SLT 014: How Typical Is Your Home & A Gateway Gadget Intervention


How Typical is Your Home? And…A Gateway Gadget Intervention

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Vanessa’s Topic: How Typical Is Your Home?

Dan and I were interviewed a couple of times last week and during one of the interviews we were talking about how much stuff we have in our homes. Dan started talking about a study conducted by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families. They sent a team of professional archaeologists, anthropologists and other social scientists to conduct a systematic study of home life in 32 middle-class, dual-income families in Los Angeles.

Based off of this study they created a book: Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors. UCLA also created 3 short video ethnographies for their university television station which are now on YouTube. The book and the videos highlight their major findings which I thought were absolutely fascinating!

The pictures and videos may not be as mouth-dropping as what you might see on the show Hoarders…but I think it does hit a little closer to home because it’s not highlighting those extreme cases of hoarding….it’s highlighting what is becoming…or rather…actually already has become the “norm” in the middle class America. So I reviewed some of the major findings and then discussed my thoughts.

Findings in relation to stuff:

  • With Family #27, they found 2,260 visible possessions in the first three rooms recorded (two bedrooms and the living room),” and that didn’t include “untold numbers of items tucked into dresser drawers, boxes and cabinets or items positioned behind other items.”
  • In another home, Family #1 they looked at a display shelf in a girl’s bedroom and found: 165 Beanie Babies, 36 Human/Animal Figurines, 22 Barbie dolls, 20 other types of dolls, 3 Porcelain dolls, 1 Troll, 1 miniature castle
  • America has 3.1% of the world’s kids…yet it owns 40% of the world’s toys.  As a matter of fact, toys were found everywhere in the home.  It’s as if the home had become primarily child-centered.
  • The average refrigerator front panel in the homes studied holds 52 objects. The most crowded refrigerator was covered with 166 different objects. In most cases there was a direct corollary to the amount of stuff on a fridge and the amount of stuff in the home (ie: a more cluttered fridge = a more cluttered home)
  • Only 25 percent of garages could be used to store cars because they were so packed with stuff. One article called this, “The New Junk Drawer” and rightfully so because that’s exactly what it’s become.
  • They found mountains of clutter in many of the homes. One family even had to resort to using a bathroom shower stall as a laundry hamper.
  • They also observed a huge trend in shopping at “big box” stores (like Sam’s Club, Costco, BJ’s) and how the items bought at these stores actually created more clutter and required a second refrigerator or freezer.

Findings in relation to the effects the stuff had on these families:

  • Managing the volume of possessions was such a crushing problem in many homes that it actually elevated levels of stress hormones for mothers. Ironically, it rarely affected the men because they didn’t have to clean it up!
  • There are several ways in which items come into a home but few processes on how to get it out.
  • So many of the parents sought a “refuge” to escape it all. The addition of costly “master suites” for parents proved the most common renovation in the homes that were studied, yet the spaces were hardly used. The average master suite “upgrade” at the time cost $80K…almost twice the average household income.
  • The families rarely devoted renovation dollars to remedying obvious problems such as consistent and troublesome bottlenecks in the homes.
  • Even in a region with clement year-round weather, the families hardly used their yards, and this was the case even among those who had invested in outdoor improvements and furnishings…¾ of parents and ½ of the kids spent no time outside.  The number 1 leisure activity was watching television…even for parents who had limited interaction time available.
  • Most of the families relied heavily on convenience foods like frozen meals and par-baked bread, yet they saved an average of only 10 to 12 minutes per meal in doing so.
  • And the dinners were fragmented dinners — those in which family members eat sequentially or in different rooms — which threaten to undermine what some would call the sacrosanct tradition of the family dinner.

My Thoughts:

  • I found this study fascinating, frustrating, sad and alarming.  It really made me think about how hyper-consumerism has affected us as individuals and as a society.
  • And what does it say about our society?  How superficial we are?  How we’ve outsourced nurturing by replacing it with television, toys and fast food? How we’ve allowed the time we spend with family and loved ones to be dictated by our stuff?
  •  I don’t think any of us planned on this.  Certainly parents aren’t purposefully raising their kids to be hyper-consumers….it’s just what’s been ingrained in us.
  • At least we are starting to build awareness and opening our eyes to the negative effects that this superficial lifestyle has and how it can negatively affect us mentally and physically and how it can rob us of the more important things in life like building relationships and experiences with friends and family.
  • The good news…people are seeing the benefits of living a life with less.  I know we are.  And we hope you are too!

What are your thoughts?

  • After listening to our summary of this study and after watching the videos, think about how they make you feel.  Are you angry, shocked, sad…what?
  • Why do you think you feel that way?  Is it because you can relate? Can you identify with these families too?  That’s ok…because I know Dan and I do!
  • Don’t beat yourself up though! Knowledge is the power to help you make change in your life.  If after studying living a life with less and armed with the belief that stuff isn’t what makes you happy…what are you going to do about it?
  • We’re very interested in hearing your thoughts.  Check out the links to the articles and videos below, and let us know your take on all of this.

Dan’s Topic: A Gateway Gadget Intervention

OK, so today I want to talk about  what I call “gateway” gadgets.  Well, remember back in high school health class when they taught us about “gateway drugs”. Well if you haven’t heard of gateway drugs or the gateway theory, essentially it’s that by doing something at a lower or “entry level”, it may make you more likely to do things at a more advanced level. So for drugs, the theory is that using (and I say this in quotations because they can be just as bad) but lesser drugs such as tobacco, alcohol or marijuana, it may make you more likely to use much more dangerous or hard drugs. The same goes for crime…if you allow yourself to be deceitful or engage in shoplifting or petty theft, it may lead to more serious and dangerous crimes later on.  It’s the act of initially opening yourself up or compromising yourself just a little bit at first, that may lead to additional and higher levels of compromise.

OK, so you get the idea…small things can lead to big things. I’m not here to talk about drugs, I’m here to talk about “stuff.” And I’m going to kind of “unwrap” how we…and especially, I, fell victim to this when it comes to our stuff. As I go through this, you might see a little of yourself in this situation too…because I think we all fall victim to this from time to time.

Alright, so here we go… when Vanessa was expecting our little girl, we decided (like a lot of parents do) to get a camcorder. We figured that since our son was getting bigger and the baby was about to be born, maybe it’s time we “invest” (yeah…how many times have you said that to yourself…invest) in a good camcorder. So we spent probably way more than we should have on this camera…HD was kinda new, it recorded right to an internal hard drive…you know…why skimp, right? We deserve the best of the best right. Sure we do.

Well, little did we know how little we would use this thing. After the initial glow of it faded, we realized that this thing was kind of a bear to use! I won’t mention the brand but they are notorious for using proprietary software and managing the files was just a pain the fourth point of contact.

So anyway, yeah, the video format wasn’t compatible, the files were huge and maxed out my crummy laptop which was all we had at the time…essentially, this thing just ended up sitting in it’s top-of-the-line camera bag (because a good camera deserves a good bag, “we’ll be carrying it around all the time, right?”)

The other thing was that we bought this thing right at the cusp of a technology boom where smart phones were coming out with decent video, too. So almost a total waste of money, right. “But wait, there’s more!”

So when Vanessa started up her Professional Organizer blog, Get Simplifized!, we finally wiped the dust off the camera to make a few videos, cuz what’s a blog that doesn’t have videos, right? In the interim, we had changed over to Apple Macs, so the once just clunky software was not unusable because they didn’t have Mac compatible software available. So it turned into “Work Around Fest 2009” and buying these conversion programs, backup drives that were large enough to hold the files, etc…

Then, and again the whole online business-blog thing was new to me….but every reputable person out there that I followed and trusted online was using the Kodak Zi8…a tiny little $120 video recorder like a flip camera. It was cheap, small, and recorded in HD. So, of course, we had to have that! All the cool kids had ’em! But when we got it, the sound was pretty bad if recording inside. No problem, just buy the lavalier microphone for $30! That solves that. And a case…you gotta have a case. And a little tripod. Just a little one. Oh yeah, we had the big one from the camcorder but who wants to lug that around? Get the little one.That’s a no brainer.

Well, a lot of our initial videos on Get Simplifized! were filmed with that little Kodak Zi8. But you know what? The zoom was bad and the aspect ratio of the screen seemed a little constrictive. Maybe we should try that old camcorder again now that decent conversion software was available. Yeah..that’s a great idea. Oh yeah, but we need a better microphone for the indoor shots. Most of Vanessa’s videos are indoors…she’s a Professional Organizer, not a landscaper.  So, yeah..a good microphone is a must. But why not use the $30 lavalier? Well, it leaves this little buzz and then there’s the “cord” thing to deal with. So a wireless lavalier would be best. Besides, it’s a business expense, right?

But then the same old angles and shots seemed to get old. Maybe a green screen setup so we can add cool backgrounds in editing…you know, like the weather guys on TV? Yeah…and some good gotta have good lighting now that we have decent video and sound.  Crazy, huh?  But can’t you see yourself doing this with some area of your life? Maybe not video equipment, but maybe sports equipment or something?

Well we got really tired of having all this “stuff.”  Good quality stuff, but stuff nonetheless. So when the new iPhones came out with their upgraded camera lenses…it was another “no brainer” for sure! Let’s scrap most of what we have and start using the iPhone! Simplicity at it’s best, right? All we need is this little microphone adapter, this macro lens, this fish eye lest, this holder/grabber thingy for a tripod, this case so you can attach it to the tripod, this app, this “How to Make Amazing Video By Just Using Your iPhone” course...taught by a professional photographer who won an Academy Award for “Best iPhone Video”…finally…we had just what we wanted! Never again would we buy into the gateway gadget syndrome.  That is…until the Canon T4i came out!

Now THAT’S a camera…awesome stills, amazing video, auto focus video with the upgrade silent lenses. Oh, and King Size SD card that record for two light years, 1 Terra byte Thunderbolt hard drive to process the card’s huge videos, upgraded cloud storage plan, pro tripod, pro camera backpack, cool/sleek LED lighting to replace the old CFL lamps…besides, they were used like 10 times, extended battery pack with extra batteries, subscription to online video membership site, and extra lenses…you know, to make the edges look fuzzy.

All this camera, photography and video stuff…it’s like mainlining gadgets…it’s digital crack.  Now I’m not saying don’t start…maybe that’s not realistic…but what I am saying is to be careful of your predispositions, your triggers, and be mindful of your simplicity goals. Something as simple as “I’m going to start running” can turn into crazy expensive shoes, running clothes, hi-tech water bottles, $3 packets of goo, armbands for your iPhone, waterproof cases, tracking software, expensive GPS’s that are scrapped for apps, digital scales to track your weight loss, $125 entry fees to half marathons that give away cotton tee-shirts that you won’t wear running because they’re not “performance” t-shirts…all to be scrapped later for the ultra-expensive minimalist shoes that have individual toes…because that’s how cavemen walked, so it must be better for you. Oh, and then socks with toes because your toes chaff…and then paleo creme for your caveman toes…and then a pedicure…because you deserve it.

OK…that’s it. maybe this was a little bit of a rant…but at least I used myself as the example. You know where your weak points are, and you certainly won’t get any judgement from me…I’m just as guilty, if not more. Probably way more. But I’m workin’ at it. In the words of the great philosopher, Jules Winnfield, in the movie Pulp Fiction…I’m tryin’ Vincent…I’m tryin” real hard to be the shepherd!

The “Thing” Segment:

Vanessa: Stepping outside of her “comfort zone” to meet and connect with a neighbor.

Dan: The surprising, Simple Life Together listener demographic and how the idea of living a simple life is resonating with so many different folks here in the US and around the world!

Edit & Forget It Update!

The Facebook Edit & Forget It page is rockin’ so if you signed up for Edit & Forget It, join us on FB, too! For the folks that are there…it’s great to be able to see your photos and interact…we have some folks really raking up the numbers and posting some great stuff over there too so if you haven’t been on the page, you’re missing out!  It’s never too late to join the Challenge, so if you’re ready to edit 2013 things from your life, you can sign up right here! We have well over 70 people signed up, so come and join us!


Wanted to thank everyone that has given us fantastic feedback on iTunes, thru email, on the website and even several “shout outs” on different blogs and podcasts. It’s great to hear how you enjoy the podcast and to get your ideas and suggestions for future ones as well.  Thank you so much!

Closing Thoughts:

We’re blessed to be able to share some ideas and some of our experiences as we journey toward a simpler life in the modern world and we’d like to hear some of your experiences, too.

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Connect with us on Twitter, Dan is @DanielHayes and Vanessa is @GetSimplifized. You can find links to our Twitter and Google Plus profiles on the left side of the home page.

Be sure to leave comments below, send us a voicemail from the little microphone icon on the right side of the page, or you can go “old school” and email us!  Comments, questions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions…they’re all welcome and we’d love to hear from you!

Here are the links we mentioned in the show:

UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of Families

Trouble in paradise: UCLA book enumerates challenges faced by middle-class L.A. families

Article announcing University of California TV Series on YouTube

A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance (Ep.1) Stuff

A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance (Ep. 2) Food

A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance (Ep. 3) Space

Life At Home in the Twenty-first Century (book)

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