September 12, 2012 by Meg G.
I know. You’re thinking to yourself – Meg, don’t you mean what’s in your fridge? Just stay with me.
A few weeks ago, I read this NY Times interview with Anthony P. Graesch, one of the authors of Life at Home in the 21st Century. The book is the result of a 9 year UCLA study and takes a look at 32 families in the Los Angeles area. The study takes a look at what anthropologists call “material culture” – or what the rest of us call “stuff.”
Material culture is a fascinating way to study history and culture. Allow me to put on my nerd hat for a second and admit that my capstone project as an undergraduate focused on 19th Century American doll play. Yep! I studied the way children (read: girls) were taught to play with dolls as a means of socialization. We’ve come such a long way since the 1800’s! (Sigh.)
But I digress…
The article talks briefly about the accumulation of stuff. Here’s what I found most interesting:
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.
Here is where two of my favorite things – ritual and material culture – collide (Venn Diagram alert!). Ritual is a powerful thing. It can educate, transform, and heal. Ritual is a huge part of religious practice, but it is also more than that. So much of our daily life includes rituals. We sing “Happy Birthday.” We do the Sunday crossword over our morning coffee. We read bedtime stories. And we give gifts.
But as Graesch points out, there is no ritual for downsizing. Yes, we may do the occasional “spring” cleaning. But even then, do we really get rid of things? Or do we just put them in the basement/attic/garage? Why do we hold onto things? What would a purging ritual look like? An annual community yard sale? A monthly donation drop off to the local thrift store? A buy-nothing Christmas? A clothing swap? How might we ritualize the outflow of stuff in our lives? (And by we, I mean the privileged people of the world who can afford newer, shinier things. #firstworldproblems)
Anyway, I guess I should get to the fridge part…
Finally, there was a direct relationship between the amount of magnets on refrigerators and the amount of stuff in a household.
While this is suggestive data (not statistically significant), I think it’s pretty fascinating to consider. It raises all kinds of questions. What does our fridge say about us? Can you judge a home by its fridge door? How does the space around us impact the way that we live our lives? How does it impact the way we feel about the lives we’re living?
Care to weigh in? Feel free to take a long look at your refrigerator door and get back to me.