And it seems like that kind of behavior contributes to unhappiness in a massive way.

I smile. “You’re absolutely right,” I say. “In fact, there’s research on it.”

“Oh?” she says. “I’m intrigued by that.”

“It has to do with something called the accrual of specialness.”

The Accrual of Specialness

When I studied consumer psychology back in school† everything I read studied more on consumption. Makes sense, right? It’s in the name — consumers are consuming. Consumers imply consumption. But lately I stumbled onto some research I found fascinating — about nonconsumption. Nonconsumption is actually just as fascinating… it’s when you buy things and don’t use them.

Oh no, I feel attacked. Do you feel attacked?

Listen, like my friend, I have things in my home that I do not use. And I’ve never really been able to drill down into exactly why. The truth is that our relationship with our possessions is often complicated — so it’s not any one thing. But I learned of research that explores a phenomenon called the “accrual of specialness.”

Simply put, when you don’t use things, they take on an aura of “too good to use.” As something continues to be unused, we perceive it as more and more special — and are even less likely to use it.

I don’t have fancy dishes, but I don’t have to search too far to find a blank journal someone else gave me that’s too pretty to write in.



†incidentally since my main focus was social psych, although my favorite stats teacher was an I/O statistician and I found myself reading up more about it just to have better conversations with him


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

Featured Image: PD – Pixabay