I am not suggesting to actually set anything on fire, but to try a little metaphorical exercise I first heard about in the book l'Art de la Simplicité. If you are at home right now, take a look around you. If your home burned down, and you had to purchase everything again, would you purchase all the items you see around you right now?
For the purpose of this exercise, let's put the money factor aside and assume the insurance from the fire allowed you to cover the expenses for everything you own. Let's also assume you can find the same object or an equivalent easily.
Now, imagine your home just burned down, and, except for what you were wearing and carrying that day, you don't have anything left. Furniture, decorations, kitchen appliances and dishes, electronics, clothes, books, everything is gone.
You move into a new place, and, of course, you need to buy new things to be able to go on with your everyday life. That's where the exercise gets interesting: what would you buy? If you had a clean slate, a start from zero, what would seem obvious, necessary for you to buy again? What would you decide not to purchase? What would you even forget was in your possession before the fire?
Next time you are cleaning/organizing/decluttering, ask yourself that question: if my home burned down, would I have remembered this object? Would I have bought it again?
- Introducing the Endowment Effect
I think this is a very good exercise of simplification, because our sneaky brains make us overestimate the value of what we already own, versus what we don't own. This is called the endowment effect. To explain this quickly and clearly, this bias of the brain makes us give more value and importance to our own objects than they actually have.
Like George Carlin said, "Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff!" In concrete terms, experiments show that we are giving a higher price to an object if we own it rather than if we don't.
I find this interesting because I think this endowment effect prevents us from getting rid of some of the stuff we don't need. Because we overstimate their value, we can't part from them. Which is perfectly fine if you're not looking to declutter your home. But since I am in the process to edit my life and possessions, I decided to give a bit of thought to this endowment effect.
Why imagine your home burning down along with your possessions? Because it helps imagining that you don't own these objects anymore. It helps seeing them again with their true value, intead of being affected by this ownership bias.
Ever since I moved to Paris, in my 25m2 appartment, I pick a space every month to edit. A box, a drawer, a closet shelf... And every month, I go through its content, imagine I lost all of it in a fire, and decide which ones I would buy again. And I set free all the objects which answer would be "no, I wouldn't buy it again".
- If my wardrobe burned down...
I also use this technique to adjust and update my wardrobe list. If my home burned down, would I buy this garment again? Or would I buy a similar one in a different cut or style? Or wouldn't I buy it at all?
It helps me identify purchase mistakes I'm hiding from myself, out of guilt to have spent money on it. It helps me identify the core pieces of my wardrobe, and the pieces that don't suit me anymore. It also helps me update the unticked garments of my list, and decide which ones I'd like to buy first.
What about you? If your home burned down, what would you buy again? What possessions would you upgrade? What would you just forget about?