Use a product purgatory to part with your unwanted possessions.
- Although many consumers have more stuff than they want and need, getting rid of unused items is difficult.
- A product purgatory is not merely a convenient storage space that puts the product out of sight and out of mind.
- Purgatory can serve a larger psychological function.
We all have more and more stuff. Not only do we live in larger and larger houses to accommodate our stuff, but recent years have also seen massive increases in consumers’ rental of personal storage units. That means that consumers are paying with their hard-earned cash to store things they are currently not using, and might in fact never use again. But if having to live with boxes of unused things in their home or having to pay for expensive storage is not enough to get consumers to throw out what they don’t need, what will help?
A new paper provides such help to consumers. The authors (Isaac & Vinoo, 2023) investigate what happens when consumers use a so-called product purgatory: This is a place where consumers store items that they consider discarding. You might have such a product purgatory in your own home without knowing. Maybe you have a space in the attic where you store the clothes and toys that your children have grown out of. Maybe you have a box in the garage for your own no-longer-wanted clothes that you haven’t quite had the heart yet to donate.
The research shows that such a product purgatory is not merely a convenient storage space that puts the product out of sight and out of mind. Instead, it can serve a larger psychological function. By placing an item in this product purgatory, consumers can mentally simulate – or imagine in vivid detail – what it would feel like to get rid of the product entirely. The authors conducted several experiments to test this. For example, they asked consumers to take an item from their own kitchens that hadn’t been used in a while to either leave it where it is or move it to a storage location (in the garage or basement). Consumers who had moved the item to such a product purgatory afterward felt readier to dispose of the item than those who had kept the item in their kitchens. This happened because it was easier to imagine disposal when the item was already in purgatory.
I find the role of mental simulation here especially interesting. In my own work (Steinmetz et al., 2018) I have found that mental simulation goes much deeper than simply thinking about something. For example, I asked volunteers to simulate in depth what it’s like to feel cold, and they actually felt colder as a result. This is why I find it really exciting to see that consumers can also simulate parting with unused objects, simply by putting them in a designated space where they store things to be thrown out or donated. Maybe consumers can anticipate the sometimes difficult emotions that arise when parting with an object: maybe some nostalgia, buyer’s regret, relief, or a mix of all of these emotions. Getting a taste of these emotions and feeling that they will pass might allow consumers to take the leap and throw out the object. This might not only relieve consumers of the mental and financial costs of storing unused items but also give them space to appreciate the objects they want to keep and truly love.
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