CONSUMER RELUCTANCE TO DISPOSE OF OBJECTS THEY DO NOT USE
DEFINITION AND MEASURE
University of Paris Dauphine, Paris, France.
Corresponding author: Valérie GUILLARD,
Tel: (33)6 20 66 10 09, email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Many people are reluctant to dispose of objects they no longer have a use for. This
reluctance can slow down their willingness to buy new, improved versions of products
(“what am I going to do with the replaced product?”) and deprive charitable
organisations of objects still usable by the needy. Understanding why some consumers
are chronically reluctant to dispose of objects can thus prove useful for both marketing
researchers and social welfare workers. However, it is surprising that this phenomenon
received little attention in the consumer behaviour literature.
This article explores the reasons why some consumers have a chronic reluctance to
dispose of objects. An exploratory, qualitative study on 60 consumers was first carried
out to improve our knowledge of this phenomenon then a structured questionnaire was
administered to 310 consumers. A principal component analysis yielded seven factors:
uncertainty regarding the future use of these objects ( = 0,853); nostalgia ( = 0,877);
environmental concern ( = 0,810); guilt ( = 0,8); indecision ( = 0,79); fear of
emptiness ( = 0,70) and felt responsibility vis a vis future generation ( = 0,76). The
article concludes with some ideas for future research.
Keywords: consumer reluctance to dispose of objects they do not use anymore;
disposition; psychological ownership.
The fact that consumers do not know what to do with objects they do not use anymore
has received little attention in marketing. According to Jacoby et al (1977), we know that
people have different options to dispose of objects they no longer have a use for. They
can keep them, permanently dispose of them (throw them away, give them away, sell
them, trade them) or temporarily dispose of them (loan them, rent them to someone else).
The choice of an option depends on 1) characteristics of the product (age, size, value,
color, technological innovations, durability, replacement cost, etc) ; 2) situational factors
(finances, storage space, urgency, circumstances of acquisition, etc) and 3) psychological
characteristics of the decision maker (personality, attitudes, emotions, perception, level of
risk tolerance, etc (Hanson, 1980 ; Harrel and McConocha, 1992).
The impact of these variables has never been empirically generalized. Moreover,
these researches have studied disposition in general, without focusing on individual
differences. While some consumers have no difficulty to get rid of these objects, others
are very reluctant to do so. Why? While under-studied, this field is extremely interesting
for the associations that have to choose the means of collecting objects. Indeed, even if
people have a propensity to keep their belongings, one day or another, they may face the
problem to get rid of them. How do they deal with it? The objective of this research is to
know their psychological blockages. It aims at understanding the reasons why some
people are reluctant to dispose of objects 1) that they do not have any use for them
anymore, 2) that are not worth being sold and 3) that are still usable by others.
Theory on compulsive hoarding suggests that avoiding decisions about discarding
possessions may stem from a fear of mistakes. According to them, the decision making
deficit results from a higher threshold for deciding what to discard. When people decide
to discard a possession, they make a judgment that we will not have a need for it in the
future. Compulsive hoarders mistakenly judge the likelihood of future need as higher
than do nonhoarders. Moreover, the perceived consequences of not having a possession
when it is needed are more damaging for hoarders (Frost et al, 1995).
Theory on psychological ownership suggests the presence of individual
differences in the relationships between objects and individuals (Belk, 1988; Pierce et al,
2003). According to studies in the field, a strong relationship exists between an individual
and an object in which the object is experienced as having a close connexion with the
self. Feeling of ownership fulfils basic needs: 1) efficacy, objects enable people to have
the pleasure to control one’s environment (Furby, 1978); 2) self identity, objects help
people define themselves, express their self identity to others and maintaining the
continuity of self identity (Belk, 1988; 1990) and 3) having a place to dwell, objects
provide the individual both physical and psychic security (Porteous, 1976). These
motives explain why people keep objects they do not use anymore.
To dispose such objects, people have to leave emotional and psychological lies
with their objects. To urge this process of detachment from the self (Young and
Wallendorf, 1989), people have some rituals. They store them without use or clear intent
toward future use. Possessions migrate from the house to attics or cellar. This distance
enables people to assure safe passage. This passage reassures them because they kept
them close if they have a desire or need for them.
The importance a consumer attaches to worldly possessions is called materialism.
According to Belk (1984), materialism is composed of three dimensions: envy,
nongenerosity and possessiveness. Possessiveness is “the inclination and tendency to
retain control or ownership of one’s possession” (Belk, 1983). The conceptual domain of
possessiveness includes a concern about loss of possession.
Moreover, having favourable affect toward things from the past is the definition
of nostalgia (Holbrook, Schindler, 1991). Objects are stimuli which enable nostalgic
people to relive events. Getting rid of such objects prevent us to come back in their
The tendency to avoid making and/or postponing decisions may be a result of a
fear of making mistakes (Frost and al, 1995). Saving objects may be a way of avoiding
decision-making. It concerns people who have a tendency to procrastinate.
Harrell and al (1992) obtained a negative relationship between the tendency to
keep and age. Young people are probably less concerned with problems of accumulating
objects. Moreover they show that women are less likely to keep than men.
Taken together, those studies emphasise the need to better understand disposition
and individual differences in the decision of disposition. This individual difference
construct will be conceptualised as a personality trait and will be called Reluctance to
Dispose Objects people no longer have a use for (RDO). We define RDO as a general
and relatively stable consumer disposition to manifest reluctance to give them or to throw
them away. A measurement scale of RDO was developed to test its link with the
personality variables evoked above.
2.1. Exploratory research
An exploratory study was conducted among 60 students in order to 1/ know the
percentage of consumers who are reluctant to dispose of objects and 2/ generate items in
order to build the measurement scale. The scenario they were confronted with is
“You replace a laptop [books, clothes, shoes, several items were proposed]. What do you
do of the former one?”
Eighty percent (50 out of 60) declared they kept objects. We also concluded that it is a
behaviour which concerns a lot of people. So, we developed a measure to identify and
understand this behaviour.
2.2. The RDO development scale.
Fifty items were administered to construct a scale (due to space limitations, the items
selection procedure is not presented here). CFA were run (N = 180; mean age : 22 years ;
KMO index>0,5 and significant Bartlett test). Seven subscales were developed. Among
these subscales, there were five measures personality traits or feelings towards objects
Guilt ( = 0,8), “I will feel guilty if I dispose of it ”, « I feel I do a fault if I do not
keep it », “I keep it because I offend someone if I throw it away”, “I feel some
remorse for getting rid of objects” ;
Indecision ( = 0,79) “I never know if I have to dispose of it or not”, « I can not
make the decision to get rid of objects », « It is always the fear of making mistakes
which prevents me to dispose them»;
Environmental concern ( = 0,810) “ To built them, we need materials and it
causes damage in environment” ; « I keep them until that I find an industry to
recycle them » ; « I feel guilty when I threat environnement”,
Fear of emptiness ( = 0,70) “ I abhor a vacuum” “ I feel anxious if I part with my
Felt responsibility vis a vis future generation ( = 0,76) “ I keep them [books]
because I will show them to my children” ; “ I would like to pass on future
Indeed, the RDO scale was developed to measure the general consumer reluctance to
dispose of objects people no longer have a use for. So, we decide that only items
measuring relationships with objects enable to capture this phenomenon. One item was
removed because it does not enable to categorize people who have RDO “I do not have
time to get rid of objects”. Another CFA was run (N = 330). At this stage of development
the RDO scale consists of seven items. The response format was a Likert scale going
from “never” to “very often”.
2.2. The Richins materialism scale
Materialism was measured by using Richins’s scale. They conceptualize materialism as a
consumer value. According to Richins and Dawson (1992), three components measure
materialism: acquisition centrality; the role of acquisition in the pursuit of happiness and
the role of possessions in defining success. This scale consists of 18 items measured by 5
points numerical scale of agreement/disagreement. The scale was used in a French
context. It has good psychometric qualities (Delacroix, 2003).
2.3. The Holbrook nostalgia index
Holbrook (1991) has developed a Nostalgia Index. It assesses individual differences in
the tendency to feel nostalgia impulses. This index consists of 20 statements related to the
general theme that “things were better in the good old days”. Each statement is measured
by a 9 point numerical scale of agreement/disagreement. Half of the items are scored in
the positive, half in the negative direction.
2.4. The Tuckman Procrastination scale
The Tuckman Procrastination scale is a 16 item measure of the tendency to overly delay
starting and finishing tasks and duties “When I have a deadline, I wait till the last
minute”. This scale has a 4 point answer scale of agreement/disagreement.
2.5. Procedure and subjects
A total of 330 subjects, 100 adults and 230 students were approached in this study. Their
profile was as follow: adult sample (mean age = 41 years, male = 30%; female = 70) and
student sample (male = 43%; female = 57%; mean age = 21 years). All subjects were
asked to participate on a voluntary basis and anonymity was guaranteed. The students
were tested after a class. The adult were tested in an airport. It took them approximately
15 to 20 minutes to complete the questionnaire.
3.1. Factor analysis of the RDO scale.
The correlation matrix of the seven items was factor analyzed using Principal
Components method. The criterion for factor extraction was an eigen value equal or
greater than 1. Two factors explained 67 % of variance. The two factors are independent
(r = 0,042). Moreover a maximum likelihood confirmatory factor analysis on these six
items indicated that two factors model fit the data well (AGFI = 0,923; SRMR = 0,10;
RMSEA = 0,06 ; Chi2/ddl = 2,50).
Table 1 – Factor loadings for the RDO scale.
They belong to my past and I don’t want
to forget them !
I save them, they remind me of something ,826
I may take pleasure in rediscovering them
I save them, they enable me to remember
who I was !
They may still come in useful ,864
We are never careful enough! I could need
May be, I would like to use them again
Table 2 – Reliability scores for the RDO scale.
N Mean Cronbach Joreskog
Sentimental 330 2,98 0,824 0,811
Instrumental 330 4,36 0,749 0,790
3.2. Correlations with other personality scales.
The validity of RDO scale was assessed by determining its relationships with
theoretically related personality scales. The results are summarized in table 3. They
indicate that the RDO scale is related to nostalgia (r = 0,323, p<0,01). However, the
relations between RDO and materialism and between RDO and procrastination were not
Table 3 – Correlations between personality measures and RDO.
Correlation with the RDO
Personality scale Coefficient alpha Sample size
Nostalgia 0,70 180 0,323 ** 0,135
Materialism 0,69 180 0,022 -0,003
Procrastination 0,80 180 0,034 -0,019
3.3. Relationships to demographics
The relationships between RDO scale and gender and RDO scale and age was explored
using an univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA). There was no significant difference
between men and women (F = 1,682 = 0,125). However, the mean of women seemed to
be higher than the mean of men. To test the mean between RDO scale and age, we
divided our sample in two parts: one above 25 years and one below this age. There was
no significant difference between the two groups (F = 0,389 ; P = 0,583).
3.4. Effect of RDO on the tendency to keep, to give and throw objects they do not use
To explore the nomological validity of the RDO instrument, we tested the links between
RDO and three options available to people when they contemplate the disposition of a
product: to keep, to give and to throw them away. Correlations are shown in table 4. The
dependant variable (three options) was measured thanks to one item by 7 points
numerical scale of never/very often. At the end of the questionnaire, we ask people
“What do you do of these objects”. This is especially people with instrumental RDO who
keep objects and who do not give them.
Table 4 – Correlations between RDO and tendency to keep, give and throw objects
people do not use anymore.
Correlation with the RDO
Dependant variable scale
(behaviour) Sentimental Instrumental
I have tendency to keep objects 0,331** 0,581**
I have tendency to give objects -0,032 -0,212**
I have tendency to throw them -0,236** -0,222**
This work aims at explaining why people have reluctance to dispose of objects
they do not use anymore. After an exploratory research, a scale was developed to identify
this phenomenon. This work has shown that the RDO scale has reasonable construct
validity. Two dimensions explain why people have reluctance to get rid of objects they
do not use anymore. Instrumental dimension refers to judgments about the future use or
need for a possession. Sentimental dimension refers to the emotional attachment
associated with possession. RDO was found to be related to nostalgia as expected by
theory. However, there was no significant link between materialism and RDO. This result
may be surprising since Belk (1988) define this personality trait like an attachment with
worldly possessions. But, according to this author (1988), materialism is a way to seek
psychological well being via consumption. Although one of the dimension measures loss
of possession (possessiveness subscale), only one item refers to the tendency to dispose
of objects “I tend to hang on to things I should probably throw out”. Materialism’s scale
does not explain why people are reluctant to get rid of objects they do not use anymore.
Another study should verify if there is a link with Belk’s scale and RDO’s scale.
Moreover, there was no significant link between procrastination and RDO. People make
the decision to keep objects they do not use anymore. Further research needs to be run to
validate not only another personality trait but also to explore the link between RDO and
demographic variables such as age and gender.
The relationships between RDO and gender and RDO and age are not significant.
Further research needs also to be run with a sample only composed of adult.
Another aim of this research was to explore the link between RDO and three
behaviours: the tendency to give, to keep and to throw objects away. There was
significant correlation between instrumental RDO and the three behaviours. This result is
consistent with our hypothesis that RDO leads people to keep objects and do not get rid
of them. On the other hand, sentimental RDO was only correlated with the tendency to
keep and to throw away. It is consistent with literature. Several studies revealed how
people dispose of meaningful possessions. According to their findings, some consumers
want to exercise control over the future life of their possessions when they decided to
dispose of them. They give them only when they know the future beneficiary (Lastovicka
and Fernandez, 2005; Price et al, 2000). But these researches do not explore who are
these consumers. Do they have RDO? Further research needs to be run to explore these
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