Here’s some incredible statistics on the stuff we own (taken from a website called Becoming Minimalist). 

As I read them, my Grandmother’s prized Haviland china stared at me through a glass-fronted cabinet. Gramma Euphemia Hayman Reher had what our early 20th century family needed to thrive – a roof, heat, water, clothing of durable fabrics meant to last a lifetime, unprocessed food, plus a few prized possessions. Her Haviland, which had been collected piece by piece over the years, topped the short list.

Since Gramma passed, our optics have changed, something reflected in our language. We no longer talk about “possessions” or even “belongings.” We speak of “stuff.” Consider the following stats. Read and weep.

• There are 300,000 items in the average American home (LA Times).

• 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage (New York Times Magazine).

• 25% of people with two-car garages park outside and 32% only have room for one vehicle (U.S. Department of Energy).

• Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation (SSA).

• The average UK 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily (The Telegraph). Is it the same here? Maybe worse? Because only 3.1% of the world’s children are American, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally (UCLA).

• The average American woman owns 30 outfits – one for every day of the month – while the average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year (Huffington Post).

• Our homes have more television sets than people. And those television sets are turned on for more than a third of the day – eight hours, 14 minutes (USA Today).

• We spend more on shoes, jewelry and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education (Psychology Today).

• Brits lose up to nine items every day – or 198,743 in a lifetime. Phones, keys, sunglasses and paperwork top the list (The Daily Mail).

• We spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods – in other words, items we do not need (The Wall Street Journal).

Looking beyond Gramma’s Haviland at my own “stuff,” I see some truth in the stats. My house has three television sets, one of which I use to watch the morning news and another for an occasionally TV evening. Each of these is flanked with items collected during tours abroad or purchased on a whim. My closets bulge; bookshelves overflow; cabinets groan. Stuff.

“Throw something away,” my mother would say, “and you’ll need it the next day.” She was what we called “a Depression baby,” meaning she was a child during the Great Depression and learned early to horde. It was catching. Witness the fact that I also own a warehouse which is far from empty.

“Stuff.” Are we all still the heirs of the great depression?  Somehow I doubt it. I think our stuff is a security blanket and that a degree of hoarding (think squirrels) is part of our DNA. Try stripping yourself of your prized “stuff,” and you’ll see what I mean.

(1) comment

Lauren Tibert Wells

This is superb, Pat! Exactly what I've been wrestling with as I look around our house.

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