For middle-class Americans, it’s never been easier to feel consumed by consumption. Despite the recession, despite a brief interlude when savings rates shot up and credit-card debt went down, Americans arguably have more stuff now than any society in history. Children in the U.S. make up 3.1% of the world’s kid population, but U.S. families buy more than 40% of the toys purchased globally. The rise of wholesalers and warehouse supermarkets has packed our pantries and refrigerators with bulk items that often overflow into a second fridge. One-click shopping and same-day delivery have driven purchasing to another level altogether, making conspicuous consumption almost too easy.
Our stuff has taken over. Most household moves outside the U.S. weigh from 2,500 lb. to 7,500 lb. (1,110 kg to 3,400 kg). The average weight of a move in the U.S. is 8,000 lb. (3,600 kg), the weight of a fully grown hippo. An entire industry has emerged to house our extra belongings”“self-storage, a $24 billion business so large that every American could fit inside its units simultaneously.
It would be one thing if all our possessions were making us happier, but the opposite seems to be occurring. At least one study shows that a home with too much stuff can actually lead to higher levels of anxiety. “These objects that we bring in the house are not inert,” says UCLA anthropologist Elinor Ochs, who led a decade-long study on hyperacquisition. “They have consequences.”