Reader Angela submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I work from home with one laptop (a MacBook), which is all I need — until my two children (10 and 15) come home! Then, it’s a fight over who needs the computer. I am usually finished with work, but I may want to surf and check my email. The kids claim to have homework, but I seriously doubt their teachers are assigning videos from YouTube! Anyway, my question for you and the Unclutterer readers is, “How many computers do you think are normal for a family of three?” I am trying to buy less and save more, but I really want another Mac!
To answer your stated question about how many computers are normal for a family of three, the answer is one computer. The Kaiser Family Foundation (using data from the US Department of Commerce) reports that although 90 percent of children in 2009 have access to a computer at home, only 36 percent of children ages 8-18 have their own computers in their bedrooms. So, most children are using a shared family computer in their homes.
However, these facts are meaningless if you are interested in getting a second computer. Evaluate your situation, save the $1,500 for a new Mac, and then buy one if you decide it is what is best for you and your family. Remember, if an object has utility for you and your family, it’s not clutter.
Before buying a second computer, though, I’d like to recommend an experiment for you to conduct. Tell your children that you realize you all can’t use the computer at the same time when you’re at home and you’ve decided to alleviate this problem. Then, the next day after school, drive them to the public library. Synchronize your watches and tell your children they have 45 minutes to jump on the computers and complete their digital-necessary homework. After a week of spending 45 minutes each evening at the library, you’ll have a good idea as to if your children are using the computers for school work (or socializing) and if you really could benefit from a second home computer.
My guess is that your kids will either complain and whine and tell you that you’re a horrible mom, or they’ll actually appreciate their daily time at the library and enjoy having time on the computers to do their homework without having to share a machine. After years of teaching high school, I can say with absolute certainty that your children are not going to have a vague response — you will know if they need a second computer for school work.
Thank you, Angela, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.
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