Big Box America. Maybe our middle class is vanishing because they’re buried under a pile of stuff.

stuff garage

The average U.S. household has 300,000 things.

Let that sink in for a second. Okay, how about this one:  Children in the United States make up only 3.7% of children on the planet but have 47% of all the world’s toys and children’s books.

Who comes up with these stats? As it turns out, quite a few people.  Anthropologists and archaeologists, sociologists and economists are all studying our addiction to stuff. When you think about it, it’s fascinating. Writers and academics want to document this phenomenon so that thousands of years from now when an archaeologist  comes across 750 plastic toys at a single family dwelling dig site she will be able to explain why.

Life at Home in the 21st Century

The UCLA Institute of Archaeology Press recently published a book called Life at Home in the 21st Century.” The book is filled with U.S. stuff statistics, but what I found more interesting was the thousands of photographs from families who bravely opened their doors to researchers.

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To be honest, I didn’t finish this book. Once I was halfway through and had taken in most of the fascinating images, the point was crystal clear.  Middle-class America has the most possessions per family in history. Decades of consumption, combined with record low inflation-adjusted prices for goods, have left us buried under piles of stuff.  The middle class is vanishing under a pile of stuff.

The accumulation, management, and storage of all of this stuff has impacted our financial well-being and our free time.  The management of stuff requires larger homes, bigger vehicles for transporting stuff, bigger storage units and, most importantly, our time. Leisure time in the US is at an all-time low. We’re busting our asses just to consume.  And oddly, we have less time than ever to actually use the stuff we purchase.

I get this because I’m part of this group. My family has more stuff than we need.  We have more space than we need.  We waste too much time shopping for stuff, managing stuff, paying for stuff.  We spend too much time in big box stores, buying oversized items.

The journey away from stuff 

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What I find more interesting is the journey away from stuff. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life by questioning what adds value.  Two of their best-selling books “The Minimalists and “Everything That Remains have had a major impact on how I approach life.

The reason these books are fascinating reads is that the authors started in a similar position to many of us. The books describe their journey from high-powered careers, managing mountains of personal possessions, large homes and struggling with debt to their individual discovery of a simpler life, a life lived with intention.

The books represent more of a why-to instead of a how-to approach to minimalism, but there’s still plenty of excellent examples.  Including the story of Ryan’s journey to minimalism by putting everything he owned in big boxes, as if he was moving, and only pulling out exactly what he needed when he needed it. He quickly found out how much he could do without.

After meeting Joshua and Ryan at #misfitcon and hearing their stories, I’ve been inspired to write about my own living lean philosophy. Last year at about this time I even declared war on stuff. I felt I needed more of a kick in the butt to keep at this, sharing my journey along the way. Plus with a family of four we have a lot of stuff to give away.

I discovered that minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of stuff or saving money. It can be applied in business, design, and fitness.

Removing unnecessary complexity so that perfection is achieved not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away”. 

To me, minimalism has been about replacing stuff with experiences. Understanding the value of the time I was wasting acquiring, managing, repairing, paying for, and disposing of stuff.  I have a long way to go but I’ve been enjoying the process of lightening the load.

The Frug

More Resources

A movie about stuff  The Queen of Versailles ( Funny, Sad, Enlightening)

A book about stuff Stuffocation

A book about Minimalism in business ReWork

More about minimalism The Power of Less

Music Eddie Vedder Society

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