When Doing Less Results in Happier Families: Using the “Ikea Effect” in Funeral Service

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to do less and have families be happier with a funeral service? Sound too good to be true? Discover how using the "Ikea Effect" can benefit both you and the families you serve.

When asked about the most meaningful parts of a loved one’s funeral, the bereaved often talk about parts of the service in which they were involved. Personally, I clearly remember every service where I was a pallbearer. In every instance, I felt like my role was critically important, even though it lasted only a few seconds. Similarly, a close friend agonized for several days as he drafted the eulogy for his father. Despite the anxiety and sleepless nights, he wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

This value that we place on being personally involved in creating something has a specific psychological term. The "Ikea Effect" is when people tend to overvalue things that they have put effort into creating or assembling themselves. (This effect is named after the Swedish furniture store Ikea, where customers assemble their own furniture). Psychological studies have shown that we tend to place a higher monetary and emotional value on items that we personally made or created. For example, do you still have something you made in high school shop class? Are you especially proud of a home renovation or repair that you completed yourself? If you spent hours quilting a blanket or knitting a sweater for yourself, how much would it cost to buy it from you?

I think the definition of the “Ikea Effect” should include the higher value we place on items and experiences that we personally helped create. When families are given the opportunity to participate in the funeral planning process for a more personalized service, they can feel a sense of ownership and connection to the event – and also find it to be more valuable.


There are many different ways that families can be actively involved in creating the funeral experience:

  • Creating a display of keepsakes, hobbies, awards, etc.
  • Writing and delivering the eulogy
  • Helping dress their loved one or fix their hair and makeup
  • Creating a music playlist
  • Compiling and organizing the pictures for a tribute video
  • Serving as a pallbearer
  • Reading, singing or playing an instrument during the funeral service
  • Choosing mementos or food selections to honor the deceased (e.g., handing out rulers and #2 pencils to honor a lifelong teacher or handing out quilt or knitting scraps to recognize an avid sewer)

By involving family members in the funeral planning process, they can feel a sense of agency and control during a difficult time. There is another benefit to allowing families to be actively involved: they are less likely to be critical of the service. Any time we are actively involved in an event, we are much more likely to want to defend the value of that service and the people who helped.

Being involved, in even a small way, can be quite therapeutic and healing for families who are grieving. After a loss, it is common to feel powerless and out of control. By putting effort into creating something meaningful, family members can feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment. This can help to alleviate feelings of helplessness or despair that often accompany grief.

However, it is important to note that the "Ikea Effect" can have its limitations. While involving family members in the funeral planning process can be empowering and meaningful, we should ensure that they are not overwhelmed or burdened by the additional responsibilities. A general rule of thumb is that funeral directors should offer several ways for family members to be involved, but these opportunities should not require too much time or effort. As with many funeral-related matters, funeral professionals should be mindful of the family's emotional and physical capacity, as well as the unique circumstances of their loss.

With these cautions in mind, the "Ikea Effect" can help families feel a sense of ownership and connection to their loved one’s funeral. These days, we are all concerned about the public valuing funeral rituals less and less. By looking for creative opportunities for a bereaved family to be involved, we can help them see the funeral as a meaningful and worthwhile event.

For more stories and insights written especially for funeral professionals, I invite you to join the free Finding Resilience email program. Each week, I share practical advice about preventing funeral professional burnout, from prioritizing goals for your funeral home business to finding work-life balance and much more.

Subscribe to the Homesteaders BlogGet the latest funeral service tips and insights delivered to your inbox.