More space, more stuff inside the American household

Ever wonder why you have so much stuff?

Take a look right now around your bedroom, your office, your kitchen even.

Every home has a room like this. Photo credit: puuikibeach on Flickr (CC license)

As your eyes scan the room, do the questions “What is this and why do I own it?” enter your thoughts?

Are you already deciding what’s got to go next spring cleaning?

Seriously though, why do we have so much stuff?

One part to answering that question is first considering the size of your room or house. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The bigger our space, the more stuff we can physically fit in it.

And that’s precisely what’s going on . The average floor space of a new American house has gotten dramatically larger in just one generation, resulting in a high consumption of goods and energy.

Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson’s Who Turned Out the Lights (2009) states that in 1973, the average floor space of an American home was 1,660 square feet. It has since increased 52 percent to 2,521 square feet in 2007. However, this was happening during a period when the average American family was actually getting smaller.

Huh? You can infer then that families do not seek bigger homes to house more children but to house more of their gadgets and gizmos aplenty.


You may not know about the whozits and whatzits Hipster Ariel uses underwater but we above ground buy and use things now that didn’t even exist 30 years ago (see table below). If it did exist like a personal computer, the average American could not afford it.

Credit: Who Turned Out the Lights by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson

That’s all changed now. Microwave, dishwasher, TV, air-conditioning–those are the least obscure items in your home I’m sure.  The U.S.’s total consumer debt also affirms that Americans know how to consume. As of May 2011, total consumer debt in the U.S. was at $2.43 trillion. Total consumer debt per household averaged $16,046 which was down from $35,245 prior to the economic depression in 2008.

When people live in bigger places, they will also naturally have more rooms to light, heat and cool. Not only might our vast consumption of goods and services dangerous in accumulating debt, but our high consumption of energy also means trouble for the average household’s carbon footprint. Dishwashers, laundry machines, microwaves, computers, TVs–all these are used daily and eat up energy.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “in 2010, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 11,496 kWh, an average of 958 kilowatthours (kWh) per month.”

Looking back, every home I lived in was larger than the last, which only meant a bigger yard sale in the spring, autumn or both. It also meant more space to clean, more floors to vacuum. As a young girl who disliked weekly chores, I would have been okay with living in a smaller house. Would you consider living in a smaller house to avoid hoarding unnecessary stuff and exhausting lots of energy on keeping unoccupied rooms lit, warm, or cool? I know I am.

If you want to talk more, follow me at @pennibean. #thinkFWD

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7 thoughts on “More space, more stuff inside the American household

  1. esoser says:

    Overall, very interesting post. I liked your use of rhetorical questions–they immediately grabbed my attention and kept me reading.

    I wish that you had kept up with the short, punchy paragraphs throughout the piece. Towards the end I found myself skimming, but maybe that’s just my aversion to reading online.

    The best point is that we not only buying more stuff, but it is different stuff that have an impact on the environment besides energy consumption (like dishwashers).

  2. emcc126 says:

    I like the way you carry the reader along with the questions at the beginning. You got me responding (silently) as it went along, and it kept me engaged and reading further.

    I agree with Ethan on the short, punch paragraph thing.

    Great post!

  3. michaelbenjaminkatz says:

    Good post! Very entertaining.

    Like the pictures

  4. chanellehavey says:

    I love the style of this blog. Very casual and entertaining. My only concern was how quickly it related to a green initiative…I would have liked to see that made clearer earlier on.

    I did like how you mentioned being a young girl at the end. For young adults reading this it can difficult to relate house size and being green, especially considering our living standards are rather….cozy? at this age. It puts things into perspective and certainly becomes food for thought for later down the road!

  5. shivansarna says:

    I love this post. Your voice shines through. It’s informative with lots of great facts. I do think it got a bit long toward the end – perhaps you could have tightened it there.

  6. Mike DeVito says:

    Absolutely excellent development of voice – you really shine through here and it’s both informative and engaging. Frames the dazzle very well, and I really enjoy the fact that you keep using memes (I was particularly happy to use the meme in your economy post for the election webisode).

    I agree with the above comments that it gets a little backloaded. The info is good and I don’t want to tell you to strip it out. What you need to do is reframe it in a casual context, and I think your opportunity for that is in your personal anecdote about being a little girl. Move that up to the top of the second half, and perhaps relate each point one by one to what your experience in the past was. That’s a big piece of the beauty of blogs – you get to bring the personal in to great effect. Anecdotal framing can keep eyeballs on pages in a way that pure fact never will.

  7. Hi Clara,

    I agree with all of the above comments. Great job! The voice is cheerful and engaging, and the rhetorical questions makes for a great opening line. You draw a narrative, but weave in important facts and stick to the point. Maybe one less rhetorical question in the first few lines. Great use of photos, links, and memes.



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