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  • Writer's picturedrpaulafreedman

What do you collect?

A few months ago, I got one of those mandolin veggie slicers. It cost a little more than I’d normally shell out for a kitchen gadget, but I told myself I’d use it ALL the time. At the store, I was lost in fantasies of weekly meal prep breezing by as I effortlessly cubed the week’s produce. I thought about how my husband and I would enjoy hundreds and hundreds of homemade French fries with the mandolin’s “French fry” feature.

Spoiler alert: the mandolin was just meh. It was fun the first time, but putting it together, taking it apart, cleaning it out, having to reset the piece of potato over and over turned out to be way more work than just cutting everything by hand. It now sits in the back of our cabinet laughing at me for being such a sucker.

Buyer’s remorse is a real thing. It happens with big purchases (like a car or TV) and small ones (a cup of coffee). Thanks to social psychology research, we can now sniff out the potential for a purchase to cause buyer’s remorse.

A 2011 study at Cornell looked at 2 types of purchases:

  • Material purchases (stuff, products, objects)

  • Experiential purchases (concerts, vacations, skydiving)

They found that material purchases were FAR more likely to lead to buyer’s remorse. Had I bought concert tickets for us that day instead of that veggie cuber, perhaps I wouldn’t look back with regret.

The researchers identified the paradox of choice as the culprit. Essentially, it’s the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” mental tug-of-war we experience when we are making a choice out of a variety of options.

At the store, I remember browsing a whole row of kitchen gadgets, and I of course chose the one with the French fry feature. Later, when my regret crept in, I wondered why I hadn’t picked a different model, whether another brand would have done the cubing part better and cost less.

The more choices we have, the more we perceive the choices we did not choose as missed opportunities. So even if my mandolin turned out great, I might still have wondered if I could have found a better one.

For many of us, the logic in buying a material thing is that we get to keep it forever or use it everyday, so it seems like our enjoyment of the purchase will be prolonged. When I think about it, though, I eventually habituate to most of my material purchases. The new sweater is exciting the first time I wear it, and even the second and third and fourth time, but after awhile, it’s not “new” anymore and it doesn’t spark the same joy (thanks, Marie Kondo) as it did at first.

Experiences don’t usually affect us this way. Activities like a movie, a concert, or a trip stick with us because they give us unique memories that leave an emotional impact. If you’re looking for a gift for a loved one or a treat for yourself, perhaps you should consider the research and choose to buy something experiential. I can tell you right now I'm kicking myself for blowing money on that useless kitchen contraption instead of a ticket to see the Rolling Stones this summer... but hey, live and learn!

Does the research hold true for YOUR life? Do you get more satisfaction out of spending your money on one-time experiences, or purchasing material things? I’d love to hear! Feel free to share in the comments section!

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