Anthropology and Hoarding: a lesson for us all

Anthropologists are fascinated with the topic of middle class families in America and their relationship to their “stuff”. The study by the University of California television in 2013 counted every.single.item (!!!) in 32 homes where both parents were in full time working jobs. They discovered that the family shared spaces (kitchen, living room, bathroom) were the most chaotic and cluttered. The area that was the least cluttered was the master bedroom. They discovered that more money was spent by the family on renovating the master bedroom, the room with the least amount of traffic, than any other room in the home. The reason, they discovered, was because the parents felt if they woke up in a calmer state they were better able to mentally prepare for the day. While this may make good mental health sense in the short-term, those families were not doing themselves any favours.
In my professional opinion as a home organiser, and as experience has shown me, I would argue that this is the exact *opposite* of what should be done! When I enter a home, my main area of concentration when it comes to order and organising is the shared spaces. If this space is managed, everything else follows. A family who are all sharing the kitchen have to participate in keeping systems in place, in order to continue to live harmoniously. The rooms that you most spend time in together have to reflect a sense of serenity and love. How do these shared spaces end up so cluttered? When parents are working a minimum of 30 hours out of the house, they don’t want to waste precious quality time outside of work on grocery shopping, and bulk-buy stores cater exactly to that issue – the needs of busy, working adults. But who has space in their home to hold all of the amassed items? This kind of purchasing creates a cycle of hoarding, using every inch of your home space in order to “save money”.
We think of Americans as being the main proponents of bulk-buy culture, but most Western, first-world countries have adopted this mentality of ‘more is more’. Homes in Italy, Japan and Holland do not usually have a second freezer, large food pantry or basement for storage, like many homes in America. During the first wave of covid-19, there was a 6 month waiting list for freezers on websites such as Amazon. What ever happened to hoard less, be more? The culture of collecting ‘things’ is so prevalent within the Western world, books upon books have been written on the topic (and then collected in people’s homes!). World famous home organiser Marie Kondo famously states that if the item upon being held doesn’t bring you joy, then that’s a tool to rid yourself of that item. Companies spend millions of dollars convincing you to “get the whole set”. It isn’t enough for a little girl to have just one Barbie, she ‘needs’ the set, and the beach-house and the car…. Such is true of everything in the home, because it applies to adults as well as children. The anthropologists in the university of California television study found that people’s collections were sentimental and therefore difficult to purge when decluttering a home to make space.
So what can we learn from this? The pandemic we are living through this year should have taught us that stockpiling grocery items is unnecessary. Certainly in the Western world, there is more than enough – beyond enough – supply. Stick to purchasing what you need and not what you think you will miss out on. Experience has taught me that with so much stuff, it is impossible to see, and be grateful, for what you have.
About the Author
Dalit is a professional organizer, living in the Jerusalem area for ~15 years, and married with four kids. Her organisational skills allow her to successfully help manage people's spaces by decluttering and reorganizing. Check out her work at designdeclutter.com. Her passions include travelling, good coffee shops, winter sun, and learning for the soul. In her spare time she manages an online facebook group called "Brand New Mamas".
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