Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Live at Home in the Twenty-First Century - Jeanne E Arnold

subtitle: 32 families open their doors

I found this book via the blog, Becoming Minimalist, which I started reading a few months ago.  The blog discusses one person's journey to getting rid of stuff, rejecting consumerism and focusing on the relationships in life that really matter.

This book is an anthropology/sociology/archeology journey into how people in the U.S. (Los Angeles area, specifically) live with all their stuff.  It's sad and eye-opening and thought-provoking.  The authors are scientists in the fields mentioned who decided to explore how families are living today.  They videoed and took pictures of these homes over an extended period of time, generating 1000 of hours of video and 1000's of pictures.  Their analysis revealed several themes; namely:

  • material saturation - people are living with mountains of stuff, more personal possessions than ever in history.  Childrens' items in particular have taken over every room of the house.
  • food - families have food in large quantities but eat out over one-third of the time and when eating at home only occasionally eat sitting at a table together.
  • vanishing leisure - while most families had lovely outdoor spaces with toys, pools, Jacuzzis, and other entertainment, they spent very little of their time out of doors and instead if they had leisure time, spent it with TV or computers.
  • kitchens as command centers - kitchens aren't just for preparing food and eating - today's kitchen is a hub of calendars, homework, work space, art projects and the like.  Particularly revealing is the correlation of the amount of things on the refrigerator door with the amount of things throughout the house.
  • bathroom bottlenecks - many of the families had only one bathroom which created jams in getting ready in the morning but conversely created a place for parents to share with their children.
  • master suites as sanctuaries - this phenomenon is a way for the adults to get away, although in several cases the desire was undermined by babies in the room and a lack of time to relax.
I suspect readers will dismiss the study as too narrowly focused and dismiss it as part of the California life style.  While all the families were in the LA area, the study encompassed a wide range of incomes, varying ethnicities and ages.  All the families had children, ranging from 17 to 1, and all of the families had both parents working.  

I found it a fascinating, sobering view into the lives of many of the families in the U.S. today and I suspect their are parallels across the nation.

Published:  2012  Read: March 2014  Genre: Non-fiction, science

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