If you’re trying to de-clutter but don’t feel quite ready to throw out those old school sport trophies, you should try taking photos of them.
Research published in the Journal of Marketing found people were up to 35 per cent more likely to donate an item of sentimental value to charity if they took a photo of it first.
Lead author of the study, Karen Winterich from Penn State University, said people often held onto old junk purely for the memories.
The research was inspired by her unwillingness to get rid of an old pair of basketball shorts over fears she would lose the memory of beating a rival team in junior high school.
“I realised I liked being reminded of that past identity and the memories associated with the shorts,” Dr Winterich told The New Daily.
“I was also trying to clean out a spare room in my home and found that there were many things I didn’t want to part with — not because I was using them or planned to use them in the future, but just because seeing the object helped me remember certain events or people in my life.”
She took a photo of the shorts and found she felt ready to donate them to charity.
Dr Winterich and a research team then conducted experiments to see if others would do the same.
“We found there were a number of reasons people don’t donate items they no longer use. For everyday items that don’t have an emotional attachment, we tend to hold onto them just because we don’t want to take the time to figure out how to get rid of them.
“We also think we might use it in the future.
“However, for items that are associated with emotionally meaningful memories, we tend to hold onto the items because they remind us of those memories.”
Dr Winterich said taking a photo solved this problem for people.
The researchers coordinated a donation drive for about 800 students living in colleges at Penn State University.
In half the dorms, posters prompted students to photograph items with sentimental value before donating them. The other half of the posters merely asked for donations.
Students who were prompted to take photographs donated 35 per cent more items, with 1098 items versus 815 in the other half of the dorms.
The experiment was repeated in female dorms with about as many students as the prior study. The researchers found the donation rate was 15 per cent higher for those who were asked to take photos.
The team then approached people dropping off donations at an op-shop, giving some of them Polaroid photos of their sentimental items.
Those who received photos were less likely to report feeling like they lost a piece of themselves by parting with items of sentimental value.
Gumtree’s Second Hand Economy report from last year found 89 per cent of households had an average of 25 unnecessary items.
Those items have an estimated combined value nationwide of more than $26 billion.
Dr Winterich’s study did not examine whether decluttering could benefit mental health, but she said other research suggests it does.
“The constant clutter can make us feel overwhelmed, hurting our mood as well as our cognitive resources to focus on the tasks at hand,” she said.
“We’ll tend to feel better with less ‘stuff’ in our way.”