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Selling your self and losing your memory

New research into the effect of selling or giving away prized possessions

University of Chicago Press Journals

"They're sort'n through what's left of you and me. Paying yard sale prices for each ... memory. Oh I never thought I'd live to see. The way they're sort'n through what's left of you and me" begins an article in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. In their article, John Lastovicka (Arizona State University) and Karen Fernandez (University of Aukland), explain an unexplored phenomenon--the effect of passing a possession to a stranger.

Using garage sales--of which there are 9-million in the United States each year--as their laboratory, Lastovicka and Fernandez find that there are several variables involved when considering the transition of important personal possessions. Lamenting on the lyrics above, they stress the importance that some possessions play in people's memories and also as a defining part of their selves.

"Perception of a common identity facilitates a sense of shared self, which in turn, moderates use of divestment rituals. Here a possession is divested without necessarily being emptied of its positive meanings. In this case, even a possession that was initially not for sale may be offered to a potential new owner sharing a common identity. This is because a sense of "we-ness" makes for a more porous boundary between self and other, increasing the ease with which that boundary may be traversed," Lastovicka and Fernandez explain.

While much research has focused on the positive experience and memories one has with posessions, the researchers explore the idea that sometimes ridding one's self of a possession also means purging a bad memory, noting that "we observe that many consumers eagerly shed the tainted remnants of the less desirable stages of their lives."


Three Paths to Disposition: The Movement of Meaningful Possessions to Strangers. By JOHN L. LASTOVICKA and KAREN V. FERNANDEZ. © 2005 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. - Vol. 31 - March 2005

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