Why we give our cherished things to Goodwill


Suppose you need to get rid of some household items (I'm thinking of things like old furniture, vacuum cleaner, utensils, coffee machine, etc.). You could either throw them in the trash or donate them to Goodwill.


Why would you donate it? I can think of three possible reasons:

  1. Maybe you are a genuinely altruistic person. In this case you would get utility from knowing that an anonymous person will benefit from it someday.

  2. Maybe you like to think that you are altruistic. In this case, you would get utility from knowing that you chose to make a donation when you didn't have to. (It probably wouldn't hurt to tell a few people about this too.)

  3. Or perhaps you hate to throw it away because it's something you used to cherish. In this case, you would avoid the disutility from throwing it away.

So which one is it? Or is it a little bit of all of them?


It's easy to check if it is #1, because if you are a genuinely altruistic person, you probably donate money all the time (you may even have a favorite charity).


If it's #2, then you feel good about donating, but are not willing to incur the costs associated with donating. Since there are costs of donating (e.g. driving to Goodwill) in the current situation, #2 alone is unlikely to be a sufficiently strong reason.


If it's #3, then both donating and throwing it in the trash are costly actions. Not as costly as keeping the item though, because you have already decided to get rid of it.


If #2 and #3 are both true for you, then donating is a really really good option. You not only save yourself from the disutility from throwing it in the trash, but also get to proclaim that you are an altruistic person. In fact, if you focus on the fact that it was a cherished item, you might even be able to call yourself a very altruistic person. This is self-deception at its finest.