One of the things I’ve been wondering about lately is what the “minimum viable” home size for a family of two adults and two children might be. In the spirit of erring on the leaner side, I wonder whether something like an ~800 square foot, 1 BR apartment might work for say, the first ten years of the kids’ lives.

J.D. Roth had me thinking about that just now, after reading his “cluttered lives of middle-class Americans:”

A while ago, I stumbled on a video that documents the work of a group of anthropologists from UCLA. These researchers visited the homes of 32 typical American families. They wanted to look at how people interacted with their environments, at how they used space. They also wanted to look at how dual-income, middle-class families related to their material possessions. They systematically documented the Stuff people own, where they keep it, and how they use it.

This team produced a book called Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, which records their findings. They also produced this twenty-minute video that provides an overview of the results:

“Contemporary U.S. households have more possessions per household than any society in global history,” says Jeanne E. Arnold. That’s both shocking and unsurprising all at once. …

Graesch continues: “We have lots of Stuff. We have many mechanisms by which we accumulate possessions in our home, but we have few rituals or mechanisms or processes for unloading these objects, for getting rid of them.” All of this stuff causes stress. It carries very real physical and emotional tolls.

“The United States has 3.1% of the world’s children but consumes 40% of the world’s toys,” notes Arnold.

I remember reading somewhere that the average American family has something like 300,000+ distinct objects in their home. If our home lives and sizes create that kind of lifestyle by their nature (which is the simplest explanation, isn’t it?) then it seems to me that it’s better to err on the size of a home life that’s smaller and more intimate. At that point, the reduced stress of material possessions and consequent clutter is only a side benefit to the greater good of better and more meaningful human relationships that closeness would engender.