Around Saturday lunchtime I look around the house and feel a sense of satisfaction as I can see clean floors, dry washing, and empty bins. There is something about doing it with my partner that makes me value the result all the more.
There have been times when our family was really busy and we paid for a cleaner to come in once a week. Coming home on cleaning day was always great but it was never quite the same. Often there was something that was still to be done or something not done quite well enough. It was helpful and made a difference but it was a commercial transaction.
A few years ago a study  looked at the value that people put on things that they had put time into building or assembling. The participants were given IKEA flatpacks and asked to assemble them. Some participants finished the project, and some didn’t. We’ve probably all had this experience – it can be very frustrating. It’s why there is a cottage industry of people who will assemble your IKEA stuff for you.
The study then asked the participants to put a value on what they had achieved. Those that completed the project put a higher value on the finished items than those who didn’t finish.
Those that finished the projects also priced their product more highly than the flatpack that they started with
This “IKEA effect” may make some sense in valuing the labour involved. However, it also seems to be feeding into a sense of meaning and purpose. If I put time and effort into building something or creating something, then I feel good about it. In a small, and perhaps meaningful way, it can help create a sense of time well spent and bring joy again and again.
I have created gardens a few times in the different places that I’ve lived. I’m not a skilled gardener and have made poor decisions, lost plants and sometimes planted the wrong plant for the location. But the joy and meaning that I have had over the last 18 months with a new garden has been worth all the work, time and money. It would have been easier to get someone to do it for me. But I love checking in on how the plants are going and figuring out what I need to be doing to support them. This spring was amazing with so much colour and bees and moths, and butterflies. It was all worth it.
For me the value of the garden is so much more than the dollar value of the plants and the hardscaping. As Norton  found with the IKEA effect I love the garden in a way that brings meaning into my life. What seems like such a normal/small thing in my life is one of the building blocks of my overall sense of meaning and purpose.
References: M. I. Norton, D. Mochon, and D. Ariely, The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love, Journal of Consumer Psychology, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 453460, 2012, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2011.08.002.
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