If you drive down the street of nearly any middle-class American neighbourhood you’re likely to find homes with outdoor seating, garages and even gorgeous gardens.
What you’re not likely to find is anyone actually enjoying their patio furniture.
Despite families spending thousands of dollars on outdoor home improvement projects, and paying more for their homes to include a garage, few American families have time to enjoy their investments.
American Families Are Overwhelmed – Study States The Obvious
Why? We’re too busy working to buy more stuff. Then, when we’re home, we’re too busy cleaning and organising all the stuff we’ve bought, to enjoy the patio set we worked so hard to afford.
When we go to resell our car for an upgrade, we’re unlikely to be able to sell it as garage-kept. Why? Because we have too much stuff in our garage to actually fit in a vehicle.
If you fall into this middle-class, you’re likely wondering why researchers took the time to state the obvious. Of course we’re overwhelmed!
It’s obvious by the look on nearly every mother’s exhausted face at the monthly PTO meeting after a long day at work. It’s the weary look on the dads rushing to baseball practice still in their work attire.
“Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” – A Real Look Into American Home Life
Jeanne E. Arnold, lead author and professor of anthropology at UCLA, said the goal of researching American homes this way was to document the obvious but invisible aspects of our current lifestyle.
Scientists affiliated with the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of Families studied dual-income families the same way scientists would look at animal subjects.
They used position trackers, video tapped activities, documented their homes and yards with thousands of pictures, and they even monitored their stress hormones via saliva samples.
- We own too much stuff
- We’re a consumer-driven society
- We rarely go outside
- We stockpile food, toiletries, and unused toys
- Our clutter is so significant it impacts our stress hormones
- We have dual-income households to afford a consumer-driven lifestyle but we rarely enjoy the fruits of our labour
- The home design trend of master suites may be huge, but few couples actually use them beyond just to sleep
- We collect things like toys, stuffed animals, “collectable items” but they simply sit, unused and even rarely admired
- We rely heavily on boxed and frozen foods despite the fact that on average it saves us just 11 minutes.
The book “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” published by researchers is available on Amazon and at first glance appears just like any other coffee table book. However, it gives a real glimpse into the realistic stress and mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Why Are US Families Overwhelmed?
If you talk to nearly any family about their everyday goals you’re likely to hear things such as:
- Have dinner as a family
- Have a BBQ with neighbours on the patio
- Relax and read a book before bed
- Watch the kids play, and then tidy after them to keep organised
- Keep the car in great condition by storing it in the garage
- Organise the basement, the closets, the garage
- Go on a family vacation
- Spend time at the local park on a Saturday.
All of these things sound attainable, right? When you say them out loud they don’t seem unreasonable. However, what the researchers found is few families do these things nearly as often as they’d like, and some rarely do these things, if at all.
“Something like 50 of the 64 parents in our study never stepped outside in the course of about a week. 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,” Arnold said.
In short, what the researchers found was American families are simply overcome with stuff. Inanimate objects which take over their homes, and seem to take over their lives.
Is “Stuff” Really The Problem?
It seems a bit silly to think our overindulgence of toys and clutter is the reason we feel constantly overwhelmed.
And yet, it makes perfect sense. We see billboards, commercials constantly, even while reading articles on the internet. Our children are growing up in a time where you see something on TV, order it via an Amazon app, and in less than 24 hours it arrives at your front door. You can drive ten minutes to Target to grab milk and come home with a new pair of shoes and another Barbie to sit on your daughter’s shelf.
These purchases add up, making us stretch our incomes further than past generations did. We watch home improvement shows and feel the need to update the master suite and build an amazing outdoor living space equivalent to a second kitchen and dining space.
How do we afford this? We work harder. However, the longer hours leave us feeling drained, and who is cleaning up the clutter? Who’s making dinner? The clutter often stays, leaving us overwhelmed enough to experience a rise in stress hormones. Dinner is made by a short order cook at a drive-thru or we toss something frozen in the microwave.
And who enjoys the outdoor living space? Maybe the neighbourhood squirrel?
All to get more stuff? It doesn’t really add up to be an ideal life, and yet so many of us fall into this trap. Certainly, some families find the right balance. But the researchers in this case found study participants were frequently stressed and rarely had time to enjoy their purchases.
What’s The Solution For Families To Be Less Overwhelmed?
Culture doesn’t change overnight. Perhaps there’s little chance American culture will make a turnaround from being a completely consumer-driven society.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make changes to help your family feel less overwhelmed. Be conscious of the clutter you already own and be smart about purchases. Take time to de-clutter your home. Limit screen time and thus exposure to advertising for yourself and your children, and use that time to get outside and enjoy that expensive patio set!
The entire country can be stuck in a rat race to own more and to get a bigger house, but you aren’t required to participate. Easier said than done, of course, but perhaps browsing the pages of “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” will inspire you to turn a new page in your own life and be intentional about finding ways to be less overwhelmed.