Stuff --- A cluttered life

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jacob
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Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by jacob »

An archaeological study of 32 families in Los Angeles detailing and counting all their stuff (average number of items in the "first three" rooms was 2200!) and how they interact with it. The study used 20000 photos and timed cameras.

Here's the book:
http://www.amazon.com/Life-Home-Twenty- ... 1931745617 (quick read, lots of pictures, some plots and graphs)

And a series of brief clips:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmUyTauQBQ4 (stuff)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyHS_-Umv4E (food)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJWOWksT1x4 (the use of rooms)

Quite interesting, because you usually only get to see other people's homes when visiting AFTER they've tidied up. Here you can see how things normally look. Also interesting to learn that some stuff-habits are distinctly American. For example, in Europe it would be unusual to display more than a couple of family pictures (usually professional portraits of children and dead people) whereas in the US it would be unusual not to display a lot of family pictures (snapshots of vacations, ... ) showing the full history of the family. Another national difference is the usage of fridge magnets to stick everything to the fridge, coupons, kids drawings, pictures, .... interestingly, the tolerance for clutter on the fridge correlates with the tolerance for clutter in the rest of the house.

On a personal note, the abundance of stuff has been the main and practically only cause of domestic disagreement between DW and I over the years, so another interesting fact was the discovery that typically only one but always only one of the adults in the relationship demonstrated elevated cortisol levels whereas stuff didn't bug the other person. (I don't think they tested the children.) In this study this was almost always the woman being stressed likely because she was the one mostly having or maybe wanting to deal with it. This was corroborated by the fact that in the study which is representative, women are still mostly responsible for domestic work while men still mostly spend more time working+commuting and thus longer time away from home. I've found that after I started spending most days at home instead of on the job my general intolerance for stuff and the clutter it causes has increased significantly.

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Ego
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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by Ego »

Yesterday a friend was complaining about how his house was cluttered to the rafters. I told him about Maria Kondo and how she says that the stuff you have should spark joy. He said, yeah, her book is on top of a pile of junk on their kitchen table.... hah!

As an aside, Kondo is now expanding her "spark joy" philosophy. She is blurring the lines between hoarders saving stuff for the apocalypse and saving cash.

Marie Kondo: The Downside of Extreme Saving

Our bank accounts are too cluttered :lol:

jacob
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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by jacob »

Ego wrote:Our bank accounts are too cluttered :lol:
If anyone here feels their bank accounts are too stuffy, you can paypal your excess cash clutter to me.

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Ego
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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by Ego »

I should probably say that I agree with her main point, that fear is not a healthy motivation. I wonder how many of the people in those houses in the OP are accumulating stuff out of fear.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by stoneage »

Wow, I can relate to this A LOT.

@jacob : I work at home, and I definitely am subject to stress regarding clutter.
Basically, the video clips say it all : stuff comes from everywhere and ends up in your home, never to leave.

I have a hoarder at home, and I was one. Everything is kept "just in case". I became mad, tried hard to manage my own space, but it simply doesn't work. We try to do better, but a time like christmas reminds us the battle is already lost.

Mind you, we hardly spend money on stuff, but it just keeps coming.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by GandK »

I also have a low tolerance for excess stuff, but it's only my own stuff laying around that stresses me out. If other people in the household leave clutter around, I take no notice. And when I say I "take no notice," I mean to the point that I literally trip over things because I do not see them. If I'm not focused on something in the moment, it does not exist. I have broken toes on other people's stuff that I did not notice.

G has the opposite problem. Other people's clutter gets to him, but his own does not. He basically doesn't want any stuff out ever unless someone is engaging with it. He tends to leave his own stuff out when he's in the middle of a project that he intends to return to, but he fusses about other people's things laying around because in his mind, that stuff isn't connected to a task. It's just clutter. He's also bewildered and amused by my lack of physical/psychological awareness of clutter that isn't my own.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Yup. The FlyLady says "You can't clean clutter." I followed her program a number of years ago when I still had a large house and two kids at home, and eventually I reached the day that in order to once again vanquish 27 items, I had to resort to removing some dead leaves from a houseplant. It was a wonderful feeling. However, I would say that my aesthetic preference would be for warm simplicity rather than cold minimalism. Life is chaotic and messy and any space appropriate for the housing of living things needs to reflect that. I'm more reformed naturally messy person than neatnik, so other people's clutter doesn't stress me out. If it gets too out of hand, I just pick it up and put it in a box and then put the box in their personal space, but I wouldn't do this if they were mid-project.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by TopHatFox »

This is fascinating! I'm officially on the <100 (nice) items bandwagon by now, so I can't really relate to the average stuff-owner anymore. It's nice to get some (horrifying?) insight.

@7Wannabe Howbout warm minimalism? red paint on walls, one colorful flower, nice wood floors, mood lighting :D

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by ffj »

Well, there is organized clutter and there is chaos. I do just fine with organized clutter, such as when objects are stored in boxes or everything is on a shelf or placed in a closet. I absolutely go off of the rails though when stuff is just lying everywhere, mine or anybody else's. I just cannot function until the mess is cleaned up as it drives me bonkers.

I don't personally see a problem with having a bunch of things as long as it doesn't overwhelm your life. There are storage costs involved but so what, especially if the item has value and it gets used. In the food video, they showcase storage of extras like paper towels and the like. If it doesn't go to waste then what is the big deal?

Back when I was in college I could fit everything I owned into a backpack and there is a certain freedom in that fact. But once you settle down, especially if you get married and have kids, or buy a home it is inevitable that shit starts to pile up. A couple of baby showers can fill half of your house up with gifts. That is why periodically I will have a purge of anything that has no value to us anymore. It either goes straight to Goodwill or I place the item next to the road with a sign that says free on it. Or it goes to the dump.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by BRUTE »

ffj wrote:But once you settle down, especially if you get married and have kids, or buy a home it is inevitable that shit starts to pile up.
ffj makes this sound inevitable.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by ffj »

Good luck trying otherwise. In college I lived in a dorm room, walked everywhere I needed, and was responsible only for myself. It was a very simple existence.

You could try renting the rest of your life, foregoing children, and developing hobbies that require no equipment such as walking or reading books. I didn't say it was impossible, just unlikely.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by TopHatFox »

ffj wrote: You could try renting the rest of your life, foregoing children, and developing hobbies that require no equipment such as walking or reading books.
Wait, you mean everybody does the opposite? :P

I'm curious, what does it matter whether the space is rented or owned in square footage; it's still simply a space to live in, whether large or small. I know that children do not require 2000 square feet to raise, as the rest of the world shows. Hobbies don't need too much space to store equipment, either. For example, In my 5x5 pantry, if I really wanted to (and I don't), I could store skiis, skates, paintball guns, a bow & arrow, bicycle tools, juggling balls, fire equipment, a skateboard, a push-scooter, and a bunch of other hobbie stuff, no big deal.

I think the point of minimalism is simply to only keep what actually gets used frequently (monthly, weekly, daily - with the exception of first aid equipment). This applies in a family setting as much as it does alone. The difference in stuff does not have to be astronomical from one person to three or more, because a large percentage of individual items (cooking gear, food, emergency supplies, hobby supplies, sleeping systems, hair cuttery systems, tools) can become group items. The largest addition in individual gear would be added clothing (only owning enough per person for one laundry cycle is a good rule of thumb).
Last edited by TopHatFox on Mon Feb 01, 2016 10:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by thrifty++ »

Unfortunately my landlord is the hoarder. So I have a bunch of his stuff here that I dont want. But I know my rent is below market so I try not to bother him with anything at all to put his mind off raising rent.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by luxagraf »

Zalo wrote: I'm curious, what does it matter whether the space is rented or owned in square footage; it's still simply a space to live in, whether large or small.
I can't speak for ffj, but I found that there was a significant uptick in stuff once I moved from renting to owning. One of the less discussed side effects of owning.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by ffj »

@Zalo

We're on the same page here. Up until I was 24 or so, the entirety of my belongings consisted of several changes of clothing, a radio, and a bicycle. I owned no furniture, t.v., tools, or car. I have lived this minimalist lifestyle, so I do have a little bit of street cred.

I also was un-marrried, childless, and a renter. Many people at some point want to change those three conditions, and if they do, their stuff will increase exponentially. Unless you want to hire everything out or go all bohemian, then you will need more things. If you cut your own grass or paint your own walls or raise your own garden, etc., then you will need more stuff. Your children will exhibit their own personalities and interests, hence more stuff. Your spouse will only live in a tent for so long before they decide a real home is what is needed to continue this relationship, especially if children are on the horizon. Some of you will fight me on this, but look at reality and not outliers.

As far as sharing items that the group will need, like a lawnmower or a ladder or a washing machine, etc., it's a nice thought and if people are forced to do it, then it works to some degree. But, the moment that most people get an opportunity to not have to share, they choose not to for the most part. There are many reasons for this, but again, this equates to more stuff per individual household. I love the idealism of it, being part of a small community that pools their resources and helps each other out when needed, but I have to ask why more of these communities don't exist if they are so popular at least in thought? My answer would be is that we have choices and we choose not to.

There is nothing inherently wrong with owning lots of stuff if it benefits your life and is managed correctly, and conversely, there is nothing inherently right with owning few things unless it benefits your life. Find your balance.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by Ego »

ffj wrote:But once you settle down, especially if you get married and have kids, or buy a home it is inevitable that shit starts to pile up.
ffj wrote:Many people at some point want to change those three conditions, and if they do, their stuff will increase exponentially.
I thought the whole point of the study was that this is NOT inevitable. They make the point throughout the videos that this is not how the rest of the world lives.

It can be useful to see where we fall on the spectrum of possibilities. It can help us to see that what we believe to be inevitable is actually a choice. Our position on the spectrum can show us just how extreme our choices are.
ffj wrote: There is nothing inherently wrong with owning lots of stuff if it benefits your life and is managed correctly....
It is possible for a person to have so much stuff that they have no choice but for their life's purpose to become the management of it.

I am not saying that's the case for anyone here. I know people IRL who have this problem.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by GandK »

Zalo wrote:I think the point of minimalism is simply to only keep what actually gets used frequently (monthly, weekly, daily - with the exception of first aid equipment). This applies in a family setting as much as it does alone.
No, it really doesn't. I'm a minimalist, for example, but I'm the only one in my household. A well-functioning household meets the needs of every person in it, whether those people are minimalists or not. And most people are not.

Also, for me, minimalism is not just about not owning more stuff than I need. It's also about not taking ownership of other people's clutter (including their psychological clutter).

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by jacob »

The purpose of the study was mostly to record how Americans at the turn of the 21st century relate to their stuff and their living arrangements. In the study almost all of the 32 families' homes look like in the clips with about 1.5 exceptions who tend more minimalistic; far from the 100 items level though.

For example a lot of houses that currently exist in that area were built in the 1950s with the ideal of the backyard as being a recreational area where families BBQed, the children played on their swing-sets etc. In reality, practically nobody uses their backyard. Ditto, family rooms and dining rooms were built for eating and entertaining. In reality, people use them for watching TV and thus had to figure out out how to rearrange them for that purpose. Most hanging out happens in kitchen that were designed to be small and the cook's private space, so kitchens tend to be overcrowded. Ditto, bathrooms act as bottlenecks because now everybody needs to get out of the door at the same time in contrast to the initial design specs.

And then there's the stuff ...

Overall the conclusion is that America buys way more stuff than any other culture does or ever has done before and that acquisition is so intense(*) that most of the stuff people buy just goes unused and sits around taking up space. Stuff comes in the front door and then it never leaves because there's no time to use it up or even to use it (many things sit unopened in boxes). As more stuff enters, it begins to spill into the living spaces as clutter requiring maintenance/decluttering which causes measurable stress in those who have to deal with it. As this battle is lost, the stuff fills out basements and attics. The front line then retreats to the garage. Few people in the study were able to park their car(s) in their garage anymore. And then it spills into off-location storage units.10% of Americans now rent a storage unit. This situation is unique in global cultural history.

(*) For example, globally, Americans have 1.4% of the children in the world but buy 40% of the toys in the world.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by cmonkey »

Really sad stuff IMO. It speaks of a culture just screaming for meaning/a reason why we are all here I think.

Its difficult to fight the onslaught of a consumer economy and I feel the battle will never end. Designing your lifestyle to be 'anti-purchase' seems the best approach. Example - riding the bus to work forces me to go from A to B with no A.1 in the middle. Purchases are reserved for the weekly trip to town and are planned well in advance.

I brought up a '1 gift per person per Christmas' idea but was frankly shot down. Apparently they have bought gifts for the next few years or something. I'm not really sure how to stop the onslaught other than just giving away/selling what they give me. Admittedly the brad nailer they gave me is extremely handy...but is it worth the cost in storage? Where's the line on what you keep and what you don't? I'm pretty certain I will sell the nailer after we are done remodeling.

I can honestly say though, our house isn't even close to these levels. Whew.

Our neighbor has this problem and it is displayed by how many garages/sheds they have. Not only do they have an attached garage, they have 2 other detached garages and 2 other small sheds that can house a car. His reasoning was he need more space to store stuff. He also has a storage unit and I think the reason for the last shed was to put the stuff from the storage unit in the new building. In reality he probably just kept the unit.

More positively they are now able to keep their cars indoors.

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Re: Stuff --- A cluttered life

Post by ffj »

@ego

The point I am trying to make is that if people have a choice, the vast majority will choose an abundance. And the reason more people don't live like Americans with our overflowing garages is because they can't afford to do so. Many people of the world are constrained by their lack of finances, not because they don't wish for more material items. Let's be honest about this upfront.

Of course this isn't inevitable behavior for those of us with choices, but I would wonder what the point of this exercise would be if one doesn't have an unhealthy relationship with their stuff. I have a lot of stuff, but I also have a lot of interests. If I have an item that sits in the corner of my basement for several years before I use it and requires no attention until I am ready for it, then what is the harm? I probably got it at a steep discount in the first place, so financially it isn't hurting me. It's just sitting in a box ready for the day when my interest or need arises. Storage costs maybe? If it is out of the way and not taking space I desperately need for something else, then again, where does the harm begin?

I am curious why is is inherently good to own fewer things for the sake of owning fewer things.

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