Study: Saying Goodbye To Clutter Much Easier — If You Snap Photos Of Your Stuff

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The key to reducing clutter may be as simple as a few clicks of the shutter. A recent study finds that taking photographs of those sentimental items that are so hard to let go of makes it easier for people to donate them once and for all.

People who donate their collections of excess “stuff” not only save space, they help support second-hand organizations that recycle these items to folks who can use them. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University wanted to know whether snapping photos of precious items made an impact on a person’s willingness to release them to such organizations. While they found that people are more apt to give up items they have photographs of, they also discovered that there is a difference between donating and selling clutter.

Person holding camera
Is clutter building up in your house because you can’t let go of old mementos? A new study finds that taking photos of sentimental items makes it easier to give them away to charitable organizations. (Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash)

“We all have at least one, but, in many cases, multiple items that we hold onto — even though we no longer use them — because the items still have sentimental value,” says study co-author Karen Winterich, an associate professor of marketing, in a university release. “These items have some type of meaning that says, ‘this is who I am’ and/or ‘this is who I was,’ so we just don’t want to let this stuff go.”

Researchers advertised a donation drive aimed at 797 students about to leave campus for a break. One ad told students to take pictures of sentimental items before donating. The other ad simply asked students to donate sentimental items. The authors found that participants who were encouraged to take keepsake photos of their stuff donated 15 to 35 percent more than those who were not asked to take photos.

Winterich and her team believe that people who declutter are doing far more than freeing up space. They are also supporting such nonprofits as Goodwill Industries, the American Red Cross and Dress for Success. Still, they found, however, that people do seem to have a different attitude about donating versus selling items.

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In one of five follow-up studies, the researchers had people take photos of items that they would be selling. Results from this study show that when people are selling their clutter, taking photos does not have the same impact as when they are donating. Winterich says the concept of taking photos before selling items might be the subject of a future study.

“We’re not saying that it would never work for selling,” she explains. “But these sentimental goods, which hold memories and our identities, are almost perceived as sacred when they become associated with money.”

The bottom line is that decluttering helps many people. Or, as it has been said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” So it truly is a win-win to take the photo and let go of the stuff.

“From the consumer standpoint, it could be just about reducing clutter,” concludes Winterich. “But, from the marketplace perspective, we are focusing on donating the goods because the second-hand marketplace relies on this.”

The full study was published in September in the Journal of Marketing.

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