I understand you once jumped out a family’s window to remove yourself from spousal combat? Also, you told a colleague, Benedict Carey, that the study was “the very purest form of birth control ever devised.” Discuss.
The study was an opportunity to see how families are doing it, working and raising children, every day, all the while trying to do that other job, maintaining a relationship with your spouse. In many ways that’s the job that suffered most. Parents are stretched the thinnest. Watching this unfold, I’d think: Why do I want to do this? It’s so much work. There are so many challenges. But there was also so much warmth and closeness, as much positive stuff as the tenseness, which was me jumping out the window.
Why do you think families are unable to manage the influx of material culture?
We can see how families are trying to cut down on the sheer number of trips to the store by buying bulk goods. How they can come to purchase more, and then not remember, and end up double purchasing. We can see how an increasingly nucleated family structure contributes to this.
Can you explain?
It means we don’t have extended family households. We don’t live next to grandparents. And we are further away from our relatives. We go to work, we come home, and there is only four hours of time we spend together. We feel guilty about this, and oftentimes buy gifts as a result. Grandparents contribute to possessions in no small way. Here comes Christmas, here come the birthdays. The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.
In the book you note how upgrading technology is also responsible for the glut of stuff.
We know how much we spent on those objects. But we’re confused about value: even though we’ve upgraded to a new fan, say, we don’t want to part with the old one because we don’t know how to recoup that value. Maybe we think we’ll sell it on eBay or have a garage sale. So it goes into the garage and there it stays because we’re so busy, we’re hyper-busy.