photo © 2004 Rob Holland | more info (via: Wylio)In Switch!, the Heath brothers open with a study examining the impact of concession stand product sizes with the volume of snack consumption at movie theaters by individual research subjects. The larger the popcorn containers the more people ate.
That subconscious response is why nutritionists often recommend dieters serve their meals on smaller plates. Even if you clear a salad-sized plate of food, you’re still coming in under the calorie count of a full dinner place – a mind game that helps keep you on track with weight loss goals.
And that same psychology appears to apply with overall consumption too. This weekend the WSJ reported on Commerce Department data indicating that 11.2 percent of American spending in 2011 is for non-essential purchases (exclusive of requisite items like food, housing and medicine). Despite a recession and mass unemployment, people are still shopping for wants beyond their needs; in 1959 such goods only accounted for four percent of spending.
This growth in non essential spending seems to parallel with the ever expanding square footage requirements of American home owners. The average home in 1950 was just 983 square feet compared with 2349 square feet for new homes in 2004.
Purchasing a home typically means moving into a large space. Thus, owners grow into a new space buying items to furnish extra rooms and to cover empty walls and to fill the nooks and crannies that give a home character. The advertising industry — having created the Pavlovian need to keep up with the Joneses — and a consumer technology sector — with routine product enhancements every 18 months or so a la Moore’s Law, combined with environmentally tone-deaf planned obsolescence — ensure a steady drum beat of purchasing whenever dollars can be spared.
Buying habits encourage an eventual move into a larger home when the perfectly sunny abode at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac no longer seems quite as spacious. With packing comes the tossing of dated furniture and appliances that can be upgraded to shiny, new replacements. Disposing of forgotten tchotchkes or ill-fitting clothing creates even more opportunity to spend.
And it creates a kind of geographic inertia that tugs on an economy in crisis. Ever so slowly, the cost of relocating for more lucrative — or any — opportunities creeps toward burdensome and cost prohibitive. People get tied to more than the roots in their community; they get bogged down by an obesity of stuff.