‘Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century’

Beth Teitell reports on the stresses that result from material abundance:

Tell me about it. That sums up Boston parents’ reaction to new research by UCLA-affiliated social scientists concluding that American families are overwhelmed by clutter, too busy to go in their own backyards, rarely eat dinner together even though they claim family meals as a goal, and can’t park their cars in the garage because they’re crammed with non-vehicular stuff.

The team of anthropologists and archeologists spent four years studying 32 middle-class Los Angeles families in their natural habitat — their toy-littered homes — and came to conclusions so grim that the lead researcher used the word “disheartening” to describe the situation we have gotten ourselves

At first glance, the just-published, 171-page “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” looks like a coffee table book. But it contains very real-life photos of pantries, offices, and backyards, and details a generally Zen-free existence. Architectural Digest or Real Simple this is not. …

Arnold said she was bothered most by the lack of time study subjects spent enjoying the outdoors.

“Something like 50 of the 64 parents in our study never stepped outside in the course of about a week,” she said. “When they gave us tours of their house they’d say, ‘Here’s the backyard, I don’t have time to go there.’ They were working a lot at home. Leisure time was spent in front of the TV or at the computer.”

I think we have a culture of material but not psychological or spiritual abundance. I’ve heard it pointed out that we really can’t describe ourselves as “materialists,” because a true materialist would be someone with love and concern for all aspects of the material in his or her life. We don’t seem to value material things, in fact. We accumulate, we overspend, we live in empty-ish homes, and we feel this terrible remorse without escaping into a life of liberty and lightness that minimalist and truly materialist thinking might afford us.

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