July 25, 2022

You Own Things You Don’t Use And Here Is Why

You own treasures you don't use and here is why and also why this consumer behaviour is important for business owners and marketers.

So today I want to talk about a special kind of clutter: things you have, that you bought, that you really love, but that you don't use. 

Remember to figure out if something is clutter we go through this list, it's 


  • things you don’t use or love
  • things that are untidy or disorganized
  • too many things in a small space
  • unfinished projects or things that need repair

so here I'm talking about the first category, things we don't use or love.

Most of the time we think of things in this category that we don't love and therefore don't use. But today I want to talk about

things that we don't use because we love them so much.

A while back I came across an article that was talking about this and they called it the "Specialness Spiral". How we sometimes buy things but then don't use them, or in the case of clothes and shoes, not wear them. And yes, let me tell you I do have and had stuff like this as well and yes again that is also clutter. 

So the person who wrote the article was talking to Wharton Marketing Professor Jonah Berger. 

Study about Nonconsumption

Professor Berger and Jacqueline Rifkin, assistant marketing professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management did a study and then wrote a paper together called 
How Nonconsumption Can Turn Ordinary Items into Perceived Treasures,” 

They say, that you’d probably find items that you have purchased in the last year or two that you haven’t used yet, like maybe a pair of shoes you were saving for just the right occasion, or the good towels that you only put out for overnight guests which you might not have had because of the pandemic.

In the study they came to the conclusion that if you haven’t used these things by now, there’s a pretty good chance you never will but ends up with piles of clutter. 

Shoes As Treasures

In the article Prof. Berger talked about a pair of 'interview shoes' that he had bought and was wearing for a job interview and then never again. He says he loved them so much that he always passed up wearing them because he wanted to save them for the right occasion. What happened  in the end was that the shoes went out of style and he got rid of them.

That's an example of the specialness spiral.

He goes on to say he noticed this with other items he owned, even socks, and so he was curious if that was just him or if that was a common behaviour. 

In their study Jonah Berger and Jacqueline Rifkin did experiments even with something as ordinary as a $12 bottle of wine. The study showed, that if the participants didn't use an item that one time because they were thinking the occasion is not special enough, they started to see the ordinary item as a little bit more special than before. 

Then because they now saw this item as a little more special when the next opportunity arrived where they could have use the item, they would think “Well, maybe this is not a good enough opportunity,” and didn't use it again. As a result the item becomes again a little more special. The specialness spiral was born. 

This Is Relevant For Business Owners And Marketers

What's really interesting is that this is not just relevant from a clutter accumulating or clutter clearing perspective but also for business owners and marketers. Because the study indicates that it might not be such a good idea for marketers do sell their products as "special" or "exclusive" because that could lead to nonconsumption.

This is not what marketers  and business owners want of course, they want us to not only buy their products once, but also to use them to come back for more.

So I am almost thinking this article was written, and the study was done, to help marketers because if people don't go back to buy more and more they also wouldn't have that much clutter, but that's another topic.

Now over to you: 

Do you have items in your office, home or closet that fall into the category of specialness clutter? 

I can give you some example where this specialness spiral shows up when I help my clients. Just like Prof. Berger that kind of clutter is often in my clients closet or shoe cabinet. They have clothes or shoes they never wear because they're reserved for special occasions and the more they are not wearing these clothes or shoes the more special they become and the less likely they're every goign to wear them. 

Another examples is dishes and silverware that you only use when you have special guests. Growing up that's what my parents and grand parents had, special dishes that were only out maybe on Sundays, holidays but mostly when guests came. But let me tell you, we rarely had guests so basically we never used those dishes. They were just taking up space in the sideboard or buffet how we called it in the dining room.

When I got older we even stopped using them with guests and I thought it was because my parents became more relaxed around having guests over but now I am thinking, maybe these dishes became so extra special that the guests would have had to be real big wigs and we never had guests like that. 

An Example From My Business

I have a special pen, that I haven't used in a long time. It's a Mont Blanc pen, some of you might recognize the name, it's a ridiculous expensive pen, I think I paid over CHF 200 for it 25 plus years ago, when I just googled it I saw $335. 

Why would anyone have such an expensive pen? Well when I was working in corporate that was a status symbol and if I remember right I bought myself this pen after passing the Accounting exams. Back then I used it a lot at work and later when I became a corporate consultant of course I would use it when working with my clients, again to show status. A bit silly when I know think about it, 

What is even more silly is, that since I haven't been really going to clients that much anymore - thank you pandemic - I haven't used the pen, it seems too special to use when I am working alone in my home office. 

Instead I was fighting with cheap pens from the dollar store that drive me nuts and make writing a pain. Now get this, instead of start using my Mont Blanc again I actually bought a Caran d'Ache pen the other day for $10. Now this pen I love and use, but I could have just as well used my Mont Blanc pen instead and save the $10.

It's not about the money I spent, this is just to show you how we all fall into this trap of the specialness spiral. 

Another Aspect Of This Specialness Spiral

Something they didn't mention in the article but that I always thought about the special dishes we had growing up is that it's kind of a mean  and disrespectful thing to do to ourselves. It's like we're not special enough or on our own to use fancy dishes, but somebody special has to come for dinner.

It goes into the same notion that we start cleaning and tidying the house like maniacs when guests announce themselves or are invited. Everything has to be clean and perfect for them, while we just lived maybe in an unclean house or in disorganization implying that we are not as important as the guests are. 

This is another reason why I say clearing clutter is self-love, because

- we're not just making our surroundings presentable and nice when we expect visitors,

- and we're not just using our good items for those rare special occasions

NO, we see ourselves just as special, and special enough, to use the  fancy dishes every day, to wear the beautiful clothes or shoes because we love  ourselves, we love the items, and we love to use or wear the items.

By doing so we treat ourselves the same way as we would treat a guest, also the positive effect is, we need less things. It reduces the amount of stuff we have, because we don't need to go buy new cheaper things because the things we have we deem as to special to use.

This in turn is of course also nice for the wallet because we don't pay for things we don't use and buy in addition cheaper things to use.

It's good for the planet because when we only buy one kind of item, the one we love and use, and not one for special and one for normal, we have more budget available to buy that item. Therefore we can buy better quality and we can make sure it wasn't produced hurting the planet or abusing laborforce. 

So pay attention next time you catch yourself not using or wearing something you own because you think it's too special. 

Remember you are special, we all are special, every day is special, use and wear the things you love. 

I will never tell you what to do or to get rid of anything. What I do help you see is the effect all this clutter has on you, your life, and your business. 


If you struggle with clutter in your home, office, and finances, know that you are not broken and you are enough. You can bring your mess and chaos to me and together we'll sort it out. Opportunities to work with me 1-1 are available. Send me an email at conny 'at' connygraf dot com or schedule a  

Clutter to Clarity Chat and we'll see if working together is a great fit. 

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