Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

How to Digital Declutter with Octalysis Gamification, Part 1 of 8: Letting Go of Ownership

Post written by Erik van Mechelen, inspired by Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework.

Decluttering your life isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be so hard. The power of applying Octalysis to your lifestyle improvements will be showcased today by example of digital decluttering. This article is as a complement to the previous series on lifestyle gamification.

Unless you are comfortable with creative chaos (I occasionally am), you probably could benefit from a small or large digital declutter.

Let’s get your life decluttered.

Head start on why you are decluttering

First, here are some reasons to declutter in the first place (even though you probably already have one):

1. To reduce stress
2. To avoid the feeling of ‘needing’ to check something online (to see if it changed, or really just because you are in the habit of checking, and things won’t feel right if you don’t)
3. Because someone has asked you to be more focused in your relationships
4. Because you want to be more productive.

I can think ab of about 27 more reasons (slight exaggeration), but that list would be a different post and that post isn’t as interesting as actually getting you to make changes in the 30 seconds after you finish the post, right here right now. Maybe you will even stop reading at the end of this sentence and take action. That’s great, but read on to ensure you have a strategy for maintaining and sustaining your prized digital declutter (assuming you achieve it!).

Why it is hard to let go (hint, CD4!)

It is hard to let go of things we feel ownership of . This is the power of Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession. We tend to value things above the market price for them. We instill sentimental value in memorabilia. Photos and family heirlooms.

But that’s not all. Core Drive 4 is such a powerful motivator that we even attach ourselves to old t-shirts. Even as a non-beer drinker, a beer in hand feels like my beer and I will be more reluctant to give it away than if I didn’t feel any ownership of the beverage.

There is extra difficulty in decluttering when social influence is at play. Because we don’t have great memories, there is a fear of losing the social memory of an event if a photo or video is deleted from a camera, phone, or computer (this is why Dropbox and related services are doing so well). To this end, Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession combos with Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. Dropbox actually only reduces ownership half way. We get rid of the physical copy but maintain the digital one in the cloud where we can “always go look at it if I want to later”.

You can also think of this from the Anti Core Drive perspective, where you are trying to avoid the loss of possession (by keeping an item). Many ecosystems, from Apple to athletics, try to keep us involved and attached using this combination of motivating Core Drives.

Removing a sense of ownership

To achieve digital declutter, some of this feeling of ownership will have to be overcome. Some sense of ownership is natural and probably good. It is good to have strong relationships with other humans. In the case of the feeling of ownership that drives me to check how the Houston Rockets faired against the Golden State Warriors yesterday, my sense of ownership isn’t so natural. This feeling of ownership and allegiance is not real in the same way, and can be discarded safely and without long-term regret or remorse. (A further option is to resolve to check the scores every day, since the NBA season is 82 games long, and day to day not much is changing that will affect long-term outcomes for the team.)

Remember, before we humans conquered the continents of the world and divvied up the world, there was little sense of obsessive ownership. Why enprison yourself in its disastrous extremes?

Reducing your curiosity

As humans, we are innately curious. We just can’t help it. But we do have some control over what we are curious about, through routines and reward cycles.

When you have the urge to check your email or the news, why exactly do you have that urge? Is it a curiosity? Much of the time, it is to see if there is something to do, something new, some minor task to complete (like the blissful productivity Jane McGonigal describes in her World of Warcraft chapter in ‘Reality is Broken’. (For a series on McGonigal’s book from the Octalysis perspective, read this series.)

But watch out of for the trap of blissful productivity which is actually not productivity at all, and also, when you step back and consider priorities, is taking time away from higher priorities.

In a future post, we will explore Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity in further detail as it relates to Digital Declutter!

Until then, good luck and happy Octalyzing!

In Octalysis Prime, there is much more about lifestyle gamification including Octalysis Prime community favorite: the Lifestyle Inertia Design series.

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3 responses to “How to Digital Declutter with Octalysis Gamification, Part 1 of 8: Letting Go of Ownership”

  1. It is so tempting and addictive to allow yourself to get pulled in to the “clutter”.

    Great analysis of why it is so compelling and how to start moving away from it.

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