We need our space

Now it finally comes out — suburbia’s terrible secret:

Forget hot tubs beckoning sybaritic adults, garages brimming with impressive cars and families frolicking on verdant lawns. From their clutter-strewn garages to their mostly lovely but abandoned yards, busy Southern California parents who own their homes rarely use residential outdoor spaces for the purposes for which they were designed, said a UCLA anthropologist who participated an in-depth study of how the average dual-income family really lives in Los Angeles.

“Middle class families in Southern California don’t live the way you might expect,” said Jeanne Arnold, an anthropologist with UCLA’s Center for the Everyday Lives of Families and a UCLA professor of anthropology. “Most parents in dual-income families never spend leisure time in their yards, their children play outside much less than expected and most cars can’t fit in garages because they’re too full of clutter from the house.”

I’m reminded of the films of Steven Spielberg, which initially treated suburbia with great realism — remember Richard Dreyfuss’ awesomely cluttered family home in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? (“Toby, you are close to death!”) But soon his films degenerated into a cleaner, more sterile and more molded vision of suburbia in E.T. and Poltergeist, where the clutter was just mainly identifiable (product-placed?) children’s toys.

Adults were barely recorded in their backyards during the observed times, and when they did step through their backdoors, they did chores. In fact, 13 of the 24 families – or slightly more than half – did not spend any leisure time at all in the backyard during the four days of observation. This finding included both parents and children. Interestingly, researcher logged little or no use of the priciest improvements (pools, play sets, and formal decks and patio spaces).

So, those would be the larger, more expensive homes that everyone just had to have (even if they couldn’t afford them without wonky loans)…