The IKEA Effect – When Effort Leads to Love

There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with building something with your own two hands.

I don’t think it’s necessarily that we strive for pride on completion – that’s not the driving force behind creating things. Still, it seems ingrained in us to create, build, and manifest the things we want through our own labor.

There’s something about that process that offers a reward you just can’t get anywhere else.

Peek at history and it’s always been this way. The reasons always vary but since the dawn of dudes and ladies we were making things to experience a better life.

Tools were made to make daily tasks easier.

We built things to bring efficiency to our lives, eliminate burdens, and make room for what made us happy.

In our earliest history the need to create and build had a very real and tangible impact on survival. It was necessary.

Build yourself a place to sleep or your ass got eaten (and not in a good way.)

Time evolved not only what we build on but why we build – but the reward never changes. Absolute bliss at taking things provided by the universe and transforming it into something.

We also tend to value things more when we put in a significant amount of work

Some recent psychological studies call this the IKEA effect.

The act of building something, putting your own blood and sweat (and if we’re being honest, plenty of fucking swearing) into a physical object, seems to imbue it with additional value above and beyond its inherent quality.

In the study, participants built a simple IKEA storage box on their own. After they were done they found they were to pay much more for the box than another group of participants who merely inspected a fully built box.

But it’s not just about effort – it’s about completion. And that can be really personal to each individual.

Participants in another study who constructed their own origami frogs and cranes valued them roughly five times as much as another group of participants thought they were worth.

It’s worth noting that participants in these studies were not allowed to personalize their projects; they were working on totally generic projects that offered virtually no room for customization. While it might not be a surprise that people who go out and find materials to put together a one-of-a-kind table or bookshelf would relish something made just to their liking, the act of putting it all together oneself provides no small part of the resulting satisfaction.

Here’s what’s so beautiful about the human condition: people have a propensity to problem solve.

We look at the final product, then at all the parts, and say “Shit, assembling this IKEA box is hard. These instructions are fucked. How do I do this?!”

There are people who won’t and instead just buy a box.

But there are so many more people who will start to pick through the problem to find and manufacture a solution. They dig into the meat of the hardware and think “I have these parts… how can I MacGyver this to fix this fucking problem?”

Neither of those choices is necessarily wrong, but one provides a significantly higher level of pride in the accomplishment and leads to more value and ownership in the solution.

If someone else puts that shit together and you put in nothing, or just go buy something already assembled, the elation for a task completed is short lived. It’s quickly forgotten, and the value you placed on the work dissipates because once the you have the box… nothing really changed.

This post has nothing to do with construction and working with your hands…

My readers who know me know that I’m all thumbs and I will straight burn shit to the ground if I try to use tools.

Even if there’s no source of combustion.

This is really about the value of effort.

What we see all around us, flashing in media headlines and on our Facebook feeds, is dramatic fame and achievement with seemingly minimum effort.  It’s infiltrated our approach to just about everything – from quick fix diets to overnight success businesses.

Especially relationships.

This type of achievement is slippery, usually intangible, or at best, very fragile.  Unless our progress and achievements are built on a solid foundation of effort, it can crack and crumble with the mere hint of doubt. Without the foundation of effort, the flimsiest cause can break what we have built and just …fuck up everything we had planned.

After Scott Hildreth met my wife and I at the Romance & Erotica Author Fraternity signing in Gettysburg, put on by Rebels and Readers, he made it a point to share with many of our mutual followers that he could tell my wife and I had a kind of very rare and very real relationship which he compared to his marriage with Jess.

That has continued to stir in my thoughts in the weeks after the signing.

Mainly because as readers and followers have come to know my wife and see our interactions, they swoon and hold up what we have as #RelationshipGoals.

It stirs concern in me because it’s the “finished product” that’s being examined, much like an IKEA box by someone who didn’t assemble it, and thereby the value of it is reduced.

It’s still a beautiful thing to them, but less valuable.

What concerns me about that is that most often when it comes to our lives and relationships, and seeing the glowing relationships of others, the root of our feelings, thoughts, and truths is: How can I get the best results, or the same results, with the least amount of effort?

Roughly translated: “I want that.”

But the end result is not where I want people to focus when they look at relationships like mine. I don’t want people to buy the IKEA box.

I want people to do it themselves; to ask what went into creating the thing, to put the work in, and thereby understand the value as well as the reward that comes from that.

Because I’ll tell you that this IKEA box we’ve built took some serious effort. There were no instructions. I didn’t have the right tools. It was hard fucking work. I couldn’t put a value to it.

It’s fucking priceless.

I have lost count of the number of readers who came to me after reading Scott’s true-life romance, Lover Come Back, asking me to tell my story with Alicia. If you read Scott’s story you know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

It was no different for Alicia and I. While she has expressed that she doesn’t want to tell our story I can express in some succinct “milestone keywords” why what we’ve built is priceless, and hard won:

  • Deceit
  • Poverty
  • Eviction
  • Child Support
  • Divorce
  • Selfishness
  • Depression
  • Death
  • Drugs
  • Betrayal

The reality is that the effort we put in mattered a LOT. There is reward in working hard for something. In this moment. Today.


Nothing changes if we take the easiest solution.

Nothing changes if we let someone else do the work for us.

What we get out of our experience of life is often a direct reflection of the type of effort we put into it. Of course, challenges will come. It’s those challenges that test our devotion to the project in front of us. As difficulty increases you will inevitably ask “Is this even fucking worth it? I fucking HATE this!”

But the question comes back to us: what effort are we willing to give to learn, grow, evolve, practice and overcome?

What effort are we willing to give when we see something, a desired end result, and we say, “I want that.”

I can tell you first hand from the shit we’ve gone through that it is incredibly easy to become overwhelmed with the commitment to your effort, especially if you’re constantly exposed to outside influence (and internal negativity) that makes you believe your effort isn’t going to be enough.

I know. I was married before Alicia.

My prior marriage was a very short, chaotic, and unhappy 3 years. I have two children with my ex-wife. I spent much of that time marveling at the healthy relationships of others, comparing their ‘haves’ to my ‘have not’ all while thinking “I want that.”

Ideas, desires, fantasies, and shortcuts are so fucking easy, and it’s so fucking easy to get lost in them.

My first marriage spiraled because the effort simply wasn’t there.

That’s on me. That was on us.

It can be challenging to recognize why the choices we make on a day-to-day basis matter when we are pummeled from every direction with messages that plant doubt about whether our efforts are all for nothing.

But it’s not about getting it right the first time. Not all effort gains traction and leads to success.

Rather than be overwhelmed by the thought of having to do everything perfectly in order to achieve that one thing you want, like #relationshipgoals, instead commit to the effort.

Because effort matters.

There’s value in effort.

Not all of the effort Alicia and I put in over the last decade produced results. There were plenty of stalls, failures, and fights as a result of effort.

But the effort moved us.

We proved to one another that we were invested, and we valued the work that we were putting in.

As we built this thing together, the perceived value continued to grow. Pride in our accomplishments together grew.

Most importantly, every bit of traction we gained through effort made things just a little easier going forward.

The milestone keywords I shared might shock some, but it should be no surprise that every relationship has hardships.

Here’s how I and Alicia “showed up” in our marriage to be present, make an effort, and build this together.

  • We say what we feel without gloss or sugarcoating – we’re genuine
  • We “show up when we say we will” meaning we’re true to our word
  • We are authentically us
  • We emphatically and enthusiastically let go of the small stuff
  • We make plans together often
  • We surprise one another
  • We curb annoying behavior – even if the other person lets small stuff go, we show respect by not pushing buttons
  • We don’t make ultimatums
  • We are present when shit gets tough and life is tense – we listen, observe, talk, ask questions, and we care
  • We explore how to be helpful without being asked
  • We consciously create time for one another
  • We always strive to do better
  • We never keep score and we share all responsibilities
  • We’re encouraging and supportive
  • We have each other’s backs, even if we might not agree
  • We never take a “day off” from our commitment

If you stop practicing love with your partner for one day, and that one day turns to two and then three and then weeks and months, what level of effort is needed to undo the effects?

You can walk away from assembling the box, and nothing changes.

You can have someone else do it for you, but you don’t grow from that.

Or you can go all in on effort even without the knowledge of what the fuck you’re doing, MacGyver the shit out of it, and take pride in what you’ve done.

There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with building something with your own two hands.

Your effort matters.



By | 2018-05-24T16:52:09+00:00 May 24th, 2018|The Burn Pile|1 Comment

About the Author:

Derek is a retired Emergency Medical Professional and has been a lover of telling stories his entire life, having made the transition from “filthy liar” to “sexy author” about the same time silver hairs started showing up in his face (and other places.) Aside from being a published author and freelance writer he’s also a gamer, gym rat, snow hater (despite living in Michigan), life liver, stunt double for Hulk, and he considers himself to be aggressively unfancy.

One Comment

  1. Deb Cechak May 24, 2018 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    Derek and Alicia,
    Thank you for sharing the REALS!
    Married 33 years and you are spot on about effort. Conscious effort. Loving effort. Painful effort.
    Working towards common goals provide the chance to grow together. My husband is my best friend. Yeah, we have other pwople in our lives but there is NOTHING remotely clise to our committed relationship.
    Is it worth it? Damn right it is, when you find that ‘right’
    person. Not the perfect ine, but the one with the other parts you need to MacGyver your lve together.
    Love you guys❣️

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