July 24, 2011


The Heritage Foundation seems to be making the argument that 70 or 80 years ago most or all of these things were luxuries, so the poor aren't poor. Or something. I'm more struck by the number of people among us who don't have these things - if you read the Foundation's numbers backwards the chart doesn't really bolster their argument. I was surprised to learn, for example, that 70 percent of the poor in America don't have an internet connection.

Stove and oven
Air conditioning
At least one VCR
More than one television
At least one DVD player
Cable or satellite television
Clothes washer
Cordless telephone
Cellular phone
Clothes dryer
Ceiling fans
Non-portable stereo
Coffee maker
Personal computer
Answering machine [my phone plan includes voice mail]
More than two televisions
Internet service
Video game system
Computer printer
More than one VCR
Separate freezer
More than one DVD player
Big-screen television
More than one refrigerator
Photocopier [our printer includes a scanner]

(The Foundation seems to have skipped over car ownership costs, but maybe they're saving that for another study.)

I've crossed off the stuff we don't have. Seems to me a couple of the items don't really belong on the list anymore - VCRs, for example, are obsolete, as are cordless phones and answering machines.

I'm a fan of sustainability and simple living, but mostly in the abstract; I fantasize about having so few possessions that I can strap everything I own to the back of a bicycle and relocate at will. I'd love to pare down to a list such as the 10 essentials by mnmlist. But I'm a suburban householder, and I've accumulated some baggage. (My personal "ten essentials" would be half-filled with items from the above list: refrigerator, stove and oven, air conditioning, clothes washer and dryer, and cell phone. I suppose I could pare it down more by going to the laundromat or washing my clothes in the sink. And I could trade a cellphone for an internet connection and a wifi device. I text and e-mail more often than I talk.)

I can't really see doing away with the refrigerator or the stove, and getting rid of any of another half-dozen items on the list might cause considerable household friction. But it's interesting to see how much stuff on the list is simply for entertainment, and I wonder if it wouldn't be good to pare those items down. It'd be like living in the 30s without all the household drudgery.

I'm guessing that most of the world's population still sees most everything on the list as luxuries, and I can envision a time where none of us have any of these things. Someday we might be making lists of essentials that only include things like clean water or adequate food. But I think the Heritage Foundation is overlooking the real plight of poverty - choosing between the transmission and the cable, paying for health care, fuel, transportation, etc.

We don't have a jacuzzi, but we do have a blue plastic swimming pool for the dogs. I suppose cable would be the next easiest thing to cross off the list. I could live without the video game system (I've only ever used it to get to Netflix - I haven't actually played a video game since Centipede).

Meanwhile, back in the real world...



  1. Other than the stuff you crossed out, I have one tv, no cable/satellite; no coffee maker; no printer; no photo copier.

  2. Dang. You're way ahead of me.

  3. You can cross off "more than on DVD player" since the other DVD players are the video game systems. Or at least specify that, if you have the OCD tendencies that I do.

  4. Also, I could do without cable too since Netflix is where I watch everything, and it's not that hard to find Doctor Who episodes elsewhere online.
    And I have the same fantasy about having much less possessions. A lot of stuff mostly feels like a burden and I have been very slowly trying to get rid of some things.
    Sometimes I think it'd be really nice to live in a cabin like Ursula from Kiki's Delivery Service, and have art supplies be my main possessions.
    But it is a hypocritical ideal of course, and I also type more than I talk.

  5. You've all read Walden by Thoreau, right? If you haven't, you should--he speaks to this. I can send you a couple of excerpts if you'd like(since the book in its entirety is a bit much). He knew we should "Simplify, simplify, simplify" back in the 1800's--wonder what he'd think if he saw how we live now.

  6. Yah. We visited Walden Pond when we lived in Massachusetts.