Section Image: Woman sorting clothes

A Method to the Madness

TCU Assistant Professor of Marketing Gretchen Ross’ new research explores how organization influences downsizing.

May 03, 2021

By Nicholas Ferrandino

Gretchen RossIn the past few years, America’s housing market has been building smaller homes to appeal to new generations of middle-income families. This move to more compact households has engendered a growing desire for strategies to reduce the amount of one’s personal belongings to fit in a smaller setting.

Despite a rising interest in the subject, peer-reviewed research on downsizing is surprisingly sparse. Gretchen Ross, assistant professor of marketing at the TCU Neeley School of Business, has endeavored to discover more about the process of downsizing, and what practices may increase its effectiveness.

Ross’ newest research paper, “Disorder and Downsizing,” explores the influence order and disorder (referred to in the paper as dis/order) has when one seeks to minimize their possessions. Her research explores how order and disorder influences a person’s decision-making process when downsizing. In essence, would a person retain fewer items when the items are presented in an organized or haphazard manner?

Contrary to what many industry experts believe, Ross’ study shows that, when presented with a disorderly environment, participants retained fewer of their belongings when compared to an orderly environment.

“Most people think disorder is bad when downsizing. Many different studies show disorder isn’t good for us in general,” Ross said. “We were keen on finding a way that messiness might be helpful to downsizing.”

But why? What is it about disorder that makes a person more effective in the process of downsizing?

One significant factor the study explores is the role of making comparisons in decision making. Chiefly, the idea that putting an item in a category prior to judging it increases the likelihood that the subject will retain the item.

“When items are ordered, consumers will compare items (e.g., several pairs of jeans) and, because comparing facilitates justification and tends to resolve conflict in favor of selection, more items will be retained,” Ross said.

A disorderly environment, on the other hand, discourages comparison. It deprives the subject of the opportunity to justify its presence through analyzing it alongside similar articles, forcing them to judge the item on its own merits.

Another detail Ross’ study evaluates is the process of selection versus rejection. Does choosing what you should keep lead to greater downsizing? Or does eliminating parts from the whole prove more effective?

“Professional organizers believe that you should reject items,” Ross said. “Whereas we find in this study that selecting is actually better.”

For people who are waste averse, the process of throwing away individual articles is more difficult than choosing what to keep. As opposed to the finality of rejection, selection, like disorder, encourages the participant to weigh a belonging’s value independent of any other article.

So, the next time you tackle the clutter tripping up your everyday life, remember these two techniques:

  1. Focus on what to keep, not what to throw away.
  2. Do not clean up that mess until you decide what part of that mess is worth keeping.
Photo: Gretchen Ross

Gretchen Ross

Assistant Professor
Marketing Department

Neeley 3351