Life at Home in the 21st Century

Life at Home in the 21st
“The houses we live in and the domestic
objects we own-large, small, costly,
inexpensive—define who we are and reveal
much about our social identities, family
histories, aesthetic preferences, behavioral
patterns, affiliations, and economic
standings.” (p.3)
The Refrigerator Door
The sheer volume of objects clinging to it may
indicate how much clutter can be found
throughout your home. Furthermore, that
clutter provides a strong clue to how much
stress Mom feels when she walks through the
door at the end of a day at work.
O What did your refrigerator door say?
About the Study
O 4 Year Study (2001 – 2005)
O Documenting the life at home of 32 dual-
income families in the LA area
O All participants –
O Have school age children
O Identify as middle class
O Are homeowners
Research Design
O Mapping
O Intensive Photography
O House History Questionnaires
O Self-Narrated Home Video Tours
Research Focus
How possessions concentrated in specific
house spaces function as organizational or
mnemonic devices.
2. Which household artifacts families use most
frequently to construct and express personal
and family identify
3. Where the household artifacts are displayed
4. How remodeling choices and family
investments in parts of the home tie in with
cultural ideals.
“This volume is…an unflinching examination of
actual homes amid all of the joys and
messiness of real life. The photographs usher
us into the intimate spaces of homes replete
with each family’s unique selection of
possessions and design choices. We see their
unembellished material worlds.”
- p. 11
Study Findings
O Managing the volume of possessions was such a
crushing problem in many homes that it actually
elevated levels of stress hormones for mothers.
O Only 25 percent of garages could be used to store
cars because they were so packed with stuff.
O The rise of big-box stores such as Costco and Sam's
Club has increased the tendency to stockpile food
and cleaning supplies, making clutter that much
harder to contain.
O The addition of costly "master suites" for parents
proved the most common renovation in the homes
that were studied, yet the spaces were hardly used.
Study Findings
Consistent and troublesome bottlenecks emerged in the homes,
yet families rarely devoted renovation dollars to remedying these
obvious problems.
O Even in a region with clement year-round weather, the families
hardly used their yards, and this was the case even among those
who had invested in outdoor improvements and furnishings.
O Most of the families relied heavily on convenience foods like frozen
meals and par-baked bread, yet they saved an average of only 10
to 12 minutes per meal in doing so.
O Fragmented dinners — those in which family members eat
sequentially or in different rooms — threaten to undermine a
sacrosanct American tradition: the family dinner.
- From: Sullivan, Meg (2012, June 19). Trouble in paradise: UCLA book
enumerates challenges faced by middle-class L.A. families, UCLA
Newsroom. Retrieved from
Seven Common Challenges Facing
Middle-Class Families at Home
Sullivan, Meg. (2012, July 19). UCLA Newsroom. Retrieved from:
Mountains of Clutter
(Photo credit: 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.
Mothers who lamented messy or cluttered
rooms or unfinished remodeling projects when
describing their homes were more likely to
have elevated levels of stress hormones.
"Fathers would walk into the same rooms and
make no mention whatsoever of the
messiness. They were unaffected
physiologically," said Jeanne Arnold, lead
author of "Life at Home in the Twenty-First
Century" and a UCLA archaeologist. "The
differences between parents in their comfort
level about clutter and its long-term impacts
on well-being are pretty astonishing."
The New Junk Drawer
(Photo credit: J. Arnold and CELF)
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.
"I don't think Americans intend to
collect so much," said co-author
Anthony Graesch, an assistant
professor of anthropology at
Connecticut College. "But we're really
bad at ridding our homes of old
possessions before buying new stuff."
The Lure of Buying in Bulk
(Photo credit: J. Arnold and CELF)
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
"We wish parents standing in line at
Costco or elsewhere could project the
future of a purchase once it arrives
home and becomes part of the sea of
clutter that demands seemingly
endless housework," said co-author
and CELF director Elinor Ochs.
The Temptation of Toys
(Photo credit: 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.
CELF researchers estimate that
each new child in a household
leads to a 30 percent increase in
a family's possessions during the
preschool years alone.
Fragmented Dinner Time
(Photo credit: J. Arnold and CELF)
O 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
O Just 17 percent of dinners
were consumed with
everyone together.
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.
Watching television inside proved the most frequent leisure activity for parents,
consuming about 50 percent of their already limited leisure time, followed by
reading magazines, newspapers and books (21 percent).
"Families are overscheduled yet very sedentary at home. The ideal of indoor–
outdoor living — the California dream since the 1950s — seems increasingly out of
reach," said co-author Jeanne Arnold, a UCLA archaeologist.
(Photo credit: J. Arnold and CELF)
Lure of the 'Refuge'
(Photo credit: J. Arnold and CELF)
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.
Often designed and decorated to evoke
upscale hotels, these private spaces
were envisioned as refuges from the
hustle and bustle of family life. Yet, the
suites were rarely used, except for
sleeping, the researchers found.
Meanwhile, vexing pinch-points in
families' daily routines, such as
crowded kitchens, were rarely fixed.
Competitive Consumerism
O American over-consumption can result in
O Overwork
O Overspending
O Over-accumulating
O Consequences of ‘manic’ consumerism
O Bankruptcy
O Massive Credit Debt
O Physiological Stress
O Sense of Failure (Cannot achieve the American
The Amount Spent on
Average Annual Retail Sales in U.S. (Mid-2000s)
$20.9 billion
The amount received by the nation’s retailers for book
$11.8 billion
The retail value of 746 million music CDs sold
$24 billion
The cumulative amount paid by shoppers for toys, dolls,
and board games
$16 billion
The cost to consumers for 1.2 billion DVDs and VHS
$264.4 billion
The amount consumers paid for 16.5 billion pieces of
$42 billion
The price paid by shoppers for 2 billion pairs of shoes
Food, Food, Food
O Food marketing is the 2nd largest advertiser,
primarily promoting processed foods
O 10,000 new processed food products are
introduced in the U.S. every year
O Each day, 25% of adult Americans eat at a
fast-food restaurant
O Convenience foods, not so convenient.
O Average family meal time preparation was 52
minutes. Families using primarily
convenience foods save 5 minutes.
Families Eating Together
U.S. Families: Self-Reported
LA Families: Filmed
Plugged In
O TV advertising expenditures are greater than
$50 billion
99% of US household own at least 1 television
50% own three or more
Household spaces organized around the tv
Between 2006 and 2009, 1.2 billion consumer
electronic devices were sent to landfills (293
million units/year)
Americans have thrown out 3 billion pounds of
computer equipment in the last few decades
Thoughts and Reflections?

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