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The stages of owning stuff

Danny Ruspandini - Impact Labs Australia
Danny R.

This is not so much a framework I’ve created, as one I just realised already existed around me.

It’s what I experience whenever I purchase something relatively large that will become a part of my daily life.

Think a laptop, a car, a phone, an appliance, etc.

The stages are:

  1. Excitement
  2. Acceptance
  3. Eye-roll
  4. Dismissal

They happen in that order, but at long intervals:

Excitement (right at the start)

There’s a buzz when you open or receive something you’ve just purchased. Even if it’s second-hand, it’s still new to you, and that can be fun! Depending on the thing of course - I'd probably be more excited about a laptop than I would be about a toaster.

Acceptance (a few months later)

This thing has become part of your daily life - it’s no longer exciting, it’s just another thing you own.

Eye-roll (some more months or years later)

Eventually, this thing will start failing - cars need servicing, phones run out of storage...

Dismissal (years later)

Some years down the track, you’re ready to be free from this thing that’s become a hassle to own.

I try not to give in to the dismissal stage too easily, but I know all the stages are coming.

Since I’ve been aware of them, I’ve tried skipping through the stages in my head before I buy, to see if I can picture owning that thing and feeling those feelings.

What I’ve found is that I can fast-forward past the Excitement stage pretty easily now. Having done this a few times with semi-large purchases, it feels like a skill I can tap into.

Going straight to Acceptance is my new default-mode. I just picture the thing sitting around the house. For example, when I upgraded my (12 year old) laptop, at first I was excited about the increase in speed and all the extra storage, but I knew it’d end up sitting on the coffee table where the old one usually sits, and would become just the laptop, rather than the new laptop.

Sometimes I can skip through to the Eye-roll stage.... maybe this is my cynical side coming out. An example of this is when new cars talk about fancy features like lane-departure-sensing and automatic-reverse-parking and one-touch-coffee (maybe someday), I just see lots of things that will eventually need to be fixed when they stop working. Queue eye-roll.

I recently read about someone who clipped their wing-mirror while reversing out of the garage - the mirrors had blind-spot warning, and because the mirror had dislodged, the car effectively shut down and couldn’t be switched back on because the mirror was a key part of the safety system. Sure that’s probably a design flaw, but I find the story is a handy reminder when my brain projects itself into the Eye-roll stage.

Why am I sharing this?

I own too much stuff. Maybe you think you do too.

This fast-forwarding helps me to know if I really need something, or if I just want it. Usually I just want it, so I slip past the persuasive marketing and see it in the real world that is my home. We’ve all heard a story of someone who tried on clothes at the store that looked great, but didn’t look as good once they got home. This is like skipping to the at-home bit without being seduced by the store bit.

And I find the same process useful when working with clients who are rebranding - it’s basically a less sophisticated version of forecasting and can be helpful when they're considering things like merchandise, particularly the cheap knock-off junky stuff. The question looks something like:

Will we still need this thing in a year, or will the burden of owning it and having to dispose of it responsibly outweigh any short term benefit?

Hope this helps.

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