More Stuff, More Space, More Energy Used

Video by Clara Pak and Casey Wood

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 courtesy puuikibeach on Flickr)

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. The bigger our space, the more stuff we can physically fit in it. 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. So what gives? 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.

(Courtesy 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 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. - Clara Pak

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