Study: Physical possessions and U.S. families

According to a recent study released by the UCLA Center on the Everyday Lives of Families, U.S. families have reached “material saturation.” The back areas of our homes (closets, basements, attics, cupboards) are so stuffed with possessions that our things spill out into our front areas (table tops, floors, furniture) and create more visible clutter than ever before in the history of the world. We’re no longer enjoying leisure activities and our children’s stuff is at the top of our clutter piles.

Published July 1, 2012, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century examined the homes of 32 southern California families. The visits took place from 2001 to 2005 and involved families with two parents who worked full-time and who had 2 or 3 children in the home (and at least one of those children was between 7 and 12 years old). The families represented multiple ethnic groups, neighborhoods, occupations, and income levels. Data was collected on each family through week-long in-person site visits, interviews, videos, and surveys.

Children

The study makes one point very clear — clutter and children have a strong correlation.

Our data suggests that each new child in a household leads to a 30 percent increase in a family’s inventory of possessions during the preschool years alone.

How is it that children lead to such a drastic increase (30 percent!) in possessions? The researchers provide two explanations: parental guilt because of working outside the home and generous grandparents.

The United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children, yet U.S. families annually purchase more than 40 percent of the total toys consumed globally. Spilling out of children’s bedrooms and into living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and parents’ bedrooms, the playthings of America’s kids are ubiquitous in middle-class homes. … A sense among working parents that they have less time to spend with their children may be spurring them to shower kids with toys to compensate for a perceived loss of quality time at home. Other relatives contribute to children’s material assemblages, including about $500 spent by grandparents each year on toys, clothes, books, and other gifts. Given the high divorce rate in the U.S., many children wind up getting gifts from multiple sets of grandparents.

Refrigerators

Another interesting correlation emerged during the study of the 32 families was that the number of items on a family’s refrigerator seemed to have tracked to how much stuff cluttered up the home. The more densely populated the front and sides of the refrigerator, the more crammed the house was with stuff.

… the refrigerator panel may function as a measuring stick for how intensively families are participating in consumer purchasing and how many household goods they retain over their lifetimes.

Imagined Leisure

U.S. families are no longer taking advantage of the bicycles in their garages, the hot tubs or swimming pools in their backyards, their swing sets, or their patio equipment. Items conducive to relaxation were purchased by the families in the study, but rarely or never used.

Leisure is indoors. Most families have cluttered home offices or desk spaces with computers that are visually stress inducing and intrude on indoor leisure time, reminding families of workplace commitments. The material residue of families’ vanishing leisure includes these overused home offices and rarely used back yard patios and play areas.

How Does It Happen?

In a recent interview in The New York Times, Anthony P. Graesch, an assistant professor of anthropology at Connecticut College and one of the researchers of the study, commented that he believes U.S. families are overwhelmed by their stuff. Stress levels are almost as high as the clutter.

In this interview, he provided more reasons for how he believes physical possessions have taken over U.S. families.

We can see how families are trying to cut down on the sheer number of trips to the store by buying bulk goods. How they can come to purchase more, and then not remember, and end up double purchasing.

In short, a family’s desire to save time ended up costing space and creating anxiety. Finally, he postulated families could reclaim their homes and stress levels if they became more comfortable with letting things go.

The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.

40 Comments for “Study: Physical possessions and U.S. families”

  1. posted by Shalin on

    *****
    In short, a family’s desire to save time ended up costing space and creating anxiety. Finally, he postulated families could reclaim their homes and stress levels if they became more comfortable with letting things go.

    “The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.”
    *****
    What a concise elucidation of the situation…and probably a “Can I get an Amen!?” moment :)

  2. posted by Monica on

    The New York Times article said they concluded the fridge surface clutter had no correlation with the other household clutter.

  3. posted by Marrena on

    And this is why this website will always be popular

  4. posted by Nicleau on

    Just to pick on grandparents for bit—this is why we asked the multiple sets of grandparents in our childrens’ lives to limit their gift-giving to one toy and/or one book or piece of clothing when they were little. You would have thought I asked them to pluck out their eyes. Grandparents do not have a “right” to spoil their grandkids with stuff. Now that the kids are older, the grandparents don’t have a clue what to buy, so they just send money–which tells me the gift-giving was more about them and less about truly wanting to “gift” the child. (Otherwise, I’d have a pile of money in their education accounts–asked for money every year for those accounts, never received a dime.)

  5. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Monica — I saw that, too, and I think the researcher in the paper was trying to say that he hopes someone does a broader study of this to see if it extends beyond 2 parent-2 child families (to singles, larger families, one parent families, etc.). What they have can’t be applied beyond what they studied. In the study itself, they conclude they noticed the correlation with the families they observed. What is quoted above is from the study itself.

  6. posted by Ann on

    This good article points to the real culprit, which is stress. Some would say it has been socially engineered – keep people stressed out and they won’t have the time or energy to pay attention to, much less complain about, illegal wars, corporate takeover of education, etc etc.

    And if stress is the cause, clutter is the symptom. And though decluttering clearly makes our lives easier and more pleasant, running to the store every time you need something will not give you any more time to use that hot tub.

    We’ve been thoroughly brainwashed to think that getting rid of the symptom (clutter) is all that needs to be done, rather than cutting out the root cause.

    I have more stuff than my neighbors, but I keep it organized. And I use my hot tub and deck lounge chairs frequently, and they NEVER do. They literally believe they’re not doing the right thing if they let themselves just relax. THIS is the problem. The clutter is the end-of-the-line symptom.

  7. posted by Jodi on

    I found it interesting that they said there was a 30% increase in stuff with each child. I wonder how they calculated this though, since they didn’t do any studies on married-no-kid families.

    I mean, if you take the collective whole (100% stuff in the family) and divide it between the people (4 in a two-child home, 4 in a three-child home), you get 25% or 20% each.

    I just find it hard to believe that in a 3-child home (for example) the three kids are responsible for 90% of the stuff. Unless I’m misunderstanding something, but since they didn’t study any 2-adult 0-children families I’m not sure how else they would have compared this.

  8. posted by Jasi on

    My husband and I enjoy some basic tech and dining out. We don’t really enjoy a lot of possessions around. When we had children our clutter (or theirs rather) became sort of intense. We sat down with immediate family (close aunts and grandparents) and let them know our wishes. If they wanted to contribute to the children, a small toy is nice, a small deposit into their college fund is better and the very best is time spent. It’s been an awesome transition. My dad is still reluctant and likes to give a big fancy present at events but my mom, sisters, everyone else is completely on board and really enjoy the release from “having to” buy toys also. Win/win.

  9. posted by Pony Rider on

    I think it’s a two-way street: Stress makes people buy too much stuff and too much stuff make people stressed out.. What is done to relieve the stress, can only be a VERY temporary fix and in reality makes the problem worse and people end up completely overwhelmed and wiped out.And why are people so stressed? Because they work too much on jobs they don’t enjoy, to buy all that stuff they don’t need and that will only serve to make them more stressed…

  10. posted by Another Deb on

    The curse of choices combined with expectations ingrained by media= too much stuff! If we reduce our exposure to media and to the groaning board of consumer goods, we can get a better grip on what we truly need.

  11. Avatar of

    posted by chacha1 on

    I’m with Pony Rider. When I was in a very bad job, I shopped for entertainment/stress relief. Once I got out of there, I started feeling oppressed by all the stuff I’d accumulated.

    Been decluttering ever since and my stress levels have gone down with each achievement of Net Loss of Stuff.

    I’d like to think that if a job went bad on me in the future, I’ve developed better coping mechanisms.

  12. Avatar of

    posted by mad_scientist on

    “The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.”

    I agree. We need to create our own rituals and mechanisms for getting rid of stuff. If we shop once a month, do we discard things once a month? Probably, we discard things less often.

    In the US, the end of the calendar year is the most popular time to donate items to charities, but it is also a very busy holiday time for many of us. Other annual opportunities are spring cleaning and back to school time. The latter is great for getting rid of clothes that no longer fit. Spring cleaning could become more “spring clean-out”. Flylady’s decluttering events (“superfling boogies”) have been scheduled twice a year or so. From personal experience, the first month of spring, when you fling open the windows to a good breeze, is a good time to clear things out.

  13. Avatar of

    posted by Michael Tannery on

    This article is so timely. About 1/4 of my prospective clients start out with “we’ve moved a bunch of times already to bigger and bigger houses but the clutter never goes away, that’s why we’re calling a professional organizer before we buy another bigger house.” It’s never occurred to them that it’s not space they need, but a system.

  14. posted by Kim on

    We recently had a garage sale that was, compared to others we’ve had, a complete flop! We had good stuff, cheap price tags, and plenty of people. But very little was purchased. I theorized then that perhaps everyone is over-saturated with stuff. Maybe I was right?

  15. posted by Ida on

    When my son was around 5yrs old I took a que from a friend. In the invite to friends I asked “in lieu of gifts please bring non-perishable food items to be donated to our local food pantry”.

    I explained to my son that with the size of our family he wouldn’t be missing much, after all how many $10.00 action figures does one kid need?

    He agreed and each year for about 6yrs we would go the food pantry and donate the items.

    It gave him a sense of pride and hopefully a lasting tradition in giving.

  16. posted by Erika on

    As I’m typing this, I’m aware that it sounds kinda nutty…

    …but I think it’s rude to tell people what they can or cannot give your child. It presumes that a. they were going to give something and b. that your wishes are more important than their generosity.
    Now. If they *ask* what to give, that’s a totally different situation. But a sit-down out of nowhere seems off to me.

    However, I do not think it’s rude to regularly cull the toy clutter, and I do so monthly with my little ones. No grand or friend has ever asked what happened to this or that toy, but if they did, then they would be the rude ones. When a gift is given, you can do with it what you wish – even it it’s re-gift or donate it.

    To sum – yeah, I’m saying it’s okay for people to buy things that you don’t need and for you to then just give it away…but it’s not about the thing, it’s about the ritual.

  17. posted by laura m. on

    Erika, I agree, ditto for wedding/shower/b’day gifts too. I see peoples garages cluttered with stuff/junk near me, cars stay outdoors baking in intense heat. Hoarders are selfish, as there are many charities/group homes in my city that need all kinds of items. Their stuff is piled up to mildew and is unneeded. Some can barely get to the entrance in the garage.

  18. posted by Mary Denny on

    All I can say is WOW!

  19. posted by Shadlyn Wolfe on

    I don’t think that it’s rude to say “No gifts” before the event/day/etc.

    I think it’s even better to provide suggestions for perishable options: A supply of the child’s favorite chocolate, or some paint or crayons. Things that get USED UP.

    If the day comes and they show up with a hunk of plastic, though, then you smile and thank them politely. Then you decide what to do with it after they’ve gone home and the child has had a day or two to get over it. And if it’s one of the rare things the child REALLY gets hooked on…cool.

    My mom insists on giving me gifts at Christmas. I have managed to turn most of that into art supplies, but round about March, if I haven’t used some impulse thing she got me, then I let it go to Goodwill. I don’t berate her Christmas morning because she felt bad taking me at my word.

  20. posted by Jeri on

    I must admit for gift giving I have started to give cash to the nieces and nephews. Regarding my own over abundance of leisure time materials, I invite like minded friends that share the same hobbies/passions as I do to celebrate my birthday. I cook, which I enjoy, and everyone goes home with a bag of items I am no longer interested in using, or haven’t used in 24 months. What isn’t selected by them, then gets donated. I have managed to remove several yards of fabric, patterns and numerous books from my collection. This past year I opened it up to a “ladies luncheon and swap meet”, so others could bring items they wanted to move along as well. It has proven to be very successful in reducing clutter and guilt, along with the stress caused by both.

  21. posted by krystl on

    I don’t think it is rude at all to let grandparents, etc. know what would be needed/appreciated–had that happened and been respected in my house, I would not have spent every holiday being “ungrateful” for gifts I couldn’t use.

    My grandparents created such memories as: giving me a snowsuit when I lived in a climate with no snow and not being a skiier. I tried to be brave and was dutifully thankful (the tears came later), but that was clutter for years (I wasn’t allowed get rid of it-it was a present, after all). That year I had asked for a donation to send me to a special summer educational program my parents couldn’t afford (but wasn’t overly out of reach).

    When in college a continent away, I asked my whole family for practical gifts I needed to survive (they always asked for ideas) and was told “gifts are what the other wants to give, not what you want/need” and “money is impersonal”. That right there defines for me the problem: to them, the gift is supposed to be about the giver not the receiver. It was/is misplaced “generosity”–true generosity wants the other person to be happy not miserable.

    As an adult, I have rid the clutter of those experiences and broken the cycle. I love gifting, but I listen to who I gift and yes, I gift experiences and use gift cards to locations I honestly believe the person would like/need. Ironically, I am known as the “thoughtful unique giver” in my family.

    There is a theory based on “5 Love Languages”. It says that one of these languages is “gifting”. I believe saying “no gifts” denies people who use the act of thoughtful gifting as a way to express feelings no outlet and can hurt them (poorly explained here). I honestly encourage people to tell me what they love. Grandparents may really feel a need to “gift” and it is more complicated than just saying “no gifts”. Sitting loved ones down and communicating, offering options for appropriate gifts may ease the situation.

  22. posted by Erol on

    The refrigerator clutter comment is an interesting one. But isn’t it really a chicken-or-the-egg situation. If one has a clutter-filed house (like my in-laws) doesn’t it make sense that the ‘fridge would also be cluttered (also like my in-laws) and not the other way around?

  23. posted by Maryann Murphy on

    Great discussion! There are so many emotions associated with out “stuff” – gifting material things as a way to express love, surrounding ourselves with things as a way to relieve anxiety about scarcity, and as chacha1 said, shopping as entertainment (the pretty stores mesmerize us and make us forget our stresses).

  24. Avatar of

    posted by Michael Tannery on

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with telling potential gift-givers on what your kids may or may not want. You’re the parent, and the last thing you want is a violent video game which will undermine all your efforts as a parent, but you can’t get rid of because it was given by someone special. Half the battle is controlling what’s going into your house, and because sentiments easily attach themselves to gifts, then unwanted gifts make it twice as hard to purge because of the attached sentiments. For our birthdays at home, we always just ask people to bring their favorite dishes, and we all sample each other’s cooking. For holidays, we ask people to bring items to donate, and then we have a gift-wrapping party for the local shelters and orphanages. We have everything we need at home, so give us food, experiences, or something we can give back to the community.

  25. posted by Andrea Harris on

    You don’t need a “system.” Or, the only “system” you need is “we’re keeping things no older than a year old, and maybe some of the expensive jewelry grandma left us. Everything else is going to the dumpster or Goodwill.” And you need, not a regular will of iron, but any will at all. And if any of the homes of regular middle class people that I’ve been in are any indication, rent a dumptruck and a couple strong guys, and send the kids to Disney World while everything gets done. The screaming will be over in about a week and then you’ll feel great.

  26. posted by Jo@simplybeingmum on

    The easiest way to not accumulate clutter is not to acquire it in the first place…

  27. posted by wednesday on

    I’m deep into a book called, “Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Rest of Your Life”. It’s essentially about decluttering your mind so you can make room for what really matters in your life and thereby change your life. One sentence that’s really struck me in it is that all of the messages and marketing in our society is to get us to “have” (and get more) rather than to just “be.” And all of the stuff we accumulate doesn’t make us happy. I can’t remember a time when I was ever taught formally to sit down and relax. I had to learn that for myself. Of course, none of us are formally taught how to declutter either — either our minds or our lives. Thank you, Erin!

  28. posted by Stephen on

    We seem fascinated with this topic and make the mistakes of comparing ourselves to those who have serious problem with hoarding. In fact, Hoarders debuted as the most-watched series premiere in A&E network history among adults aged 18–49. It seems, like Facebook, we are fascinated with watching train wrecks.

  29. posted by Dinah Gray on

    I disagree that it is rude to ask to not recive gifts. I think you have the right to stop things from coming into your house. I have found it increasingly difficualt to find homes for things I do not need and I care about the enviornment will not in good conscience throw it in the trash. Everything that someone gives me or my child that we do not need or want is one more thing on my to do list. That time and energy spent trying to dispose of the item could be time I soak my feet or time I spend with my child.

    And as a gift giver, I want to give someone something they want and can use. I do not want to give someone a gift that will cause them more stress and give them more un-nessasary tasks. I want gifts I give to be for that person, not for me and what I think they should have.

    I talked with my mom before I had my daughter and let her know that I did not want her to shower gifts on my child like she had done to my sisters kids. It worked out well. My 5 year old loves to sleep over at grandma’s and I think she associates grandma with the time she spends, not the money she spends. I told my mom that if she enjoyed spending money on a child, she should consider finding a child in need. How cool would it be if grandmothers got together and started spending that time and money showering children of poor families with new outfits, toys, school supplies, etc…

  30. posted by Allison on

    @Jodi – you need to check your math. Three kids adding 30% doesn’t mean that they have 90% of the stuff. It means each child adds 30% to the existing amount.

    0 kids = 100%
    1 kid = 100% + (100 x 0.30) = 130%
    2 kids = 130% + (130 x 0.30) = 169%
    3 kids = 169% + (169 x 0.30) = 219.7%

    So by this “rule”, the 3 kids account for 54% of the stuff. I don’t know that I agree with the rule because I would think subsequent children wouldn’t add as much additional stuff as the first child because you’d presumably be re-using things like the crib, outgrown clothes, and sharing things like toys.

  31. posted by Kate on

    There was a lively discussion of this same article on another blog that I read. I found it fascinating.

    For the record, I’m extremely neat, tidy, and organized, and as a result, my home if I’m not careful can feel too spare, so I take steps to make sure I keep some visual warmth, layers, and textures. One way I achieve that is by having lots of photos, ticket stubs, etc., on my fridge!

    I would like to say that people need to be careful to not confuse clutter/lots of stuff/disorganization — which is what the original article was about — with actual hoarding, which is a crippling psychological disorder that needs professional treatment.

    As upsetting as a hoarding situation is, a hoarder is not “selfish” for holding onto possessions, any more than a person with bipolar is “selfish” for being emotionally exhausting to be around sometimes, or than a depressed person is “selfish” for not wanting to do anything fun.

  32. posted by Hari on

    This is a wonderful discussion, and a great article. My family has made a drastic shift from living in a cluttered 1500 sq. ft. house to living very simply in a 168 sq. ft. (plus lofts) tiny house. I can honestly say I’ve never been happier. Living with only the necessary brings life into meaningful focus. Our family enjoys deeper relationships and more quality time together. The biggest impact was getting rid of our TV. We love the freedom from intense marketing. Our kids are happy playing in the woods and catching chickens. Life is good!

  33. posted by LJ on

    I don’t believe it’s rude to establish and maintain boundaries. What is and is not acceptable for family and friends to gift to you and your children can and should be respectfully communicated. Yes, it’s sweet that people want to give things as presents. It’s not sweet as a parent to have to tell a child that a well-intended gift (think large, extravagant kid toy) does not literally fit in the home. I would rather the supposedly emotionally mature adult suffer the minor hurt of a respectful but firm “no gift” policy.

  34. posted by Marie on

    I am looking forward to reading this book (from the library).

    The drifts of toys are the bane of my home life, but I don’t buy the whole “parental guilt” reasoning used by the researchers. I’m a stay-at-home parent in a small house, so what excuse do I have for acquiring interesting and engaging toys for my child? Also, there are lots of toys, but they are not necessarily new or fancy. Think cardboard tubes and bottle caps. Part of the problem is that anything can become a toy to a child – instant playthings that, coincidentally, cannot be thrown away without protest. Another part of the problem is organization – a place for everything is not necessarily where “everything” is played with.

    Every so often, I box up a third of the toys and books for donation or the basement, just to thin things out a little. Then the tide rolls back in. Thank goodness at least one set of grandparents are more interested in giving interesting experiences rather than things.

    The gift giving (or not giving) is another tangled issue entirely. My immediate and extended family is guilty of passing things on to other family members to get rid of them. Or often, of over-buying and then trying to give/gift it away. It helps to be aware of that and repel extraneous items at the door, but it’s trickier if the things come gift-wrapped. Ass LJ said, it’s not rude to establish and maintain boundaries. We have plenty of rituals for acquiring more things; we need more rituals for getting rid of things.

  35. posted by Erika on

    To be clear, I’m not thinking it’s rude to establish and maintain boundaries…respectfully…if you have that kind of relationship with someone already. If my mom asked to give my kids something our home couldn’t handle, I would raise my objections and ask that she not do that.

    But it is rude to request someone give you something specific, even if it’s in the interest of a decluttered home – and requesting someone give a food drive item or donate to a charity, is in fact requesting their gift. A noble, “better”, gift absolutely, but still not your right to request.
    Think of it this way: it’s not rude to have a wedding registry, it is rude to include it in the invitation to the wedding.

    And lastly – if we want to teach our kids to be good stewards of their living spaces and material possessions, not allowing them to go through the process of deciding what to keep and what to donate, not letting the clutter come in the first place, may not be the best way. You can’t control everything that comes into your kids life, or arrives at their birthday party, but you can teach them how to handle it once its there.

  36. posted by Dede on

    Everyone seems to be talking about gift-giving to young children. Because all our kids are born in the last week of the year, we asked family that they gift one birthday and one Christmas present. When the kids were little, they would make a Christmas List and share it with family. A cute idea when they were little. But the outcome years later is that the relatives felt they had to “clear it” with us before buying the kids a gift. Do you have any idea how hard it is EVERY year to coordinate gift giving? I developed a strong dislike of the Holiday Season because of it. Until the family discovered the kids LOVE gift certificates, and now that they are “grown-up” (ie: post high school), cards and cash/gift certs are the best and most appreciated.

  37. posted by Her from there on

    Ah,”Love languages” and “boundaries”. Two things I understand and two things the rellies dont! My request for minimal presents was met with “our family ALWAYS gives lots of gifts”. My request for no more presents for me after I turned 40 was met with disbelief and the hurtful comment that I must have not liked any of their previous presents. The truth? MIL is probably a gift giver as a way of showing love. One of my other friends is and she will buy me something even when I say no gifts. Me, I am SO not a gift giver. I hate being forced to buy things for people I have nothing to do with or know nothing about. I express my love by Acts of Service and I accept love in the form of Words (eg: the card if it has a handwritten comment in it means more to me that the gift!). All that aside though, since the rellies live 3000 km away and have no idea what we have, it would be nice if they listened to us about what the kids need/want so that the kids could enjoy what they get rather than donating it because they either already have it or are totally over it. Thankfully my SIL with all the neices and nephews and I agreed to gift cards and now we get a phone call telling us the great things the kids bought and how much they are enjoying their choices. Much better AND reduces clutter as they usually buy one larger or more expensive gift than a ton of small ones.

  38. posted by Michelle on

    It’s frustrating when people don’t listen to your gift guidelines. I recently got married and in the bachelorette party invite that my maid of honor sent out, I requested no gifts. Part of it was because the party was held out of town for most people, so I considered the 14-hour round trip drive or 6-hour round trip bus ride just to celebrate with me to be my gift. A friend, however, texted me after receiving the invite to ask what the “deal” was with the no gift policy. I told her my justification and also mentioned that you know, living with my finance for 6 years, it wasn’t as if I was in need of lingerie. She told me that since I was getting married, I *had* to spice up my love life. Not surprisingly, she gave me three thongs at my bach party. I realize that this gift was *completely* for her, and somehow not intended to be for me. So, I thanked her. and because I don’t wear thongs, the underwear sits unused in a box in my dresser. Argggh!! What is with people?!

  39. posted by clothespin on

    We lost our house in the huge Texas wildfire last September (the Bastrop fire) and while are now fine, have rebuilt… I and my fellow fire people (1600 families lost their homes, so there’s a large sample pool here) have noticed an interesting trend. Most of us no longer care much for “stuff”. We have bought/been donated the basics, fill in the gaps as needed but for the most part have only a fraction of possessions of what we had before the fire. My kitchen still has empty shelves on it, though we’ve been back in our house for almost 3 months, and the storage bins that I have under my bed are largely empty – there for the time when things like holiday ornaments and the like finally re-enter our lives.

    My 4 year old daughter is adament that we will not be having Christmas this coming year because “she has enough stuff”. She repeats this every time we mention the holiday. It’s not that I’m anti gift giving, but I think it is that we’ve gotten so much the past year and talked about NEED that she’s gained a true understanding of things. I am having to tell her that it is OK to get a few new things, that as she gets older, toys for younger kids can be shared with other kids who need them. She TOTALLY gets the donation idea and routinely hands over stuff that she doesn’t want anymore (if if I’d rather she keep it) to take to the thrift store. And the donation center folks were always a bit surprised, we gave to them far more than we ever took…

    Interestingly, and I really really wish that there would be a study done on this (perhaps the professor who first started studying the hoarding idea could do this – our fire would be the perfect data set) is that there are a few people who have gone the total opposite direction and now are verging on hoarding. The lady I talked to said that her in laws claimed that they felt if they gathered MORE stuff than before, then life would return to “normal”… Interestingly enough, my mom up in Kansas, who lives near the town of Greensburg (where a devestating tornado destroyed nearly the entire town 5 or so years ago) said that she also met a family who started collecting stuff post disaster.

    It seems odd that so many of us go the “less is more” way while a few go the total opposite. I’m a scientist (though not in psychology) and it just makes me wonder what could possibly cause this discrepancy? Many of us who are now in the “less” category were certainly not there before the fire, so it is not a continuance of previous behavior.

    In fact, pre-fire, I was one who definitely had too much, who aspired to go minimalist (thus why I read this blog) but was never able to get there on my own. Not that I receommend this path to stuff reduction, but it certainly was effective! And, as a consequence, I am now a person who gets rather freaked out about gift giving season – the getting part not the giving. I just don’t want the stuff and don’t want to have to deal with it when we get home. I even canceled a baby shower, in part because I was worried about people buying me things that I didn’t need or want – even though I lost ALL of my baby stuff from my first child. Crazy, I know.

    However, friends who know us and are around here have given us things as they go through their baby stuff… and instead of a shower, we got a drizzle, perfect for saying “I don’t need it, but thanks” and then being able to fill in the rest on our own. It is also just so liberating knowing that I will not be keeping anything after I am done using it this time – no more babies for us. And even the clothes that my 4 year old out grows now will be passed on – I can always get more used clothes for when this new little girl gets that size and not have to bother with storing it in the mean time.

  40. posted by arianna on

    “The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.”

    I think along with the sentiments of that last quote, which I really agree with, we really have a strange paradox in society these days where we are socialized to think “I can’t throw that out, I might be able to fix it/use it again someday” combined with the ability to purchase new goods at very low prices. These days, people don’t find value in getting a $10 end table at a garage sale, for instance, because they can probably get a brand spanking new one for the same price, with no wear & tear! I personally find it to be a frustrating place in which to be stuck, and I find it causes much more clutter for me because I want to hold onto the coffee pot from our old, broken coffee maker…just in case the new one breaks. But by the time it does, we’ll probably just get an entirely new coffee maker anyway, right? Oy.

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