AirTalk for July 6, 2012

The ethnoarchaeology of the American home

UCLA study of American homes

J. Arnold and CELF

Image from UCLA's study of American homes. 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.

UCLA study of American homes

J. Arnold and CELF

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.

UCLA study of American homes

J. Arnold and CELF

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. Several homes had at least 250 toys on display, and most had at least 100. Untold numbers of other toys were tucked away in closets and under beds.

UCLA study of American homes

J. Arnold and CELF

Image from UCLA's study of American homes. 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.

UCLA study of American homes

J. Arnold and CELF

"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, gives an unprecedented look into the middle-class American home.

UCLA study of American homes

J. Arnold and CELF

Image from UCLA's study of American homes. 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.


What does the number of magnets on your refrigerator say about the clutter in your home? What’s the most common, the most costly, yet the most underused home renovation? How many American garages actually house a car?

What we buy, where we store it and how much we use it inform the way we live, and our houses tell the story all too well. In a four-year study, UCLA researchers invaded the homes of 32 middle-class, dual-income Los Angeles families, videotaping their interactions, photographing their rooms and yards, and tracking their comings and goings.

What did they find?

Stacks of clutter, from bathrooms to kitchens to hallways. Freezers, closets and garages stockpiled with Gatorade, frozen pizzas, Ziplock bags. Desks drowning in papers; kids’ rooms knee-deep in toys, precarious piles of laundry, magazines and CDs around every corner.

What emerges is a fascinating snapshot of America’s material culture — a culture of acquiring, but not experiencing; of filling up space instead of using it; of hours spent shifting the messes we’ve created from corner to corner, instead of enjoying our leisure time. If you revel in the well-ordered worlds imagined in Martha Stewart Living and Dwell, this book is sure to give you a scare — yet it’s hard to look away.

What’s your clutter quotient? Do you bring more stuff into your house than you take out? To what extent does managing your possessions interfere with actually living your life?

GUESTS

Jeanne Arnold, lead author of “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors”; professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles

Anthony Graesch, co-author of “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors”; assistant professor of anthropology at Connecticut College


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