— I’m sure you remember when you first heard as a youngster that the average American family had one and a half cars and two and a half kids. At first, this seemed bizarre — that is, until the Volkswagen Beetle came out and then that car number started to make a little sense.
As for the “two and a half kids” thing, that was a head scratcher. I mean, you can’t have half a kid. Can you? But nowadays, with parents obsessed with their children’s athletic achievements and the availability of growth-stimulating hormones, it’s not unheard of to be the proud parent of a six-foot-nine eighth-grader. That would be a kid and a half.
Information on the average American family has traditionally been focused on a certain kind of statistics: TVs, microwaves, computers and even handguns, have been painstakingly documented in the home. Some new research I came across has delved into a much more important set of data: how much crapola we have in our houses. And where we put it.
In their book “At Home in the 21st Century,” UCLA archeologists went to 32 homes to carefully record how much junk people had. As George Carlin famously observed, “A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”
Some social scientists have called this a groundbreaking study, in part because homeowners had accumulated so many possessions that many were excavating in their backyards to create their own landfills.
In the course of their interview process, scientists tabulated results from closets where women keep their shoes, chests where kids stockpile toys, and shelves where books pile up. The scientists were shocked at how much people accumulate and where they squirrel it away. In the course of their work, the researchers took more than 20,000 photographs. They printed them at home, stuffed most them into their kitchen drawers and stuck their favorites on the refrigerator doors.
Those same researchers also wanted to know what kinds of food people had stored. They took out their notebooks, opened 32 refrigerator doors and just stared at what was inside. I’ve been doing this my whole life and I have no training in statistical research.
The study included digging through people’s storage units, peering into basement crawl spaces, checking out attics and scrutinizing what had been shoved under beds. Apparently, the average household contains over 10,000 possessions. When my wife, who hates disarray, read this, she rushed to Half Price Books and purchased several of the hottest titles on this issue: “Outwitting Clutter,” “Clutter’s Last Stand,” “Conquer the Clutter,” and “Lighten Up.” She hasn’t looked at them yet, but they are now in a neat pile on top of the microwave.
You might be interested to know that the average house has seven mirrors. Oh, you’re not interested? How about this: The typical guy has two DVDs of the movie “Caddyshack.” Okay, that’s not true; it was just my last desperate attempt to make this column amusing.
(Important note from me, Dick Wolfsie: After I finished writing this column, I picked up a copy of Time magazine and saw that humorist Joel Stein had also written something on this very same topic. His essay was much funnier. Maybe I should have told you that in the first paragraph.)