The Ikea Effect – How To Add Value to Your “Stuff”

Your stuff just got more valuable…

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Even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve definitely experienced “The Ikea Effect” at some point in your life.

Ikea sells competitively priced, fairly low-quality furniture you have to assemble yourself. More often than not, the directions are notoriously difficult, making the assembly process time consuming and frustrating. The process isn’t enjoyable, but the fact that you put more time and effort into building your own furniture makes you favor those pieces more than the other furniture in your house.

Same concept… different story: Cake Mix

My grandma used to say that love was the key ingredient in her homemade brownies… but it turns out love is a lot of work.

Cake mix, which is hugely popular now wasn’t such a big hit when it was first invented in the 1940’s. Instead of taking hours to bake a cake from scratch, with this new miracle mix you basically just mixed in water and stuck it in the oven. BAM! You have a cake.

The taste was comparable to a traditional cake and the baking time was drastically reduced… but people didn’t want them.

The problem: There’s no pride in pre-made. There wasn’t enough effort involved in the baking process. So little effort went into the baking process that the cake didn’t feel like your own.

The solution: Make cake mix an ingredient, not a cake-in-a-bag. They took the eggs and the milk out of the powder. Breaking the eggs, adding the right amount of milk, and mixing the ingredients turned out to be enough work to make bakers feel that they had made the cake themselves.

The moral of the story is that putting effort into something adds value to it. (see more examples and research explained by psychologist and economist Dan Ariely in the TED talk below)

As we’ve all heard before, it’s not about the destination it’s about the journey.

The same is true for our belongings. We get more pleasure from the things we value. We take better care of those things and they tend to last much longer.

If we want to be more efficient and less wasteful, if we want to save money, if we want to appreciate the things we own more, we need to invest in them. Because investing time and effort into our stuff makes it worth more.

Here are four ways you can add value to your belongings:

Take more care in what you purchase.

Taking your time to research something and make sure you get exactly what you want can seem like a hassle because it is a hassle. The catch is that the hassle might actually be worth it.

You might have to go to a few different stores and spend a few hours browsing online, but when you do purchase you’ll be more likely to eliminate buyer’s remorse and get something you’ll like and keep for a long time.

Refurbish second hand stuff.

Old stuff (especially furniture) was built with more quality than most of the crap on the market today. Refurbishing stuff not only lets you put your own touch on things, but it’s the best way to get quality things at a reasonable price. Sometimes a new desk just needs a little sanding, a new handle, or a quick coat of paint. The research shows… (see the TED Talk below) even if you do a shitty job on it, you’ll value it more than if you bought a really nice desk.


If upcycling stuff is too hipster for you I understand… but turning an old suitcase into a new guitar amp or an old basketball hoop into a side table could be fun and would make great additions to your man cave.

Get the story behind the stuff.

Senior year, my roommates and I pulled a classic college move. While looking on Craigslist for a dining room table, we found someone in an odd neighborhood off the 405 freeway selling a bar and we decided to buy that instead.

It was an old-school 70’s looking corner bar that had been hand made by a Korean-American over 20 years before. The bar was so heavy it took three of us to move it and we had to disassemble half of it to get it through the front door. Needless to say, we cherished the bar and retold the story of how we procured it almost every weekend.

Quick Summary

Science has spoken: We value things more when we put effort into them.

It’s easier to be more conscious about our consumption when we value/ appreciate our things more.

Ways to add value to our stuff:

  • Take more care in what you purchase.
  • Refurbish instead of buying new.
  • Be clever – upcycle.
  • Back it up with a story.

Ted Talk: What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?



I am a minimalist, environmentalist, and conscious consumer with a background in environmental studies, conservation, and tech. I founded prch to help others be more sustainable and realize an alternative to consumerism.