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A Culture of Clutter
July 16, 2012 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors, a new book by UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), is the conclusion of an unprecedented nine-year interdisciplinary study of the middle-class American home. A team of archaeologists, anthropologists and other social scientists studied the home life of 32 two-income, middle-class families in Los Angeles. What they found was a lifestyle struggling with consumerism, and a staggering accumulation of possessions:
“The first household assemblage we analyzed, of Family 27, resulted in a tally of 2,260 visible possessions in the first three rooms coded (two bedrooms and the living room),” and that didn’t include “untold numbers of items tucked into dresser drawers, boxes and cabinets or items positioned behind other items.”

"This is the very first study to step inside 21st-century family homes to discover the material surroundings and vast number of possessions that organize and give meaning to the everyday lives of middle-class parents and children," said co-author Elinor Ochs, a UCLA anthropologist and director of CELF.

Added lead author Jeanne E. Arnold: "This is something that's never been done before in a modern society and may never be done again because it was an incredibly labor-intensive enterprise."

While the full study is available as a book, CELF identified seven common challenges facing middle-class families at home:

Mountains of Clutter
Managing the volume of possessions proved to be a crushing problem for the Los Angeles families. One family was reduced to collecting dirty laundry in an unused shower
The New Junk Drawer
Only 25 percent of garages could be used to store cars because they were so packed with household overflow. Family members said they were parking their stuff while deciding what to do with it. Plans to recoup the cost of unused items by selling them on eBay or Craigslist or at a garage sale rarely materialized.
The Lure of Buying in Bulk
The rise of big-box stores has fueled a tendency to stockpile, which compounds clutter. The trend is so pervasive that close to half of the families kept a second refrigerator or freezer to accommodate all the extra food. Some even had a third refrigerator. With bulk-buying, even cleaning products can contribute to the crush of clutter, CELF researchers found.
The Temptation of Toys
Only 3.1 percent of the world's children live in the United States, but U.S. families buy more than 40 percent of the toys consumed globally. The Los Angeles homes were no exception.
The Call of the Couch
Nearly three-fourths of the Los Angeles parents and about half of the children spent no leisure time in their backyards over the course of the study. They could not manage to carve out time to relax, play, eat, read or swim outside, despite the presence of such pricey features as built-in pools, spas, dining sets and lounges.
Fragmented Dinner Time
Allowing dinner time to devolve into independent, individual mini-meals is threatening a sacrosanct American tradition: the family dinner. Fragmented dinners, in which family members eat sequentially or in different rooms, were commonplace in two-thirds of the Los Angeles households. Just 17 percent of dinners were consumed with everyone together.
The Lure of the Refuge
Upgrading the master bedroom — often with the addition of an adjoining bathroom — was the single most common remodeling project among the families. At the time of the study, the cost of expanding a master bedroom or constructing a suite of modest proportions was a little more than $80,000. The amount approached or exceeded the combined annual salaries for many of the families.
posted by 2bucksplus (90 comments total) 117 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first household assemblage we analyzed, of Family 27, resulted in a tally of 2,260 visible possessions in the first three rooms coded (two bedrooms and the living room),”

Hooo-leeeeee shit. I'm picturing some Collyer Brothers-style decorating.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:58 PM on July 16, 2012


And yet it should be said that none of the families in this study were what the researchers consider hoarders (from the WaPo link). Just overwhelmed and unable to reduce the tide of plastic.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:01 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


My assumption is that people would focus on the master bedroom as a way to reclaim private space from the child-centered clutter. A bigger kitchen would be more useful, but it would just fill up with toys and junk.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:02 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


My assumption is that people would focus on the master bedroom as a way to reclaim private space from the child-centered clutter.

In the 80s, this occurred by being told to pick up our damned toys. It did not cost $80,000 to do so.
posted by ellF at 2:06 PM on July 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


Silver lining: they feel guilty about throwing things away into landfills; so, they care about the environment. A little bit.
posted by Melismata at 2:11 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


There was a book that came out a little over a decade ago, called Material World. The photographer picked one or two representative families from all over the world and had them put the contents of their house outside in front. Then he photographed the families with all their stuff.

The same photographer did a later book called Hungry Planet. Same idea, but with a week's worth of groceries.
posted by newg at 2:11 PM on July 16, 2012 [16 favorites]


This reeks of hysterical generalizations for me.

Nearly three-fourths of the Los Angeles parents and about half of the children spent no leisure time in their backyards over the course of the study. They could not manage to carve out time to relax, play, eat, read or swim outside, despite the presence of such pricey features as built-in pools, spas, dining sets and lounges.

You know who can't find time to spend with their families in the yard? People that don't want to spend time with their families in the back yard.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:13 PM on July 16, 2012 [19 favorites]


man this stuff speaks to me. But things, you know, have value! Can I really just... throw it away? That picture? Those weights I never use? My six shelves of "Favorite books as well as books that define my personality" that I have not read in years and years?

My current strategy is to make my living room so uncomfortable that no lounging may be done. Heh. Whatever, me.
posted by rebent at 2:15 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is a symptom of a sick society, to be able to afford to accumulate overwhelming volumes of junk, yet unable to afford schoolteachers, firemen or new bridges.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:15 PM on July 16, 2012 [34 favorites]


"The first household assemblage we analyzed, of Family 27, resulted in a tally of 2,260 visible possessions in the first three rooms coded (two bedrooms and the living room),” "

So, they're counting every single object--every pencil, every mug, every trophy given for every sports team? I'm sure most of us have some staggering number of objects at hand.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:20 PM on July 16, 2012


Graesch surmises that "Dual-income parents get to spend so very little time with their children on the average weekday, usually four or fewer waking hours. This becomes a source of guilt for many parents, and buying their children toys, clothes and other possessions is a way to achieve temporary happiness during this limited timespan."


This is incredibly fascinating, and I'd say contains more than a little truth. It's also one of the easiest target audiences - what kid is going to say they've got enough toys?
posted by corb at 2:21 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


So really, this should be re-titled a Study of Two-Income Middle Class Families in Los Angeles, eh?

Possession Count...


So, uh, are they counting as possessions that photograph on the front page of the article where someone has a giant music collection consisting of CDs and LPs? If so...that really seems like a convenient way to inflate a comment.

"Fathers in their home tours would walk in the same rooms their wives had come through and often made no mention whatsoever of the messiness and were unaffected psychologically," says Arnold. "This was pretty astonishing." For these dads and for many of the older children, Arnold observes, artifacts are a source of pleasure or pride, and so for these family members, possession leads to contentment. Besides, she adds, "Who has time to clean up?"

Wait, what? Dad's supposed to shout, "WOMAN WHY IS THIS PLACE A MESS?!" ?
posted by Atreides at 2:22 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


what kid is going to say they've got enough toys?

My household has an approximate toy limit based on available storage space; with occasional exception (for large musical instruments, say) old toys have to be donated in order for new toys to come in. So, when they want a new toy, they occasionally make the request by noting the toys that they can donate.

my children have not yet noticed that I'm slowly reducing the amount of storage space available to them
posted by davejay at 2:25 PM on July 16, 2012 [44 favorites]


Wait, what? Dad's supposed to shout, "WOMAN WHY IS THIS PLACE A MESS?!" ?

According to the article women would at least acknowledge the messiness of their households in conversations with researchers, men (and older children interestingly) were either oblivious or would view it with a sort of pride.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:32 PM on July 16, 2012


2,260 visible possessions in the first three rooms

That seems like incredibly few possessions to me. At a rough estimate we have 1400 books in the sitting room alone.
posted by Catch at 2:37 PM on July 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Having spent 8 hours decluttering my office this past Saturday I can totally attest to my life of horrible, horrible trinket-aquiring.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:41 PM on July 16, 2012


We're in the process of packing for a move right now, and I've been staggered at how much crap we have. It's incredibly easy to forget about all of it when it's out of sight in cabinets and closets. We've done a small amount of purging - honestly, I would have gotten rid of more if it was only up to me - and I'd guess with our "light" downsizing I've taken at least six moving boxes' worth to Goodwill already. Plus all the furniture we still need to get rid of.

Now that most of our possessions are in boxes in the dining room, it becomes much more obvious that we have a lot of stuff. And far too much of it elicited a "Where did that come from?!" when it came out of the closet.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:44 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, toys. They multiply. They are evil.

Actually, they're just so cheap that you often get them for free from school events and fastfood meals, and also anyone who knows you have a kid just Loves Buying Toys for them! I ask for books and clothes and I am the meanest mom ever, but they don't understand: WE ALREADY HAVE TOO MANY GODDAMN TOYS.

Meanwhile, we're drowning in a plastic sea of action figures and neglected Hot Wheels (everyone thinks my boy would like another one, but he never plays with them. Or his tractor. Or stuffed animals. Or his toy dinosaurs. He's a Legos and robots-only kid).

Compounding it is my deprived-childhood husband who looks anguished whenever I mention getting rid of a dust-covered superhero from a forgotten animated movie tie-in. You don't throw out toys, noooo!

What I need is not storage or some other kid to give these to. What I need is a matter transmogrifier to throw them into and then make something useful and beautiful out of them.
posted by emjaybee at 2:57 PM on July 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


old toys have to be donated in order for new toys to come in

This was a post-Christmas tradition at my house growing up. I would go through my toys and decide which ones we would take to Goodwill for donation. I plan to pass this one down to my own son.
posted by Fleebnork at 3:00 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can I put in a plug for the virtues of buying in bulk? I live without a car about half the year, and every couple of months I rent a Zipcar to go to Costco, and load up on paper towels and other non perishables. The labor I save myself lugging this stuff home on the bus from the local grocery store is considerable. Yes, if you need a third refrigerator to store your stuff, that's dysfunctional, but I hate seeing Costco tarred as the poster child for overconsumption. Used correctly it means greater efficiency and fewer car trips.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:00 PM on July 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


2000 books but that is absolutely my limit. If I buy a new book one of the ones that is now here has got to go.
posted by bukvich at 3:02 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Temptation of Toys

A couple of years ago I moved into small studio apartment. The 100s of snow globes I brought with me are still in their moving boxes, taking up valuable closet space. I finally got to a place mentally where I was ready to part with them, but now I'm stuck in the "Some of them are probably valuable/I can't just give them all away" loop. I've simplified every other area of my life though, and it's a great feeling.

Help me Corbin Bernson, you're my only hope!
posted by Room 641-A at 3:05 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think a significant contributor to this problem must be the absurd size of the average American home. Our house is tiny--under 800 sq ft--and simply won't allow for the accumulation of crap. The few times I've been to Costco, I've walked out empty-handed. There's no room for four bottles of toilet cleaner, as shown in the photo. I'm throwing stuff out to make room for one.
posted by HotToddy at 3:15 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Buying in bulk is AWESOME, but how is it particularly a 'modern' practice? For me it has the flavour of a desire to return to the old "take the buggy to town twice a year" days.
( I am at present waiting on a delivery of 50kg of supplies to make my own laundry powder).
posted by Catch at 3:20 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The overwhelming tide of toys is why we had a cocktail party for my baby's first birthday this year. His older brother already had a ton of toys, and we knew the baby would get plenty of stuff as it was from his relatives, so we just invited people for cocktails and had surprise cake. And people were like, "Oh, I would have brought him something, I didn't know it was his birthday!" and I was like "EXACTLY."

Also I suddenly feel better that the too much stuff I own is not THIS much too much stuff. I've been banishing stuff as stringently as my beloved pack-rat will allow. Apparently I'm doing okay at it. Also my kids play outside almost every day because otherwise seriously I would lose my mind the house is not big enough for that much running around.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:29 PM on July 16, 2012 [18 favorites]


"The trend is so pervasive that close to half of the families kept a second refrigerator or freezer to accommodate all the extra food."

Call me a cluttery hoarder, but I see nothing wrong with having a second freezer. It holds all the homemade tomato sauce I put up, and all the homemade pizza dough we have on hand, and the casseroles we deliver to friends who just had babies or whose families have been walloped by sickness. And soon, it will hold the meat we're getting from a local farm CSA. Net result: Our food spending has gone down.

If someone wants to manufacture a fridge/freezer unit where the proportions are flipped and the small compartment's the fridge, then I'd use that instead. But I think it's necessary to draw a line between "drowning in surplus food" and "stocking your larder like your forebears did."
posted by sobell at 3:37 PM on July 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


Reading this I feel such a disconnect until I get to the part about clothes. My weakness! Somehow I justify by telling myself it mostly comes from thrift stores, but damn I need to purge some stuff.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:56 PM on July 16, 2012


I was about to mark this post a favorite, but then I realized that I've got too many favorite posts already.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:02 PM on July 16, 2012 [20 favorites]


I feel like I have So Much Stuff, but then I visit other people's houses and they have so much yet again. There is something wrong when stuff is so much cheaper than experiences. I mean, why should a dvd -- a physical object that had to be shipped literally around the world, go through distribution centers, and be handled by dozens of people -- cost less than two tickets to the movies?
posted by Forktine at 4:04 PM on July 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


This was a post-Christmas tradition at my house growing up. I would go through my toys and decide which ones we would take to Goodwill for donation.

This idea has wandered through my mind a couple of times, but each time it does, I get stuck on overthinking it. I don't know if this helps me more, or helps the Goodwill folks more. I think it would help me more ("less clutter!"). I also struggle with how my daughter would interpret this. Would she think, "Old toys are for poorer people. Bring on my new stuff!" because that is the opposite of what I want to model for her. So I get hella annoyed when she begs for things because, dangit, play with what you have! Here, have a cardboard box and a marker! This makes me feel like a really mean parent, but the alternative sucks too. I rarely, rarely buy things anymore that aren't food, clothes, or experiences. But the onslaught of advertising and suggestive selling and cr*p at a kids' eye level...just, wow. It turns any shopping trip into an exhausting battle of wills, so I just have stopped shopping in physical stores.

But both my daughter AND I (and my mother and sisters) suffer from the inability to easily throw away things that we emotionally project our memories upon. My mother has my grandmother's plastic curlers...just old, plastic curlers...because the thought of just throwing them away feels like she is letting her memories of her mom slip away. I have gotten better at these things and have risked hurting my mother's feelings by rejecting many things that she has tried to give to me from her house (old china cabinet I detest, lots of knick-knacks). However, I feel incredibly guilty about it, since she always seems deeply hurt that I do not want these things, they mean something to her and she seems to equate my rejection of the things as a rejection of her.

This is not just about unchecked consumerism. It feels deeper, more systemic, more emotionally broken.
posted by jeanmari at 4:16 PM on July 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Graesch surmises that "Dual-income parents get to spend so very little time with their children on the average weekday, usually four or fewer waking hours. This becomes a source of guilt for many parents, and buying their children toys, clothes and other possessions is a way to achieve temporary happiness during this limited timespan."

That's always what it comes down to. We were better off when we had unpaid female labor to curate the clutter, cook the family meals that everyone ate together, shop every day to avoid unsightly bulk buys, and perform child care tasks to obviate the terrible guilt that makes parents want to buy their children's love with more clothes and toys (the fact that the price of consumer goods has plunged relative to things like housing and health care and education has nothing to do with how much "stuff" we're accumulating.) And most of these people don't even know that the way they're living is wrong! They have no idea that they're supposed to feel guilty about having a messy house and preferring a comfortable living room to a hot backyard (I think the idea is that they're supposed to feel bad about using the living room and kitchen, and about not using the master bedroom and garage.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:32 PM on July 16, 2012 [14 favorites]


I am a massive packrat. It used to be close to hoarding - storage lockers were involved - but it still needs to be brought under control. I want to start living in sin with my SO, and we can't do that if there's too much stuff everywhere to do any actual sinning.

Though I still envy massive American houses. And people who don't rent. Clutter reduction guides are geared toward people who keep their spare stuff in the garage, or the 'family room', or who have the living circumstances that enable them to put up shelves (can't do that if you rent here). You'd think it would be easier if you were a house-sharer with a room to call your own, but fitting your life into a room is really hard once you're old enough to have accumulated several hobbies, trinkets and bottles of perfume.

Buying in bulk is out as well, because you don't have the space or cook big portions often - though fewer cars and fewer Costco type places or coupons make it less common over here, it's a pain when there's an offer on something I actually use but the spare will go bad/take up space. I find the houses in Extreme Couponing, where they have a veritable corner shop's worth of long-life goods in the basement, astonishing. Given the high cost of property (in London at least) I can only look at it and wonder how massive a mortgage would have to be to be able to afford a place with a basement big enough to store literally a lifetime's worth of shampoo, or how much of a pain in the arse it is to move all that when you move house (you'd think moving six times in six years since moving here would diminish the packrattage, but no). It's not possible to coupon in the same way here, but you'd need to have so much space to make that stuff work, and from a non-American perspective it's so bizarre to see. And having attempted to hoard discontinued toiletries in the past, I know that if it doesn't go off, you will get bored of smelling of Alpine Daisies for the next 60 years of your life, but will go on doing so because you are NOW COMMITTED TO SHAMPOO.
posted by mippy at 4:33 PM on July 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


One of the things I've always found interesting about the "stuff" problem is how it's handled in American movies.

Which is to say, never.

Something happens to someone in a movie and they take off around the world on adventures or missions and never once have I heard any of them say, "But I couldn't go to San Francisco/Paris/Borneo to become a musician/journalist/naturalist, who's going to keep an eye on my stuff?"
posted by mmrtnt at 4:33 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


And yeah, hear you on the clothes. I'm a non-standard size in pretty much everything, and there are several popular colours that don't do it for me, so I tend to hang on to things that fit and look good in case they never come by again, or stock up when my favourite colours happen to be in fashion. Particularly shoes. I have size US11 feet, and I am hoping that by the time my 'meeting shoes' wear out, they'll decide to make them again that season.

Fast fashion has a lot to answer for. Shops used to do a few collections a year, now they work on the principle that they'll get it in and sell it fast, so people have got used to the idea that either clothing is ephemeral, or that if you don't buy it now you'll never ever ever get it again. For me, being someone who buys what they like rather than feeling I have to get what's in that week, thrift stores have the same effect. It was eye-opening to watch Hoarders and notice how often the beginning of each show showed the subject going to one of those huge supermarket-like second hand places.
posted by mippy at 4:37 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


> ...feels like she is letting her memories of her mom slip away.

This.

I'm guilty of a lot of this, for people both living and dead.

My girlfriend says, "That [thing] is not your parents"

posted by mmrtnt at 4:37 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tip for weeding out unworn clothes: Hang all your clothes up backwards (hanger hung from the back-side). When you wear something, hang it up normally (hanger hung from front-side). At the end of the year, take everything that's still hung backwards and take it to Goodwill.
posted by LordSludge at 4:39 PM on July 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


One of the things I did just a few months after I got my current job (after two solid years of unemployment) was a gigantic purge of every storage area in my small house. I had to make two huge piles on two different pick-up days for ARC. I also had a few friends walk through the stuff and take whatever they liked, which was very satisfying.

I wasn't making room for new things, either. It just suddenly felt like it was safe to let all this stuff I wasn't using (but could sell) go.

I have a friend who is one step up from being a hoarder. He finds all kinds of neat stuff and brings it home, but rarely if ever lets anything go. It finally got to the point that I cannot stand to be in his house - it's not that it's dirty or dangerous, it's just that all this extraneous STUFF everywhere makes it a stressful place to be. There is no place the eye can rest that is not a jumble of things. Every horizontal surface is covered.

I'm sure there's an emotional element to these families' material overload. It's got to be stressful having all that stuff, but clearing it out would just add stress, and stress can be momentarily relieved by getting stuff, so it's a positive feedback loop.

Two of the nicest compliments I ever received were from a moving guy and friend who was helping me decorate my new house with stuff I already had. They both said, "You don't have a lot of junk."
posted by caryatid at 4:40 PM on July 16, 2012


We were better off when we had unpaid female labor

what
posted by caryatid at 4:46 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


what

That's what most of this kind of cultural commentary comes down to; blaming working mothers. (The fact that the fathers in this study don't even realize that they're supposed to be upset and embarrassed by their non-HGTV-conforming houses is extra-hilarious.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:51 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


We were better off when we had unpaid female labor

HULK SMASH!
posted by Catch at 5:02 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to decline whatever piece of crap my mother would offer me. Now I eagerly accept it and throw it away later. She sure as hell won't.
posted by wrapper at 5:04 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


We were better off when we had unpaid female labor

I'm pretty sure this is sarcasm. If it's not, I'll take my favorite back.
posted by anastasiav at 5:26 PM on July 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


My parents came up with a weird trick when my sister and I were middle schoolers. They looked at the assorted toys taking over the basement, bedrooms and living room, boxed up roughly half of them and put them in storage. Most, but not all, of our favorites stayed on the active roster while less used and nearly forgotten toys would be exiled. Every spring and fall, when the seasonal wardrobes would switch places, there would also be a toy swap.

The strange thing is that it worked, sort of. Toys that we initially liked but had gotten bored of, made unavailable for six months and then returned to active duty were good for at least a solid week or two of amusement before the novelty wore off again. It took us kids a year or two to even notice that our toys were being deployed on multiple tours of duty instead of just being purged and thrown away, never to return.

I was almost a teenager before finally discovering the secret toy stash in the far recesses of the crawl space, bringing their scheme to an end. They still spoiled us at Christmas and birthdays, but lord knows how much money and clutter they saved by finding a way to stretch out novelty as long as they could.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:36 PM on July 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


Thoreau tell us in Walden of an Indian practice: one a year they pile up their possessions and burn them. proably fair to sa ythat hunter-gatherer groups limited what they owned.

But what now for possessions when so many are losing their homes? What then do they do with their goodies?
posted by Postroad at 5:43 PM on July 16, 2012


Yes, sarcasm. (Well, it seriously describes what I think the unconscious motivations usually are for studies like this.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:50 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]




Yes, sarcasm. (Well, it seriously describes what I think the unconscious motivations usually are for studies like this.)


I find myself invoking Poe's law more and more often these days.
posted by caryatid at 5:53 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Moving overseas has a great way of eliminating clutter.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:02 PM on July 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


We were better off when we had unpaid female labor to curate the clutter, cook the family meals that everyone ate together, shop every day to avoid unsightly bulk buys, and perform child care tasks
I'm unpaid female labor and I can't get all that shit done. I blame metafilter and Downton Abby.
posted by artychoke at 6:16 PM on July 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


Moving overseas has a great way of eliminating clutter.

I wish. My friend moving overseas resulted in me (and another friend) keeping many, many boxes of her things in our attics for when (if?) she moves back. So now I have her crap to worry about in addition to all our crap.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:27 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wish. My friend moving overseas resulted in me (and another friend) keeping many, many boxes of her things in our attics for when (if?) she moves back. So now I have her crap to worry about in addition to all our crap.

I've had people ask if they can store stuff with me, and my response is "are you fucking kidding me?" I have never regretted getting rid of something; I have no desire to have to worry about someone else's crap over and above my own. If I were to move, would I be expected to take care of their stuff also?

And having attempted to hoard discontinued toiletries in the past, I know that if it doesn't go off, you will get bored of smelling of Alpine Daisies for the next 60 years of your life, but will go on doing so because you are NOW COMMITTED TO SHAMPOO.

As someone with sensitive skin who occasionally has to switch brands of toiletries because something suddenly starts giving me a rash, I wouldn't dare buy huge quantities. Same thing with clothes -- my weight is stable, but how I carry it has altered slightly over time; the other week I had to go through my closet and get rid of a bunch of shirts because my shoulders have broadened since I bought them. Even if things are crazy cheap in bulk, it's no guarantee that you will get the full use out of them.
posted by Forktine at 6:50 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have gotten better at these things and have risked hurting my mother's feelings by rejecting many things that she has tried to give to me from her house (old china cabinet I detest, lots of knick-knacks). However, I feel incredibly guilty about it, since she always seems deeply hurt that I do not want these things, they mean something to her and she seems to equate my rejection of the things as a rejection of her.

When you receive this gift, take a nice photograph of it. And then you can throw away the gift.
You get to keep this gift, in another form, without it taking up much space - and no guilt attached.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:00 PM on July 16, 2012


Welcome to my life.
posted by wierdo at 7:07 PM on July 16, 2012


As a U.S. expat living in Japan, I like to think that I live pretty minimally. And compared to my friends and family back home, my lifestyle and, specifically, the number of possessions I have, is quite small. I have a few big boxes of stuff I left in my parents' garage back home, but when I came here, I had all my worldly possessions in two medium-sized suitcases and one backpack. That was it, and now almost a decade later I look back and see how light and free I was.

Now, I've got stuff. A lot of stuff. Stuff I've accumulated over the years, and especially after marriage and especially after my child's birth. Again, not nearly as much as folks back home; having a small apartment instead of a big American house with tons of storage space will dictate to a large degree what you can or can't buy. Plus I'm certainly not made of money and I never buy on credit, so my big purchases are planned out in advance for the most part. Every now and then I'll look through my clothes and my papers and my gadgets and think well, I don't need this and I don't need that and why the hell am I holding on to this?

What's the phenomenon/mental condition in which people feel better after buying something? Like endorphins rushing the brain, serotonin, all that jazz? The truth is we feel better when we buy things, and overcoming this buy-and-feel-better addiction is key. That plus we tend to put emotional and sentimental importance on material objects in an unconscious and unhealthy way.
posted by zardoz at 7:07 PM on July 16, 2012


And then you can throw away the gift.

This only works if Mom never visits your house to, in a sense, visit her stuff. I have a sister who has taken EVERYTHING Mom has offered to her. Slowly, her home is beginning to look like my mother's home and mom visits her stuff there. It is incredibly sad to me.
posted by jeanmari at 7:15 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


The garage thing is really true for our neighborhood. We were happy to finally have a house with one - no more unloading groceries in the rain! But we wondered why there were so many cars parked on the street.

The neighbors garages are floor-to-ceiling stuff. You couldn't get a tricycle in there, much less a car.

I'm no ascetic when it comes to possessions, but really? You'd rather stand in the cold scraping ice off your windows than get rid of some junk?
posted by bitmage at 7:27 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


My parents came up with a weird trick when my sister and I were middle schoolers. They looked at the assorted toys taking over the basement, bedrooms and living room, boxed up roughly half of them and put them in storage.

I've used this trick teaching preschool and highly recommended it to families I nannied for and absolutely use it on my own son and he's only a year old. Oh, you're pulling your books off your shelf all day long? That's amazing. Here. I'm only stocking half of them at a time. What's that? ZOMG IT'S A NEW STORY AMAZING.

I highly, highly recommend this if you have kids and even a small amount of storage space for a few boxes of toys.

I'm unpaid female labor and I can't get all that shit done. I blame metafilter and Downton Abbey.

Word. I'm also unpaid female labor and while my house has no clutter problems (I'm not being smug - my husband has an actual throwing things away problem to the point where I honest to Dog only own two drinking glasses and it gets embarrassing when we have people over because - ugh... here, drink out of this mug, but there'd better not be very many of you, because I only have three mugs.) g-ddamn if I ever have ten free minutes to clean my bathroom.

Maybe my son's room isn't cluttered and we spend a lot of time in our backyard, but I've still got dishes piled up in the sink same as every other parent. It comes down to "Do I want to spend my few minutes of time NOT with the baby reading or doing dishes?" I keep the house clean enough to be comfortable... but keeping it spotless isn't worth the time to me. I'd rather spend an hour with my husband than an hour folding the laundry.

Before you picture a den of squalor - seriously, it's clean. It's just also very obviously lived in and will never appear in any "house tours" on fancy blogs or HGTV or whatever.
posted by sonika at 7:34 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is unsustainable and it will end, one way or another. The era of boundless consumption will end, probably in tears, or more hopefully in release from the wheel. Psychologically this is a bit pathological - buy more stuff to fill the empty hole that is your life, cause in part by the dissatisfaction that you have with the stuff you've got..

This is driven by signalling behaviour, status anxiety, affluenza. No one living in a US city needs three refrigerators going at once, or 27 pairs of shoes. Your children aren't actually happier with more toys than they can play with.

And three quarters of all families didn't go outside into their yards? WTF?
posted by wilful at 7:44 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Affluenza. What a brilliant word, I give notice that I intend to steal it.
posted by BeeDo at 8:56 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been thinking about this for hours, and looking around our combo kitchen/dining room. I see:
- 22 8x10-ish pieces of paper taped to the wall, each a bit of art made by my wonderful son. They get rotated, but the wall is always full.
- 11 candy jars, grouped together on a shelf. The oldest of these was owned by my Grandmother and she carted it around from house to house during WWII. As a child, I always recall it being filled with peppermints, and I keep that tradition to this day.
- A bookcase full of cookbooks, inherited, thrifted, and purchased new. I count 18 on one shelf, and 22 on the shelf below, along with a full run of Cook's Illustrated magazines.
- About 20 magnets on the fridge, each doing it's job to hold up a photo, a clipped recipe, a phone number, a schedule for camp.
- A very large tumbler full of pens and rulers, and a smaller mason jar containing bottle caps and random shells and rocks my son finds to be beautiful.
- A cupboard full of art supplies as high as my shoulder (contained in bins and drawers) capped off by the assorted paper and pipecleaner crowns my son has recently become obsessed with making.
- Two scrap-fabric banners hanging from the ceiling. I made them for my son's birthday party eight days ago and have not yet taken them down.

How much of this would these visitors count, were they here? How much is clutter? How much is memory? Which things am I supposed to discount as "not valuable"? The pens? The bottle caps? The candy jar?

In research, I've spent countless hours reading the inventories that sometimes accompanied Tudor and early Colonial wills. These inventories were made to total up the worth of a person's estate, and so they enumerate the things that were thought to be valuable: apparel, beds, silver plate, carpets, ironware, beds, pot hooks, livestock .... and then there is almost always an entry named something like "household stuffe". Was this the clutter of a previous age? Here, in this room, right now, I can identify some things that are clearly "stuffe" - six cookie sheets peek out of a shelving unit, for example, and there is a plastic bin of cords that I can't quite identify what they go to, but I can't throw them away lest one turns out to be the crucial one that charges the lego camera or some other electronic device that my husband has stashed in his van. But then there is the cutting board that friends made from the boards of the house we helped them build, and one of those cookie sheets belonged to my grandmother, and I use it with my own son just as she baked on it with me.

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" William Morris admonished us. Everything my eye lights upon fits one of those two categories. How then, given that I can walk easily though my house and can lay my hands on the thing I need likely 89 times out of 90, do I tell the useful objects from clutter.

I totally hear you on the happy meal toys though. It seems wasteful to toss them, but they seem to ... breed.
posted by anastasiav at 9:25 PM on July 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


With regard to the master bedroom upgrade: I currently live in a home in LA that was built in the 1930s and is still in its original form: two bedrooms, one bath, no master suite. When we bought the house I remember thinking it was weird how everyone kept saying that of course if we planned an addition to the house it would be a big old master suite.

Then we started going to open houses in our neighborhood and realized that all the houses without master suites were essentially being sold at teardown prices, for land value. The existing house on our lot is considered worthless by many buyers because we don't have a big master bedroom with a private bath. So, if you own a house from the 30s in a nice-ish area, you're looking at two choices: you can try and sell your original house for land value, or you can try to add on a master suite and sell your house as an actual house. I don't think lots of these people are adding on master suites because they're fantasizing refuges. They're adding them on because if you look at the inventory out there, the houses that are selling quickly for more than lot value are the ones that have master suites. Thus, if you're going to do any construction, the master suite is the obvious choice in terms of getting the most bang for your buck in terms of resale value. You get a +1 to both bedroom and bathroom count, and your house seems instantly more modern. No kitchen remodel can beat that.

After living in my house for a few years, I have to say I get the appeal of the master suite for one reason: houseguests are hell when you only have the one bathroom, and it's nice to have a bathroom that you don't have to get yourself presentable to use. It really stinks to be awakened by your guest getting up in the morning, realize how badly you have to pee, and groan as you hear them turn on the shower. I don't know that it's worth $80k to leave that behind, but it's worth a lot more than I'd anticipated.

I don't think we know what our plan is for our house yet, but if we decide to build an addition, you bet your butt it'll have a master suite just like all the new construction in our neighborhood.

Also: garages make no sense in LA. It never snows and rarely rains. Yet they are required by code in some areas. Of course people keep stuff other than cars in them.
posted by town of cats at 10:29 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, uh, are they counting as possessions that photograph on the front page of the article where someone has a giant music collection consisting of CDs and LPs? If so...that really seems like a convenient way to inflate a comment.

How so? Either that CD is a possession, or it isn't.

I mean, I could say I have a collection of DVDs, and that's one possession. Except we bought a gigantic 9' wide four drawer TV cabinet to hold that possession. It takes up the entire northern end of our very small living room. It was $1200.

Did I mention that we don't actually watch anything on fucking DVD? Our kids don't even know what they are. But there they are, effectively entombed in a very expensive, single purpose, waste-of-fucking-money crypt.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:39 PM on July 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


> "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" William Morris admonished us. Everything my eye lights upon fits one of those two categories. How then, given that I can walk easily though my house and can lay my hands on the thing I need likely 89 times out of 90, do I tell the useful objects from clutter.

This. I'm happy to calmly defend the usefulness or beauty of all manner of odds and ends in our house, though they are deliberately kept.

Meanwhile, if you're going to save money and be industrious through recycled/upcycled/DIY use of materials, you've gotta have a place to store some raw materials. So our basement has areas where we store leftover floor tiles and scrap wood and broken pottery and pieces of drywall and such. We trash-pick furniture and modify/fortify it for storage or backyard use.
posted by desuetude at 10:57 PM on July 16, 2012


Oh, awww, "Sometimes, in fact, the relationship between our children and our possessions can even be touching." Really? In fact?

Apparently "families" are defined as "families with children." Our fridge isn't an organizing center, it's more like a revolving art installation. But how numbers and letters on the fridge for the amusement of toddlers is "oh evil STUFF that you own" is beyond me.
posted by desuetude at 11:08 PM on July 16, 2012


> But things, you know, have value! Can I really just... throw it away?

I'm a professional organizer, and these over-full homes are what I see all the time - when people want to make a change, but are too overwhelmed to do it on their own. And there's often a sentimental aspect that makes the decluttering even harder.

What often helps my clients is that very little needs to get thrown away. I Freecycle many things on behalf of my clients, and forward on the thank-you notes from people who are getting their items. Knowing something you cherished (or "spent good money on") is going to someone else who needs it, or will treasure it, or will put it to good use, makes it easier to part with it.

Yes, I also donate things to a local thrift shop whose profits support good local programs, or Goodwill, or a number of other charities. But many people would rather get those Freecycle thank-you notes than a tax receipt.
posted by jeri at 11:34 PM on July 16, 2012


Over here we have Gift Aid for charity donations - you can't claim charity shop dropoffs on your taxes, but if you fill out a form the charity can claim the tax back as an additional donation. It's nice to get a letter to tell me how much I've made for them, andmakes me feel like I haven't really wasted money but more invested it in a good cause.
posted by mippy at 12:28 AM on July 17, 2012


Sorry, BeeDo, affluenza is already a book title. Three guesses what it is about, heh.

What I need is not storage or some other kid to give these to. What I need is a matter transmogrifier to throw them into and then make something useful and beautiful out of them

Sounds like an art project just waiting to happen. If you are not artistically inclined, rent a wood chipper and dump the results onto a glue-covered canvas.
posted by davejay at 1:49 AM on July 17, 2012


The first household assemblage we analyzed, of Family 27, resulted in a tally of 2,260 visible possessions in the first three rooms coded (two bedrooms and the living room),”

I call them books.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:51 AM on July 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Store your stuff at the store.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 5:01 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I had a great purge of things when I moved 3000 miles and could only afford one small truck. I still think about some of the stuff I left behind, however.

Take Christmas china. Nobody needs Christmas china. It is a ridiculous indulgence to have special china that can only be used a few days out of the year, but I had some Spode and I liked it and I miss it and I wish I had brought it with me. I can never afford to replace it and I don't have the cupboard space to store it. So why do I still long for it?

As for the number of possessions, we, too, have many books (including the above mentioned Material World) and CDs and DVDs but aside from that I try very hard to keep the clutter down. I have a minimalist approach and don't like collectables or excess stuff. We do have a lot of art on the wall, though, and my husband must have at least 60 black T-shirts. And I am always buying mechanical pencils trying to find the perfect one for doing puzzles.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:48 AM on July 17, 2012


"But how numbers and letters on the fridge for the amusement of toddlers is "oh evil STUFF that you own" is beyond me."

I wondered this, actually; we go in big for building toys with our kids. Does the wooden train set count as 150 items (pieces) or 1 item? Or is it 1 item when it's in its bin, and 150 items when it's on the floor being played this? Same question regarding blocks, legos, bristle blocks, alphabet blocks, etc.

And are books all separate items simply by virtue of being visible on a bookshelf, but (in my house) DVDs would not be because they're in a cabinet? I need to understand the methodology.

Take Christmas china. Nobody needs Christmas china. It is a ridiculous indulgence to have special china that can only be used a few days out of the year

Shut up I love my Christmas china! (Actually, I picked a pattern that coordinates with both my everyday china and my fine china, and I get serving pieces in the Christmas pattern on clearance after Christmas and then use regular plates because, okay, yeah, you can only own so much china before it gets silly.)

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:41 AM on July 17, 2012


How so? Either that CD is a possession, or it isn't.

My point being that in a study on "clutter" wherein it is implied that these people are next to hoarders, someone's music collection which may be diligently ordered, arranged, and cataloged, isn't what I would perceive as clutter.


I mean, I could say I have a collection of DVDs, and that's one possession. Except we bought a gigantic 9' wide four drawer TV cabinet to hold that possession. It takes up the entire northern end of our very small living room. It was $1200.

You can go to Wal-Mart and buy DVD albums and reduce your space by probably 6' at least.

Back to the main issue, the paper indicates that clutter is where possessions overflow, they take over a space and render it useless for its intended function. In the same paper, it also seem to imply there was a resolute number of photographs to hang on a wall (which everyone exceeded) or a defined number of child drawings or magnets that can be placed on a refrigerator which also was exceeded.

For the most part, throughout history, the number of possessions owned by an individual or family unit have been based on how much wealth that person or family unit have. In terms of general possessions, one would think that it's a good thing that we have a large class of people in our country who have such wealth. Granted, the members of this class are diminishing, and also granted, it's completely fair to argue on how that wealth is applied, but condemning merely the number of possessions without recognizing how they are possessed is lazy. If I have a house full of 5,000 extremely rare and valuable books, all carefully sorted, preserved, and displayed, does that carry negative ramifications? By this study, I think it does.

Now if they want to do a study of pointing out random child toys collecting dust, through which are pathways throughout the house, and exist as signs of guilt ridden parents, that is interesting but not necessarily applicable across the whole. Likewise, the reference to a family who throw their dirty clothes into a shower? Wha?!
posted by Atreides at 7:51 AM on July 17, 2012


The Internet also has a culture of clutter. Slide shows like this one are evidence.

(I'm making jokes because I'm moving in a week and a half and suddenly I feel like I have too much stuff.)
posted by madcaptenor at 9:42 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me there are several factors that lead to clutter:
1. Inadequate storage space.

2. Getting things I need and trying to fit them into said inadequate storage space.

3. Getting things I want and trying to fit them into the inadequate storage space.

4. Being storage space of last resort for books donated to our complex's library. AND having books of my own.
If I read it and it is mine and I can't resell it, I am good about putting it out for others to enjoy.

5. Clothes, the downfall of many women! I like clothes. I find something nice that I would in fact wear and I will get it.

I have done a fair job of thinning out shoes. Under garments are another story. My weight fluctuates, I may fit FINE in some undergarments for awhile, then have to put them up. 
We have actual seasons here, but weather  varies greatly in it's severity  one year to the next, and so my wardrobe has clothes for such contingencies.

I do many crafts and art. So that has stuff I use and equipment. Some of it recycles other stuff.

My SO does computer work and crafts. He gave me mass quantities of wire I use for making stuff.

He and I do not actually share living space full time. I have my place, he has his.

I don't keep much of my stuff at his place. We do jointly own nice pots and pans. He owns nicer dishes and cutlery than I do. I cook there since he owns an air conditioner and I don't. 
We have small garden tools since we each have a small garden space. We go work our gardens together.

He loves pretty glassware. I lived in too damn many earthquake zones to really like glassware. So I tend to have metal things and plastic things like air-tight plastic ware. He really is more minimalist than I am.

He is definitely less cluttered than I am. He's dyslexic. So not that many books. 
I have quit actually buying books or movies. I now seldom buy clothes. I do like jewelry. I make a lot of my own.

I love to design something nice from cheap but durable parts and have it look expensive.

Neither of us belong to the middle class. He never did. I come from a family of dissidents, but income wise, as a family we were sometimes in the middle class, at other times dirt poor.

I do think having two income families did lead to some clutter. 
I tended to take my kids cool places rather than buy them stuff. I'd save up and take them to a cool place with lots of life-sized dinosaurs. 
Or to other science or art oriented happenings.
Or fairs, or air-shows. 
I tended to go for only small amounts of furniture. Now I definitely have too much furniture. There's a couple pieces going bye-bye. 
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:24 AM on July 17, 2012


I was thinking about this today. It reminded me of one of my daughter's friends. When I took my daughter to her house for the first time for a play date I was stunned to see how many toys the friend had. Her father and her grandparents were quite well off and her parents had gotten divorced just a year or two earlier so there was quite a bit of guilt buying. But Holy Cow! I walked into her play room and three sides of the room from floor to ceiling were neatly shelved boxes of toys. Many of the boxes looked like they had never been open. The fourth wall had her TV with the obligatory 100's of DVDs. Mind you, this was not her bedroom-- this was her play room. She was 5.

I wonder what that does to someone psychologically to be so inundated with possessions at such an early age?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:02 PM on July 17, 2012


I hope people talking about throwing away unwanted stuff are actually talking about selling, giving, or donating it away. Because to actually throw away things that are still usable is, in my opinion, downright shameful behaviour.
posted by windykites at 3:27 PM on July 17, 2012


Because to actually throw away things that are still usable is, in my opinion, downright shameful behaviour.

You do know that a lot of what gets donated is, in fact, valueless and gets tossed into a dumpster, right? I guess the way I see it is that my top priority is to have a healthy and pleasant living space, and sometimes getting rid of stuff is part of that. While my preference is absolutely to sell, give away, or donate that stuff, there is no way I'm going to keep it sitting around "because it might be useful" -- I'll toss it before I let it clutter up my life.

Part of the problem of why people have so much crap cluttering up their houses is that they wildly overestimate its monetary and use value. Most of it isn't worth anything (at least in a world where a brand new item can be manufactured and shipped from China for pennies) and isn't really of use to anyone; realistically, your choices are that it can sit in your garage or it can go to the dump.
posted by Forktine at 5:07 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I meant to add: You solve the problem at the front end, by choosing not to buy more stuff, not at the backend, by refusing to throw it out.
posted by Forktine at 5:08 PM on July 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


your choices are that it can sit in your garage or it can go to the dump.

I've found that my best recourse for getting stuff out of my house is my local playgroup/mom's group on FaceBook. Just yesterday I posted that I had a rocking chair in perfect condition that we're not using and I'd really like to get it out of my house since my toddler now thinks it's a jungle gym... it was gone this morning.

With any kid related stuff, I've found that if it's in good condition and I'm willing to give it away - there is ALWAYS someone who wants it. Other stuff... not so much, but kid related paraphernalia is super easy to get rid of. Which is handy since it's also what piles up the fastest and the kid has this damned habit of growing out of things since he refuses to stay at one size or developmental stage for longer than a nanosecond.
posted by sonika at 6:10 PM on July 17, 2012


Take Christmas china. Nobody needs Christmas china. It is a ridiculous indulgence to have special china that can only be used a few days out of the year

My impression is that the US vogue for celebrating 'holidays' (which I really like) leads to a whole ton of seasonal decorations needing storage. Over here it#s common to decorate for Christmas, and for Hallowe'en if you have kids/a party, but not beyond that.
posted by mippy at 1:53 AM on July 18, 2012


I know that a lot of what gets donated gets tossed. As far as I can tell, that's frequently because the crap that people donate is not what a reasonable person would call "usable"; people keep the nice-condition, working stuff in their homes because they "might need it someday" and donate crap that's broken, non-functional, dirty, stained, torn, shrunk, missing parts, etc- stuff that, by all rights, should have been thrown away or recycled. When people don't bother to take good things down to the Goodwill, it's usually because of just that- they can't be bothered.

As for valueless, I wonder how you're defining that. Some items may not have a significant resale value, but that doesn't mean there's no people or charities in a community that can use them. If nothing else, you can often post a classified ad giving things away for free and find a student who needs them.
posted by windykites at 3:44 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Take Christmas china. Nobody needs Christmas china. It is a ridiculous indulgence to have special china that can only be used a few days out of the year

I have my great-Grandmother's Christmas (Currier and Ives) china in a setting for (I think) 12. Plates, bowls, platters, bread plates, teacups, you name it. We use it at the holidays just the same as we did when I was a little girl, and I hope my son does the same. Are you honestly advocating for me to pitch it out after almost a hundred years of careful keeping by my family? What's the point of that??
posted by anastasiav at 6:22 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


As far as I can tell, that's frequently because the crap that people donate is not what a reasonable person would call "usable";

It's also because of the sheer volume -- we buy crap in extraordinary volumes, and we donate it in huge volumes also, so the donation places can be fairly discriminating in what they take and what they toss. Furniture is not hard to fix, but because new furniture is so cheap anything even slightly damaged will get tossed because it makes more sense, for example.

My point is not that you shouldn't try to find happy homes for unneeded stuff. (I've found that almost anything will disappear if you put it out by the street with a "free" sign on it, for example.) But it's really important to make the primary goal to get rid of it, not to hold onto it until you can realize its full value (often very low to zero in monetary terms) or can find it the perfect home. That's the path to not being able to park in your garage.

Are you honestly advocating for me to pitch it out after almost a hundred years of careful keeping by my family? What's the point of that??

I think it's great that you have that old china and enjoy it. Personally, were someone in my family to give me something like that (which as far as I know does not exist in my family), I would try to pass it on to someone else in the family or get rid of it -- there's no way on earth that I'm going to store and deal with an entire set of holiday china, personally. But that's me, and I'm sure there are things I keep around that would make you scratch your head and think I'm an idiot. The key is that the things you have should bring you real joy (as does your china), rather than cluttering up your life and making you pay for a big house and three storage containers just to keep it all.
posted by Forktine at 6:50 AM on July 18, 2012


The garage thing is really true for our neighborhood. We were happy to finally have a house with one - no more unloading groceries in the rain! But we wondered why there were so many cars parked on the street.

I see this in my neighborhood as well and it puzzles me. I love having a garage. Cars are cooler in summer, dry during rain and warmer in the winter. Garages are wonderful things and well worth keeping the space dedicated for cars. This plain truth is so obvious that I've come to think that people who park their cars outside the garage do it for vanity. I suspect they are so proud of the Mercedes badge (or what have you) that it bugs them to not have it on display.

Related to all of this, I have some good friends who are downsizing their home and they have been generous to give us some very nice pieces of furniture. Unfortunately the influx of things has been a little overwhelming. There is a psychological carrying cost for possessions and we are feeling some strain adapting to the new load. It has renewed my intent to purge charitably with some things we are not actively using. The ideas shared in this thread have been most useful.
posted by dgran at 1:25 PM on July 18, 2012


I always thought that people parked in the street or driveway to show off their cars. It never occured to me that they might just have too much stuff in the garage.
posted by windykites at 2:03 PM on July 18, 2012


> When I took my daughter to her house for the first time for a play date I was stunned to see how many toys the friend had.

I would agree with this criticism. Sure, people get sucked into buying too much junk.

But I think that this article (and many others on the subject) tend to conflate a whole bunch of separate issues into one tidy moral judgement against "stuff," including indictments against: hoarding, wastefulness, sheeple consumerism, dysfunctional marriages, guilt-driven and overindulgent parenting, improperly juvenile hobbies, delusions of grandeur, insufficient willpower to maintain minimalist lifestyle, and a big dose of class-based snobbery.
posted by desuetude at 9:56 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, my grammar fell apart at the end. Indictments against all those issues, PLUS a dose of class-based snobbery.
posted by desuetude at 9:58 PM on July 18, 2012


But I think that this article (and many others on the subject) tend to conflate a whole bunch of separate issues into one tidy moral judgement against "stuff,"

Oh, of course. It's one set of middle class aspirations, to not be bound to material interests, coming into conflict with another, to be a discerning consumer of books|movies|antiques|etc whose taste is shown in what is on display in their house.

But this thread has had one positive outcome for me; finally made that appointment to get a superfluous wardrobe picked up. Once that's gone I can finally buy some more bookcases to put in my bedroom so I can get rid of the excess books in the living room. Just annoying to have found out though that the Billy top pieces no longer have screwholes in them to put another layer on top, as that would've fitted perfectly.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:33 AM on July 19, 2012


Yeah, stuff. Very interesting post!

I try to be as ruthless as possible, and still end up with more stuff than I want or need. Thankfully, no kids at home, so that helps.

But when my daughter was about 10, she would not keep her room clean. I didn''t expect spotless, just an effort to keep things tidy. She had accumlated tons of stuff. Barbies, video games, DVDs, VHS tapes, toys, trinkets, etc. But she didn't want to give any of it up, nor did she want to keep it even semi-picked-up.

I finally grew exasperated and gave her one week to tidy up. (Generous, I know.) But if it wasn't cleaned up by the deadline, I told her I would take everything but her bed and she would have to earn each thing back one at time by showing she could keep those things she earned tidy. She didn't do her part, so, as promised, I took everything from her room and moved it into an adjacent spare room. The "earn one thing back at a time" plan was executed very literally. She loved her Nintendo 64, but that meant she had to earn back the television, the console, and each game one day at a time.

It was a painful lesson in patience and persistence for her, but after several weeks, she had all the most important things back in her room. At that point she looked at the boxes of various toys and trinkets left in the spare room and said "Can I just put these in a garage sale?" And it all went. Since then, she has avoided the excess clutter trap, probably better than I have.
posted by The Deej at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Deej: I don't get it. If you thought your daughter has too much stuff, okay, don't let her get more stuff. But why is it so dire that she organize her stuff in a way that pleases you?

I mean, sure, don't come crying when you step on that toy in the middle of the floor and break it. Sure, if you want to vacuum/mop you're going to shove everything unceremoniously into a heap in the corner or on the bed so that you can go around it. But if there's no complaining? Eh, kids don't have much that they get to control on their own, and a messy bedroom beats most of the alternatives. (Me, I had a tidy bedroom floor but I was the most dreadfully picky eater. This was far more inconvenient for my parents.)

Wait, wait hold up. You had a spare room into which you can fit all the unacceptably untidied stuff from your daughter's room, presumably without it cluttering up your daily routine. That extra space is a type of stuff, too. Has your daughter called you out on that yet?

/Good-natured, raised-eyebrow joshing, not aggro snark.
posted by desuetude at 12:00 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh.. desuetude!

Bless your heart.
posted by The Deej at 8:11 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


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