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The Specialness Spiral

specialness spiral - 2 treasure boxes

Have you ever kept a nice bottle of wine, or a cute notebook, or a scented candle – for a special occasion that never arrives?

Every time you review the item and decide the occasion is not worthy, you further reinforce its status. 

The item accrues specialness. And the more fancy it feels, the more you want to protect it. 

The Specialness Spiral is a vicious cycle.

Studies have been conducted whereby participants were asked to solve puzzles using a new notebook versus a scrap of paper. People who had foregone the opportunity to use the fresh notebook initially became less and less likely to use it. Other items besides notebooks were used in the study to entrench the findings. 

The reasons are thought to be twofold:

1. When options are presented incrementally (e.g. “shall I drink the wine tonight?”) rather than all at once (“which out of these potential 20 nights would suit best?”), it can be hard to know what to decide. The future is uncertain and there is an idealised hypothetical occasion.

2. We subconsciously reinforce that the initial non consumptive episode must have been because the item was too special. 

The Specialness Spiral can contribute to clutter – especially Just In Case clutter (this will be useful at a particular moment), and Aspirational Clutter (I want to be the sort of person who can deserve and enjoy this). 

How to combat the Specialness Spiral

1. Break the seal on it right away – pop the cork or scribble on the first page. 

2. Commit to using the item when you acquire it. E.g. tell yourself you will open the wine this Friday at dinner.

My advice: 

Your house is not a gallery and stuff is made to be used.

Use the good stuff. If not now, then when?

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